Cider, that delicious drink made from Apples. You may call it Hard Cider, Cidre, Apfelwein, Sidra, or Suure Most, but one thing connects them all, Apples. However, do you know how much of your Cider is Apple?
It may surprise you to learn that for a product to be known as Cider in the UK, the minimum juice content is just 35%! In the USA this figure stands at 50%. So what else goes into Cider? Why is it not clear what is in my Cider? Who is keeping this quiet?
All Cider Makers know what goes into their Cider, and most will openly tell you if asked. Cider making is an art, and like art, a lot is dependant on talent and skill (give me the same paintbrushes and canvas as Van Gogh and I won’t be able to paint anything similar). The same apples and equipment in the hands of different cider makers can produce very different results.
So why is it not clear what goes into my Cider? Simply put, it’s all about Marketing. The idea of a fresh juicy apple is easier to market than sugary, fruit flavoured, watered-down alcohol.
When a Cider is made to contain only 35% juice, the remaining 65% is generally a combination of Water, Sugar, and additives (colouring, flavourings etc). This is not always clear because Cider, like wine, is a constituent product in its own right there is no obligation to include an ingredient list. However, why is this the case when the Cider could be up to 65% something other than fermented apples?
Luckily, in the interest of transparency, some producers are now voluntarily listing their ingredients. As ingredient lists are ordered with the most predominant ingredients first, this gives us an idea of the makeup of the Cider. Want a cider that is more than 50% juice? Then make sure “fermented apple juice” is the first ingredient on the list.
There are several reasons behind the decision to make Cider with more than just apples. One, and perhaps, unfortunately, the main reason is a commercial one. Water is much cheaper than producing apple juice. In simple terms, if you dilute 100% juice Cider with the same quantity of water then you have twice as much to sell.
Another reason is to achieve a homogeneous product. Producing at scale using apple concentrates, water, and sugar allows producers to make cider all year long with identical ingredients, processes, and results.
Some smaller producers may choose to add a little water (10–20%) in order to achieve the desired flavour profile rather than for any commercial reason. This is due to a variety of factors, one being that the fruit crop differs from year to year, meaning it is harder to achieve consistency with a full (100%) juice cider. That is however a selling point for many cider makers who produce vintages, knowing that each year will offer something a little different.
One key campaigner in the quest for ingredient lists and more labelling transparency in Cider is The Ciderologist, Mr Gabe Cook. This is to say that producers list their ingredients to allow consumers to see the real quality of the product they are buying. There are many unquantifiable words used on Cider bottles, such as “Fine”, “Craft”, or “Premium” however nothing stops these words from being branded on products that do not necesarially match the true meaning of these words. For this reason, some factual statements need to be taken into account and made available on the bottles. Those being the juice content, amount of added sugar, or any other ingredients of note.
There will always be a space in the market for the mass produced Ciders, as with all segments of the drinks industry, however the smoke and mirrors should be removed and as consumers, we should be aware of what we're buying.