The Color of Cider

If I asked you to define the color that hard cider should be, what would answer? I’m not talking about an adjunct hard cider, but a tradional hard cider made from apples or pears. Would you tell me it should be a dark amber? Should it be a golden hue? What about a yellow so pale that it almost looks silver. Maybe you’ve never even thought about it. But, we know that the color of something affects the taste of it. Many years ago when we lived in Brazil, I made some yeast doughnuts for a Saturday morning breakfast treat. Doughnuts aren’t something you often find in Brazil. I topped them with an icing. I used a food coloring such that the icing had a dark purple color. The flavoring that I used was maple. Guess what flavor we would have sworn the doughnuts were: grape. The icing color told our minds to expect grape so our minds told us grape, even though it was maple.

So, color is important and if you think about beer, certain styles have very specific flavors. If someone asked the color of a stout, most people would think of a dark or maybe even black beer. Many beers give away the expected color in the name: pale ale or even weissbier. Wines are similar in that you have white, rose, and red, which are literally the color of the wine. But, from where do these colors come? Are stouts made from a black barley grain? Do white wines come from white grape juice and red wines from red or purple grape juice? The answer is no. Stout beers can be made from the same barley grain as pilsners or pale ales. The color comes from the amount of toasting done to the barley. Someone realized that the longer you toasted the grain, the darker the color of the beer.

The same is true for wine. Yes, there are various grape varietals that make different wines but the color of wine is defined by the process more than the grape varietal. I know, most red wines are made by red or dark colored grapes, but that is not because the juice is that color. Red grapes can actually be used to make white wine. Pinot Noir is a great example of a red grape often used to make white, rose, and red wine. Just like stouts use barley that is heavily toasted, red wines obtain their color from the grape skin and not the juice. Red wines are macerated and fermented on the skins of the red grapes. White wines, if macerated, are generally only left for a short period of time. Too long and you might be making a rose or impacting the aroma and taste.

This brings us back to my original question, what color is hard cider? Because hard cider is a fermented fruit juice, like wine, one could argue that we should have white, rose, and red cider. England, France, and Spain have long histories of making cider but I’ve never heard anyone talk about white cider or red cider. Personally, I like the look of a dark amber hard cider. However, I also enjoy some of my ciders that are so pale, I call them silver. My Silver Sun Hard cider is an example of pale colored cider while my Black Magic hard cider is more of the amber color.

Silver Sun Cider ColorBlack Magic Cider Color
The Color of Cider

But, are these the “true” colors of hard cider? What makes one pale and the other amber? For color, I have been doing most of my research on wines because for this element, traditional hard cider is more akin to wine than beer. Therefore, I will use the context of wines to talk about hard cider color. Given this context, my above example of a pale and amber hard cider is really a discussion about white wine/cider or the whiteness of cider. Amber hard cider is not equivalent to red wine. It is a really an oxidized white wine. This is because the traditional method of making hard cider doesn’t include any coloring process like red wine.

Red wine is red not because the juice is red or purple. Red wine is red because there is a maceration and fermentation process used in making red wines that transfers pigment from the grape skins to the wine. Hard cider does not traditionally go through this same process. It is treated more like white wine where the juice is only macerated for a short period of time, if at all. That limits the tannin and color transfer from the grape skins and seeds or apple peels and seeds to the juice.

Keeping in the context of wine, a pale hard cider would be akin to a white wine. White wines are white because the goal is to create a fruity wine. They are generally made from grapes that are higher in acid and lower in tannins. The goal is to highlight the fruitiness of the grape so you are seeking a lot of esters versus tannins. Thinking of apples and hard cider, this would be like using sharps and sweets for your hard cider or many culinary and eating apples: apples that don’t turn brown when you eat or cook them.

So, are amber hard ciders akin to red wines? I could argue no because what makes red wines red is the maceration and fermentation process, which is not present in traditional cider making processes. I could argue yes because amber hard ciders are generally made from apples high in tannins, bittersweets and bittersharps, just like red grapes tend to be high in tannins. The goal for both red wines and hard ciders that favor an amber color is a tannin rich beverage that tastes of spice, clove, smoke, leather, and other earthy phenolic flavors. So, are amber hard ciders akin to poorly processed white wines or are they like red wines that are missing a key process step?

I’m always advocating that hard ciders are neither beer or wine so the last thing I want to do is try to define or stake a position on what the true color of cider should be. However, I find it so interesting that while we borrow so many things from both beer and wine, I’ve never heard anyone advocating or talking about using apple peels to make hard cider red or yellow. Why not? We know through research that peels and seeds of apples, just like grapes, contain the highest amounts of tannins. In fact, some apples that have very low tannins in the apple flesh will have good amounts of tannins in the peel. I hypothesize that apples, like grapes, have more of the “good” tannins in the peel versus the seeds. Why isn’t the industry making red or yellow hard ciders by fermenting on the peel? I know one home cider maker that is trying to understand if we should be making red or yellow hard ciders. What started as an interest in finding ways to add tannins to non-tannin apples is becoming an obsession in understanding all the ways peels could transform my ciders.

Will you join me in my quest of defining what color hard cider should really be? Maybe together, we can discover some new and interesting ciders!

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