What is the right temperature to drink a cider? Should it be cold, chilled, warm, or even hot? Yes, you already know my answer, which is that it will depend! Hard cider is not a simple product. In fact, because it’s a relatively young and overlooked beverage in most places around the world, I propose that it is even more complex than wine or beer. That is because it often has elements of both wine and beer and these elements impact the temperature at which you should drink it. Let’s explore four key factors that can impact the temperature at which you should enjoy your hard ciders.
- Sweetness & Acidity
The higher the carbonation, the colder you serve the drink. This is mostly because if you serve a high carbonation cider warm, you might be cleaning it off the ceiling. This is where cider is like wine, or more exact, like champagne. If you have a sparkling cider (volumes CO2 above 3.5), you want to serve it cold between 35-40F (2-4C). If your cider is still (volumes CO2 around 0.8-1.2), you want to serve it closer to room temperature 63-68F (17-20C). Carbonation levels between sparkling and still would be served at temperatures between these levels.
Sweetness & Acidity
The perception of sweetness and acidity are generally linked. Think of how different fresh apple juices taste. Juice some Granny Smith apples and you might find it to be a little puckering or harsh because of the low ratio of sugar to acid. Juice some Red Delicious apples and you might find the juice to be sweet and bland because of the high ratio of sugar to acid in the juice. Mix them together and you might find you have a perfect blend of sweet and tart. Temperature can also impact the perception of sweet versus acidic. Cold in general will suppress the ability of your taste buds but, it will also reduce the perception of acidity. This is because the pH of your cider increases as temperature decreases and vice versus. Colder drinks will seem less acidic because the H+ ions suspended in solution (what pH measures), decrease when cold and increase when hot. A cider low on acid can taste flat and maybe overly sweet when served cold while a cider high in acid should taste less harsh when served cold. Sweet hard ciders will taste better served warmer while acidic hard ciders will taste better served chilled or even ice cold. Think temperatures in the 55-63F (13-17C) range for a medium to sweet cider and 40-45F (4-7C) for a acidic cider.
Temperature has a large impact on the aroma of ciders because it impacts the amount of volatile compounds being releases. Volatile compounds are esters, phenolics, and other key compounds that give a cider its aroma and flavor. These can be good or bad. Ciders with faults, like mousiness, medicinal, plastic, or other unpleasant aromas will exhibit those more when warm versus cold. Cold slows all chemical reactions, including the release of volatile compounds. If you have a cider that has wonderful aromas, whether they are phenolic or ester in nature, serving it warmer will allow more of those aromas to be recognized. This is simply because more of those volatile compounds are released and fill your glass at warmer temperatures. Colder temperatures allow fewer of these compounds to release and fill your glass so you don’t perceive the aromas as strongly. This can work in your favor if you have a cider that didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. Serving it cold can help mask some of its faults. But, if you have a cider that has complex aromatics, try to serve it in the 63-66F (17-19C) range if the carbonation and acidity allow it. Also, its good to avoid carbonating these types of cider excessively, since that means you’d need to serve it cold. If needed, you can always pour cold and allow the cider to warm. The carbonation can help release more of the volatile compounds as it sits.
The last element that is impacted by temperature is the perception of alcohol. Alcohol, both ethanol and fusel alcohols found in cider, are volatile compounds. So, the colder your cider, the fewer alcohol compounds will be released while drinking it. The warmer the cider, the more alcoholic the cider will taste. If you have a cider that is high in alcohol either from chaptalization (i.e. you made wine) or because the fermentation produced high levels of fusel alcohols, serving it at a cooler temperatures will mute some of the aroma and flavor of alcohol. And, serving it warmer will release more of these aromas. Note that the temperature you serve cider doesn’t change the actual %ABV in your cider. The temperature just impacts the perception of alcohol by releasing more or less volatile compounds. Also, remember the general muting effect that cold has on our taste buds.
Ultimately, the temperature at which you serve and drink your cider depends on the cider. With wine, whites are generally served colder and reds warmer. This is because fundamentally, white wines tend to be more acidic and sweet while reds are more phenolic, less acidic, and drier. With cider, there are generally not clear definitions based on the color. Most people don’t ferment on the peel (though I strongly recommend it), so ciders made from culinary and eating apples will tend to be more like white wines but, not always. Each hard cider will be unique. I created the above chart as a reference to help guide you. Assess your cider’s characteristics across the key elements and use this to help identify the best serving temperature. Not all ciders will fit every characteristic but if you haver several that points towards colder temperatures, do that. As is the common answer for cider, it depends.
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