The Essence of Cider

As you relax on your patio enjoying one of your home crafted ciders, have you ever started pondering what really creates it. The taste and ultimately, the quality is determined by the numerous compounds found in your cider. These can include esters, fusel alcohols, acids, and a multitude of others. It’s these compounds that define the quality of your cider because they define the aroma and flavor of the cider. Ultimately, they form the essence of your cider. So, the key question is what forms these compounds? What is the true essence of that wonderful cider you are enjoying on your patio? I believe there are three fundamental components that form the essence of hard cider. This is because these three components create all those aromatic compounds. Let’s explore them!


Apple Varieties

The first fundamental component that creates the essence of cider is the apple. I mean, you can’t have cider without the apple. There are tens of thousands of apple varieties in the world. The United States alone has documented over 16,000 different varieties so recognizing the impact of the apple variety probably isn’t all that surprising. But, something the may surprise you is that it’s not really about the sugar in the apple. Apples can have a fairly wide range of sugar with specific gravity readings around 1.040 to over 1.100. While that sugar will definitely impact the level of alcohol produced, the real essence of cider mostly comes from the compounds in the apple that form the volatile aromas and not the sugars. These include alcohols, esters, fatty acids, and various organic compounds. The most interesting aspect is that the compounds found in the apple are usually not the same compounds found in cider.

Having said that, the compounds found in the apple do define the compounds found in cider. Every apple will have different compounds and different amounts of those compounds. These can be called precursors, since they are transformed into new compounds as the cider is formed. These original compounds are often transformed multiple times. The newly transformed compounds are called metabolites, which can be volatile compounds (aromas). The transformation of the compounds found in your apple become the aroma and taste of your cider. So, the essence of cider starts with the apple and all the various compounds found in it. But, something has to transform all those compounds into aromas and flavors. That brings us to the next essential component of cider: yeast.


Yeast: Harvested and plated

We have thousands of available yeast strains and, they will each create unique ciders. While yeast are essential to the cider-making process, they also form the essence of cider. Yeast process amino acids, fatty acids, and other compounds as nutrients in their reproductive process. Yeast want to reproduce and live. That means they want to process sugar into energy that allows them to create more yeast cells. The compounds that are available to them and their own preference for each compound defines how the yeast turn these compounds into aromas. The precursors, metabolites, and ultimately, the volatile compounds that form the aroma and taste profile of your cider are made by the yeast strains that are active in your cider.

Wild or natural fermentations are often called complex because they can contain numerous yeast strains producing different aromas. Ciders made with commercial strains or with juice treated with sulfites may be less complex because the active yeast strains are usually minimized. Wild ferments at least initially start with non-Saccharomyces yeast, which are the yeasts found on the apple. A multitude of yeasts are competing for nutrients but, a few will start to dominate. Many natural ferments finish with Saccharomyces strains. These come from the equipment and environment where the apples are processed. Some non-Saccharomyces strains often survive the entire fermentation process and can even dominate. But, you can also inoculate with non-Saccharomyce strains to ensure they dominate. Examples of some non-Saccharomyces yeast that I have used are Pichia kluyveri and Lachancea thermotolarens. The first creates tropical aromas while the second produces lactic acid that can sour the cider (in a good way). Check out The Shop for available non-Saccharomyces vials you can you to produce unique ciders. Ultimately, yeast form the essence of cider by processing various metabolites into the initial aromatic profile of your cider.


Bacteria Organism

While cider is technically created once yeast start converting sugar into ethanol, the true and final essence of cider isn’t complete until it has evolved. The final process for making cider is aging or maturation. This is the step where your cider reaches its full potential. Yeast create an initial aromatic profile. Sometimes that is fruity, sour, and good but usually, it is harsh, sour, and maybe even sulfuric. Most ciders need time to evolve their aromatic profile and bacteria play an essential role. Just like different yeast will process and create compounds differently and result in different aromatic characteristics, bacteria also plays a critical role in creating the essence of cider. Remember, bacteria is not all bad. Just like we need to have bacteria in our digestive system to be healthy, cider needs bacteria to evolve. Using sulfites (Campden) kills the bacteria and prevents further evolution. Adding it after the fermentation process stops the aging process. It preserves the current state of the cider, which may be good. However, cider usually needs to evolve. The aromas and taste may be harsh or unbalanced. Rarely do I find a cider that is perfect after the fermentation stops. Bacteria utilizes the available compounds as precursors to create new metabolites and ultimately, aromas and tastes.

The two most common types of bacteria involved in the maturation of cider are lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria. There are several genera of each. Lactic acid bacteria or LAB will normally be active in anaerobic environments (lacking oxygen) where acetic acid bacteria need an aerobic (oxygen) environment. Storing cider in barrels, plastic, in corked bottles, or even just the processing of cider (moving it from container to container) allows both aerobic and anaerobic conditions to occur. Barrels, plastic, and cork breathes. While not usually significant, it is enough to allow acetic acid bacteria to process compounds and evolve your cider, which is usually regarded as a negative but, in small amounts could be positive. LAB can work in anaerobic environments but, is often slow because nutrients are low since yeast have utilized most of them during fermentation.

So, as you sit on your patio and enjoy that cider, remember that the true essence of it came from the apples you crushed and juiced, the yeast you allowed to transform it into cider, and the bacteria you allowed to mature into the perfection you are holding in your hand. Apple, yeast, and bacteria, these form the essence of cider.

Did you enjoy these tips on making hard cider? Check out my book to learn more ideas and information on making and enjoying hard cider. It will help you develop a process that matches your desire and equipment. It will also show you how to pair cider with food to maximize your experience. You can find it as an eBook and a 7×10 paperback on Amazon or a 7×10 paperback on Barnes & Noble. Click on these Links to check them out.

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