Time and great apples. I should really just leave it at that, but honestly, time and quality apples are my secrets. I don’t rush the cider, I don’t add anything unnecessarily, I let the apples and then the cider speak for itself.
I’ve mentioned before that you can make cider with apple juice or fresh cider from that you can buy at the grocery store. It’s true, I swear. In a pinch, there is nothing wrong with that. If that’s all you have, that’s all you have. I don’t judge. But if you can get your hands on fresh apple cider from a nearby orchard, chances are your cider will be even better. Is it because it is fresher and maybe unpasteurized? There’s debate on pasteurization affecting cider, but I’m getting sidetracked… Some will say freshness matters. Others will argue it won’t. What I find the difference to be? The quality of the apples. If your local farmer takes care of their orchard, maintains it properly, then you will be way ahead.
Why do I say this? Because I have never had an issue with producing a cider that required much, if any, intervention whether from cider apples or fresh market apples. Before I opened the cidery, I would add nothing to my ciders. No yeast nutrients, sulfites, colour or flavour. Yes, those two last ones are things, check labels. I would simply press the apples, add some yeast, rack it a couple times and then let them age. That’s it, there’s my secret…. doing nothing. Now that I sell it to the public, I do make slight adjustments to make it more stable but otherwise I let nature take its course.
Time is key to a well balanced cider. But patience was never something that I had a lot of to begin with, I still don’t. Which is why I’m surprised that I can be patient while the cider is aging. How long do I let it age before it’s ready? Months, sometimes a year or more. In this regard, traditional cider is very similar to wine. You can tell when the cider is young, it has a sharper taste, and when it is aged, it has a smoother, rounder finish. Are you surprised? Probably, most people don’t realize that a cider can be aged but they can be and they only get better. These types of cider will be harder to find, especially in Ontario, but if you can, you should try them. Mostly likely they will be made with some cider apples that contain tannins as fresh eating apples don’t tend to age as nicely. The cider may be aged in oak barrels, left on their lees, or even left to naturally ferment. The point is, the cidermaker has taken the time and patience to age the cider and to develop a unique profile and you should take the time to enjoy it. These ciders are where you can see the passion and creativity of the cidermaker.