How much cider is in your cider?

As an artisan cider maker, I join with others in frustration that so many cider drinkers are lured by the “made-from-concentrate” options that dominate the market.

Frequently at shows, when offering people a taster of my cider, they look up with a surprised expression. “Wow, that tastes very applely”, they say. I explain why! It’s because it is 100% cider, made from 100% apple juice. Not the mass-produced stuff accounting for maybe 85%+ of the sold “cider”. This 85% includes all the adulterated (a.k.a. flavoured) ciders, as I think of them, such as Kopparberg, something I see as more akin to alcopops!

But, I hear people say, the consumer is always right! Oh no they aren’t! They have been duped by promotions and advertising, including lots of sponsored music and other events, sports teams, etc. As they are selling lots of water and sugar they have additional money to throw at maintaining or boosting their (as I think of them) “fake ciders”.

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Did you know that the legal minimum apple juice content to qualify as a cider is only 35%? Dowdings Cider contain 100% apples’ juice.

Whilst people continue to call anything with only 35% whole juice ‘cider’, the big cider makers will continue to create “cider” which is 1/3 of the real deal, either from UK apples or from imports of cheap apple concentrate. They will pass off their wares as cider!

How do they make it? Generally they start with the full 100% apple juice in a huge which goes into a large fermentation tank. The yeast is added and the fermentation process begins. However, rather than let it take a more traditional 6 to 9 months, maybe even longer, they force the process. They don’t want to use more tanks than they need, and they want speedy turnover for cash flow etc.. This speedy fermentation is achieved by constantly adding sugar to the vessel and keeping it warm. This allows them to achieve a very high alcohol drink in maybe 3 weeks. It could easily be 13% and more likely up to 15%.

At this level it is of course unmarketable and would create many issues with duty rates! Thus, their next step is to “kill” the fermentation. After that they dilute the very strong “cider”, making sure they leave at least 35% in order to meet the specifications for cider as laid down by law – it cannot be less than 35%.

After that there is a need to dilute the “concentrate”, add sugar to get the sweetness desired, and finally neat alcohol to give the right level for each “cider”. Then it will be pasteurised, carbonated and bottled. Bingo!

Consequently these “cider” producers only need 1/3 of the apples that people like me, producing a genuine proper cider, will have used. Those drinking it have no idea this is the process!

Meanwhile, some cider apple growers are facing a serious surplus of crop as fruit ciders gain popularity, putting the future of many orchards at risk. Plus, as explained above, because they make each litre of juice produce 3 litres of cider. This is well explained here by Little Pomona with reference to one cider maker, Bulmers, who use c.100,000 tonnes/year of apples. Did you know that Bulmers have been owned since 2008 by conglomerate Heineken?

Lastly it is worth noting that some cider makers are using Polish (et al) “concentrate”. The tankers are seen outside their production bases, and each load will have undercut UK growers. The “cider” they produce will not say it’s made with imported “concentrate”. It may even have a Union Jack on it!

The bottom line is that we smaller producers, who are producing cider ethically and as it should be, need to do all we can to support each other, and to make our drinking customers aware of what the “big boys” cider actually is!

Despite that here’s 3 cheers to all artisan producers and hoping we all have a successful 2019.