Many alcoholic drinks have been made from fruits and vegetables. Apples, the base ingredient for cider, have been around for thousands of years and come in an incredible variety. As long ago as man has existed he has been making drinks from things he has found growing. Often the food less palatable like tart, bitter apples find their way into something else that masks and transforms the initial bitterness. It is no coincidence that these apples, because of the high tannic quality, are best suited to the making of cider. Apples are a fascinating fruit and unique in many ways not least of all because they come in so many varieties.
The complexity of the apple DNA ensures that every apple grown from seed becomes it’s own unique entity. For thousands of years these trees were able to grow unfettered but as man discovered the usefulness of the fruit they developed the ability to graft one variety to another and thus harness the traits of a particular variety and reproduce it on a regular and reliable basis. Until this practice was used it was unsure what each apple harvested would taste like until it was literally eaten. Therefore something needed to be done with those apples that were not so tasty to eat in the raw.
Cider thus developed from the necessity and creativity of early civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans and early Britains. Apples had made their way across Europe and the art of fermenting them became well-established both in Europe and Asia. In the south of France and Spain as well as southern England the process of fermenting and later distilling the apples was developed. At this time large circular stones were used to grind the apples and some of these can still be seen abandoned in the fields of these regions. The earliest orchards would have been grown in such a way that every tree was started from seed and therefore the orchard would consist of unknown and very random varieties and tastes of fruit.Thus early batches of cider would have been created out of a combination of many of these apples that were the least appealing to the palette in their raw state. Eventually in order to reproduce the popular varieties the process of grafting, as previously mentioned, was introduced. In time those apples that would go on to produce the most delicious cider could be consistently harvested and used for this process. Many of the best early ciders at this time were produce in the region of Normandy where the apples grown had a balance of sweetness, tannin, acidity and aromatics.
In America apples were establishing themselves by the likes of John Chapman known as Johnny Appleseed for his persistence in growing apples from seed as nature intended and not by grafting. In the early 19th century he established nurseries using this technique and the early settlers therefore grew and made cider from uniquely American varieties. Today in America unfiltered apple juice is referred to as apple cider and usually taken as a hot drink perhaps with cinnamon. However elsewhere something rather more refined is generally served. This may be a drink that is dry and effervescent like champagne and as refreshing as a beer. Typically cider is low in alcohol because the apples themselves do not have a high sugar content in fact even the most sweet apples have far less sugar than grapes. The apples are harvested and placed in a large vat, once crushed, and yeast is added. The yeast proceeds to eat the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide and once the sugar is gone the yeast dies and the process ceases.
The remaining fermented cider can now be bottled with an alcohol content of about 5% but some makers now add extra yeast and sugar to the bottle so more carbon dioxide is made and a champagne style product is achieved. There are also other variations to this basic formula that have gone on to produce such drinks as Calvados named for the region in Normandy where it was produced.This involves further distillation to increase the alcohol content and produce a spirit from the cider. Subsequently further versions of this technique emerged and today a variety of such spirits can be found.The unique flavorful qualities of cider have made it a popular and versatile beverage throughout history.