It's been 6 years —that is, since October 2003— that real English cider has been available in cask in the US.
We are are talking Real Cider, folks, not carbonated flavored alcohol with apple juice added, as can be the case with many commercial so-called ciders. Real Cider, instead, is wine, fermented 100% from apples. From the Real Cider website, Real Cider is:
Here's what the organization has to say about mass-produced apple-flavored beverages:
- Cider is made by fermenting the juice of apples.
- 100% fermented apple juice, with nothing added and nothing taken away.
- Any bottled or draught cider that contains live yeast.
- Cider that has not been pasteurised, carbonated, or concentrated.
- Locally sourced apples, pressed and fermented using traditonal cider production methods.
- Cider varies in alcohol content from less than 3% ABV in French cidre, up to 8.5% ABV in traditional English ciders.
- All real cider is suitable for a vegan and wheat free diet.
- Most cider is produced from a ‘blend’ of different apples; you can also get ‘single’ variety ciders.
Instead of being made from all juice as a true cider would be, they’re made with a little bit of apple juice and a bunch of sugar-water. Mass produced cider sold in the UK is mostly made from imported apple concentrate,artificial colourings, sweeteners, and preservatives are added to make up for the apple character that isn’t there. The liquid is then filtered, pasteurised to kill the yeast, and kept and served under carbon dioxide pressure.
Yarlington is the apple varietal; Gwatkin is the winery, err, cidery. After apple harvest and pressing, the cider is fermented with the yeasts resident on the skins and is aged in oak barrels that had previously been used by Scotch whisky distillers for their liquid.
In appearance, the cider is cloudy and red/orange. Think of an aroma like Red Delicious apples, but with the flavor showing the full promise of that aroma. Toss in phenolic overtones —band-aids, in a good way. Then a burst of barnyard earthiness, oak, and what could best be described as liquid apple skins. The finish is a puckering combination of acidity and tannins, like chewing on an apple stem. It packs a sneaky kick: 7.5% alcohol-by-volume (abv).
The cider is only available in cask, not in bottles. In this case, the cask is merely a vessel: the cider is not cask-conditioned. It is racked still —that is non-carbonated— from an oaken whisky barrel into a stainless steel cask. (Serving it in a keg would add artificial carbonation, detracting from the flavor.)
By the way, an anorak is a hooded windbreaker popular in the UK. The word is also used as a reference to bird watchers, trainspotters, and beer tickers, many of whom wear anoraks. In another word: a geek. Today, I am indeed a Cider Anorak, blogging this post.