Apple season is coming up and that has us thinking of one of our favourite beverages: cider. All (totally appropriate) Simpsons references aside, cider production in Ontario is on the rise; no surprise considering that the cold climate in Ontario helps create a more acidic apple, and more acidic apples generally make a better cider. Nature is on our side!
There are two different kinds of cider, hard and soft. Hard cider has gone through a fermentation process that leaves it with an alcohol content whereas soft cider is raw apple juice. We’re talkin’ bout the hard stuff here, folks — check your kiddies at the door.
Apple cider is made from the fermented juice of apples. Once apples are harvested from the trees and have had all the sticks, leaves and orchard debris removed they are then scratted, which is the process of grinding them down. The product resulting from scratting is called pomace or pommage.
The juice is then extracted from the pommage leaving a pulp behind. This pulp can be used as a winter feed for animals, composted, discarded or even used to make liqueurs! Then the magic happens, selected yeast is added to the apple juice and the fermentation process begins.
Once fermented the cider is transferred to a maturation vessel, where it stays until the desired flavours develop. After this stage ciders of different maturity levels can be mixed together to create different flavour profiles or they can move immediately on to the next step.
The ciders then pass through filtration and pasteurization which helps to make a more stable product for packaging and shipping.
Some producers have even taken inspiration from ice wine and are making ice cider. It is the same process but the apples are frozen either before or after harvest. This results in a much sweeter “dessert cider” that usually has a higher alcohol content.
The juice of any apple can be used to make cider. Different apples will add different flavours to the mix depending on their levels of tanning and acidity. The four flavour categories of sweets, sharps, bittersweets and bittersharps can also be mixed together after the maturation process to create more complex flavour profiles depending on what the cidery is looking for.
Generally the finished product is classified from dry to sweet. Sweet will give you that fruitier taste that many commercial ciders have, with dry being tangier and sharper. There are also variations in colour and clarity with ciders. Those are mostly due to differences in filtering between pressing and fermentation.
If you’re looking to get your hands on some of the good stuff, here are a couple places that we’re partial to:
1. Spirit Tree Estate, Caledon
Spirit Tree Estate has a great list of both hard and soft ciders, including an ice cider as mentioned above! They offer tours and tastings and have a bistro on-site to grab a snack so it’s easy to make a day of going there.
2. West Avenue Cider, Hamilton
Helmed by the former Chef at Spencers� at the Waterfront, West Avenue Cider slowly ferments Ontario apples into cider. These ciders are hand crafted using traditional methods. We really dig the Cherryosity made with Niagara cherries!
3. County Cider Company, Prince Edward County
The County Cider Company also offers tours and tastings. They have several fruit ciders including peach, pear and blood orange. We’ve got our eye on their feral cider, if you get your hands on it let us know how it is!
If you’re interested in learning more about cider check out the Ontario Craft Cider Association website!