How apple cider (alcoholic) is made

If you’re not American (or Canadian), apple cider to you will be an alcoholic beverage, made from apples. However, I just recently discovered that in the US, apple cider actually refers to a non-alcoholic drink. It’s more like an apple juice, but then slightly different (how different differs per state!).

Pretty confusing isn’t it, why not just call it juice when it’s without alcohol and cider when it’s with it? (And then we’re not even talking about why apple cider isn’t called apple wine, or, why wine isn’t called grape cider.)

Anyhow, I already made a batch of muffins using the cider with alcohol (also called hard cider in the US), instead of the juice and it turned out just fine. About time to dig into how that alcohol apple cider is made!

It starts with apple juice

Alcoholic cider starts with apple juice. Apple juice again is nothing more than the juice squeezed out of an apple. To make it manufacturers first grind up the apples into smaller pieces. Breaking them up will help to release the water from the juice by breaking down a lot of cells. Once they’re broken down, they are pressed to get out as much juice as possible.

This juice will not be the clear juice that is an apple juice. Instead, it will be hazy with particles floating around. These are little pieces of apple floating in the juice, also called sediment. The juice can be cleared by adding pectic enzymes, which break down the pieces and makes it clear.

Apart from the juice, you’re left with apple remainders, these are called pomace. This is full of pectin as well (which is what helps making pumpkin into a pumpkin pie and create a good texture of a fruit jam).

Apple juice is very vulnerable

If you’ve ever eaten an apple you will know that if you take only a single bite out of the apple, and leave it out for only a little while, it will turn brown. This is caused by enzymes which initiate enzymatic browning reactions.

These reactions will also occur if you grind down apples and press out the juices. It is important to prevent these from happening too much since they cause off-flavours in the cider.

Adding an acid to the juice can slow down these enzymatic reactions. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is commonly used. Sulphur dioxide (not an acid) can also be used and this has the added benefit that it kills off some of the wild yeasts. None of these has to be used though.

Home cider makers may also pasteurize the juice at this point to ensure a food safe product.

Apple juice is acidic

Even though apple juice browns easily it does have another advantage in that it is quite sour in and from itself. This low pH value (generally below 4) prevents a group of micro organisms from growing which is good against spoilage. Luckily, there are still plenty of micro organisms that will grow, since we need that during the fermentation process, which is next.

Fermentation of the apple juice

In order to transform the apple juice into alcoholic apple cider, it needs to be fermented. This is similar to the fermentation process that occurs when making beer.

In order for fermentation to occur you need sugars and yeast. Sugars are the food for the yeasts which will transform the sugar into alcohols and develop a lot of flavour in the beer.

Apples and the air of a facility harbour yeasts by nature. It is possible to use these to ferment the apple juice (although you shouldn’t have added sulphur dioxide nor have pasteurized the juice since this will have killed them off).

Another option is to add the yeasts yourselves. That way you can control the fermentation process better. Once the yeasts are added it is important to keep the cider under a pre-determined temperature to ensure it can do its job well.

This fermentation process will last several days while the apple cider sits in its tanks or vats.

Clarification

After the fermentation process is completed the apple cider will be clarified. If you don’t do this, it will be hazy. The particles can be separated from the juice by waiting forthem to sedimentation, or through centrifugation (which is a fast way of sedimentation). Another way is to add an additional ingredient which aids the separation of the particles such as gelatin.

Aging

An important step after fermentation and clarification is the aging process of cider. Cider can be stored in wine barrels for this process. During this aging process the flavour of cider will continue to develop, a bit like that of whisky.

See the process

Angry Orchard, a brand of alcoholic cider has a nice video on their website showing all the most essential steps, starting with the apples, ending with a cider.

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apple cider muffins with a bit out

Apple cider muffins

  • Author: Scienchef
  • Yield: 8 muffins

Description

These muffins are really airy and light with a good hint of spice. They’re heavily inspired by the donuts from Sally’s Baking addiction.

The recipe uses an alcoholic cider, however, because you boil it for a while, the alcohol will have mostly gone out. Baking it in the oven will evaporate even more.


Ingredients

  • 180ml apple cider (with alcohol, although using juice will probably work fine as well)
  • 15g butter
  • 125g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 30g egg
  • 60ml milk

Instructions

  • In a pan, bring the apple cider to the boil and reduce down to one third of its volume (60g). It will have thickened up and have a concentrated flavour. Take the pan of the heat and mix in the butter so it melts completely. Leave to cool down slightly before adding to the rest to prevent it from cooking your egg and flour.
  • In a bowl, mix the flour, spices, baking powder & soda, salt and sugar together.
  • Add the egg, milk and warm/room temperature cider/butter mixture and whisk through. It should look like a cake batter.
  • Prepare muffin trays, either line them with paper inserts or slightly oil the inside. Fill the tray until about 2/3 of the way, they will rise up considerably in the oven.
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160C for approximately 15 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and they have browned slightly.

Further reading

Want to make your own apple cider? How to make hard cider explains it well.

Looking for industrial equipment to make cider, GEA has a nice overview of the pieces equipment to be used.

Great review and in-depth discussion of various ways to make apple cider by Lallemand.

D. Arthey , Fruit processing, 2012, Springer science & business media, link

Ben Watson, Cider, Hard and sweet: history, tradition and making your own, 3rd edition, Chapter 3 & 4, link

Maria Kosseva, VK Joshi, PS Panesar, Science and technology of fruit wine production, chapter 3 & 4, link

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