Cider House Rules

Juice pressed from apples, made into a sweet or hard drink, is experiencing a renaissance.

Cider, both sweet and hard, has a long and colorful history, and it is closely tied to the specific apple varieties that make the best cider.

Sweet cider is apple juice that has been squeezed from apples, without additives and without alcoholic content. Hard cider is fermented apple juice, with additives and alcoholic content. What we know as cider was often referred to as “cyder” in writings before the 20th century.

Hard cider was known by the Greeks and Romans, but wine was the most popular drink of that period.

During the Middle Ages, cider was considered the poor man’s drink. But, by the 1600s, it was apparently good enough to be offered alongside wine. History records that it was served along with wine by Thierry II, King of Burgundy and Orleans.

The 1600s and 1700s were the heyday of English hard cider, and it was thought of as the “wine of England.” It was also during that period when the making of hard cider was refined. The best varieties of apples were grown, fermented, and processed for the purpose of making hard cider. At the same time across the ocean, hard cider in the United States grew in popularity. Farmers competed to grow apples that would produce the finest hard cider—almost like microbreweries today compete to make the best beer. Safe to say, cider, both sweet and hard, was the most popular U.S. drink until the late 1800s.

Many people are unaware that the best apples for sweet cider are not the same as those used for hard cider. Hard cider apples tend to be rich in tannin and sugars. The tannin gives rise to different flavors and the sugar its strength. These apple varieties, if eaten raw, are too sharp. The blending of different varieties is the key to quality hard cider.

By the early 1900s, there were perhaps a thousand apple varieties found in markets throughout the United States. The majority of those varieties are no longer widely grown. What makes the region’s Eastman Orchard’s Forgotten Ciders unique is that they grow and use the best of these old varieties in their hard cider.

Sweet cider is much more common and sold in most grocery stores in half gallon and gallon containers in the refrigerated section of the produce department. The best cider, like the best apple dishes, is made from a blend of apples, which balances sweetness with body and clarity.

Michigan holds a sweet apple cider contest each year, and each year most of the winning entries are made from at least 20 percent Jonathan apples. An exception was the contest winner several years ago, which was a blend of 30 percent each of Golden Delicious and Blushing Goldens, 20 percent Red Delicious, and 10 percent each of Willow Twig and Newton Pippen. However, it should be noted that the second place winner used 100 percent Jonathans, and the third place winner used 37 percent Jonathans.

The good news for the public is hard cider is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, while the pasteurization of sweet cider assures the safety of this wholesome drink.


Juice pressed from apples, made into a sweet or hard drink, is experiencing a renaissance.

Cider, both sweet and hard, has a long and colorful history, and it is closely tied to the specific apple varieties that make the best cider.

Sweet cider is apple juice that has been squeezed from apples, without additives and without alcoholic content. Hard cider is fermented apple juice, with additives and alcoholic content. What we know as cider was often referred to as “cyder” in writings before the 20th century.

Hard cider was known by the Greeks and Romans, but wine was the most popular drink of that period.

During the Middle Ages, cider was considered the poor man’s drink. But, by the 1600s, it was apparently good enough to be offered alongside wine. History records that it was served along with wine by Thierry II, King of Burgundy and Orleans.

The 1600s and 1700s were the heyday of English hard cider, and it was thought of as the “wine of England.” It was also during that period when the making of hard cider was refined. The best varieties of apples were grown, fermented, and processed for the purpose of making hard cider. At the same time across the ocean, hard cider in the United States grew in popularity. Farmers competed to grow apples that would produce the finest hard cider—almost like microbreweries today compete to make the best beer. Safe to say, cider, both sweet and hard, was the most popular U.S. drink until the late 1800s.

Many people are unaware that the best apples for sweet cider are not the same as those used for hard cider. Hard cider apples tend to be rich in tannin and sugars. The tannin gives rise to different flavors and the sugar its strength. These apple varieties, if eaten raw, are too sharp. The blending of different varieties is the key to quality hard cider.

By the early 1900s, there were perhaps a thousand apple varieties found in markets throughout the United States. The majority of those varieties are no longer widely grown. What makes the region’s Eastman Orchard’s Forgotten Ciders unique is that they grow and use the best of these old varieties in their hard cider.

Sweet cider is much more common and sold in most grocery stores in half gallon and gallon containers in the refrigerated section of the produce department. The best cider, like the best apple dishes, is made from a blend of apples, which balances sweetness with body and clarity.

Michigan holds a sweet apple cider contest each year, and each year most of the winning entries are made from at least 20 percent Jonathan apples. An exception was the contest winner several years ago, which was a blend of 30 percent each of Golden Delicious and Blushing Goldens, 20 percent Red Delicious, and 10 percent each of Willow Twig and Newton Pippen. However, it should be noted that the second place winner used 100 percent Jonathans, and the third place winner used 37 percent Jonathans.

The good news for the public is hard cider is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, while the pasteurization of sweet cider assures the safety of this wholesome drink.

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