The term cider actually means two things here in North America. It can be Sweet Cider (Soft Cider) or Hard Cider. Sweet cider is the raw fresh juice from pressed apples. It is usually a blend of apples produced from quality, clean apples picked from the tree. This raw, fresh juice is then lightly treated using special technology to remove any potential pathogens from the juice and then bottled for consumption.
So what is apple juice if sweet cider is the juice from apples? In Europe and the United Kingdom, there is no difference. Apple juice is the fresh juice from apples. But North America, sweet cider is the fresh juice from apples, minimally treated and processed. Apple juice in the store is fresh juice from apples that has been processed, filtered and treated. Additional sweeteners and water is then added.
Hard cider is the alcoholic beverage produced by fermenting fresh sweet cider. In Europe and the United Kingdom, they simply call this cider!
As long as humankind has collected and/or cultivated apples -- thousands of years -- they have fermented the fresh juice to produce hard cider. By fermenting the juice to produce an alcoholic beverage, humankind was able to preserve the juice until the next harvest. This alcoholic beverage was usually safer than the local water source. Plus, if it was made well and consumed in small quantities, you felt better when drinking it. By the dawn of the Roman Empire, the favourite beverages of its citizens were hard cider, wine and beer.
By Victorian times in England, cider was the most important beverage. Labourers working in the fields were able to guarantee that a portion of their wages were paid in cider. In exchange for working in the fields, a labourer was given cider at lunch with their meals and at the end of the working day, along with a paid wage. English Lords had to make sure they produced a good quality and quantity of cider each year to attract the best labourers and quench their thirst.
NEW WORLD (NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA)
With the discovery and settlement of the New World, French and English settlers brought with them their taste for and knowledge of cider. When a settler arrived at their new home, the first thing they did was clear the land for farming. The area picked for a house to be built was then staked out and before a nail was hammered, apple seeds from the Old World were planted to start an apple orchard beside the coming house. It would, after all, take nearly 15 to 20 years before those trees would be producing a quantity of apples. It was usually the next generation of the family that would see that harvest of fruit. Throughout North America, apples and cider were an important part of everyday life. A culture and heritage evolved where by each fall, all the neighbouring families in an area would work together to quickly harvest all the apples on each farm. The fruit was either placed in burlap sacks to be pressed into juice later, immediately pressed into juice, or gently packed in wooden barrels for local towns, cities, or even other countries. Most of the fruit was kept on the farm to be pressed and fermented into cider for the year and stored in barrels in the house cellar. This tradition still takes place today on some small farms all over the world, wherever apples are grown.
At its peak in the 19th century, cider production and consumption was a major agricultural activity throughout much of North America. The cider produced was of such good quality that it was served in New York City dining establishments as "local Champagne."
By the early 20th century, modern agriculture was starting to produce so much grain that local millers needed to find other uses for the excess grain they had besides grinding into flour. At this time, most millers started producing beer and spirits with this excess grain. Because grain is easily stored and does not perish like apples, it was easier and cheaper to make into beer as needed. Prohibition during the 1930’s cleared out what was left of the cider industry. Once prohibition ended, the culture and history of cider was forgotten. Only in Quebec -- with its strong French culture and no prohibition -- did cider survive as a preferred beverage.
Today, cider is quickly gaining fame as the “old” new beverage and as a beer alternative. At Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, our goal is to produce an array of quality beverages for the discriminating consumer, and reignite the passion for hard cider that was so evident in the 19th century.