August 9, 2011

Tasting Showdown: Cider vs. An Apple

Oedipus and Laius. Ken Griffy, Junior and Ken Griffy, Senior. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. And now, hard cider and apple.

Both have very good records. Hard cider, the boon of American pioneers, mainstay of farmers from New England to regular England, not quite as crazy as applejack, but just crazy enough to get the job done. Apples, the original temptation, Granny Smith to Honeycrisp, ward against doctors, the basis of some of our nation's most iconic pies. Who would win in a taste test? To find out I sat down with a classic food pairing - an apple and a glass of cider - and evaluated each.

Texture - Apple is the clear winner here. It starts with the thick, waxy skin, which is quickly followed by a burst of juice. The gentle ripping of a single bite from the whole is a visceral pleasure, and the fleshy insides, with their readily yielding contours, are divine. At the end of all of it is the skin, right where you started from, but this time providing a blander, chewy contrast to the whitish pulp. Cider is texturally insipid in comparison.

Aroma - Cider has this one in the bag. The heady, fruity intensity of cider's aroma is quite pleasing. You can almost sense the acidity and tannins. In contrast, apple's aroma is faint, and somehow more earthy than it tastes. If left exposed for just a few minutes, apple's aroma declines, while cider's stays strong.

Appearance - Apple is certainly the more complex of the two, but cider has an attractive simplicity that is subtly alluring. Apple really has much more range, with colors flashing and slowly turning over it's surface, a pleasantly white inside, and that cute little stem sticking out of the top. Cider, on the other hand, can look stunning with the light passing through it, and the co2 rising like little helium balloons all along the sides of the glass. Tie.

Flavor - Apple has a great flavor, but it's just falling short compared to cider. The balance really tilts towards sweet with apple, and I think that is one of its main shortcomings. In cider you can have it all at once, the tannins, the acidity, and a slight sweetness in a single sip. And then there's the fruitiness of the yeast, the smooth searing of the alcohol, and the pleasant dryness in the finish. Apple just lacks that many dimensions.

So there you have it, cider wins by a narrow margin, just 2.5 to 1.5 over apple. Stay tuned for next time, when I'll be comparing drinking an Irish Stout to eating a pint of roasted barley.


  1. Great timing! I've been reading for days trying to figure out my first cider recipe. Any suggestions?

  2. Cider recipes are so malleable... what it really comes down to is what the cider you've got tastes like, and where you want to take it. Here are some directions:

    Use Nottingham Ale Yeast - Bring out fruity flavors, give a full bodied impression, leave a bit of sugar behind.

    Use Champagne yeast, like Lalvin ec-1118 - Very dry, brings out tannins and acidity slightly, some slight nuttiness from the yeast if left on the lees. Good for making a sharp cider, carbonation heightens the briskness.

    Use Wyeast Rudeshiemer - Aromatic floral notes, preserves cider aroma well. Brings out the acidity while still being smooth.

    Add honey - Additional floral notes, better stability, more alcohol presence.

    Add dme - Adds body and some sweetness as well as darker malt flavors. Reduces acidity and softens tannins.

    Add brown sugar - adds nice caramel notes, some dark fruit, mostly stays dry but may add slight amount of residual sugars.

    Add oak - Promotes round tannins, fuller body, oak-y flavors like vanilla and toast.

  3. That's fantastic--thank you. I have two quick it true that I could use a 5 gal carboy for a 5 gal batch since you don't get the same sort of krausen with cider? and if I am kegging could I have a good product ready to drink in the fall if I move on it soon? I appreciate the help.

  4. Oh, I also like your literary don't often see Oedipus and Ken Griffey Jr. in the same paragraph!

  5. Yes, I think it is ok to use a 5 gallon carboy for 5 gallons of cider, but you have to think about how you are going to age it, since you'll have under 5 gallons when you rack off. Many people treat their cider like wine and age it in bulk through the winter. If you are going this route, it is best to have as little headspace as possible. But cider is usually drinkable without a ton of aging, especially if it is not completely dry. I'd recommend at least a couple months of aging. If you are going the quick route and want clear cider, use some pectic enzyme. Nottingham is a good yeast for quicker cider, in my opinion.