Cider Not From Concentrate

Cider Not From Concentrate

Making Cider Not From Concentrate

If I spend the whole time banging on about trusting your palate and not caring less about production if it doesn’t improve flavour – then why do I whine on about our methods using Devon grown cider apples and never using concentrate?

To casually suggest that the choice between using eating apples and cider apples to make cider is some sort of either or – is frankly both an arrogant snub to 1000 years of orcharding, and utterly fanciful. I’m not saying that ciders made of eating and cooking apples are bad, many are fine. But in the same way as thin Pinot Grigio cannot be compared to the Grand Vins of Bordeaux – nor can short fermented cull-fruit cider pretend it is of an equivalence to true autumn pressed west of England cider. This – I hasten to add does not mean true cider will be preferred, the truth is, it’s not for everyone.

It’s A Matter Of Taste

I do not speak ill of concentrate derived cider, or eating apple cider for what it is – because if someone likes it better than what I make, then that’s what they should drink. And both of the above still support local jobs, orcharding and cider making skills and products loved by millions. I bang on about our methods because I want people to taste the difference and understand how and from where the depth of flavour emerges.

The first difference from a cider made from concentrated juice as opposed to fresh autumn pressed juice will be its structure. As part of the concentration process enzymes are added to break down pectins which would jam up their machines, but it’s these which offer wonderful depth and body to our ciders. Their process involves heating fresh juice and evaporating the water element away until there is about 15% of the original juice left. If you taste the re-hydrated juice and compare it to fresh juice, there honestly is no comparison.


Cider fermentation vats at Sandford Orchards

Squeezing Passion Out Of The Process

Starting with a deconstructed juice is a flavour disadvantage – but once you have shrunk your year’s supply of juice to 15% of its volume, you can then blend all of your syrup together and you have a nice uniform product. By fast fermenting and kegging or bottling right away you also dodge the risks of maturation and long term storage of finished cider. From syrup to flashy font in 14 days! You also save masses of money on tanks to store it all in. You can produce a product which millions consume, is repeatable and at a low unit value. It’s good business. But for me, it lacks love.

Cider Not from Concentrate – Our Process

My team and I love the challenge of an autumn harvest, fresh cold-juice ferments with over 70 apple varieties each with their own foibles and characters. We love the slowly evolving character of the cider as it ferments and matures. Never mind 2 weeks – we won’t even introduce a cider into a blend until it’s at least 6 months matured, and then this is blended with cider well into its second year! As cider ages the tannins and polyphenols go on a journey  – and give us the magnificent layers and depth. These are on-show with our Fine Cider range in technicolor glory, but even more importantly in our lighter alcohol ciders, which we liquor-back with spring water to bring the abv to match our recipe. As with beer or tea or whisky, the amount of water one adds is a question of taste and judgement, because the water adds no flavours – we are using it to soften the power of the drink whilst allowing the cider to express itself, and because of the care we have taken from the orchard – right into the glass we know every bit of its character is still absolutely intact.

Why don’t we reduce the abv with apple juice? Because no cider maker ever did, and because it makes the cider taste of apple juice, perversely that’s not the point!

We Have Nothing To Hide

We feel it’s right to share our techniques and methods we choose to do it, because it helps people understand the journey of natural cider making. We can’t give exact quantities, because our base ciders vary a great deal in abv – from 6% to 9% but as a rule of thumb, we use the stronger base for our stronger ciders and lighter cider for our lighter ciders. But we make each blend on its merits – typically each cider will be tasted by at least four cider makers at least four times before it makes it into a bottle or keg.

I have always been convinced that people would be bored rigid by this kind of chat. But month after month people pay a tenner to hear me bang on about it – and try some cider. Hang on, I’ve worked it out – they’re only here for the cider! Someone should tell me to button it.

8 comments on “Cider Not From Concentrate

  1. Philip Smith on

    We ordered the Berry Lane raspberry cider with a meal in the Kestrel pub, Harrogate, we like it so much we have just ordered 64 bottles while waiting for our dessert can’t wait for the delivery, Here’s to many more cheers!

  2. Colin Nimmo on

    Just had my Xmas delivery of “The General” – it’s so good I don’t think it will see out November! 5 Stars and best wishes to the Sandford Team

    • Nick Swettenham on

      I have spent a tenner and listened to him bang on about cider not from concentrate- I drank Sandford Red
      and experienced the flavour of a real Devon cider made from cider apples
      and took take a crate home with me ! I then found it in Aldis – It is a delightful cider – a proper cider made from apples – god bless him – may he ‘bang on’ for many years to come

    • Cider on

      Hi Andrew,
      we used to have quite a big problem with CAMRA’s definition of cider. It came from an understanding of fresh fermented ale, and missed a great deal. It’s now a good deal more sensible – although it doesn’t refer to quality, which for both ale and cider can be a huge reason that folk end up veering away from smaller producers. We make loads of cider that fits the description and lots that doesn’t. This is because of the ‘unchapitalised’ CAMRA rule. I’m afraid that this is a hangover from an understanding of ale, and oddly for a drink made of sugars and water one would have thought that this would be better understood. Cider needs to keep between 12 and 18 months if made as a whole juice drink from apples in a single harvest. If the sugars are so low in the juice that it won’t ferment above 7%, then cider makers will have a real challenge in storage. We commonly need to add sugar to reach vat storage alcohol – so those ciders would fall out of CAMRA definition. But when made from unchapitalised vats would be within. There are no ciders we make with concentrate, but many will have slightly elevated alcohol – so that the cider keeps. Remember, ale is dry ingredients and tap water sold inside a fortnight – cider is nurtured whole fruit juice pressed fermented and stored, often for years. By the CAMRA definition, I suspect that there isn’t a single bottle of ‘real’ wine produced in the UK. Food for thought.

      The CAMRA definition would allow for imported apples from the southern hemisphere to be ‘real’ and cider made from the true cider fruit of the west country to be fake. Still work to be done I’m afraid – but the organisation has come a really long way, and small cider makers need a voice and an advocate – and I think CAMRA can be hugely helpful.

      Thanks for the interesting and challenging question!


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