Cider terminology to make you a cider expert

The cidermaking world is full of terminology potentially new to those who don’t work in the industry, and whilst to us these are second nature, some of the terms take some understanding. Of course, there are many cider lovers out there who may already know a lot about cidermaking and the terminology surrounding it, but there’s always room to brush up on that knowledge – even if it’s just for your next pub quiz!

Specialist Cider Apples

So let’s dive straight in, with a seemingly simple term – Specialist Cider Apples. Whilst you may know what this means, do you know the importance of this specialist fruit? Whilst you can make cider from any old apples, good cider can only derive from cider apples. If you bit into a cider apple, it’d be like biting on a piece of rubber with a distinctly bitter taste. As Sandford Orchard’s founder Barny Butterfield says, “cider apples are much like a wine grape in the way that they are also specialist fruit, with thick skins, a bitter taste, and big pips – not right for eating. It is crucial to have a class of apples that are purely for cider production. Our cider apples are bittersweet apples, which include the likes of Yarlington Mill, Sweet Alford, Dabinett, Browns Apple and Ellis Bitter.

Cold Whole Pressed Juice

Next up, is cold whole pressed juice, essential in our cidermaking at Sandford Orchards. We make our cider only from cider apples. As mentioned above, great cider comes from specific cider apples. At Sandford Orchards, we cold ferment whole juice, which gives us our distinct and delicious cider. This differs from the bigger cider brands who take apple juice and evaporate it to a syrup, which they then store, before making this into cider. At Sandford we ferment the whole juice, resulting in a richer, more flavourful cider. We pick our apples in the autumn, at which point the apples are between 5-10 degrees in temperature, we then crush them and extract the juice, before fermenting at about 17 degrees. Not only does cold whole pressed juice make our cider taste delicious, but it’s also environmentally friendly, as we never have to throw energy at the process, and it’s exactly how cider has been made for over 3,000 years.

Cider Vat


Now for a term that potentially even the cider enthusiasts may not be familiar with – Keeving. Put very simply, it’s an old-fashioned way of making cider naturally sweet. Keeving is a way of deliberately reducing the available nutrients in the apple juice after pressing so that the fermentation will be slower and stop before all the apple juice has been fermented, resulting in a naturally sweet cider – instead of adding sweetness at the end. The method is very common in France but has also been a part of English cidermaking for centuries. The process takes out the cellulose in the cider – which in the old days involved goose feathers and salt! The process of keeving involves the utmost skill from our cidermakers at Sandford. As Barny notes, “Ciders will spontaneously keeve, but for the guys that do it in our cider mill, it’s a labour of love. They have to watch their vats and pick their exact moment to keeve, otherwise the cider will simply ferment as usual.”

Brown Hat

The phrase Brown Hat has come from the keeving process and this is when, in the action of keeving, the naturally fermenting early apple juice separates and you get all of the impurities rising to the top, making a jelly-foam brown hat. The excess precipitates to the bottom and in the middle is the clear juice – that juice is keeve. In Barny’s words, “If the timing is wrong, the hat falls in and the excess comes up from the bottom and you get a usual fermentation – so it takes a huge amount of skill from our cider makers.” Some great small cider companies that keeve include Artistraw Cider and Rawlins Cider, both of whom were Silver winners at our 2022 Breakthrough Cider Maker Awards.


No Staycation To Devon Is Complete Without A Cider Mill Tour


Finally, Maturation, a phrase that may be obvious, but it’s importance in cidermaking cannot be understated. Tannins and polyphenols – things that tickle your tongue, need time to form in the vat – the cider has to go on its own journey to develop the flavour. At Sandford, we don’t bottle our cider until a year of fermentation at least, as it needs to go through that maturation process. For our vintage range, we are maturing cider for around 2 – 3 years. Barny notes, “For the maturation process, time is the only answer”.

So, there you have it, some terms that are integral to cidermaking that you can now use to impress your friends and family at your next cider-drinking occasion!

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