Types of cider: Traditional vs Session

Cider Vat

Non-cider drinkers may be forgiven for assuming that cider is a drink with little variety or nuance, however as we at Sandford and our cider-literate customers know, that couldn’t be further from the truth of the matter. The possibilities with cider-making are pretty much endless, and two different cider types are Traditional Cider and Session Cider.

What is Traditional Cider?

So what is Traditional Cider? This simply means those ciders which are produced in areas where cider apples grow, including the West Country of England, in counties such as Devon, Somerset and Herefordshire, as well as Northern France in areas like Normandy and Brittany. Otherwise, a traditional cider can be classified as such when traditional cider techniques are used in making the cider. One such technique that is used in traditional cider making is malolactic fermentation, which essentially takes the edge off a cider’s acidity by converting the sharper malic acid into the softer lactic acid (hence the name malolactic), which rounds out the mouthfeel and makes a cider more accessible.

English traditional ciders are made with bittersweet and bittersharp apple varieties which have been grown for the specific purpose of cidermaking. These ciders are usually fermented and aged in wood barrels, which add depth and character to the flavour. Meanwhile, French ciders are sweeter, and are usually classified as having a sweetness level of medium, medium-sweet, or sweet. Particularly in Northern France weather ciders are often made by the method of keeving – which produces a naturally sweet cider The process prevents yeast from fully fermenting apple juice into cider, so some natural fruity sweetness remains.

What is session cider?

Devon Red

Session cider on the other hand is quite different to the traditional stuff, which tends to be much higher in alcohol content. Session cider usually has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of below 4 or 5% ABV and is high in refreshment.

When making Session cider, the key is to limit the fermentation process, the length of which contributes to the alcohol strength in the cider. Sugar is what converts to alcohol during fermentation, so blending ingredients with lower levels of sugar, depriving yeast of nutrients, or stopping the fermentation before all the sugar can be converted to alcohol will all contribute to creating a cider with a lower ABV level. Other than having a lower ABV than other ciders, session cider is made using the same traditional techniques of cidermaking, but is perfect for the modern drinker who is looking to be able to keep their alcohol intake at a slightly lower level and keep the next day’s sore head at bay (depending on how much of it they drink!).

Our range of Traditional and Session Cider


At Sandford Orchards, we have a selection of both Traditional and Session ciders for you to choose from, each of them unique from one another. Our Traditional ciders are still, whole juice ciders, and a real tribute to the long Devon cider making tradition that is at the very heart of everything we do. Starting with The General, which is named after the mighty, oak vat in which only our best vintage ciders are aged. It is bold and satisfying with notes of Seville orange, plum and baked apple, rich and rewarding with a long, warming finish. The General has also won Gold in the World Cider Awards.

Another Traditional Cider we make at Sandford Orchards is the Sandford Reserve, which has an alcohol content of 7.4% with intricate flavours of peach, vintage oak and sherry wine. We also make a beautiful dry vintage cider, called the Apple & Oak, which aged in new oak barrels and showcases youthful, ripe, bittersweet apple flavours, that are complemented by soft notes of vanilla and toasty oak.

Our Session Ciders are amongst some of our best loved ciders. The Devon Red is our best-selling cider and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy it. This is a crisp and fruity medium cider, that is a perfectly balanced, and eponymous with the rich red soil that gives our orchards their distinctive quality.

Another favourite is the Devon Mist, which is unfiltered and expertly blended to create a medium, cloudy, cider and made from Yarlington Mill, Tremlett’s Bitter and Woodbine apples. The Devon Dry we sell does what it says on the bottle – it’s Crisp, dry and filled with delicious cider apple tannin. We like to think of this as our tribute to the true West Country dry cider style.

So, whether it’s Traditional Cider that takes your fancy, or Session Cider, at Sandford Orchards we have a wide variety of both, so there’s certain to be a cider for everyone to enjoy.

4 comments on “Types of cider: Traditional vs Session

  1. Tom Cook on

    Great article , born in Nailsea I was brought up on the “ruff” trad ciders I love your Devon mist , sadly not many places stock it up here but wherever I spot it in a pub on my travels I have pint or two .
    Session cider I have to go with one of your rivals but only if it’s the Dry .. keep up the great work ..Cider I Up!

    • Jess on

      Thanks Tom! If you’re still in Nailsea you should be able to get hold a drop of Devon Mist in Morrisons in Weston, or Aldi in Clevedon stock us too.

  2. Tony Phipps on

    A good read. I really enjoy your traditional and session ciders and recently I’ve been able to buy a lot in Morrisons in Plymouth but last visit they only had Devon red and Devon mist. Hopefully they will get some more in stockings. But they still have Red and Mist so not alls lost. Many thanks to you all.

    • Jess on

      Hi Tony, glad you enjoyed the article and our ciders! Spar and Co Op in the Plymouth area also stock us and should have a bit more of a selection for you to try if you’re looking for more than Red or Mist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *