What is ‘Heritage Cider’?

In October of last year, the United States Association of Cider Makers released a set of style guidelines for cider.  The purpose was to start providing some broad standards to a category that is nearly as diverse as wine and beer.  The intention ultimately is to give cider drinkers a better chance of choosing a bottle off the retail shelf or the restaurant menu that they might actually enjoy drinking. 

When I am sampling our ciders at the farmers market or events, I’ll frequently have someone say to me “no thanks, I don’t really care for cider”, and when I ask why, the answer is usually “it’s too sweet”, or someone will come up and say “I love cider”, and then make an ugly face when they taste our sparkling dry cider because it is totally different from the brands they usually buy.  So I’m an enthusiastic supporter of giving the market some standard terminology for different styles.  The USACM first version is still very very broad, but it’s a good start. 

One key distinction in the guidelines is between ‘Modern’ cider and ‘Heritage’ cider, for ciders made exclusively from apples – without other fruits, spices or non-apple flavorings.  To summarize, Modern ciders are made from dessert variety apples, whereas Heritage ciders are made with heirloom and cider variety apples and are likely made with more traditional wine-making approaches. While it’s not the word I would have chosen (preferring to avoid implications of Colonial invasions), at least we finally have one to represent what we do.

Here’s how we think about Heritage ciders at Eden:

Heirloom and tannic cider variety apples – yes, AND grown locally, sustainably, and for the express purpose of producing cider. In particular, harvesting apples at peak ripeness, not under-ripe for storage and shipping to grocery stores where crunchy texture matters more than developed sugars and flavors

Pressing apples at harvest or soon after when flavors, sugars and acids are at their peak, not out of cold storage months later when they are dull.  This is HUGE, because it means that we make one batch of a cider per year.  That is completely different from modern ciders that produce a new batch from a recipe every 3 – 6 weeks, based on pressing apples out of cold storage or using rehydrated apple concentrate.

Fermenting the juice like wine, slow and cool, allowing all those precious flavors to develop over time, and express the unique character of the apple varieties and the place they were grown

Maturing ciders so their acids, tannins and any residual sweetness are fully integrated and balanced

Rejecting cheap, fast wine-making tools like adding sugar, acid or tannin out of bags to adjust flavor, or fining agents to speed clarification of the ciders, or enzymes to fix microbiological issues that could be avoided through more careful care of apples and hygienic facilities

We are not as religious as some about commercial yeast, organic yeast nutrients, or filtration.  We use these where they support the expression of the apple character and the type of cider.  For example, we filter our ice ciders just before bottling to avoid any refermentation of residual sugar inside the bottle that would ruin the product.  We use champagne yeast for the in-bottle secondary fermentation of our naturally sparkling ciders because there is already alcohol in the cider at a level that prevents spontaneous fermentation at that point.  We use organic yeast nutrient to support healthy fermentations in blends of apples that don’t have enough nutrition to avoid off-flavors that would detract from the expression of the beautiful apple flavors that our orchards produce.  In every decision, we are looking to maximize deliciousness, which we believe starts and ends with the fruit.

I am incredibly grateful that you are interested enough in cider to have read this far!  The choices we make mean that our ciders are expensive and limited in quantity.  Without your support, we couldn’t support the orchards, the apple varieties, or our employees that work so hard and share our passion for this amazing fruit and the liquid it becomes. Please spread the word about Heritage ciders.  Encourage others to ask these key questions about the ciders they choose – What varieties are in this cider? Where and when were they grown? When were they pressed?  How long from pressing to bottling? 

Or just kick back and enjoy one of our ciders with your next meal, because really, your great cider experience is the most important thing of all to us.