How to Taste Cider

February 23, 2010

How do you evaluate the cider you are drinking?

While reading Ben Watson’s Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition and Annie Proulx and Lew Nichol’s Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider on how to host a cider tasting, the books gave excellent advice on how to evaluate the ciders.

A cider evaluation can be broken down into three parts – appearance, aroma, and taste. Ben Watson remarked, “Each of these individual components contributes to the overall quality and drinkability of the cider, and each should be taken into account when you evaluate it.”

When looking at a cider in a glass, you want to take the following notes:

  • Is it a still cider or is it carbonated?
  • If it is carbonated, is it a natural carbonation or a forced carbonation? Ben Watson describes the difference between the two as, “Naturally sparkling cider will foam up as it hits the bottom of the glass, and the bubbles that swirl up to the surface are smaller and longer-lasting than those in an artificially carbonated cider.”
  • What color is it? Example of color descriptions include pale straw, golden yellow, salmon, apricot, or amber. Ciders that have a green, gray, or orange-red tint may not be drinkable, as the color would be evidence to oxidation or cider sickness.
  • Is it hazy or clear? Words to use include brilliant, clear, slightly hazy, hazy or cloudy.

For the evaluating the aroma, Ben Watson explained, “A hard cider’s aroma or bouquet usually comes from the percentage of fragrant apple varieties that were used in the original cider blend… Yeasts, both natural and cultured, plus other fruits, spices or adjuncts… can also contribute to the complex aroma of a good cider. To evaluate the aroma, put your nose near the top of the glass and take a good whiff; the cider’s bouquet should be a preview of the flavor. If it smells bad or is excessively sharp or vinegary, don’t even bother tasting the cider” (page 103).

Last comes tasting the cider, in which the evaluation can be broken into feel in the mouth and how it tastes on the tongue. Take some of the cider in your mouth and do or note the following:

  • “Chew” on the cider a bit or roll it around in your mouth to get a feeling for the body. Full bodied ciders will feel heaver and richer, and thinner, watery ciders will have little sensation. There is no right or wrong to this, just an observation. However, watery ciders will not be as flavorful.
  • Is it a sweet or dry cider?
  • Is there a nice balance between sugar, acid, tannins, and alcohol? That is to say, are all the elements balanced in the tasting, or is there an element that over powers the other elements? For example, if you pucker, it may have too much tannin.
  • Is the alcohol content strong or weak?
  • After you swallow, does the aroma linger on?
  • Please do not fault a cider because it does not taste like apples, as grape wines do not taste like grapes.
  • Other descriptors?

Most importantly about tasting ciders is, “Do you like it?”Remember, it doesn’t matter how you scored a cider in relationship to others, but that you liked the cider, as your tastes will be different from the next person’s.

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