Cider Tasting Vocabulary

February 24, 2010

Cider tasting uses a similar vocabulary as wine tasting does. In Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition, Ben Watson remarked on this, adding, “though [cider vocabulary] tends to be much more basic… than that used by wine fanciers. The taste or smell may be acidic (sharp), acetic (vinegary), astringent (high in tannin), or any one of numerous other adjectives: chemical, fruity, musty, sulfuric, sweet, wood, yeasty” (page 103).

In fact, in 1975, Long Aston Research Station in the United Kingdom performed a study to try and determine what a vocabulary for cider drinking might be. Annie Proulx and Lew Nichol’s Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider reported that the final list from this study contained 163 words, which Andrew Lea posted as being later expanded on to contain twelve major flavor classifications, each split into first-tier terms and re-split into second-tier terms. You can find a list of these terms on Lea’s website.

Watson has an excellent list of descriptors on pages 107 and 108 which he says were once used on a cider score card sheet for the judges at National Homebrew Competition, which was sponsored by the American Homebrewers Association. I borrowed it and modified it for my own cider tasting:

  • Acetic – A smell and sharp taste like vinegar, solvent, or acetone/nail polish remover; a distinct fault in cider, caused by acetic or lactic acid bacteria.
  • Acidity – The presence of malic acid, which balances sweetness and is responsible for the briskness or zing in cider.
  • Alcoholic – The general effect of ethanol and higher alcohols. The taste is warming.
  • Astringent – A drying sensation in the mouth, similar to sucking on a tea bag. Due to excess tannin and acceptable only in a young cider.
  • Aftertaste – The lingering taste in the back of the throat. Ideally long and pleasant.
  • Balanced – No component of the cider overpowers another. An alcoholic cider is balanced by tannin, a sweet cider by crisp acidity.
  • Body – the “middle” of a mouthful of cider. Good body will feel heavy in the mouth.
  • Bouquet – Also known as the aroma, smell, or nose.
  • Carbonation – Naturally carbonated cider has small, beading bubbles. An artificially, forced-carbonated cider has large, uniform bubbles.
  • Clarity – The visual aspect of cider, described as brilliant, clear, slightly hazy, hazy, or cloudy.
  • Clean – Free from apparent “off” odors or flavors
  • Diacetyl – Aroma and flavor described at butter, butterscotch, or toffee; in moderation, and in certain regional styles, can contribute to flavor; in large concentrations, it’s a fault.
  • Dry – A sensation on the tongue that indicates a lack of residual sugar. Dryness varies from bone-dry to dry, off-dry, and semidry.
  • Estery – Sweet-solvent, chemical, banana or tropical fruit flavors; artificial fruity-floral aroma.
  • Fruity – May indicate fruitiness in flavor and/or aroma.
  • Hot – An unpleasant taste sensation due to excess alcohol content.
  • Light – Refers to the body and is descriptive, not negative, as opposed to “thin.”
  • Metallic – A tinny or coppery taste caused by exposure to certain metals; not a good thing.
  • Moldy or musty – An unpleasant smell sometimes compared to damp cardboard or sherry. Due to oxidation or over filtration of cider.
  • Mousy – A cider disorder caused by lactic acid bacteria. The cider smells and tastes like the bottom of a rodent’s den.
  • Oxidized – The chemical oxidation of stored cider in contact with air or containing high levels of dissolved oxygen; color can be dark golden brown; aroma and taste described as stale, leathery, caramelized, or sherry-like.
  • Phenolic – A plastic taste and smell caused by some wild yeasts and bacteria. Also described as smoky, pitchy, medicinal, barny, or leathery.
  • Sparkling – Having carbonation.
  • Still – Lacking carbonation.
  • Sulfuric – A smell or taste like burnt matches. Due to fermentation at high temperatures or excessive use of sulfites.
  • Sweet – The basic taste associated with sugar; appropriate to certain styles of cider. Sweetness varies from semidry, semisweet, or sweet.
  • Thin – Lacking body.
  • Woody – A taste or aroma usually caused by cider aging for an extended length of time in oak casts or in contact with wood chips.
  • Yeasty – A breadlike aroma caused by a cider sitting on its lees (spent yeast) for an extended period.
  • Young – A cider with components that have not yet matured into a balanced whole.

Other Useful Words
Spoiled, off

Proulx and Nichol remarked, “But unlike quaffers of fermented grape juice, most fanciers of the apple do not strive for the quintessential statement by using comparative phraseology to endow their glasses with human anatomy, action, and emotion… Cider goes down very easily, and the most meaningful comment you’re likely to get is a silently extended glass. There’s a story about a Maine lumberjack who was treating his friends to some superior hard cider. Because he prized it so highly, he poured each of them a scant glassful and put the jug back in the cupboard. His friends tossed off their drinks, smacking their lips, and the lumberjack waited expectantly for them to start the conversation. A long silence – a heavy silence – followed until the woodsman took the hint and went to the cupboard again, remarked sheepishly, ‘Well fellers, I guess a bird can’t fly with only one wing’” (page 180-181).


One Response to “Cider Tasting Vocabulary”

  1. […] Drinking Cider, Cider Glossary Cider Monger, Cider Glossary Candle Wine Project, Cider Tasting Vocabulary United States of Cider, Terminology […]

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