March 25, 2010
Ice wine is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze, which concentrates their sugars, before picking. The result is usually a sweet dessert wine.
According to Ben Watson’s Cider: Hard & Sweet, a Frenchman living in Quebec by the name of Christian Barthomeuf began experimenting with trying to make ice cider in a similar fashion as ice wine. In 1996, the first commercial ice cider became available. In 2007, about fifty ice cider producers mostly in southern Quebec produced half a million bottles.
Watson says there are two methods to make ice cider, cryoconcentration and cryoextraction. The first method is very much like applejack in that fresh pressed apple cider is allowed to freeze and have the ice removed leaving a higher concentration of sugar, but unlike applejack, the sweet cider has not been allowed to ferment yet. The second method involves leaving the apples on the trees until they freeze at temperatures around 16⁰F to 5⁰F, usually in January. Then the apples are harvested and pressed while still partially frozen. Since very few apple varieties stay on the tree that long, sometime apples from cold storage are allowed to freeze outside.
Watson goes on to say that Quebec has some standards for how much sugar should be present before fermentation and after fermentation, leaving a sweet full flavored apple cider between 7 and 13 percent alcohol.
Watson states, “According to Charles Crawford, owner of Domaine Pinnacle, it takes 80 apples to make just one 375 ml. bottle of ice cider, which is only one reason it is so expensive. The harvest, pressing, and eight- or nine- month fermentation are all labor-intensive, and producers use special wine yeasts and must stop fermentation to leave just the right amount of residual sugar.”
Waston discourages people from making ice cider, saying it should be left to the pros. He cites the difficulty to freeze apples in other regions and difficulty in stopping the fermentation, which he says a failure will end up in a strong cidre fort. He even points out that some ice cider makers have batches that they can’t sell as ice cider, and convert it to a dessert apple wine kind of like pommeau.
Edit: I found this excellent blog on ice cider out of the UK after I posted my own on ice cider. Please give it a read.