By Wes Mickel, Argus Cidery

The best chef is the smartest chef, as they say, and cider-smarts are rooted in knowing, following and handling that wondrously tart, sweet, crunchy, crisp, red-to-green spectrum king of all fruits—with a nod to its past and all the cider makers who came before us.

Cider may have a mash-up-whatever-fell-on-the-ground reputation, but of course it’s much more than that. Fair to say, though, that making it from tree to glass with lightness and bubbles is a blend of wildly distinct techniques—so sure, a mash-up it is. From the slow-pressing technique of Pays d’Auge and wild yeasts of Asturias to the “farmhouse traditions” of England, you can trace most apple-cheers to three core styles of cider. But before we get to pouring, we must of course begin where it all begins: in the orchard.

Apples are born into their purpose: either as an eating or dessert apple that’s great to chomp into or throw into a pie, or as a cider or juicing apple that’s hard and tart to the point where it needs a little more coaxing. A great-tasting raw pressed cider (sans fermentation) would be made of mostly dessert apples and perhaps only a third of cider apples because of their astringent nature, high acidity and tannic structure.

Historically, the highly edible and highly sweet apples didn’t last long enough to make it to press—and most varieties found on grocery shelves today were not bred into existence until the nineteenth or twentieth century. Pre-Prohibition, apples were quite literally a whole different breed, and cider has evolved as the orchards have.

“ Pre-Prohibition, apples were quite literally a whole different breed, and cider has evolved as the orchards have.”

Historically, the highly edible and highly sweet apples didn’t last long enough to make it to press—and most varieties found on grocery shelves today were not bred into existence until the nineteenth or twentieth century. Pre-Prohibition, apples were quite literally a whole different breed, and cider has evolved as the orchards have.

 

Délices: Ciders from the Home of Champagne

French ciders are a serious business. Certified by the government and given the label appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), French ciders are broken down into cidre doux (sweet), demi-sec (slightly sweet) and sec (dry, which is more potent in terms of the alcohol content) in the same fashion that champagnes are classified. See? We told you. In the land of Triomphe and Eiffel, cider is seriously revered stuff.

 

Delicias: Ciders from Spain and the Basque Region

These guys consume the most per capita because Spaniards are awesome. Since Spain doesn’t have grape-friendly growing conditions, apples were planted instead. Kinda like Texas. Since then, Asturian and Basque ciders incorporated the usage of wild yeast, which gives these varieties a real kick. Which is also kinda like Texas. Spanish and Basque ciders are usually made without any carbonation and are more like a still apple wine. We’ll drink it either way.

Right Cracking Good: English Ciders

The UK is home to the rougher, wilder, fermented “farmhouse” traditions. Take Circle Cider, for example—they started by collecting unharvested fruit out of willing backyards. As Texans who have to take what we can get when it comes to orchards, this makes us all want to smash glasses together in cheers. Most English ciders use mostly the hardcore cider apples, making for a real cheeky taste and an ABV ranging from 2% to 8%.