From the orchard to your glass: All the juicy details on hard cider

Posted: October 05, 2020
From the orchard to your glass: All the juicy details on hard cider

One of our very favorite ways to mark autumn's arrival is the beginning of apple harvest season. Despite the increase in popularity of hard ciders globally, it's still a mystery to many. 

So we caught up to with Matt Holley (left), head cidermaker at Virtue Cider in Fennville, Michigan, and Kaitlin Vandenbosch (right), brewmaster at Mill Street Brewery and Brickworks Ciderhouse in Toronto, Canada, to hear what they are most “excidered” about this year.

When did you become a cidermaker?

Kaitlin: My background is in beer and spirits, so cidermaking is relatively new for me. I began working with Brickworks Ciderhouse this past March and the team has already taught me so much.  

Matt: I've been making cider for about three years now. Like Kaitlin, beer has always been my passion, but I found cider to be quite intriguing and I wanted to learn more about a different side of the industry.

What's the most common misconception about hard cider? 

Kaitlin: That all cider is the same. Cider is an extremely versatile beverage; the alcohol can range from 2% to 13% and the flavors vary in sweetness from bone-dry to very sweet. There are farmhouse ciders, still ciders, flavored ciders – it's a category worth exploring.  

Matt: Exactly – people often think cider must be sweet. Personally, dry cider is my favorite, especially barrel aged or farmhouse styles.     

Brickworks makes its small batch ciders made from Ontario apples sourced from within 300 kilometers of their Toronto ciderhouse.

What's your favorite part of making cider? 

Kaitlin: Once the apples are harvested, they are pressed for their delicious juice. I love taking that juice through the fermentation process and blending the ingredients to produce a full range of flavors and expressions, from sweet to dry, clean to funky, smooth to prickly and even bubbly.   

Matt: Pressing! There's nothing like being able to eat apples from a farm down the road, press them and blend them into an amazing cider post-fermentation. 

At Virtue's cidery and 48-acre farm in Fennville, Michigan locally sourced apples are said to smell like candy during harvest.

It's officially harvest season. What do you love most about this time of year? 

Kaitlin: The fresh apples! ​Cider can be made from pressing fresh apples at harvest or from pressing cold stored apples throughout the year. The sugar, tannin and acidity levels of the apples change over time, and great cider can be made from both types of apples.    

Matt: I look forward to the delicious, sweet smell of fresh apples being pressed every harvest season. I also love to see more heritage fruit being planted every year by farmers in the community around us. Heritage fruit-based ciders are made with apples specifically grown for making cider and create exciting and dynamic flavor profiles.

What's your go-to cider right now?

Kaitlin: This summer I was hooked on our hibiscus and lime Cider Spritz. It's one of our low-alcohol ciders that is wonderfully dry and flavorful! I have also been sipping on our Vanilla Oak, an elegant semi-sweet cider that is aged on French and American oak chips and finished with vanilla. But when I'm feeling adventurous, I love our experimental Strawberry White, a strawberry flavored, blush-colored nitro cider.    

Matt: Old Spot is our take on a traditional English pub cider. It's a blend of traditional cider fruit – Dabinett, Baldwin, Yarlington Mill and Esopus Spitzenburg that were pressed here at Virtue, fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak. It's dry with a great tannic body and packs a slightly higher alcohol content than traditional cider, which gives some warmth to those enjoying its flavorful taste on those colder evenings. It's delightful! 

Enjoying on a chilly fall evening around a bonfire? Matt recommends Virtue's Old Spot, an English pub cider.

How have you been supporting the Toronto and Fennville communities during the pandemic? 

Kaitlin: Brickworks offers Community Collection Kits that include our ciders, homemade cider bread and maple butter, along with locally made meats and cheeses from neighboring businesses. We also worked to spread positivity through an Instagram campaign with tips to stay positive during the lockdown.   

Matt: We're doing something similar, with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes with goods from local vendors, saving people a trip to the supermarket. At Virtue Cider we are also staunch supporters of mask wearing, cleaning and sanitation of our space. Respect for each other is the number one priority for us right now. 

In your opinion, what's the best way to enjoy a hard cider? 

Kaitlin: Cider pairs quite well with a range of foods, so it's perfect for any sort of meal. I love the classic pairing of a modern cider like Batch 1904 with a barbequed pork chop. Or, a flavored cider like Raspberry Peach goes very well with a summer salad.    

Matt: Any fall evening by the campfire. That's my favorite time to sit back and enjoy one of my favorite ciders. 

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