Sunday 17 February 2013

Cider 101 - Additions

Following my recent posts about Chaptalisation and AJC, the next practice to try and debunk is what follows on from that - additions. This isn't particularly a practice in its own right, but more tied to the other processes and a necessity of choosing to produce a commodity cider as opposed to something more traditional.

I have heard it proclaimed that this is like making cider in a test tube. I see where the sentiment comes from but, in truth, all of us who seek to produce decent, honest cider these days have some kind of scientific evidence, advice or at least reasoning behind what we do. For example, Sodium Metabisulphate. This is the modern equivalent of burning sulphur in wooden casks before filling them. However, the dose can be measured in the parts per million and accurately applied. Similarly, a simple view of the Cider Workshop will demonstrate that the person who most seek out in the group is Andrew Lea - a scientist with credentials that take him back to Long Ashton, the cider research station (now defunct). Take a look through the archive and see what questions are answered there. We all benefit from a bit of science.

However, as with many things, science gets us all so far. There is a craft ethos and reverence for traditional practice that drives many to seek to produce something honest and good. That elusive vintage quality, while it can be aimed at with the aid of science, cannot be achieved by it alone. So, whilst even the craft cider industry has a bit of 'test tube' attached, it is not driven by test tube.

Neither is the industrial process. That is driven by shareholders, need to make profit, and economies of scale. Whilst not attempting to justify what happens, for many years this was (and is still, to a large extent) considered the route to mass production.

 Additions: Flavour, Colour, Acidity, Tannin and even Aroma

So, why are additions added? Well, what is happening when you dilute juice with water, or use concentrate (which has to be reconstituted too)? Or if the concentrate is all Bramley - or indeed if you can only get Bramley to press? There is only so far you can go before things start to lose their character and become watery or just taste, well, crap. These days it is quite possible to 'design' a cider in an office and then style a base cider using additions to adjust flavour, smell etc. etc.

This is where additions come in. Not exactly in the test tube. More likely in a can or tub. On a basic level these are often E numbers and include such things as cider colouring, flavour adjustment - including adding in more tannin and regulating (or adding) more acid. It can even extend to aroma. A word about aroma's though - often a producer will 'capture' the aroma as they are concentrating juice, and this can quite legally be added back in when the AJC is being reconstituted.

Some producers even add a bit of vitamin C into the cider!!!

As I said, this is all necessary once you go down the route of mucking about with the juice and reducing the juice content in search of that little extra profit or production value. And it occurs to me that this is the cost: the further you travel from a straight forward, honest product the more you have to dip in to the medicine cupboard to fix things. If you have the time or inclination just take a look at what HMRC notice 162 (the 'rules') allow to be added... or indeed, taken away!

Is this the cost of national supply? Possibly. Its like the global, engineered crisp and crunchy apple. Its what we all want.... isn't it?

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