Sunday 14 April 2013

Cider101 - Filtering

Taking aside the nasty 'scrumpy' that you used to get as a 'grockle', what is more traditionally cider? Cloudy, hazy or bright and clear? The proper answer (now that cider has regained its quality after many years of rubbish and gloop) is all of it really… except perhaps for the super bright that looks like water and the kind of cloudy that gave cider a bad name as scrumpy that was rough (both of which I have no doubt can still be found if you look hard enough).

image taken from Voran website
The filtering of cider has been around for some time - not just for cider, but for all drinks. It clears out undesirable bits... doesn't it? To some extent I can understand why it is done, although having had a few years practice at making cider without filtering I can say that as a cider matures the yeast drops to the bottom. OK, this is a general principle; there will be years that things don't quite work out  - though use of racking (transferring cider from one container to another, leaving the dead yeast behind) generally means that a cider is clear by the time the drinker gets to it.

To look at filtration (as with any addition or subtraction from full juice cider), you have to ask ‘what are the benefits’? Generally, the answer is to produce a clear cider that doesn’t drop any additional sediment. Also, heavily tannic or acidic ciders can be adjusted through filtering. However, in a well kept traditional cider which is well balanced this should not be really necessary. And as with other additions or changes, it is best done sensitively and with good judgement. Too much and you will start to strip away the flavour and body of a traditional cider. When reviewing, I am conscious when a cider tastes weak, with a short aftertaste; this can often either watering down or heavy filtering.  Either way, to me, it’s a shame as the original drink may well have been bolder, more individual and tastier. It is a sad thing to me that so many ciders have been filtered without any regard to this.

As mentioned in my last Cider101 post, filtration can also take the place of pasteurisation when sweetening a cider. Done in a clean room environment and to the correct degree, all yeast cells can be removed at the point of bottling to eliminate any chance of renewed fermentation. The pay off? Well, its not only yeast cells that are being removed. If you think in terms of flavour, aroma, body, tannin and acid – some of this can easily be removed along with the yeast, leaving the drink somewhat the less for it- very less for it!

I am not sure where CAMRA stand on filtering (and, lets be honest, why would anyone care really what they really think... do you really think that its based on good working knowledge of cider?) The CAMRA website simply says 'no micro filtration' which is a bit ambiguous and doesn't really give any reasoning. So, whilst they are 'debating' the pro's and con's of pasteurisation, perhaps they should be focussing on filtration as process that can change a cider more than any other.

Me? Well, I don’t think it’s such a crime when done sensitively and lightly but it can be more damaging to a cider than pasteurisation. It’s a case of needs must… and for a lot of ciders, there is no need. As is pretty clear on this, if I had to put the 'techie' processes in order of badness, filtration would be the worst, followed by additions (well, if you have a full juice cider it shouldn't need much eh).

Trouble is, when you start to go down the route of most of these processes you end up doing more than one of them. Then PR companies get involved and then shareholders and before you know it, you are looking at the HMRC guideline of 35% and wondering how you can get around it. Ha, OK - extreme but... I would like to know what percentage even the big 'family' cidermakers are down to these days!

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