GLINTCAP Cider Dispatches: Training & Tasting

Cidermaker Peter has completed his training session at GLINTCAP in Michigan, so it’s
time to move on to tasting over a thousand ciders! As you can see, he’s put some last words down on paper just in case…

Amongst all the amazing people met so far in Grand Rapids, Peter’s giving a special shout out to Danielle at County Cider and Chandra at the Lost Vally Cider public house, and the great venue that is, The Waldron.

As Peter works his professional way through a mammoth selection of worldwide ciders, we thought it might be a good idea to look at ‘tasting’. Some people just ‘know’ that they like a drink, and don’t need to interrogate it any further. But if you do like to compare your ciders… read on.

It’s a serious business for professionals, but cider-tasting in principle for the rest of us, is pretty straightforward. First of all, take a good look at the cider in a clean, clear glass. You’re looking at the colour, clarity (some are cloudy, some, clear), how still or bubbly it is (carbonation) and what the viscosity is like (is it thick or thin as it moves round the glass?).

Next, as you swirl it gently, take a sniff to see what you can detect. You should expect some note of apples but how dominant? Are they crisp green apples, traditionally tart cider apples or something sweeter and juicier? Does it smell vinegary or tart? Let’s be honest here, does it smell good or bad? You can also look for other notes – perhaps different fruits, spice, the scent of flowers or herbs, green notes? Perhaps you may also notice a hint that reminds you where the cider has been maturing – oak casks, different wood barrels, or even what those barrels were used for initially (bourbon or rum, for example). Does it smell young or rich and long-matured?

Then, it’s time to taste! Take a good sip and make sure you move it around your mouth so the flavours are released and all your taste-buds are engaged. As well as thinking again about the flavours you notice, especially in relation to the scents you’ve just detected, consider the texture of the cider, and whether it feels sweet or dry. Is it bitter, acidic, or even astringent (due to a higher level of tannins). Perhaps you can pick up notes of additional ingredients or even hints of location that weren’t apparent before you tasted – sea salt, honey, blossom, whisky cask? Finally you can consider the after-taste, which again can reveal more than the initial smell and sip tests. This is often when the astringency level becomes more obvious. Then it’s up to you to balance all your different impressions and decide whether the cider ‘works’ for you. Do the sweetness, texture, flavour, acidity, and all other aspects result in a well-balanced cider? Does the flavour last pleasantly, or does it disappear quickly?

All those things, even though they can pass in seconds, determine whether ultimately you’re likely to accept another glass if it is offered. And that’s always a good guide!