Cider is fermented apple juice. It's that simple.
Perry is a similar drink made from fermented pear juice. In what follows, whenever we say "apples" and "cider", you can generally add "or pears" and "or perry".
What you'll find here:
(Note that a lot of the following is slanted toward US readers.)
Cider is fermented apple juice. At its simplest, that's all it is. However, it can have other ingredients added to the fermentation: sometimes sugar or raisins are added, to raise the alcohol content. Sometimes there are spices. Large-scale commercial cider makers add all sorts of junk to make a cheap, uniform, bland product.
Good cider is a little bit like white wine, but with less alcohol (closer to the alcohol content of beer). Cider can vary from somewhat-sweet to very dry, and from no carbonation at all to as fizzy as champagne.
Cider doesn't necessarily taste a lot like apples! Some ciders are very fruity, but by no means all of them. Again, think of wine: wine doesn't necessarily taste much like grapes.
If you live anywhere but in the US, you have one phrase for the liquid you get when you grind apples and press the juice out of them, and you have another phrase for what you get when you ferment that juice. In England, for example, you press apples to get "apple juice", and you ferment juice to get "cider". In Spain, you press apples to get "jugo de manzana", and you ferment that juice to get "sidra".
But in the US, "cider" may mean either fresh juice or fermented juice, so it becomes necessary to add a qualifier: "sweet" cider is unfermented and "hard" cider is fermented. What is the difference between "juice" and "sweet cider"? There is no general correct answer here. There are distinctions having to do with the amount of processing, but they vary regionally. The most common distinction is that sweet cider is cloudy (unfiltered) and not stabilized or preserved. But this is far from universally true.
How did this confusion happen? It was an intentional obfuscation that resulted from the US "temperance" movement, around the time of Prohibition in the US. They played a word-game to try to confuse an alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic beverage, to get people to stop drinking hard cider. (What they got instead was people drinking bad gin, creating more alcoholics than if they'd left cider well enough alone.)
Hereafter, and especially in the digest information, if the word "cider" appears without a qualification, it means "fermented apple juice."
There are various craft cidermakers around the US, plus recently a few British ciders have been imported. There are no good mass-market or national brands. Real cider tends to be regional. Also, the complexities of interstate sale of alcoholic beverages (the laws and the distributors) are frequently more than small producers care to tackle. A few cidermakers allow ordering on the Web, depending on whether their state and your state allow interstate shipment.
Anyway, here are a few names to look for, depending on where you live: Westcott Bay, Farnum Hill, West County, Wandering Aengus, Foggy Ridge, Blossomwood, Red Barn, Bellwether. I'm sure I've forgotten or not encountered others, and I won't mention any that I don't know directly or by good reputation.
Good ciders imported from the UK currently include Oliver's, Hogan's, and Henney's. Although craft cider is usually a regional product, we in the US can learn a lot from good UK ciders.
They're created to be cheap to make, bland, and sometimes nothing more than a way to get drunk. Instead of being made from all juice as a true cider would be, they're made with a little bit of apple juice and a bunch of sugar-water. The sugar ferments and adds to the alcohol content, but it adds nothing to the flavor. Some ciders are sweetened and/or carbonated to such an extent that you can't even taste the cider part. After all this, the chemist gets his hand in, adding flavorings to try to make up for the apple character that isn't there.
Here endeth the FAQ so far. It is still being written.
The best collection we know of information about cider, in particular about making cider, is Andrew Lea's Wittenham Hill Cider Page. Andrew also has a book out, now in its second edition, containing the information from his web site and more. Look for Craft Cider Making.
There is a mailing list in the UK for cider enthusiasts: the Cider Workshop Google Group. They have a corresponding web site with a wealth of material, rapidly growing; see The Cider Workshop. A link on the website page will also direct you to signup info for the mailing list.
Although it is primarily a UK group, there's a good bunch of knowledgable, friendly, helpful people. Any cidernaut should find it interesting and informative.
Where can you find cidermakers in North America? The most comprehensive information can be found at the North American Cider Map Project, maintained by "Old Time Dave" (Dave White). Dave also has a nice blog at Old Time Cider which will take you through his travels to cidermakers and cider events.
If you are an aspiring cidermaker, or a cidermaker considering scaling up to small-scale commercial, you must see Rose Grant's annals of her progress into cidermaking. Rose is a retired engineer whose "hobby" of cidermaking turned into a serious pursuit and ultimately a new occupation. See her web site Cider by Rosie (a play on the title of the English poet Laurie Lee's book Cider with Rosie). Within the web site, look for The Cidermaking Year. This details her progress and setbacks, the harvests, the equipment. She's a wonderful writer.
Not recommended--"ukcider" mailing list and wiki: censorship, people banned arbitrarily, plagiarism (violation of copyright). The mailing list collapsed in 2009 under severe censorship and almost all of the useful contributors either left or were banned. (We were banned without explanation.) Most have regrouped at the Cider Workshop, see above. Archives of the mailing list have been modified to remove criticism. The web site is plagued with material lifted without attribution; attributions have even been removed from submitted material.
Also not recommended: Cider ratings on
The ratings tend to be written by people who know little or nothing about
cider. Also, the anonymous mongol-horde approach means that there's
neither consistency nor accountability. A writer might be knowledgable
or not, and might be a shill talking up one product or knocking down
hbd.org/brewery/library They have a collection
of very stale links and copies of material on mead and cider. I
found this because of a 16-year-old swiped copy of Mead-Lover's Digest
material, then checked other items and found them to be similarly beyond
The Wikipedia page on Cider is unreliable because it's such a mixed bag: good information, not-quite-right notes, utter nonsense, and product placement all stirred together. It is subject to editing frenzies such that you have no idea from one day to the next what's there, let alone what's right or wrong. Read with a skeptical eye.
talisman.com runs the Cider Digest, which is an e-mail forum for cider makers and other folks interested in cider, to discuss all aspects of cider. Most of the day-to-day discussion tends to be about making cider on the small scale, at home. The Digest is a non-commercial, strictly volunteer effort by/for cider folk. It was started in August, 1991, and handled for the first 500+ issues by Jay Hersh. Dick Dunn took over in November, 1994, and continues to maintain it. As of December, 2010, 1600 issues had appeared. (Archives are available.) There are currently around 900 subscribers. Distribution is worldwide.
Brief commercial announcements of material relevant to cider may appear from time to time, but blatant advertising and off-topic articles are summarily rejected. The list of subscribers is used only for e-mailing the digest; it is never made available to the outside world.
To sign up for the Digest: Send e-mail with the subject "Subscribe", with
your full name and your e-mail address in the message, to
You may also send inquiries about the digest to that address. PLEASE be specific in the subject line of your message! Simple subjects such as "hi" or "hello", or blank subjects, are likely to cause the mail to be discarded as spam.
Note that the digest only appears when material is submitted (at least a few items). This means it may take up to a week before you get your first issue.
Archives of all issues of the Cider Digest are available. Digests for the current year are available here.
Compressed archives of past years are available in two formats. For
UNIX-like (Linux, Solaris, AIX, etc.) systems, or if you've got tar and
gzip available, click here for .tar.gz
For MS-DOS/Windows systems or if you've got zip, click here for .zip archives.
If you have a choice, the .tar.gz archives are preferable because they're substantially smaller. Each file contains the digests for one year.
There are varieties of apples and pears traditionally used for making cider and perry. These are quite different from normal "culinary" fruit eaten out-of-hand or used in cooking. The cider and perry varieties are chosen to be easier to press and give high yields of juice, and also for flavor components that make a good cider/perry. For example, many cider apples are distinctly bitter. The bitterness comes from tannin, which gives the cider a more complex, interesting, and balanced taste--much as the tannin in wine or the hops in beer.
We were maintaining a small list of sources for the special varieties of apples and pears traditionally used for making cider and perry. However, it proved too difficult to keep it up to date, so for now it's on hold. It's a good idea so we'll try to figure out what to do, to help people locate sources. Stay tuned.
There is also an organization known as NAFEX: the North American Fruit Explorers. This group includes professionals and enthusiastic amateurs; it covers all aspects of fruit and nut trees. There is a quarterly printed newsletter called Pomona, email discussion groups, various special-interest groups, and more. Click here to get to the NAFEX web pages.