Who wants to be a pommelier?

22 January 2018

It's oft said that cider doesn't get the recognition it deserves. With beer sales booming and spirits continuing to dominate, cider is often cruelly overlooked.

Looking to change all that is The Beer & Cider Academy's latest endeavour, the Cider Foundation Course. Its chief aims are to educate, inform and change perceptions of cider as a 'beer-like' summertime tipple. We were lucky enough to nab ourselves a place. Isabella Sullivan reports

It's safe to say most of us have a cider memory or two, and a lot of those images may involve a park bench...

Cider demand

We are at a time of unprecedented global interest in cider. This was started in 2006 by the 'Magner's Effect'.

What's the deal with pear cider?

Pear varieties of cider exist, most famously, perry. The same principles as with apples exist. Unlike apples, pears contain sorbitol, an unfermentable sugar.

The centuries-old libation – made from the golden, delicious juice of an apple – is actually far more complicated and appealing than people may think.

Led by the Ciderologist Gabe Cook, the foundation course is informative, engaging and full of laughs, which you'd expect from an Imbibe Educator of the Year nominee.

'There are many things that turn people off cider,' joked Cook before beginning the session. 'Park-bench drinking, mostly by teenagers, and that image of "dirty old scrump"'.

Jokes aside, the course has five simple objectives: to appreciate the history and methodology of cidermaking; to enhance knowledge of families, major styles and flavour distinctions; to make more informed choices; to become and advocate for the cider category; and to, of course, have an enhanced passion for the boozy apple juice.

It'll take just one day and will explore every last drop.

Why should we care?

The simplest definition of cider is that is it the result of the fermentation of apple juice, where yeast converts sugar into alcohol. But ciders have long been categorised with beer, which, as Cook revealed, is a strange move, seeing as cider is more akin to wine than any other drink. Though consumed like beer, cider has the flavour, personality and culture of no other drink.

With the definition in the bag, Cook explored the drink's character and the preconceptions it faces today. The fact that cider, unlike wine, lacks 'high value perception', and the reasons why this has happened, were also discussed.

The Ciderologist Gabe Cook throws a cider
The Ciderologist Gabe Cook throws a cider

Just like wine, the variety of fruit picked for cider is very important. In Europe, many varieties have been selected and grown for the purpose of making cider, while in other areas, cider is made with dessert and culinary apples. Cook went on to explain the 'Holy Trinity' of apples; acid, polyphenols and sugar.

In cidermaking the acid – which is malic –  provides the crisp, green aromatics we taste in cider, the freshness on the palate and its ability to cut through. Polyphenols provide mouthfeel, structure, complexity and tannins. They also provide astringency, bitterness and volatile aromatics. Sugar, of course, is the fuel for fermentation.

This is where things got a little more complicated, with Cook exploring yeast's role in cidermaking and how cidermakers choose between cultured or wild yeast.

Cultured yeast is controlled and ensures continuity in products. These include champagne, white wine and beer yeasts, all resulting in different flavour profiles.

The other option, wild yeast, is found in the cider house, and naturally flocks to the liquid, resulting in an totally unique liquid.

After cider families and styles – perry, phenolic, acid, ice and flavoured – were discussed at length, it was time to learn how to properly taste and analyse cider.

After initially tasting ciders alone, food was brought into the equation to spice things up a bit. Cider is often overlooked as a food-pairing beverage, but with great acidity, depth and mouthfeel, it provides the perfect complement to (certain) foods. In total, four ciders were tasted with four courses – we'd tell you which, but we can't give it all away.

There are seven key steps to the cidermaking process:

  • harvesting, milling and pressing, fermentation, maturation, blending, stabilisation and packaging

After lunch, a brief history of apples and a look at the cidermaking process, the class took to the streets of London Bridge. Led by Cook, the Asturian art of cider throwing was (attempted) by the group to demonstrate the wide range of styles and the ability to add theatre into serving.

The Cider Foundation Course is a lot to take in, but engaging, informative and a real corker. For those who want to see it through, two more advanced courses are also available, where cidermaking and techniques are explored even further.

If you want to be a pommelier, check out the Beer & Cider Academy website for the latest course dates.


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