You may have noticed a huge proliferation in hard apple ciders on the market. Angry Orchard, Crispin, Strongbow, Johnny Appleseed, Woodchuck are just a few of the brands that have become readily available. As well, many beer breweries are getting in on the cider market, such a Saranac, Shipyard, and others.
At the same time, there is a huge variety of fruit flavored beers. Red’s Apple Ale1 has led the way in a mini apple ale revolution. Their campaign is centered on the apples rather than the “beerness” of the drink. Others have followed, such as Mike’s Hard Smashed Apple Ale, Bundaberg Apple Ale, etc. Since all of this is happening at the same time, some people are justifiably confused by the difference between cider and ale or even the difference between cider and beer.
Red’s Apple Ale, and other apple flavored beers, is a beer that is flavored with apple. It has a lot of apple flavor compared to many fruit flavored beers and it is quite sweet. Some have called it a cider/ale hybrid and I cannot say that this is not an accurate portrayal, although the “ale” part is questionable. On the other hand, although I haven’t tried all of them, most of the hard apple ciders I have tried are like very sweet carbonated sodas drinks with alcohol. Some are better than others, but hopefully, the market will improve and more complex ciders will be in the offing (it’s probably all in the apples).
How do I define better? A better balance between sweet, bitter, and sour flavors (“dryer” ciders, perhaps). As well as a certain astringency I’d associate with real cider apples. Be that as it may, a lot of people probably appreciate the simple “clean” ciders that lead the market today. For something that IS more interesting and varied, look into the Woodchuck line of ciders. They have a full range of ciders including a granny smith, a dark and dry, a hop infused cider, seasonal offerings, and other lines. Definitely the cidery for when you want something good and different!
But What Is Cider?
A cider is the juice squeezed from apple pulp that is fermented with added yeast, or the yeast that is already naturally on the apples. Therefore, apple cider is more like a wine, and in the case of today’s products, a carbonated wine (some are using beer yeasts, by the way). There was a time, in the early days of the U.S., when cider was a very important drink. Much more important than beer. The many apple orchards planted by early settlers throughout the country, helped along by the apple stock produced by the legendary Johnny Appleseed, had a lot to do with the need, and desire, for cider. As well, cider was just as important in England at one time.
Prohibition, industrialization, and the influx of European immigrants from countries with big beer cultures conspired to take cider off its perch. That is probably when cider became, in America, an unfiltered apple juice product with no alcohol.
Since then, the craft beer revolution has opened up our taste, not to mention out wallets, and cider is making a long-deserved comeback. There are already other ciders besides apple. Expect to see many more.
What is an Apple Ale?
Ale, on the other hand, is a beer brewed using grains like barely or wheat and with special yeasts called ale yeasts. And apple ale, is an ale that has apple added for flavor. In the case of Red’s Apple Ale, it is a golden ale with apple flavor rather than apple juice or apples. It has quite an apple taste for an “ale” and is quite sweet, no doubt adding to the confusion over cider versus ale. There is not really any malt taste (from barley malt used in brewing beer), or hops (the bitter, aromatic herb so important to the taste of most all beer). It really is more like a cider than a beer! So, if you are a dedicated craft beer drinker, and have not tried Red’s Apple Ale, and someone asks you about this ale/cider thing, you can see why they are confused. So, treat them well and explain it to them. If you like beer, you probably won’t like Red’s Apple Ale. And, if you want a cider, well, I’d recommend a cider, since it will probably have been made with actual apples, rather than “apple flavor.”