On cider, scrumpy, and Scotland

Fresh-made crab apple cider.
Fresh-made crab apple cider.

I was chatting with my friend Polly from Glasgow, Scotland (imagine Craig Ferguson’s accent, but prettier. A lot prettier.), and I mentioned that we had given our children some apple cider. She was horrified. “Ye do that with your weans?” I told her cider is no big deal, and she pointed out that cider is alcoholic. I said “That’s hard cider.” She said “What’s hard cider?”

It was another case of two countries separated by a common language. In the UK, if your apple juice is alcoholic, it’s cider. If it’s not, it’s juice. That’s all there is to it.

In the USA, it’s a bit more complicated. According to the Massachusetts state website:

“To make fresh cider, apples are washed, cut and ground into a mash that is the consistency of applesauce. Layers of mash are wrapped in cloth, and put into wooded racks. A hydraulic press squeezes the layers, and the juice flows into refrigerated tanks. This juice is bottled as apple cider.

Apple juice is juice that has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized so that it will stay fresh longer. Vacuum sealing and additional filtering extend the shelf life of the juice.”

So it’s cider if it’s pressed apple juice, and it’s juice if it’s… juice. That’s been filtered and pasteurized.

So what’s hard cider? That’s an American term, because it’s alcoholic. “Hard” drinks have alcohol, and “soft” drinks do not. That’s why colas and such are called soft drinks — they’re non-alcoholic. Cool, huh?

Fermentation is what makes it happen. That’s when yeast converts sugar to other things, like gas (in the case of bread) and alcohol (in the case of wine and cider). If it’s not fermented, it’s just juice. “Sparkling” juice or cider just means there’s carbonation added to make it fizzy.

Those terms are just the tip of the iceberg, though. A short list of fermented fruit drinks includes:

  • Cider, which is made from apples or crab apples.
  • Scrumpy is also made from apples, but it is usually pulpy, cloudy, and stronger than normal cider. The term comes from “scrimp”, a West Country English term for a small or withered apple.
  • Applejack is apple cider that has been strengthened by freeze distillation, or “jacking”. It has its roots in colonial times, and George Washington himself asked for the recipe for “cyder spirits” during the American Revolution. It is also known as Jersey Lightning.
  • Apple wine (Apfelwein) is a German form of cider.
  • Perry is made from pears. Nowadays it is more commonly known as pear cider.
  • Pear scrumpy is stronger than normal perry, just as scrumpy is stronger than cider. It is also known as “hard perry”.
  • Plum Jerkum is made from plums, and is a term used in the Cotswolds region of south-central England. A 19th-century reference describes it as “…a very heady liquor. In the country they often mix it with cider, and thus moderate its effect.”

This list doesn’t begin to describe all of the variations of fermented fruit drinks you can make (wine, fruit wine, etc.) but should give you a few new ideas to try out.

Happy fermenting!


This article originally appeared at Examiner.com

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