I think that probably the best thing about making cider is that it’s a landscape of exploration. Everything is new.
Wine has all these expectations, there’s a whole culture around it–what it is, how to drink it, what’s appropriate, everything is already documented. You can’t really get into winemaking simply to have fun and try something crazy because whatever you do is not going to be good unless it conforms to the already accepted boundaries of winemaking.
Beer has expectations to a lesser extent as well. There’s a bit more room for experimentation, but you still have so many styles defined, and the expectations are still there. Lagers, pilsners, stouts, IPAs, so much of the story of what beer is has already been written.
It’s totally different with cider. In the US, there’s no cider culture, there’s no cider history, there’s barely agreement on cider styles. We don’t even know what to call ourselves! Cidermakers, cidermasters, cider brewers, ciderists, we’re all over the map! Cider is an unwritten story. There’s no expectations about what it should be because nobody really knows what it is yet—even those of us who make it! Want to see a room of cidermakers argue for days? Try to define what makes a cider “heritage” vs. “modern.”
The reality is that none of us know what we’re doing. We’re all just playing around and trying to figure it out. Will beets and ginger work in a cider? Who knows! We might as well try it! There’s a real beauty in this for the customer. Walking into a winery or brewery can be intimidating if you don’t feel like you know enough to talk the talk. Walking into a cidery shouldn’t be intimidating for anyone, because even the cidermaker is just barely more knowledgable than you are. I’ve been making cider for close to 35 years and I’m the first to admit that I barely know what I’m doing. Everyone who walks into Slopeswell is still my equal. They may be a freshman and I’m a senior, but the truth is we’re all still geeky high school kids tripping over our shoelaces.
When I made Cidre Nouveau, I didn’t know if it was going to work. But I remembered being in college and seeing those signs saying “Est Arrivé!” and I remembered that excitement and I wanted to bring that back. The idea of selling a cider made from apples that were just picked and served so quickly that it hasn’t even finished fermenting is pretty crazy. Is it possible? Would it be any good? Would people like it? I didn’t know the answers. But this is cider, and there are no rules, so I tried it and it was a smashing success!
Now I have another experiment: Cidre Nouveau in a bottle. What if we took that same cider and bottled it before it was done fermenting? This is not like champagne or bottle conditioning, where the ferment is completed and more yeast is added to bottle it. No, this is simply putting the cider into the bottle before it ever finishes. Is it possible? Will it be any good? Will people like it? I don’t know these answers. But this is cider, and there are no rules.
- Written by John Metta, Slopeswell Cidermaker/Cidermaster/Ciderdude