Craft cider is growing in strength in Europe. In the past five or ten years craft cider has gone from being a fringe phenomena to being a beverage gaining in status and in care taken to represent terroir among the many new quality driven producers that are cropping up.
In that context we also see a wider variety of ciders being produced and marketed across the continent. The concept of what we used to regard as cider is being challenged. Cider used to be either bottle conditioned french traditional cider, traditional English cider or a mixed product, artificially back sweetened, flavoured using all manner of weird flavourings and heavily carbonated to fit a customer who wanted an easy drinking alternative to commercial beer. As the craft cider wave increases and amplifies producers are showing that cider, a wine produced from apples instead of grapes, can be that much more honest and true to its raw material and still be enjoyable.
In that new group sweet still ciders concentrated by using freezing is a growing category. When Brännland Cider started producing ice cider six years ago there were perhaps one or two producers producing still sweet cider. Now we see at least 10-15 producers around Europe who includes a dessert wine like cider into their lines.
So we thought it might be time to talk about what ice cider is and where it comes from.
Ice cider has its origins in Canada and is a fairly young product in a tradition that has a history of 2000 years or so. And it is interesting that a technique to make a sweet wine with its roots in mainland Europe has travelled to the new world, applied to a new raw material and then travelled back in its new form to Europe.
The first written records of ice wine making in modern Europe have their origins in Germany in late 18th and early 19th century. The pressing of grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vine until freezing to concentrate the juice to a higher sugar level has since become one of the three or four standard methods (depending on climate prerequisites and location of the producer) to make a wine with residual sugar. In the 1970:s this method travelled to North America and most notably to Canada that could consistently produce a climate where ice wine could be made (ie, warm summers, and low enough temperatures in winter).
Since its debut in 1978 Canada has become the number one producer of ice wine in the western hemisphere and perhaps in the world. As the climate has changed and winters in continental Europe have become warmer, very little ice wine is now being produced in Europe.
It is in that cross road of a culture and tradition travelling from the old world to the new that ice cider was born.
In the early 1990s, ice wine producer Christian Barthomeuf of Quebec estate Clos Saragnat had the thought to trial the same technique on apples from his orchard as he was using on his grapes, to press them frozen. He found that apples can produce an ice wine equally interesting and sophisticated as one made from grapes using this technique.
In 1994, at Hemmingford in Monteregie, Barthomeuf worked with Francois Pouliot at La Face Cachee de la Pomme to refine and develop ice cider. The very first bottle sold under the official designation ice cider appeared in 1999.
To differentiate it from an ice wine made from grapes, a Vin De Glace, it was called a Cidre De Glace, the word Cidre being the differentiating word to clearly denote a wine made from apples.
The category has since grown exponentially with many producers specialised in ice cider coming into existence in Canada as well as the US.
In steps a definition and then an international appellation has been formulated and published outlining rules of production for ice cider. On of it’s main rules is that that two methods of concentration of the apple juice is allowed to produce ice cider. Cryo-extraction, where the producers lets apples stay on the tree until the weather is cold enough when they’re pressed to extract a concentrated juice. Cryo-concentration where the apples are pressed and the juice frozen to concentrate it.
The common point to be able to call a product an Ice Cider, a Cidre De Glace, is that the producer use naturally occurring cold to concentrate the juice. The rule on using natural cold follows to some extent the general rule of how an ice wine must be produced for the producer to be able to call it ice wine, that the weather drops below a certain temperature at harvest and pressing.
When we found the ice cider six years ago it was like being struck by divine intervention. Not only did we have the recurring cold weather that was necessary to consistently produce an ice cider according to the Canadian rules, Swedish apples were also more suited to naturally sweet cider, not being traditional cider apples but rather high acidity dessert apples that were not as ideal in a dry cider.
In our second year of production, because we were the only producer in Europe to use natural cold year on year to make ice cider and lacking a common European definition of ice cider, we published our own definition of quality to clarify to the consumer what we felt was the correct method to produce ice cider.
The definition is not as of yet official, but serves to signal to consumers and prospective ice cider makers alike what rules we adhere to when producing our Ice Cider, as well as how we feel Ice Cider should be produced in Europe in the future.
The definition has its origin and follows, with a few exceptions, the definition developed and published in dialogue between producers and authorities in Quebec.
Brännland Cider denomination of quality for ice cider
Ice Cider is a sweet wine produced through the fermentation of apple juice that holds a sugar content of at least 30° brix before fermentation. Concentration of sugar is to be done using naturally occurring cold.
Alcohol content in the finished product must be between 7 and 13 percent by volume and residual sugar must be at least 130gr/L.
• Starting juice must be constituted of 100%, unconcentrated natural apple juice from Swedish grown apples.
• No addition of preservatives.
• No addition of flavors or coloring.
• No addition of alcohol.
• Chaptalization is not allowed.
Andreas Sundgren Graniti, Brännland Cider