The following discussion applies to all the cider styles, except where explicitly superseded in the sub-category guidelines. This introduction identifies common characteristics and descriptions for all types of cider, and should be used as a reference whenever entering or judging cider.
Cider is fermented apple juice. Perry is fermented pear juice. There are two categories for cider and perry: Standard Cider and Perry (Category C1) and Specialty Cider and Perry (Category C2). The Standard category covers ciders and perries made primarily or entirely from the juice of apples or pears (but not both at once). The only adjunct permitted in the Standard category, and only in some sub-categories, is a limited addition of sugar to achieve a suitable starting gravity or to raise sweetness post-fermentation. Note that honey is not a “sugar” for this purpose; a cider made with added honey must be entered either as a Specialty cider or as a Cyser under the appropriate mead sub-category. Other sugar sources that also add significant flavors (brown sugar, molasses) would also create a Specialty cider (such as New England style).
Aroma and Flavor
- Ciders and perries do not necessarily present overtly fruity aromas or flavors — in the same sense that a wine does not taste overtly of grapes. Drier styles of cider in particular develop more complex but less fruity characters. A simple apple soda or wine cooler character is not desirable in a cider or perry.
- Some styles of cider exhibit distinctly non-fruity tastes or aromas, such as the smoky ham undertones of a dry English cider.
- The sweetness (residual sugar, or RS) of a cider or perry may vary from absolutely dry (no RS) to as much as a sweet dessert wine (10% or more RS). In sweeter ciders, other components of taste — particularly acidity — must balance the sweetness. The level of sweetness must be specified so organizers and judges can arrange flights of tastings and entries within flights. Tasting should always proceed from drier to sweeter. There are five categories of sweetness, expanded from three in earlier guidelines. Note that the numbers for these levels are not rigid or restrictive. They are intended to guide the cidermaker on how to enter, not to be used as judging criteria unless a cider is declared at a sweetness level far from its actual sweetness. Judges must realize that sweetness can mask faults. Be more attentive to this in a sweeter cider. Likewise, do not penalize dry ciders excessively for minor faults which may be more evident only because of lack of sweetness. The categories and approximate sugar levels are as follows. Final gravities are particularly rough numbers since they cannot take account of what the SG would be if the cider fermented out completely.
- Dry: below 0.4% residual sugar. This corresponds to a final specific gravity less than 1.002. There is no perception of sweetness.
- Medium-dry: 0.4-0.9% residual sugar. This corresponds to a final specific gravity of 1.002 – 1.004. There is a hint of sweetness but the cider is still perceived primarily as dry. Also known as semi-dry.
- Medium: in the range between dry and sweet, 0.9-2.0% residual sugar, final gravity 1.004 – 1.009. Sweetness is now a notable component of the overall character.
- Medium-sweet: 2.0-4.0% residual sugar, final gravity 1.009-1.019. The cider is sweet but still refreshing. Also known as semi-sweet.
- Sweet: above 4.0% residual sugar, roughly equivalent to a final gravity of over 1.019. The cider has the character of a dessert wine. It must not be cloying; see notes on balance.
- If a cider is close to one of these boundaries, it should be identified by the sweetness category which best describes the overall impression it gives. The five categories above were expanded from the earlier three dry-medium-sweet by splitting the dry and medium
- Acidity is an essential element of cider and perry: it must be sufficient to give a clean, refreshing impression without being puckering. Acidity (from malic and in some cases lactic acids) must not be confused with acetification (from ethyl acetate or acetic acid— vinegar). The acrid aroma and tingling taste of acetification is a fault.
- Ciders and perries vary considerably in tannin. This affects both bitterness and astringency (see Mouthfeel below). If made from culinary or table fruit, tannins are typically low; nevertheless some tannin is desirable to balance the character. The character contributed by tannin should be mainly astringency rather than bitterness. An overt or forward bitterness is a fault, and is often due to processing techniques rather than fruit character.
- Cider may go through a malo-lactic fermentation (MLF) which converts some or all of the sharp malic acid to softer, less-acidic lactic acid. (Perries should not go through MLF because it will cause undesirable acetification.) In ciders made with tannic apples, the MLF commonly produces ethylphenols which are evident as other flavors: spicy/smoky including smoked meat, phenolic, and farmyard/old-horse. These flavors are desirable although not mandatory in English and French styles, but must not be over the top. The spicy smoky character is the most desirable of the three. Note that a dominating farmyard character may be the result of a Brettanomyces contamination rather than MLF; this is a serious fault. Also, because MLF reduces the acidity of a cider, the result should not be flabby or too soft; the cider must remain refreshing. Finally, judges should be attentive to the possibility of faults such as mousiness which are more likely in a higher pH cider that has gone through MLF. (Some judges may be unable to detect mouse; an alkaline oral rinse may be needed to confirm and reach agreement among judges.)
- Clarity may vary from good to brilliant. The lack of sparkling clarity is not a fault, but visible particles are undesirable. In some styles a “rustic” lack of brilliance is common. Perries are notoriously difficult to clear; as a result a slight haze is not a fault. However, a “sheen” in either cider or perry generally indicates the early stage of lactic contamination and is a distinct fault.
- Carbonation may vary from entirely still to a champagne level. No or little carbonation is termed still. A still cider may give a slight tickle on the tongue. A moderate carbonation level is termed petillant. Highly carbonated is termed sparkling. At the higher levels of carbonation, the mousse (head) may be retained for a short time. However, gushing, foaming, and difficult-to-manage heads are faults.
- In general, cider and perry have a body and fullness akin to a light wine. The body is much less than that of beer. Mouthfeel depends on tannin level. Tannic styles (English and French) will have astringent mouthfeel resembling a red wine. Full-sparkling ciders will be champagne-like.
- The apple and pear varieties are intended to illustrate commonly used examples, not dictate requirements when making the style. In general, adjuncts and additives are prohibited except where specifically allowed in particular styles, and then the entrant must state them. Common processing aids, and enzymes, are generally allowed as long as they are not detectable in the finished cider. Yeast used for cider/perry may be either natural (the yeast which occurs on the fruit itself and/or is retained in the milling and pressing equipment) or cultured yeast. Malo-lactic fermentation is allowed, either naturally occurring or with an added ML culture. Enzymes may be used for clarification of the juice prior to fermentation. Malic acid may be added to a low-acid juice to bring acidity up to a level considered safe for avoiding bacterial contamination and off-flavors (typically pH 3.8 or below). Sulfites may be added as needed for microbiological control. If used, the maximum accepted safe level for sulfites (200 mg/l) must be strictly observed; moreover, any excess sulfite that is detectable in the finished cider (a “burning match” character) is a serious fault.
- If a cider is to have sweetness (residual sugar), this may be obtained by arresting fermentation or backsweetening with sugar or fresh juice. In this case, entrant must ensure that the cider is stable. Turbidity, gushing, or foaming resulting from restarted fermentation in-bottle are considered serious faults.
- If the cider is fermented and/or aged with wood (barrel, chips, staves/strips), the type of wood and process must be declared. Except for category C2F (Specialty Cider/Perry), the wood character must be no more than barely recognizable. A cider with substantial wood/barrel character entered in any category other than C2F will be regarded as not in the style.
- Sorbate may be added at bottling to stabilize the cider. However, any residual aroma/flavor from excessive use or misuse of sorbate (e.g., a geranium note) is a distinct fault.
- Carbonation may be either natural (by maintaining CO2 pressure through processing or by bottle-conditioning) or added (by CO2 injection). In most categories, a still (completely uncarbonated) cider is appropriate. Judges must realize that carbonation can improve a naive impression of a cider and must not penalize still ciders (when declared properly) for lack of carbonation.