Many different words are used to describe types of cider. This can be confusing because they often overlap in meaning and are not used in the same way by everyone. In this article, we will explain what is usually meant by each word and why it is used.
We will start with the most commonly used, and generally best understood, word, “cider”, and then go on to look at the others.
“Cider” is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. Cider is the word that has been used in English for this drink for hundreds of years and was the word used in Samuel Johnson’s first English Dictionary and in the early classic English books describing cider-making .
However, in UK Tax Law the definition of cider gets more complicated. There are specific legal regulations about the possible ingredients and the final alcohol content allowed for a drink to be considered as cider for the purposes of UK Excise taxation. Perhaps, surprisingly, UK Law requires that to be cider, the beverage must be less than 8.5%ABV. In Law, anything over 8.5% ABV has to be declared as an apple wine. So, actually, cider is really a less alcoholic type of apple wine! Regarding ingredients, UK Law requires that at least 75% of the fruit used is apple and the only other fruit that can contribute is pear (up to 25%).
“Cyder” is sometimes used as an alternative spelling to the usual “cider” and has the same meaning as “cider”. In current usage, the spelling “cyder” is typically intended to emphasize that the particular cider is made more traditionally than most ciders.
In fact, early classic books about cider-making – such as Evelyn’s Pomona (1670) or Worlidge’s Vinetum Britannicum (1676) used the spelling “cider”.
In addition, the first English Dictionary, compiled by Dr Samuel Johnson in 1755, used the spelling “cider”.
So, there does not seem to be any good reason to use “cyder” to indicate tradition. It is really just an alternative, less used, spelling.
The Welsh word for cider is “Seidr”. The word has been in use for hundreds of years in Welsh literature and the spoken word. Click here to see more about the history of cider-making in Wales.
“Craft Cider” is a term typically used to describe ciders that are made on a small scale using traditional production methods and with an emphasis on excellence of taste. They are often only available locally to where they are made. The term is used to distinguish such ciders from big-brand commercial ciders that are made industrially in huge quantities and are widely available throughout the country – and often globally.
Commercial cider makers spend a very considerable effort to make their ciders almost identical from batch to batch. The benefit for them is that the customer knows exactly what they will get and the automated processes reduce costs. The downside is that the necessary automated industrial repeatability leads to a product that tends to lack finesse and complexity.
In contrast by working on a small scale, craft cider makers can hand-craft a cider that, though it will vary somewhat from season to season and batch to batch, it can achieve a level of complexity and balance that cannot be achieved on an industrial basis.
“Authentic Cider” has essentially the same meaning as Craft Ciders, as explained above.
Again, “Real Cider” has essentially the same meaning as Craft Cider, as explained above. Some people use it only for craft ciders that do not have any yeast added but rely for fermentation on the so-called “wild yeasts” that happen to already be on the apples or the cider-making equipment.
“Artisan Cider” is a term used by some to describe a craft cider that is made from apples that are grown by the cider-maker. ie. a craft cider made by a grower-producer.
“Heritage Cider” is a term that is sometimes used to refer to craft ciders that use traditional cider apples – so-called “heritage apples”, such as Kingston Black, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill (pictured above) and Harry Masters Jersey. These apples, and others, have been grown traditionally for many years for cider-making.
Currently, “Scrumpy” is used in two main – and rather different – ways. Traditionally, the dialect term “scrumpy” was used to refer to what was otherwise called “rough”, a harsh cider made from unselected apples. Today the term is more often used to distinguish locally made ciders produced in smaller quantities and using traditional methods (ie. craft ciders like the one pictured above), from mass-produced branded ciders.
It is often said that scrumpy gets its name because it was made using apples “scrumped” (a nicer word for stolen!) from an orchard. In fact, the origin is less clear. The term scrumpy was not mentioned in early treatises about cider nor in early English dictionaries.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary usage of the word “scrumpy” only started around the beginning of the 20th Century.
In common usage, the term “Fruit Cider” refers to an alcoholic beverage in which a non-apple fruit juice or flavouring has been added to the (apple) cider to produce a drink that has features of both cider and the added fruit. Typically such ciders are sweeter than traditional ciders.
It should be no surprise that in UK Excise Tax Law things are again more complicated. Fruit Cider is actually treated as a form of wine, not cider, and has higher rates of excise duty levied on it. Because there is no fruit cider category in UK Tax Law, some people claim there is no such thing as Fruit Cider.
The reality is that Fruit Ciders are the type of cider that is increasing most rapidly in popularity and currently account for about 40% of all on-sales of cider in the UK. Fruit Ciders are particularly popular with younger cider drinkers. Despite their popularity and their appeal for many cider drinkers, there are some traditional cider drinkers who regard them as being the work of the devil and who believe they have nothing to do with “real” cider. But what is the truth? Are they really just a recent fad?
In fact, fruit juices have been added by some to ciders for hundreds of years to provide a balancing sweetness to the tannic and acidic flavours of the fermented apple juice. For example, in Evelyn’s classic book Pomona (1670), there is mention of a variety of fruits and herbs being used to flavour cider.
A recent study of UK cider drinkers found that fruit ciders are enjoyed regularly by most cider drinkers and nearly a quarter of regular cider drinkers in one recent survey were described as being “Fruit Cider Fanatics”.
“Perry” is the product of the fermentation of specific pear varieties, grown historically in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Somerset. Perry is closely related to cider but tends to be lighter and more floral in character. Currently perry consumption is only about 2% that of cider consumption in the UK.
“Pear cider” is an alternative term sometimes used for Perry.
In the United States of America
Most people will know the old quip that the UK and US are two countries divided by a common language – and there is a potential mis-understanding that can arise over the use of the words “cider” or “apple cider”. “Apple cider” (also called “sweet cider” or “soft cider” or simply “cider”) is the name used in the United States and occasionally in Canada for an unfiltered non-alcoholic apple juice. In the US, the term “Hard Cider” is used to refer to what the rest of the world simply call cider. So, visitors from UK to US or from US to UK need to be careful if the simply order a “cider” – they may well get a surprise in their glass!
Our approach at Vale Cider
We like to be as simple and straightforward as possible with the words we use for our products.
As our name suggests, we prefer to use “cider” rather than “cyder” because it is much more commonly used, easily understood and is the original traditional spelling of the word.
We are proud to be a Welsh producer and we include the Welsh word for cider – ie. “Seidr” – on our all our labels.
We grow our own heritage apples, use traditional methods, we work on a small-scale and our focus is excellence of taste. Of the various available terms for such ciders, we prefer to use the words “Craft Cider” to describe what we make because they are simple, commonly used and widely understood.
We call one of our most popular ciders “Serious Scrumpy”. We do this to get across that the cider has a very traditional flavour (associated with the “scrumpy” part of the name) but that we pay close attention to the details and quality of cider making (the “serious” part of the name). We regard it as a happy coincidence, that people often remember it as “Seriously Scrumpy” or “Seriously Scrumptious”!
Each year we make limited quantities of fruit ciders using non-apple fruits from our orchards. We regard this as being a part of our traditional cider making year.