How to Conduct a Cider Tasting
We get to the core of sampling, rating, and assessing your favorites.
Angry Orchard's latest beverage, Walden Hollow, is made from a mix of New York-grown apples.
Photo Courtesy of Angry Orchard
Cider-sampling flights are all the rage in tasting rooms these days. We asked Ryan Burk, head cider maker of Angry Orchard in Walden, the proper way to do it.
In what order should you arrange the ciders?
"When tasting cider, a good rule of thumb is to arrange them from dry to sweet," suggests Burk. "It’s also important to end with the highest alcohol content because these types of ciders tend to be more intense, which can impact your palate and overall ability to taste due to bolder flavors. The idea of tasting cider in a particular order is to maximize your ability to taste as much as possible."
When you’re tasting/rating a cider, where do you start?
"Appearance," Burke begins. "We check for color of the cider and clarity, which can be anywhere from clear and bright to totally hazy. Hazy isn’t a bad thing. The color and clarity is based on the fermentation process. A hazy cider means it’s unfiltered. It’s just a different type of process."
Do you smell it like wine?
"In terms of appraisal, it’s important to take in the aroma first," recommends Burk, "and swish it around your mouth to cover the palate."
How do you assess the flavor?
"Flavor comes down to how complex the cider is," Burk explains. "This can be impacted by the ingredients and types of apple varieties used. For example, a cider aged on American oak would exhibit oaky or vanilla flavors as a result."
How does flavor differ from mouth feel?
"After we’ve established the flavor and taste of the cider, we always want to check the mouth feel," says Burk. "This can be impacted by alcohol by volume levels and characteristics of the apple varieties used—for example, high tannin, low acidity—which offer a range of mouth feels, from lasting to very light and almost imperceptible."
Any other criteria?
"Finish is the lasting flavor and mouth feel after swallowing a cider," clarifies Burk. "For example, our Stone Dry cider is slightly puckering cider with a drying finish, most often felt on the middle of your tongue and the front part of your mouth."
Why don’t you spit it out after tasting, like they do with wine tastings?
"If you spit the cider out," Burk says, "you’re missing out on the finish and lasting mouth feel, which, in my opinion, is one of the most complex parts of the cider-tasting experience."
How about drinking water and eating crackers to cleanse the palate?
"If I were in a professional tasting, I would definitely set out water for palate cleansing, as well as bread and crackers," advises Burk. "Dumping is usually more for wine because wines usually have higher alcohol by volume than ciders."