We all have heard of a fine red wine aging in a dark cellar for 5, 10 years or even longer if you’re particularly patient with a good bottle. Beer is much more volatile and is best fresh. But what about aging cider? Do you drink it fresh or stash it away, waiting for it to hit its peak?
So I’ve been doing some research on the topic and there isn’t a whole lot of information out there on the topic, so I remember a chat I had with the guys from Borssa Valley Cider Company a few years back. They said they had local customers requesting to order boxes of cider as soon as it was released. The reason for this is they preferred the fresh appley taste. The older bottles tended to have a more “apple pie, baked apple flavour.”
The one piece on the topic I did find was by Tom Oliver, Oliver is an extremely well-respected award-winning cider maker.
“A well-made bottle-conditioned cider can be kept for years. They get drier as time goes on, since they are never quite finished conditioning. Be warned: most commercial ciders are not made for this, as they’re either sterile-conditioned or pasteurized with a shelf life of two years, so aging them will probably yield cider vinegar.” Tom Oliver
He raises a good point. If alcohol is present, there is the potential for vinegar to form over time. Particularly if oxygen is present. A screw top cap will leak air faster than a cork or a crown cap. So if left too long your cider could turn into something as appealing as late night discount sushi.
Next I decided to do my own research on the topic. The guys down at the Hills Cider Company helped me out with a couple of bottles out of their museum stock.
The first thing between the two is the most obvious. The older museum stock is much darker much more like a honey than the straw colour of the young batch
When I pushed my nose into the young cider it is a very minimal scent where as the Old Skool batch is pumping out caramel and golden syrup tones like its life depended on it. There is a level of spiciness surrounding the generous sweetness.
The Hills Company gave me a couple of bottles of the Pear Cider. The difference between the old and new is just as stark. The colour has gone from a pail yellow green to a darker marmalade. The younger batch is slightly harsher and has more of acetone flavour. The older one has time for it to all mellow out, this promotes the sweetness.
With the current generation the sweetness is there but it is cut by some pretty sharp acids thanks to plenty of Granny Smith apples. The Old Skool still has all that sweetness. Remember all the yeasts have been filtered out prior to bottling so the alcohol and sugar levels will not change. What can and has changed is the acid structure. Imagine this cider as a stone in a river. Throw in a sharp and jagged stone and after a few years the point will be worn down and smoothed out. That’s what I’m drinking, a very smooth cider. Without the cutting effect of the acids the sugars are clingier and longer lasting. The overall dynamic has changed, maybe loosing balance but what it looses there, it gains in complexity elsewhere. The taste of baked apples runs through the Old Skool batch, think apple strudel. The fizz levels have dropped back as well. I’m not surprised by this. The bottles use twist top (open by hand) which aren’t as air tight as crown caps (the type you need a bottle opener for). The result of this is that the cider appears thicker and creamier, more luxurious. The apple used in both are not know for their tannins but the smaller quantities of are highlighted in the older bottle.
Aging Pear Cider
I don’t drink a lot of pear ciders I just prefer apple ciders. One of the reasons for this is that pear cider can have a harsh tone. I wouldn’t call the Hills Pear Cider harsh, but maybe pointy. Just as with the apple cider the pear is much smoother after the aging. The start isn’t as bright but despite the mellowing acids the finish is still crisp. I’m preferring it this way.
Final Thoughts on Aging Cider
The first thing your going to ask me is, “Well, should I drink it now or wait and give aging cider a go?” The short answer is… yes.
A young cider is only released to the market when the cider maker is happy with it. Whether that’s 3 months or 3 years. So it should be nice. In Australia Cider makers are required to put on a Best Before date on the bottles. Your probably not going to get sick from drinking a cider past this date but, you know, the “common sense and don’t sue me” rules apply here. Saying that, the ciders I’m drinking here today 5 years past the best before date and there is nothing wrong with it. In fact this it’s rather enjoyable
Whether a cider is at its peak on its release day or if its hits a crescendo after aging, is up for debate. Try aging cider for yourself. Buy a 6 pack of a quality craft cider that you have drunk before. Store it somewhere dark, that has a consistent temperature. A wine fridge is perfect, a cellar is great and there is nothing wrong with the back of the fridge. Once a year crack one open and see how it has changed. I’m going to repeat experiment this with a bottle conditioned cider. You might be waiting a while for a progress report.
Update: In response to some comments. I have chosen to compare these 2 ciders A) because I could get them and B) this cider is very consistent year after year so the seasonal variations should not play a bit role. Ideally I have like to have tasted a 2010 cider in 2010 along side a 2010 cider in 2016 but I’d need a time machine.
The Apple cider is not bottle conditioned. You can find my full review of it here.
I did not talk about the tannin structure as there is almost no tannins in the either the apple or the pair cider.
May 2, 2016
Great post–thanks for sharing! I’ve found some American commercial ciders to have a very short “shelf life”, ie. the flavor quickly turns and isn’t as good, goes flat, etc. Unfortunately here we often don’t know how long the cider has sat on the shelf, as very few cideries date their bottles with either a production or best buy date. I know a couple of the big commercial cidermakers here (Angry Orchard & Woodchuck) have quoted a one year shelf life for ideal flavor. As for the good craft & artisan stuff, I’m testing out cellaring a couple bottles. I have a Pommeau for example that suggests right on the bottle to do so. I’ve heard they should be stored upright and in a relatively cool and constant temperature area.
May 7, 2016
Thanks for the article. I am not a professional cider maker, but I have done a similar test. In my case, it is a homemade Russet cider from the same orchard made with the same yeast each year. I save some from each year and run a family tasting in the summer. One clear difference is that I ferment to total dryness, so there is no residual sugar at all. The family consensus is that the youngest (i..e about 7 months old) is the best. The previous year’s is also good, but the one that is 2.5 years old tends to be more bland. Given your comments, this could be because as the acids mellow out, there is not the sugar left behind to maintain the interest.
July 17, 2020
My wife and I are enjoying a bottle of Mont St. Michel cider from the namesake in France and it is at least 15 years old. I was moved with our property over 12 years ago and has sat in our wine cellar ever since. We are moving to TX so we figured we’d better drink it. It is quite good…very dry and crispy with deep flavor. I took some photos. Let me know if you want to post them. Cheers!
July 17, 2020
That’s very cool. Send me some photos on instagram @realciderreviews or Twitter @realciderreview
November 3, 2021
Terrible spelling Mr. McKellar
November 3, 2021
Cheers, One of the reasons for starting this blog was to improve my writing skills. I hope that the newer posts are better.
November 13, 2021
I have been making my own cider now for the last three years now and so far last years is now really delicious. Sadly there are not many bottles left now and I am being very mean with them. This years is all bottled(134 bottles) and is happily maturing in the garage, not going to try it till Christmas, hopefully it will be as good as last years.
October 16, 2022
There are more than a few inaccurate statements in this linkback.