There are many ways to make cider. I want to talk about the champagne method or as you may have heard me call it Methode Traditionelle Cider. But this French sounding technique was actually pioneered in England and what happened next changed the beverage world forever.
So lets talk about how it works then a little about the history of it.
The Methode Traditionelle Cider, or MT for short, starts off life-like most other ciders. The apples are smashed up and pressed to release the juice. The primary fermentation is the same as with most ciders. The juice is put into large barrels to let the first stage of fermentation commence. This is often done with the addition of yeast but using wild yeast already in the juice is also an established practice that leads to a more complex flavour. The primary fermentation, depending on the temperature, can take between a week and over a month.
Here is where MT differs from your standard bottle of fizzy cider. The almost dry cider, and we can now call it a cider as there is alcohol in there, is siphoned off into 750ml bottles. At the bottom of the primary fermentation tank will be lots of sediment made up of particles of apple flesh and lees. Lees are dead yeast cells. They can add a toasty flavour but if they are left in the cider too long they can add an off taste. When siphoning, it’s important to try to avoid sucking up the lees. Sometimes a little more fresh juice or sugar is added along with a tiny bit of yeast.
The 750ml bottles are now capped and put into a cool dark place like a cellar. The bottles are stored on an angle. Inside the bottle the cider is alive. There is still sugar to be consumed. We all know that yeast turns sugar into alcohol, but the by-product of this is Carbon Dioxide. By trapping the CO2 in a high-pressure bottle it is dissolved into solution. When the cap is popped the bubbles are released. At this point it is known as a bottle conditioned cider.
The high strength bottles are key to this process. They have to be strong enough to keep the bubbles trapped without exploding. The technique was invented in England, before the French used it in Champagne and made it famous around the world. You see the English had coal which was used to get the glass up to much higher temperatures which enabled them to make a much stronger bottle. It took many years for the French glass makers to catch up.
The problem here is that there will still be some sediment in the bottle. The sediment is a necessary evil because don’t forget the lees add flavour but it doesn’t look appealing. The after sur lie or the time the cider is allowed to be in contact with the lees, it needs to be removed. The bottles are stored on an angle with the neck pointing to the ground so the sediment settles in the neck. Every few days the bottles are turned. This is known as riddling and it forces the sediment into the neck of the bottle. Riddling is often done by hand and it very time-consuming.
The next trick is the hardest to master. The neck of the bottle is frozen, trapping the sediment in the ice block. The cider maker now quickly knocks the cap off the bottle and the cider ice block shoots out, the bottle is topped up from another bottle. Quickly the cider maker corks the bottle for the last time. This has to be done in the blink of an eye before any more bubbles escape. This step is called disgorging.
Bonus Fact on Methode Traditionelle Cider
The cage on the top bottle is called an agraffe, while the cage, cork and disc between the two is collectively known as a muselet. It takes 6 half twists to remove the agraffe.
You can see that there many hours of work that go into making a Methode Traditionelle cider. So if a cider maker decides this is a style they want to attempt its going to get the most love and attention. The sheer amount of time invested in this style is why it demands the higher prices. If done right, the results are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of great real cider.
Over the next few weeks Real Cider Reviews will be featuring some Methode Traditionelle Ciders So don’t forget to like us on Facebook and Follow Real Cider Reviews on Twitter Follow @RealCiderReview