Hard apple cider, like wine, is made through a relatively simple process of juice extraction and fermentation. The apples are pressed when their sugar content and acidity are just right for each individual variety, then fed through a machine to grind the whole apple (skin, flesh, seeds and all) into a coarse mash known as pommace. The pommace is then transferred into a press, where it is put under immense pressure to slowly extract as much juice as possible. Good, firm cider apples can yield as much as 2.5-3 gallons of juice per bushel.
Deciding on the blend or variety
Once collected the juice is typically blended, allowing the cider maker to craft the specific levels of tannin, sugar, and acidity desired for the final product. Though blending cider is common practice, there are also certain varieties of apple that already have a suitable balance of these qualities which can be fermented as single varietal ciders. Our Royal Pippin, Old Virginia Winesap, and Virginia Hewes Crab Reserve are all examples of single varietal ciders.
Fermenting and bottling
As with beer and wine, the essence of cidermaking lies in the fermentation process. During this transformation yeast breaks down the sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, resulting in a dry, alcoholic and naturally carbonated hard cider. Many ciders are then filtered, pulling out debris to clarify the liquid, but also breaking up the carbon dioxide and allowing it to percolate out of the solution. Some ciders are served "still" or without carbonation, though many are recarbonated after filtration. Unfiltered or bottle fermented ciders are often still naturally carbonated; with a keen eye you can tell the difference in the size and uniformity of the bubbles.
Enjoying cider at its best
Once fermented, the cider is ready to be bottled. Some dry ciders require a little bit of conditioning in the bottle to present their best flavors, though their shelf life is considerably shorter than red wine (2-3 years). So don't wait too long to open that bottle of cider and enjoy!