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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cider Saturday: How Angry Orchard is Made, an Interview with David Sipes

No matter what you think of the ciders of Angry Orchard, you must contend with them.  The current explosion in cider has been fueled in large part by Boston Beer's apple division, and America's understanding of cider is being shaped by Angry Orchard's flavor palate.  More than one out of every two ciders sold in the US is made by Angry Orchard, and last year the company sold 8 million cases (or roughly 58,000 barrels) of cider. 

Source: Shenken News Daily
Cider makers are required to divulge precious little about their process or ingredients, and I have long wondered how Angry Orchard is made and of what.  By chance, the cidery contacted me and asked if I'd like to do an interview with Angry Orchard's cider maker, David Sipes.  I attempted to glean the answers to those questions, and you can have a look and see how well they've been answered.  (The one most people are probably most interested in--whether or not Angry Orchard is made of all juice or is strengthened with sugar and watered down--was the one question he did not answer.)  The interview was conducted via email.

I. Fruit/Juice. You guys are making a TON of cider. Where does your fruit/juice come from? The website lists a range of sources, including Norman cider fruit. Is it concentrate, juice, or do you have orchards (or a mixture of all three)? I know you use different blends for different products, but could you describe generally the blends you come up with for, say, your Crisp Apple and Traditional Dry (% sharps and bittersharps, % dessert, % bittersweet)

1. Where does your fruit/juice come from?
David Sipes: "We’ve been experimenting with cider making for a little over 15 years and have found that apples from different countries, including Italy and France, and certain regions in the U.S., including the Pacific Northwest, contribute to making great hard cider. It really depends on the cider that we’re looking to create as to what apples we use. For our Cider House Collection, Iceman and Strawman, and our core collection – Crisp Apple, Apple Ginger and Traditional Dry – we use a blend of Italian and French apples. Green Apple is our first year-round nationally available cider that uses American Apples. We also use American apples for our seasonals, Cinnful Apple and Elderflower."

"We found complex and unique apples from historic orchards in Italy and France. In Normandy and Bretagne, France, farmers have been growing cider apple varieties unique to cider making for hundreds of years. Unlike ordinary apples, the bittersweet apples from France used in Angry Orchard impart tart and tannic characteristics and tend to look gnarly and unattractive – serving as inspiration for the Angry Orchard name. In the southern foothills of the Alps in Northern Italy, the Aldo Adige region (or Südtirol in German) well known for wine production, we found that the flavor profile of the culinary apples is much like grapes, unique to the terroir of the region. Blending the French bittersweet apples with the Italian culinary apples creates the balance of tannin, acidity, and apple sweetness unique to Angry Orchard hard ciders like Crisp Apple and the Cider House Collection."

"Certain regions within the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest, share characteristics – rich soil, ample sunshine and water – with the apple-growing regions of France and Italy. Our cider makers found that the fruit forward, less tannic and mild acidic qualities of the juice from culinary apples from Washington State, coupled with our yeast and fermentation process created the right aroma, body and flavor for our newest Green Apple cider. American culinary apples also contributed to the creation of our limited release hard cider seasonal styles, Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple and Elderflower."

2. Is it concentrate, juice, or do you have orchards (or a mixture of all three)? 
David Sipes: "Because apples are harvested in the fall and cider is made year-round, the apples are pressed into a juice that captures the apple flavor at the just-picked peak of ripeness and can be used year-round for cider making. When we concentrate the juice, we concentrate the flavor by removing water to create a stable, flavorful and fragrant juice that can be used over time and helps to ensure that from bottle to bottle and every pint glass, drinkers are experiencing the same, consistent Angry Orchard flavor profiles and the same fresh-apple taste."

3. Describe generally the blends you come up with for, say, your Crisp Apple and Traditional Dry David Sipes: "When we are creating our ciders, we’re really looking for a blend of apples that balance tannins, acidity, sugar and flavors to complement our yeast’s own characteristics, resulting in complex, balanced and refreshing ciders. Cider apples generally fall into four categories: sweet, sharp, bittersweet and bittersharp. I frequently travel to France, Italy and the Pacific Northwest to meet with our growers and discuss the flavor profiles of their crop. The bittersweet apples that we source from France, primarily from the area of Normandy and Bretagne, are high in tannins and low in acidity whereas the sweeter culinary apples we select from the foothills of the Italian Alps are high in acidity and low in tannins. Angry Orchard right now primarily uses varying blends of sweet apples, sharp apples, and bittersweet varieties. For example, when looking to create the Cider House Collection, we wanted apple varieties that would add layers of complexity and help us create the flavor profiles consistent with our take on a farmhouse and ice cider. Iceman was made with more culinary apples, lending sweeter and fruitier flavors, while Strawman uses more bittersweet apples, imparting earthy, herbal fruit qualities, and dryness characteristic of bittersweet apples."

II. Cidery. Where is the cider made? Related to my questions about sourcing, if you are starting with apples, how do you preserve them for use throughout the year? Can you give me a sense of the size of the cidery and equipment? The website says you do some wood-aging. What kind of casks do you have, and what percentage of the cider goes on wood?

1. If you are starting with apples, how do you preserve them for use throughout the year? 
David Sipes: "Apples are an agricultural product that are grown and harvested during specific times of year. We want to make cider year-round but also need apple juice to do so. In order to make cider year-round, the apples are pressed near the orchards and made into a juice concentrate that captures and preserves the juice’s flavor at its peak of ripeness and can be used year-long.

2. Can you give a sense of the size of the cidery and equipment?"

"Cider is essentially a “wine” in that it is fermented fruit juice. Instead of grape juice fermented to make wine, it is apple juice that makes hard cider. Angry Orchard Cider Company is a subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company, which has been experimenting with cider for more than 15 years. There is a dedicated space for making hard cider at our breweries. Once we blend the apple juice to create specific levels of tannins, acidity and sweetness, we pitch the yeast and let the cider ferment for a few weeks."

3. What kind of casks do you have, and what percentage of the cider goes on wood? (more info relating to fermentation)
David Sipes: "Some of our Angry Orchard hard ciders are aged on wood. Unlike wine and some beers that are aged in barrels, we include either American or French oak wood chips in our aging tanks. We age the cider on wood instead of in wood barrels to protect the cider from damaging effects of oxidation. Wood barrels allow oxygen to seep into the liquid, which can accelerate the aging process and create a flavor profile we are not looking for in Angry Orchard. Our Cider House Collection includes two complex, wood-aged ciders, Angry Orchard Iceman and Strawman. Iceman is aged on American oak to impart notes of vanilla that helps round out the sweetness of the liquid while Strawman is aged on a blend of American and French Oak with toasted, spicy qualities that contribute to this traditional earthy farmhouse cider.

III. Fermentation. What temperature do you ferment at, and what kind of yeast do you use (general nature is fine)? How long do you ferment and do you condition it at all after fermentation? Do you augment with sugar and then reduce the ABV back down to a specified level? If so, what percent juice is the final product?

1. What temperature do you ferment at, and what kind of yeast do you (general nature is fine)?

David Sipes: "Ciders, including Angry Orchard, ferment at a wide temperature range depending on the yeast strain and desired flavor characteristics. The specifics of our fermentations are proprietary but are generally around 70 F. We use a relatively neutral white wine yeast that allows the apples to showcase their character. Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, which has a higher inclusion of Italian culinary apples, has more in common with fruit-forward wines along the notes of a Pinot Grigio or Pinot Blanc whereas our Traditional Dry, which has a higher inclusion of French bittersweet apples, is slightly more herbaceous and dry with a soft astringency like New World Sauvignon Blancs or lighter Chardonnays."

2. How long do you ferment and do you condition it at all after fermentation?
David Sipes: "After cider is fermented, it undergoes a cold aging process that slows or stops the yeast from making alcohol, allows settling of yeast and other solids, and maturation of flavors. Cold storage is about 32-35°F. Angry Orchard hard ciders mature for several weeks, which we believe results in a better flavor profile, before they are bottled."

3. Do you augment with sugar and then reduce the ABV back down to a specified level? If so, what percent juice is the final product?
David Sipes: No response.

IV. Other processes. Excluding the spices in some of the products, do you add other ingredients like Malic acid, natural aroma, and colorings? Do you ferment to dry and back-sweeten or stop before it's fermented out? If you back-sweeten, what do you use? I assume you pasteurize it (either while still a bit sweet or after back-sweetening?)

1. Do you add other ingredients like malic acid, natural aroma and colorings?
David Sipes: "Like winemakers, cider makers do frequently utilize malic acid to rebalance acidity as well as sulfites which help to maintain a cider’s fresh, fruity flavor profile. Malic acid is an acid found in many sour or tart tasting foods and is used to help augment the bright notes of the cider. Sulfites help prevent native yeasts from growing and prevent spoilage and oxidation."

2. Do you ferment to dry and back-sweeten or stop before it’s fermented out? If you back-sweeten, what do you use?
David Sipes: "We ferment our ciders to reach a specific flavor profile and then, depending on the cider, focus on brightening a cider’s sweetness with apple juice. In some cases, we may use a very minimal amount of additional sugars to add some sweetness to the flavor profile."

3. Do you pasteurize?
David Sipes: "We pasteurize our ciders to help stabilize and maintain the cider’s flavor profile."


Alan said...

This is hilarious. My favorite is "There is a dedicated space for making hard cider at our breweries." Not exclusive... dedicated. Which means they run the cider through the same sorts of industrial machines the rest of their "adult beverages" are.

Jordan said...

It's really overly sweet, but compared to some of the other overly sweet ciders on the market, I think this is just sweet because it's attempting to appeal to the American palate generally. I will say that at least it has some subtlety once you get past that initial character. A little skin, maybe, and the malic acid helps it. I feel like it's more complex than just adult apple hooch and it might be being dumbed down. I'd love to try the thing before they sweeten it.

Alan said...

The Twisted Tea of ciders. By all rights, this really ought to be the anti-Christ of the market, what macro gak is to craft. Big Cider.

Alan said...

You know, the makers of Twisted Tea are the kings of the all expenses paid junket. Maybe you need a scientific tour of this cidery to get the proper understanding:

darlene smith said...

I had a French cider over the weekend, Etienne Dupont Bouche de Normandi 2011. It was so good and not like our hard ciders, granted it was 3 years old but now I'd like to taste a 2014 to compare.

BassBone said...

Alan, what exactly do you mean by industrial machines? Do you mean pumps and filling stations? Because I guarantee you you'd be hard-pressed (heh) to find a modern cidery that bottles on any sort of scale that doesn't do that... As for comparing it to macro-brewery beer, Angry Orchard is produced by the Boston Beer Company, which produces Sam Adams, still considered to be a craft beer. Certainly more craft than, say, Michelob Ultra-light Cider or Stellas Artois Cidre, no?

Alan said...

You've made my case for me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If you knew what a fermentation/epicurean/culinary/craft geek Dave is concerning Beer/Wine/Cider/Distilled Spirits and all other conversations about craft excellence, including personal integrity... you would be more curious about angry orchard's different flavors and less worried about how successful they are. I personally know He has earned it.

Anonymous said...

its apple flavored bad batch beer .

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