Taking a cider tipple for science

With a resurgence in cider production offering an alternative income stream for Tasmanian orchardists, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) has launched a cider research program.

TIA researchers Dr Anna Carew (left) and Dr Fiona Kerslake (right) winding down after a hard day running a cider tasting. Photo credit: Mr Andrew Miller, Stock and Land (reproduced with permission).

TIA researchers Dr Anna Carew (left) and Dr Fiona Kerslake (right) winding down after a hard day running a cider tasting. Photo credit: Mr Andrew Miller, Stock and Land (reproduced with permission).

During September 2014, fourteen brave Tasmanians put their palates on the line for science by participating in a consumer cider tasting panel as part of the TIA cider research program.

We invited members of the public to taste a flight of seven ciders which had been selected for their diverse sugar, phenolic and acid profiles.

Panel members rated perceived sugar, acid and astringency (phenolics) and were asked to rank each of the ciders in terms of how ‘likeable’ they were. The range of descriptors for cider aroma was diverse and sometimes entertaining; a French cider in the tasting flight was described as ‘upside down’, ‘not so fruity’ and even ‘tastes like something went wrong’.

The panel members’ sugar, acid and astringency ratings were compared with laboratory analyses and used to further develop the Cider Triangle (Figure 1). The Cider Triangle has been developed based on TIA’s research in wine science and on information from UK research suggesting cider styles can be defined according to their placement on the Triangle. For example, ciders 2 and 3 on the Triangle in Figure 1 were perceived by the consumer panel as dry (low sugar) and dull (high pH, low acidity), and these ciders were not well liked. Ciders 4, 5 and 6 were perceived as sweet (high sugar) and sharp (low pH, high acidity) and were the most liked ciders.

32 cider triangle

Figure 1. The Cider Triangle showing that the most liked ciders (green dots) in a recent consumer panel tended to have high sugar (sweet) and low pH (sharp), and the least liked ciders (red dots) tended to have low sugar (dry) and high pH (dull).

Interestingly, the consumer panel had difficulty sensing cider astringency (‘dryness’, ‘chalkiness’ or the feeling of mouth puckering similar to when drinking black tea or Cabernet wine); their astringency ratings were highly variable and did not correlate with laboratory analysis results.

Further research is required into the relationship between cider astringency and consumer preferences – and how perception of astringency is modified by varying levels of sweetness and acidity. TIA hopes to further develop the Cider Triangle to better understand its relationship with laboratory results and its potential usefulness for cider makers considering consumer tastes when developing novel cider styles.

Identifying and describing diverse cider styles is important to TIA’s fledgling cider research program because it complements scientific trials undertaken during the last two years identifying the sugar, acid and phenolic profile of ciders made from single dessert apple varieties.

Figure 2- Dessert apple variety

Figure 2. Dessert apple varieties produce ciders with different phenolic concentration.

We’ve used replicated and standardised small-batch cider making protocols adapted from our wine research to understand how available dessert apples including Granny Smith and Sundowner perform for cider. The volumes we make are small but sufficient to analyse and run tastings so we can communicate back to cider makers about the styles of cider which may be possible from existing plantings.

‘Old’ French and English style ciders are made from apple varieties specifically bred for cider, which are notably high in a group of chemicals known as phenolics. Phenolics have an impact on aroma, taste and astringency. Figure 2 shows substantial variation in phenolics concentration between ciders from single varieties, with ‘Granny Smith’ cider higher in phenolics than three of the other four varieties trialled. TIA’s cider dataset is still small and we haven’t yet attracted funding for cider research so everything we’ve done so far has been small scale and on a tiny budget. Industry have been really supportive however, and it gives us a base to talk with craft cider makers about options for building diverse styles based on the fruit that local orchardists can provide them.

Craft cider leads the way

TIA research student Lachlan Girschik analyses cider for sugar, acid and phenolics in preparation for a tasting event. Photo credit: Dr A. Carew.

TIA research student Lachlan Girschik analyses cider for sugar, acid and phenolics in preparation for a tasting event. Photo credit: Dr A. Carew.

In Australia, cider sales are booming with ABC Radio National reporting retail sales in 2019 are expected to exceed $1 billion (Sept 11th, 2014). Much of the growth in cider has been in the larger brands, but in Tasmania craft cider is taking a lead in several important ways.

Craft cider makers tend to use fresh crushed apple juice made from the seconds or thinnings from local orchards.

Sam Reid, co-founder of Willie Smith’s Cider and President of the industry group Cider Australia explains that some of the big players use a high proportion of imported apple concentrate to make their ciders and of course, this doesn’t offer any gains for current Australian apple growers.

Cider Australia is currently lobbying the Federal parliament to legislate for a minimum of 35% juice content in any product labelled cider and in addition are lobbying FSANZ to include a ‘country of origin’ requirement for ciders. Craft cider makers offer the additional benefit to rural communities of operating locally.

The boost to rural and regional areas in Tasmania where a craft cider producer sets up can be substantial and not just the direct employment of the cider maker and staff, but increasingly, producers may open a cider house employing local bar staff, maybe offer food as well, and this further attracts tourists into our rural and regional areas. Willie Smiths cider house in the Huon Valley is a case in point; Willie Smiths’ first ciders were launched in 2012 and the cider house now employs 25 people and is forecast to attract over 30,000 visitors in its first 12 months of operation.

Craft cider makers offer an additional, possibly unintended, service to the bigger beverage manufacturers.

“While the best-selling brands of cider are those produced by the big corporate booze manufacturers, the sheer volume involved and the slow-moving nature of those companies means that innovation and differentiation can be slow,” said Max Allen, cider judge and award winning wine writer. ”The craft makers, by contrast, are able to adapt to changing conditions and adopt new innovations much more efficiently – changes that are then often emulated by the big players. So it’s these guys, the craft makers, who drive diversification of the cider market in Australia.”

No bad apples

Members of a volunteer consumer panel noting their perception of ciders during a tasting event by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Photo credit: Dr F. Kerslake.

Members of a volunteer consumer panel noting their perception of ciders during a tasting event by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Photo credit: Dr F. Kerslake.

Local industry consultation by TIA during 2013 identified four main research needs to support the resurgence in craft cider, and ensure positive flow on effects for the industry and for the Island State.

The number one priority identified by industry was ‘no bad apples’; as a small region, Tasmania’s cider makers understood there was currently little brand differentiation amongst consumers and that one bad ‘Tassie cider’ could sully consumer views of ciders from the region. As such, an immediate priority in research and extension was to ensure a quality benchmark is attained so that consumers are assured of purchasing a sound cider each and every time. Additional priorities identified by industry were: identification of flavour characteristics for diverse cider styles, better harvest management and post-harvest handling and understanding the role of phenolics in cider for development of more tannin-driven, boutique styles.

TIA is committed to working in partnership with an emerging industry which has the opportunity to provide so much to the ‘Apple Isle’ in terms of further value adding to a well-established eating apple industry. We have taken samples at the Cider Australia awards in Melbourne to increase our knowledge of the phenolic profiles of a greater range of ciders. This research will underpin the expanding cider industry and provide sound data to help cider makers achieve their desired styles.

About the authors

Fiona Kerslake and Anna Carew are both Research Fellows at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania. Contact: 03 6336 5294 or fiona.kerslake@utas.edu.au / anna.carew@utas.edu.au.

 

By |October 21st, 2014|Value added products|

About the Author:

APAL is an industry representative body and not-for-profit membership organisation that supports Australia’s commercial apple and pear growers.