The proximity of the Baltic Sea, light and short summer nights and the Northern climate with wide temperature variations make the conditions in the Baltic region ideal for growing apples and pears. While growing quality grapes for winemaking is more than a challenge here, our climate is particularly well suited for making apple cider.
The ancient traditions of apple cultivation and the diversity of high-quality apple varieties make for an important advantage in the local cider culture. It started to develop here about 20-25 years ago, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the first cider makers, often inspired by the traditional cider countries, saw interesting prospects for the local apples. Over the course of the last 10-15 years, common Baltic cider characteristics have formed, and the Baltic countries can be considered as the new cider world, where producers freely express their vision of cider making.
Due to the cooler Northern European climate, our ciders are fresh and aromatic and have distinctive acidity. They can be described as clear, sweet and sour, or dry and crisp, they have a pronounced apple aroma and medium to light structure, they are pleasant to enjoy and generally low in tannins. Our region is characterised by clayey sandy soils, moderate summers, and a relatively long non-vegetation period which is part of what we can call a « terroir », meaning that each cider introduces you to a unique landscape, to its soil and climate, to the apple varieties that it consists of and of the very personal style of its creator.
It is important to distinguish quality ciders made once per year after the harvest from fresh juice, from the cheap products made from concentrate, sugar, water and artificial flavourings and called «cider ». Consumers may well be confused by these as they are widely available in the shops. Legislation doesn’t yet offer such clear understanding, thus one of the Baltic Cider Award’s objectives is to promote only real ciders.
Most of the cider mills are small producers, who take part in the whole creation cycle themselves by pressing the aromatic and fresh apple juice in autumn, fermenting it slowly at low temperatures, in order to retain freshness and all the flavour nuances. The production of such cider is an environmentally friendly process with a minimal impact on nature. A true gourmet appreciates flavour, however, a modern gourmet also considers what ingredients the food or drink is made out of and how this process affects the earth. Cider is the “greenest” alcoholic beverage available in the Baltics, as local ingredients are used in its production, little energy is needed during the fermentation process, and the transportation is local.
Mostly ciders are made from locally grown traditional varieties of autumn or winter apples, as well as from crab apples or wild apples with more pronounced tannic structure. Local varieties, climate conditions and also technology used has an impact on the taste, often producing ciders here with the elegance of a white wine.
The traditional cider apple varietals from the ‘old world’ are not so common here and not necessarily adapted to the local conditions. Did you know that planting of an apple seed results in a tree that is completely different from its parents ? This is why both the local cider makers and the Institutes of Horticulture are carrying out experiments, developing new apple cultivars that might be especially suitable for making cider locally. One of the cider apple varieties grown in Latvia, for example, bears the name of the western Latvian seaside town Pāvilosta.
There are three types of cider apples:
- sweet apples, which are rich in sugar and have a high content of alcohol;
- Acidic apples, ranging from lightly acidic to very acidic, which give the cider a fresh and slightly sour note;
- bittersweet and bitter apples, which are rich in polyphenols that give the cider structure and bitterness of a higher or lower intensity.
In order to achieve the desired harmony of flavour, cider is usually made by combining several apple varieties (even several dozens), using all of the cider apple types. Ciders made from only one or two varieties of apples are far less common. Sometimes, for achieving greater variety, other fruits and berries can be added to cider, with the most common ones being quince or blackcurrants.
Welcome to the rich and exciting world of cider and this new culture in the Baltics which you can help grow by discovering the local ciders !