NORWEGIAN CIDER STYLES
What cider styles are considered the most common in Norway? And what styles are suitable with different types of food? We have spoken to sommelier Ove Svendsen, who divides Norwegian cider into 8 categories. Here, he shares his advice on how to serve the different ciders.
There is a wide variety of cider styles in the world. In international competitions, such as the World Cider Awards, you can compete in 11 different taste categories, where many of the categories also have their own subcategories. In Norway, the only regulation for what cider you can and should produce is the one that was given to Hardanger cider in 2009. The term "Sider frå Hardanger" (“Cider from Hardanger”) regulates, among other things, where the cider apples should come from and categorizes levels of sweetness and alcohol content. You can of course make any cider you want, also if you live in Hardanger, but if you want to sell bottles marked with the protected term, you must follow the rules.
Just as there are natural wines, there are now also several Norwegian producers who make what we have chosen to call natural cider, for lack of a more precise term.
"Natural" as a description is at least as imprecise for cider as it is for wine. For example, is there such a thing as unnatural cider?
The producers that make this style of cider want to call it "spontaneously fermented cider". In a way, this is more precise, but when traditional ciders are also spontaneously fermented, the term becomes too imprecise again. After all, "natural" cider has a dryness and aromatic uniqueness that are not found in traditionally produced cider.
One of the common features of those who produce natural cider is that there are no additives. No sugar, no foreign yeast cultures or other treatments that can alter the original character of the cider. This "zero-additive attitude" also means that no preparations should be used to adjust any fermentation aromas.
Such a cider without additives is of course completely dry, as no sugar or anything else is added to the juice before fermentation. Therefore, it has no sweetness to rely on for help when pairing it with food.
On the other hand, it can have complex flavours (umami) from both yeast and residue, as it is rarely filtered or poured into secondary barrels.
Cider from Hardanger
The cider style from Hardanger is generally made from table apples. These are apple varieties such as Aroma, Discovery and Gravenstein. These varieties contain a lot of freshness and acidity, but relatively low tannin levels. The counterpart to these apple types are specific cider apples, which are found mostly in Britain and France, but also in smaller quantities in Hardanger and Sogn.
The most common cider from Hardanger contains around 20 grams of sugar per litre (gr./l.) with an alcohol content of approx. 6.5% and is acidic and fresh with low bitterness. It is usually very aromatic and can be enjoyed with many different foods.
The geographical designation "Sider frå Hardanger" has a set of rules that are very flexible, which means that you can expect differences in ciders with this classification. For example, a classified cider from Hardanger may have between 3 and 12% alcohol and between zero and 80 grams of residual sweetness per litre, depending on which category it belongs to.
Pink bubbly wines are trendy, and in Norway, we are lucky enough to have lots of fresh, red berries that make this a widespread and popular cider style, especially in summer.
Rosé cider is often sparkling and made with aromatic and acidic table apples with a small proportion of red berries. It is quite common for rosé cider to have a sweetness level of around 20 grams of sugar per litre, which is beneficial as the sweetness helps balance out the bubbles and acidity.
A little sweetness works well with flavourful food. And flavourful food is normally served at the beginning of a meal in the form of canapés, or if it is a garden party in the summer – the strawberries of the season.
For canapés, flavourful tapas or fresh berries, the rosé cider has a distinct advantage, not only because it has the sweetness for it, but also because the bubbles help to make the mouthfeel greater, which is an important factor in its suitability for flavourful food.
Cider with cider apples
We have heard that it is the bitter cider apples that make the "real" cider. Whether this is correct or not is up for debate, but there is little doubt that there are a great many traditional ciders in both the UK and Northern France that exclusively use this apple variety for cider.
Cider made from cider apple varieties can contain a similar sweetness and alcohol content as cider made from table apples. The biggest difference when comparing the cider styles is mouthfeel.
A cider made from traditional cider apples has more structure in the mouth than one that is made from table apples. Drink or food that has structure in the mouth takes up more space. For example, poached cod takes up far less space than fried monkfish. Lamb tenderloin takes up far less space than beef entrecôte.
Cider made from cider apples will generally go better with more structure in the food than cider made from table apples. The tannins will help to keep the fruitiness present if, for example, you want to try a richer meat dish with the cider. Tannins behaving in this way obviously requires a good concentration of fruit.
Grocery store cider
From the most structured to the least structured. Cider sold in grocery stores have one important factor in common – they are all a result of the alcohol legislation in Norway that bans alcoholic goods with more than 4.7% alcohol in grocery stores.
Alcohol plays an important role in how much "space" a beverage takes up in the mouth. The sweetness and fullness are especially affected by the alcohol content. This is easy to notice if you drink port, sherry, or a well-made gin or aquavit.
Alcohol adds an extra richness to all drinks. In pure spirits, it contributes to a roundness in the mouth that, when well crafted, leaves a gentle richness.
Grocery store ciders have a low alcohol content and are therefore not very rich, except for the residual sweetness. This means that it is a good idea to choose foods that do not have too much structure or intense flavours.
Good examples of foods with a low flavour intensity are young cheeses from cow’s milk, raw fish and shellfish, or boiled, or young cured ham.
Cider with additives
Of the various additives, we can simply say that all of them affect aroma, but only some affect taste.
When it comes to taste, or mouthfeel, there are two factors in particular that play important roles. Both affect the structure or mouthfeel of the cider.
People might think that oak barrels, or barrels in general, only affect the aroma. The truth is that more than anything else, they affect taste. The use of barrels adds structure to the cider, and if the cider does not have a high enough concentration, the fruity flavour will be dominated by the oak in the mouth.
Hops are an additive that has the same structural elements as oak. Too much hops, and the fruit will be dominated and no longer be the centre of attention as intended.
Finally, there is the addition of berries. Those who add whole berries to the cider, including the stem and skin, will create more structure, while those who only add the juice will mostly enhance the sweetness and most often the levels of acidity.
Ice cider is perhaps the most complex fermented, locally produced beverage without additives that we have in Norway. The two variants available on the market are from Edel Is-sider and Alde Issider.
The former boasts a whopping 220 grams of sugar per litre and Alde has 180 grams of sugar per litre, but also a shocking acidity level of – 25.7 grams per litre – which must be a record in Norway.
The traditional limit for calling a wine a dessert wine in Europe is at 100 grams of sugar per litre. Therefore, there is little doubt about what to use a Norwegian ice cider for.
Unfortunately, sweetness is not the only thing that determines what food goes well with the cider.
Blue cheese, which many would assume to be suitable with ice cider, is usually far too dominant for a fruit-driven ice cider. Part of the reason for this lies in its complexity and alcohol content. The most common wine for things such as blue cheese is the dessert wine Sauternes from Western France or port wine.
Sauternes has, in addition to the sweetness, an additional complexity from grapes attacked by botrytis bunch rot. Port wine, on the other hand, has had extra alcohol added to it in the form of grape spirit, which increases the wine's alcohol content to about 18%. This is almost twice the alcohol content of ice cider and crucial to a successful combination. An example of this is the classic combination of port wine and blue Stilton cheese.
Written by Ove Svendsen - Sommelier