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The Science of Cider: Behind Julius Cesar's Favorite Drink

The Science of Cider: Behind Julius Cesar's Favorite Drink

Based on alcoholic fermentation, the science and physics of cider do not only rely on good apples or ripe apples, but on century long techniques

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Walking the trails in Italy’s Val di Non during the months of September and October guarantees the pleasure of filling your lungs with fresh air and the intense, crisp aroma of apples like few other places in the world. The Trentino region is famous for the fruit, and its prized apples are sent across the globe, where they are enjoyed raw or as ingredients in countless recipes.

One of these recipes is cider, a lightly alcoholic drink that is restorative in the brisk months of winter, but can also be enjoyed over ice when the weather is warm. Famous around the world, cider can be made not only from apples, but its “cousins” like pears and quince, a variant popular in France. The origins of cider are thought to date back to Kent, England - probably in a monastery - over two thousand years ago. Around 50 A.C. Julius Cesar passed through the area, where he tasted the drink and promptly fell in love with it. Over the following centuries, monks learned to enrich cider with herbs, thus creating different versions; today, while cider is widely distributed, many people still enjoy making it themselves at home. While it’s not difficult, the technique does require some ancient know-how and techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Cider is based on the scientific principal of alcoholic fermentation, whereby sugars (in this case, those naturally found in apple juice) are converted into alcohol by the action of various yeasts and molds after being deprived of oxygen. The first step in making a good cider, therefore, is obtaining a good apple juice. While there are many good ready-made kinds available, making it isn’t hard: take 2 kilos of apples, cut them into small pieces and then let them sit, chilled for at least 5 hours. Then they can either be through a juicer or else blended and then thoroughly strained. After obtaining the juice, add 300 grams of cane sugar and carefully mix. In a separate bowl, combine 13 grams of brewer’s yeast with a bit of warm water, and then add this to the bowl of apple juice. Stir well and pour the mixture into a fermenter; if you don’t have one (they are quite affordable, however), you can use a flask or bottle with a “fermentation cork”, which is a special cork that allows carbon dioxide to escape without letting oxygen enter.

We then keep the bottle in a fairly warm environment, between 20° and 23° C, and shake it up once a day. After about 20 days, filter the mixture and add two teaspoons of sugar, stirring well. As the last step, pour the cider into sterilized bottles and let it sit for at least a month before drinking. This basic recipe can be improved upon by following a few suggestions: brewer’s yeast can be substituted with yeast for wine, which can be found in specialty stores. It’s best to choose ripe apples if you like your ciders with a stronger taste. Finally, when it’s time to filter the mixture, repeat the process at least twice so the liquid is as clear as possible, The result is a cider that’s genuine, full-bodies, lightly sparkling and absolutely refreshing: a drink worthy of Julius Cesar.

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