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The Ice Age Returns

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Finger Lakes ice cider production is on the rise

Written by Martha Gioumousis

A new exciting dessert wine is hitting the Finger Lakes. It’s called ice cider and it’s like an ice wine, but made from apples and cider. Since it’s really hard to press frozen apples—unlike frozen grapes for ice wine—instead, the cider itself is frozen.

Most traditionally, the cider is left outside to freeze in the cold of winter, usually in large plastic tanks. The cider concentrates as it thaws, leaving a block of ice behind while super sweet juice flows off. The principle is the same as ice wine, where the sweetest juice portion of frozen grapes thaws first.

As the winter progresses, repeated thawings and freezings of the cider further concentrate the flavors and sugars in the cider. When the sugars and flavors are ready, the concentrated juice is drained off and fermentation is initiated to create ice cider. 

This process is called cryo-concentration and results in a concentrated version of apple cider.  Whereas cider typically has natural sugars of about 15 degrees Brix (which gives hard cider about 7-percent alcohol-by-volume), cider used to make ice cider typically is concentrated by freezing to about 36 degrees Brix, and results in a dessert cider with approximately 10-percent alcohol-by-volume and 15-percent residual sugar.

Typical yields after concentration are about 25 percent of the starting volume. Fermentation is then conducted at low temperatures over an extended period of time.

The result? A delicious, sweet explosion of apple flavor with balanced acidity and moderate tannins. Ice cider is delicious alone or paired with cheeses such as sharp cheddar or an apple tart.

The last few years have seen an explosion of cideries and hard ciders in New York State and—most recently—in the Finger Lakes. Ice cider has been slower to catch on, but the numbers and availability are starting to grow. Eve’s Cidery was the first in the Finger Lakes (and perhaps the country) to produce an ice cider, which they introduced in 2005. Owner Autumn Stoscheck became inspired to make her won ice cider after tasting the product on a trip to Quebec, Canada, where ice cider was first invented. Eve’s Cidery uses a field blend of apples including Idared, Jonagold, Melrose and Fuji to make its ice cider, Essence ($32 per 375-ml. bottle), after freezing the juice outside during the winter. Sheldrake Point Vineyards—primarily a winery—makes an ice cider now called Apple Ice Wine ($30 per 375-ml. bottle) by trucking the cider to a commercial freezer, and then allowing it to thaw, refreeze and thaw again, yielding a concentrated juice.

New Finger Lakes ice ciders include Montezuma Winery’s Ice Apple Cider ($24.99 per 371-ml. bottle), and most recently, Good Life Cider’s Glacial Till ($26 per 375-ml. bottle).

High in sugars and acid, apple cider is well suited for this type of dessert product, as are the grapes most typically used for ice wine production. The balance between the sugars and acids is what makes ice cider so delicious. The varieties of apples and ciders used vary greatly and will influence the final flavors of ice ciders. 

Another exciting new product made with apple cider is Pommeau from South Hill Cider and cider maker Steve Selin. Pommeau is a fortified blend of unfermented apple cider and apple brandy with 19-percent alcohol-by-volume and 9.8-percent residual sugars.

Pommeau is a traditional drink from northern France, often served as an aperitif or with blue cheeses, chocolate or apple-based desserts. South Hill Cider’s Pommeau ($30 per 375-ml. bottle) is aged in oak for nine months and matured for three additional months. The extended aging allows the cider to clarify naturally without the use of fining agents or pectic enzymes, thus retaining the full range of flavors present in the cider. 

Hard ciders, ice ciders and now pommeau—the Finger Lakes offers a beverage for all tastes and occasions made from apples.

Martha Gioumousis is a winemaker, wine writer and editor of Finger Lakes Wine Gazette and coordinator for the Tompkins County Community Beautification Program.

This article was originally published in our March/April 2019 issue.

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