How is great cider made? There are number of things a cidermaker needs and a number of steps one must follow but there is also an order of importance which is often overlooked. For instance, one reads that it is important to "use good apples" and eventually "rack the cider multiple times for clarity" but don't think for a second the two are equally important. If you had to pay special attention to just a few steps, here they are ranked from most to least important...
1- Good apples (which alone is the result of this hierarchy...)
A) Good, healthy soil and trees (ideally on slightly rocky, cool, breezy and sunny slopes.)
B) Good cultivars (right type of apples)
C) Good growing practices (I stress organic IPM but cider-apple growers needn't control much.)
D) A good season
(note how the most important things are all farm-centric!)
2- Hygiene. From inspecting the fruit to corking the bottles the environment must be clean. Nothing is learned without this variable in check.
3- Grinding and pressing practices should be hard cider-specific, not sweet cider-specific.
4- Yeast selection and cellar temperatures. (Hint: the two are related. Keep it cool, dark and consistent.)
5- Fermentation equipment and aeration. (Plastic is not as good as stainless steel, which is not as good as glass. The differences relates to hygiene and temperature, but all are acceptable.)
6- Bottle appearance and branding (Looks matter to taste. Sad, but true. Most people don't do blind-tastings and are heavily influenced by attractive labeling.)
7- Cider clarity and color (Similar to bottle appearance but maybe not as influential. Personally, I think there is way too much emphasis on this least important factor.)