A visit to an apple cider brewery in Belgium

This particular red fleshed apple took the cider makers at Stassen eight years to develop and is the source of various innovative blends from Stassen. Photos: Paul Yeo

Traditionally, it’s sweet, but not cloyingly so. And you can get different blends that offer crisp alternatives that are not as sweet, but equally refreshing.

It’s perfect for hot tropical climes, as the first taste of the drink swirls in your mouth and glides down your throat, a natural thirst quencher that energises tired palates.

It’s a burst of fruity freshness with that little bit of alcoholic impetus. It’s a less “formal” drink that encourages inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

It’s the seductive call of the apple cider.

Apple cider has its roots dating back millennia, with the first known mention of the beverage recorded in 55BCE by the Romans. From then on, the drink’s popularity spread throughout Europe.

The invention of the screw apple press in the 13th century saw more rapid growth of the beverage as it made the production of apple cider so much easier.

The popularity of cider has waxed and waned throughout the centuries, but what’s certain is the drink is experiencing a resurgence in the modern era.

According to an Allied Market Research, the global cider market in 2016 was valued at US$10,667 mil (RM43,831 mil), and this is expected to increase to US$16,252 mil (RM66,779 mil) in 2023, making it the beverage with the highest growth rate compared to other alcoholic drinks.

The apple-flavoured cider had the major share of the cider market in 2016, and this is expected to continue through the forecast period.

There are a few possible reasons for this resurgence. Those who are conscious of their health are switching to low or non-alcoholic beverages, explaining the increasing popularity of cider.

In addition, cider is a gluten free low alcoholic beverage, and that may be influencing people who consume gluten-free products.

But make no mistake, a major reason for cider’s popularity is just the bubbly, fresh taste of the various iterations of the drink, be it apple or other fruit-flavoured varieties. And it helps that the cider is as natural an alcoholic beverage as you will ever get.

It starts with an apple

The Stassen Cidery in Auble, Belgium, has a heritage that dates back generations, and it is currently a dedicated R&D centre for cider development and innovation.

From sweet to dry, crisp to elegant, there is a variety of apple ciders to satisfy different palates.

Aubel is a Belgian municipality in the Walloon province of Liege. It is located about 123km from the capital city of Brussels, and is renowned for its cheesemakers, butchers, beer and cider breweries.

Amidst the lush apple orchards in Aubel, four generations of Stassen cidery artisans have perfected their craft since 1895.

At a visit to one of the orchards, rows and rows of apple trees “line up” as if to bid you a good day. Different varieties of apples are there for the picking, and it’s a peaceful setting amidst a verdant land that continues to bear bountiful fruit.

You can just reach out a hand to pluck an apple, or hunt for the juiciest ones amongst the many fruit that carpet the ground beneath the trees.

For some reason, the setting just seems to render the apples a bit crunchier, and a whole lot more delicious.

The process of cider making starts with the harvesting of ripe apples that are shaken from trees using mechanical tree shakers, or even by hand. The apples are then washed and cleaned before being milled and pressed to extract every last bit of juice.

After that, special cider yeasts are added to ferment the apple juice. The apple juice is fermented for seven to 10 days.

The resultant juice is then filtered and blended. The blending process leads to special variants, and for flavoured ciders, natural fruit flavours are added.

The last step involves adding carbon dioxide for that bubbly burst when you pop open a bottle of cider.

Red, red fruit

The Stassen Cidery in Auble, Belgium, has a heritage that dates back generations, and it is currently a dedicated centre for cider development and innovation.

The visit to Stassen Cidery also revealed a pleasant surprise in the form of a red fleshed apple. Pardon this ignoramus, but the thought of a red fleshed apple never really registered until the visit to the cidery.

At the apple orchard, there stood one glorious tree with red-skinned apples that revealed a pleasant surprise when you took a bite out of it – glorious red flesh that’s as delicious as it looks.

This particular red-fleshed apple took the cider makers at Stassen eight years to develop, and it is the source of various innovative blends from Stassen, including the Stassen Cidre Cuvee Rose.

Of course, a cursory search on Google reveals that apples with red flesh occur naturally in certain regions of Central Asia, and they are called crabapples.

Though these are too bitter for consumption, cross breeding such apples with sweet white fleshed apples have produced varieties of sweet-tasting red-fleshed apples.

But there’s nothing like seeing one at the orchard for the first time, hidden amongst the many other trees, and the taste of that apple leaves a lingering memory of sweet surrender, a fleeting moment of wonder that can still surprise a jaded soul.

Mayhaps it offers a fleeting insight to the reference of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Whimsy aside, the visit to Stassen Cidery revealed the different sides of cider that many people can appreciate. From sweet to dry, crisp to elegant, there’s variety to satisfy different palates.

And in hot tropical Malaysia, cider is perfect when served with ice. Just fill a third of the glass with ice, and pour in the apple cider.

The ice brings out the refreshing crispness of the beverage, and the burst of apple aromas is just perfect to soothe parched throats at the end of a long, working day.

The trip to Stassen Cidery in Belgium was courtesy of Apple Fox Cider.

Do you know your apple?

> Apples are part of the rose family

> There are more than 8,000 varieties of apples, making it the largest variety of fruit in existence

> In general, apples take about four to five years before producing their first fruit

> Bees pollinate apple flowers

> Cultivated apple trees generally grow to about 1.8m to 4.6m, while those in the wild can grow up to 12m

> The average lifespan of an apple tree is 100 years

> A medium sized apple has about 80 calories

> There are culinary apples and cider apples. Culinary apples are for eating and cooking while cider apples are grown specifically for making cider

> Apples contain a soluble fibre called pectin, which can help lower cholesterol levels (Source: JustFunFacts)

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