I recently tried three American ciders made in India…and it got me thinking about the sustainability of cider and in particular the use of concentrate.
Now you don’t have to go half way across the world to find cider made from concentrate, there’s plenty of that here. In fact I would suggest that the majority, if not all, of the huge drinks companies use it. Where that concentrate comes from is anyone’s guess, but with the ciders I tried recently the whole marketing story was that these ciders had been “born” in America and “raised” in India. The label was full of words (such as; “natural flavour, handcrafted, small batches, nuance”) that I’m not sure I would associate with the broader package on offer here. So I started thinking about the choice of using concentrate and whether it’s the right thing to do…for the planet.
In general, I can completely understand the premise of concentrate. Cider if done from freshly pressed fruit is on the whole a once a year event, although Hawkes in London debunked that idea, pressing fruit for 11 out of 12 months of the year thanks to cold storage and a few weeks of relying on fruit from South Africa. [Ed: food miles again though…] In comparison brewing beer can be done anytime you decide to pull together the ingredients, which store better and longer than apples. So concentrating the juice allows it to be stored for much longer in a stable format and after all it’s just taking water out and then putting it back in right? So what’s the harm?
Well it’s actually a fairly energy hungry process to heat up the juice and separate that water out, so it adds a whole extra layer of carbon footprint to the production chain. The water cycle isn’t that simple either, taking it out and then adding from another source creates imbalance and waste in the system. Condensed water from the evaporation process of concentrate production requires treatment before it can be returned to the water environment, whether that be on the industrial site or at a treatment works at the end of a sewer or tanker journey. Again this adds more miles and carbon generation. It’s more complex than that, but let’s keep to the basics for now.
Concentrating the juice also allows some meddling with what nature provided, say you take off 500 litres of water from a 1000 litres of juice there’s nothing to stop you adding back a 1,000 litres of water when you reconstitute it to dilute those sugars a bit more and to increase your quantity of finished product. After all your customers and tax budget might want 4% abv instead of the 8% originally intended by the rain, wind and sun. Not forgetting that water is cheaper than juice. Can you see the pound signs?
I haven’t worked out the carbon impact of my cider making yet, something Artistraw have rigorously been working on for theirs. I know my orchard captures Carbon Dioxide and creates Oxygen, but I haven’t worked out the accurate balance compared to what I generate from the car miles transporting the apples from my orchard, to the Carbon Dioxide created by fermentation, and when I use my pump to rack or bottle. Not forgetting the indirect accumulation to make the bottles, labels and crown caps. When I make cider it is in my mind that I want to try and create something with minimal impact, if any. Buying in juice in the beginning was something I didn’t really consider the environmental impact of then and that was only coming a 280 miles. These ciders I tried had been crafted from apples, grown, picked, pressed and concentrated in America then shipped half way round the world to be reconstituted, fermented, blended and bottled for sale in India. Was that the best solution? I’m pretty sure they grow apples in India.
Of course, I am aware of my element of hypocrisy, these aren’t the first ciders I’ve tried from another country and how far have they travelled to get to me? Another unnecessary impact on the planet it could be argued. But sourcing craft cider in Lincolnshire is somewhat difficult if that’s your drinking preference, one could counter. I guess it depends on how you define “eating/drinking local” or where you draw your own personal/ethical line. That’s a very subjective issue, one I won’t even try to tackle as it would just come across as preachy, when let’s face it, there’s enough of that already in this article. Plus wine is always worse right? [Ed: he says trying to justify himself], 90% (a guess) of wine available in the UK is from abroad. I’ll stop now before I’m barred from comparing.
As a side note, the ciders I tried also raised another issue: provenance. When does a cider become bound to a location? I’ve had this debate with a few friends in relation to some of my own ciders where I have bought juice from another maker and then fermented it in Lincolnshire. Is that a Lincolnshire cider? Or a Herefordshire/Devon/etc one? What about if I buy the cider already fermented and package it up in a different location, where is that cider tied to? After many debates I came to conclusion that it is where the juice becomes the cider, and my way of skirting the issue is to say the cider is “made in Lincolnshire” rather than it is a “Lincolnshire Cider”, which I will only put on bottles made with Lincolnshire fruit that I have fermented and bottled. So when it comes to the ciders I tried, following my own “rules” they would be Indian ciders, despite being made from American juice. How does that affect our understanding of terroir? Well it all becomes a bit confusing I guess, especially if you aren’t very transparent about the sources of your fruit. This is a bigger topic that we’ll pick up on Cider Review at some point in the future.
So where am I going with this? Well I could turn round and say the most environmentally friendly way to drink cider is to grow your own trees and make it yourself, which would be true. Only a very small percentage of people want to do that or have the means to do that. So what’s the next best option? Well drinking something made from full juice made close to you or at least within the same country. Next would be something from full juice outside of the country you reside in, at least you will know that an orchard is being maintained and preserved in order to provide you with that beverage and the money you spent keeps that going. Lastly I would say, would be to drink something made from concentrate, whether it’s made half way round the world or down the road (obviously worse halfway round the world). Why? Because the amount of energy required to make it and the impact of that on the environment, because the dilution of that concentrate means you don’t need so many trees in the orchards, and because the water it uses puts an unnecessary strain on natures resources.