You’ve probably seen the phrase “contains sulfites” on the last can of cider or bottle of wine you drank. But do you know what sulfites are or why they’re used in cider and wine, but not in beer?

Sulfites are compounds that contain the sulfite ion. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is the main one produced by and used in cidermaking. Small amounts of SO2 are a normal byproduct of fermentation, and SO2 is added to cider, generally in the form of Potassium Metabisulfite.

It used to be added to empty barrels by burning sticks of elemental sulfur:  “Lay brimstone (sulfur) on a rag, and by a wire let it down into the cider vessel, and there fire it: and when the vessel is full of the smoak the liquor speedily pour’d in, ferments the better!” (John Evelyn’s Pomona, 1664).

Unfortunately we aren’t that cool anymore.

You may be asking, “ok, but why is this in my drink?” SO2 acts in two key ways: as an antiseptic and an antioxidant.

SO2 is added after pressing the juice but before adding yeast in order to eliminate any spoilage organisms, such as bacteria or wild yeast, from growing uncontrollably and ruining the sweet sweet apple juice. This allows the yeast we choose for fermentation to flourish, and therefore better cider to be produced.

As SO2 binds with oxygen, SO2 is also added after fermentation in order to prevent oxidation. This prevents wine and cider from tasting like wet cardboard, which you’ll recognize if you ever left a half open bottle of wine in your fridge for a few too many days before finishing it off.

So why doesn’t beer use sulfites?

1) the boiling that takes place in the brewing process is their antiseptic step, it gets rid of bad bacteria and yeast.

2) beer contains hops, which among other things (such as smelling glorious and adding bitterness) serve as antioxidants.

At this point you may also be asking, “I’ve heard of wine hangovers, is that a thing?” No, it’s not. First off, ‘There is no medical research data showing that sulfites cause headaches.’ Unsurprisingly, drinking too much of anything causes a hangover. Additionally, the amount of sulfites in cider and wine are extremely low compared to other food items (usually below 200ppms, as compared to over 3000 in dried fruit--see chart below).


So the next time you wake up having drunk perhaps one too many ciders or glasses of wine, remember that, given what you learned here, you unfortunately only have yourself to blame.


We talked last time about apples, those round beauties without which we would not have cider. But it takes two to tango, and the other indispensable dance partner in cidermaking is yeast.

To mix metaphors a bit, if apples are the actors who get all the fame and reap all the rewards, yeast is the director who works tirelessly in the background and make sure the actors live up to their full potential.

Yeast works to turn apple juice (relatively boring) into cider (very sly, and exciting). In a process known as fermentation, it converts sugar into alcohol and CO2, and has been doing so for thousands of years.

Besides producing alcohol, yeast directly contributes or modifies 58% of aroma descriptors and 79% of the flavor descriptions of alcoholic beverages (i.e., CIDER)! This means that two ciders fermented with the exact same apple blend using different yeasts will taste drastically different.

This is a fun place of experimentation for American cidermakers, who don’t always have access to the abundance of apple varieties that they still do in, for example, England and France.

There are several ways to “use” yeast, or rather ways of letting yeast do its thing.

One method used by some cidermakers is to do nothing. If you find yourself visiting cideries in the West Country of England, you'll find that this is the approach. Focus is placed on the blend of apples going into the fermentation vessel, and then the cider is left to sit and ferment using a combination of yeast present on the apple skins and in the air and in the fermentation vessel (especially if it’s an old barrel).

Another method is to choose a commercial yeast strain, which has been bred to ferment in a certain way and have certain flavor and aroma characteristics. Cidermakers, especially in America, aren’t bound by as many of the traditions and norms as their American winemaker brethern or their English and French cidermaking counterparts. This means that we experiment with white wine yeasts, red wine yeasts, ale and lager yeasts, as well as wild yeasts such as Brettanomyces to give extra oomph and flavor to our apples.

On a related note, people often ask us, “What is harder, beer brewing or cidermaking?” And while it’s not a question that we can effectively answer, because they are so different, we tend to respond that the hardest part about beer is the brewing process (soaking the barley in hot water to extract sugar, which is then boiled). There is no equivalent in cider, which is why cider is “made” not “brewed.” The apple juice blending process pre-fermentation is more of an art than a science, but the brewing process is extremely complex and small variations in water, temperature, grain bill, and hop additions make huge impacts on the final beer.

However, relative to cider, beer fermentation is fairly straight-forward. Ales typically finish fermenting in several days, whereas cider needs a minimum of a few weeks depending on the temperature (some traditional cidermakers will do “low and slow” 6-month fermentations). Beer is chock full of nitrogen and other nutrients that yeast love, whereas apple juice is nutrient deficient, so you have to baby it and give it a lot of love in order to prevent off-flavors. So we tend to say that beer is harder on the front end, and cider is harder on the back end: yet another reason yeast is so important to cidermaking!

To learn even more about yeast on a more technical level, check out Shea Comfort’s 2015 CiderCON presentation.


Here at Sly Clyde, we love apples. In fact, they’re the core of our business (see what we did there). All of our fruit comes from a family-owned orchard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We’ve spent a lot of time eating, thinking about, and fermenting apples, but how much do you, dear cider lover, really know about apples?  


Did you know that there are four traditional categories of apples?

Sweets are low in tannin (more on that later) and low in acid. Note that the sweet moniker is not related to sugar content, but has to do with the lack of acidity. A familiar example would be Golden Delicious or Honeycrisp, anything typically used as an eating apple.

Sharps are low in tannin and high in acid. Note that this does not mean that these apples have sharp edges, but that they have a “sharp” acidic taste. The best example in the United States is Granny Smith, Pink Lady, or anything that your grandma uses to make the best, most flavorful pies.

Sweets and Sharps are collectively known as “dessert” apples. They can be eaten, cooked with, or made into cider. These two categories, being the most prevalent categories in American apple growing, will constitute part of Sly Clyde’s ciders.

Bittersweets are traditional cider apples which are high in tannin and low in acid. (Here’s where we can talk about tannin).

Tannin is a complicated subject but, in the simplest terms, it describes a group of compounds in apples and grapes that contribute to body, mouthfeel, color, bitterness (hard tannins), and astringency (soft tannins). The best way to conceptualize what tannin actually does is to think about drinking strong, oversteeped tea. Feel that drying sensation in your mouth? That’s the tannins.

These are rare in America except on traditional cider apple orchards, but form the key foundation, for example, of England’s West Country ciders.

Bittersharps (you guessed it) are HIGH in tannin and HIGH in acid. Referred to by some as the perfect category because it’s capable of being fermented as a single varietal without the need to blend in acid. Similar to Bittersweets, these are rare in America.

Bittersweets and Bittersharps are traditional cider apples in that they are not typically eaten out of hand and grown primarily for fermentation, similar to wine grapes--when is the last time you bought a bag of Pinot Noir grapes at the grocery store?.

American Heirloom fruit doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories, as they are more complex than a standard sharp apple such as a Granny Smith, which has led some to call them Sharp-Sweets, as they are high in acid but have a small amount of tannin. We love these apples and you’ll see us making ciders with as many of them as we can get our hands on, including Gold Rush and Jonathan.

 Want more information? Check out Chris Lehault’s great series on Serious Eats here, here, and here for more. If you want to read a whole book about it check out the Apple Bible, Tom Buford’s Apples of North America And keep an eye on our blog for more in our TMI series.

We are Getting Social

Can we talk? We started Sly Clyde to make a little Hard Cider right here in Hampton Roads. But, WOW! We had no idea that there would be so much interest. Our followers have been amazing to add us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. 

We are doing our best to respond as quickly as possible to your questions and we agree - this is pretty exciting. There are so many different places to be talking Sly Clyde that we are going to bring more and more information online in the next months. YouTube, we are coming for you and we think there's going to be a contest involved.

Social Media has become our prime outlet for getting updates to our early supporters (that's you!) on our building progress, background on Hard Cider for newbies, and soon some questions about what kind of Cider you want to drink. We really love hearing from you on Facebook. Keep the questions coming!

Questions like:

When are you opening? We are planning for November but the building/renovation gods are cruel.

Is Cider gluten-free? YES! And we have family members for whom this is a significant need so we are just as serious as you about this. 

Will you really use Virginia Apples? Yes. 100%. And we will make our Cider directly from juice, not concentrate. We will post photos of our trees in a few weeks.

Can I host a group at the cidery? Oh, yes. We are working on transforming the Brick House into a tasting room with lots of space and our huge back courtyard will be perfect for hanging out, playing games, and tasting the latest Sly Clyde Cider.

Watch for updates and tell your friends that Sly Clyde is going to start craftily crushing this Fall. They can follow us, too. More on all of that in our next post.

Tim & Doug