Cider is in – and the trendy drink has long since moved beyond British pubs and French bistros. Torben Bauch, product manager for fermentation technology and cider at GEA, guides us through the production of the popular apple drink.

Cider, cidre, sidra – with and without alcohol, gentle and sweet or sharp and crisp, pure apple or with other fruity aromas – brewed by small craft producers or in large-scale facilities: The fermented apple drink is as varied as its name, and now everyone is talking about the one of the world's most dynamic growth markets for alcoholic beverages. Especially Eastern Europeans, Australians and South Africans are growing ever fonder of the beverage and are catching up with the traditional markets of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and North America. 

Cider is in

Many suppliers focus on the same trends seen in the beer market: a return to tradition, to the original recipes, to craftsmanship, to natural and regional ingredients. Even larger producers – usually global players such as Heineken and Carlsberg – are dusting off the image of their popular cider brands, making them more urban, lighter and offering low-alcohol or alcohol-free versions. They are sometimes acting just like the craft cider brewers and are using marketing to transport cider drinkers directly into pleasant rural idylls. They are helping make sure that cider is an adequate alternative to beer and white wine at any time of day. Cider is in – whether in topsy-turvy urban life or in the idyllic country side.

Traditional process with high expectations

Regardless of all the modernization and experimentation, cider remains an authentic apple drink with strict quality standards – thanks to the tough standards of the AICV (European Cider and Fruit Association, UK). 

"Manufacturers are not prepared to make any compromises with such a traditional product, after all consumers demand high quality"

Torben Bauch, product manager for cider technology at GEA

“They place enormous importance on how the apples are handled during fermentation and want high aromatic density." Fermentation and yeast management thus need to meet the strictest hygienic standards. “Our customers are also starting to focus more on their production processes. They want efficiency both in resource usage and in processing."

Cider is an alternative to beer production

GEA has been a global leader in brewing technology for decades and has engineered and installed both individual components and turnkey systems for countless customers. In the development of sustainable systems and technologies our experts work hand in hand with industrial representatives. 

"Our customers are often experienced brewers, who want to expand their portfolio with cider or convert their capacities. We think doing so is a good idea, as the synergies in the manufacturing lines for both products are enormous – if done right" confirms Bauch. “A second customer group is now producing truly individual cider products for the market over the past few years. Craft cider brewers have extremely high quality requirements, and we show them which equipment and processes can be used to treat the must as gently as possible.

Over the past few years, we have produced new full systems for cider production (greenfield projects), expanded cider production and integrated the cider process in existing breweries (brownfield projects). Reason enough to ask the expert: How is cider actually brewed? How is the market developing? How do we support cider producers in establishing or expanding sustainable production facilities?

The cider market is booming

The global cider/perry market exceeded a production volume of two billion liters for the first time in 2013. The positive development over the past years was predominantly driven by the growing demand in the key cider/perry market, the US, and in new markets such as Canada and Poland [2] (see Fig. 1).

From 2016 to 2021, the market is predicted to grow by 1.4 million hectoliters. [3]. More than half of the worldwide production (57%) is consumed in Europe. Sales in Western Europe are mainly in the UK which had a market share of more than 70%. [2]. The largest cider producers are based in the regions with the highest per capita consumption worldwide.

Figure 1: Comparison of cider production 2011 – 2017 [in hectoliters] worldwide
Figure 1: Comparison of cider production 2011 – 2017 [in hectoliters] worldwide

The Eastern European cider market serves as an example of the overall trend. As the global alcohol consumption declines, the Eastern European cider market continues to see healthy growth. The market is still relatively small and accounts for only 4% of global market volume, by 2020 the market is forecast to be ranked fourth out of seven regions worldwide. As beer markets stagnate, leading beer multinationals focused on actively promoting cider. In countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the cider market basically emerged as recently as two to five years ago, and saw annual increases of between 50% and 950% from 2010 to 2015, varying by country. Impressive growth in the markets was driven by the multinational players' activity. 

Carlsberg was a pioneer with Somersby cider in Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary, followed by Heineken's Strongbow brand. Molson Coors Brewing also launched on the Eastern European region with the Carling brand. In the Czech Republic SAB Miller launched Kingswood cider, which was ranked first after just one year, and, in 2015, it entered the Slovak market, becoming the number two cider brand in Slovakia.

Figure 2: Cider/Perry: Top 10 Global Companies by Volume 2015-2016
Figure 2: Cider/Perry: Top 10 Global Companies by Volume 2015-2016

Differences compared to brewhouses: Raw material handling and blending

The raw material handling, delivery and blending processes differ from wort production in in brewhouses. The raw materials are supplied as a dry powder or as liquid or syrup. Depending on the requirements, they might need special treatment. Crystal sugar, for example, is converted into a sugar solution with DI-SUGARTM, a continuously working, Brix-controlled dissolving unit, and can then be pasteurized using the hot dissolving procedure. We provide complete and extremely flexible and rapid dissolution for different products, including sweeteners, acidifiers, thickeners, salts, preservatives, and anti-oxidants. We can handle, mix and treat every liquid, concentrate and type of apple juice to satisfy customers including the utilization of the raw material intake also for supplying the final blend of the product if the same materials are used. Even juice preprocessing with the GEA decanter and other treatment systems is possible if the customer prepares its own juice for the process.

The cider wort: Pasteurization, nutrient dosage & aeration

Figure 3: Principal layout of WORTSTAR™
Figure 3: Principal layout of WORTSTAR™

In contrast to the production of beer, cider wort is prepared by simply blending the raw materials without boiling. The ready to ferment cider liquid thus needs to be pasteurized afterwards to prevent yeast and bacterial growth, which could spoil the product. GEA developed the ECO-FLASH™ unit for this heat treatment. The microbiological stabilization through flash pasteurization is a safe method ensuring uncompromised product safety and quality. Another important system feature of is high economic efficiency. Thanks to the special design, as much as 96% of the heat input can be recovered. This makes flash pasteurization the most cost-effective heat treatment method available today. The system has a very small footprint which can be crucial when integrating cider processes into existing production facilities.

After treating cider another inline blending operation to dose yeast nutrients into the wort flow is needed. This is followed by the GEA WORTSTAR™, a hygienically designed, skid-mounted unit to increase the yeast activity and to start the fermentation process (see Fig. 3). Sterile air or oxygen is introduced into the wort. The small bubbles are formed that increase the surface area and ensure the wort’s optimal oxygen uptake. The WORTSTAR™ controls the yeast pitching based on cell count with the precision required to ensure optimal reproducibility of the customer’s fermentation procedures.

Controlled fermentation: Yeast propagation or rehydration

Figure 4: Principal layout of a dynamic fermentation (drawing and photo)
Figure 4: Principal layout of a dynamic fermentation (drawing and photo)

Good quality cultured yeast has been commercially available for no more than fifty years. For centuries beforehand, cider makers had to rely on the wild micro flora. Today, this wild micro flora is killed during flash pasteurization in industrial cider production to prevent spontaneous and uncontrollable fermentation. Cultured yeast thus needs to be pretreated (propagated) before fermentation or instant dry yeast to be rehydrated. GEA offers a state-of-the-art solution for both applications. YEAST STAR™ is a complete yeast propagation system offering low investment costs due to the automatic system configuration. The gentletreatment creates good yeast quality and positive effects upstream during fermentation. GEA is also able to offer nutrition blending and dry yeast rehydration systems which also supply yeast with a high cell count and good viability by using the original wort and specific rehydration temperatures as well as nutrients for each special cider yeast strain. After perfect rehydration or propagation, the yeast will be pitched into the wort filling line to the fermenter with the WORTSTAR™ pitching control or by transferring the whole yeast slurry to the fermenter. 

A more advanced GEA approach is constant recirculation at the beginning of the cider fermentation for cell growth to ensure a shorter and more reproducible dynamic fermentation (see Fig. 4). Mixing in the tank uses the special GEA jet mixing devices. Inside the tank, most of the mixed liquid is drawn into the jet mixer through side openings, entrained by the driving flow and boosted upward inside the tank. Due to the special design, only one quarter of the total mixing flow created in the tank has to be supplied via a pump.

Two filtration options: Separation or cross flow filtration

Figure 5: Principal layout of a GEA ceramic membrane filtration unit
Figure 5: Principal layout of a GEA ceramic membrane filtration unit

After the fermentation has ended two possibilities are available for treating the fermented cider base. The first option is to use a GEA Separator system followed by a filtration step in the process. We offer many different systems, including the innovative direct drive machines (IDD) with greater energy efficiency. Existing equipment and DE filtration or kieselguhr free filtration can be integrated by us.

The second option represents the state-of-the-art technology: ceramic cross flow filtration (see Fig. 5). At least one yeast harvest from the fermenter bottom is needed to remove either the yeast or the sediment (tank bottoms). The yeast must be treated separately from the supernatant liquor to recover any additional cider. The same applies to the separator solid phase. The tank bottoms or solid phase can be further treated using GEA systems that are similar to beer recovery systems which are also based on separation or filtration technology.

Polishing & refining

The second important downstream step in cider production is optional polishing and refining. This operation strongly depends on the customers’ process of cider making. The step is thus individually designed and tailored by GEA to special customer needs.

Optimum shelf life: Production of de-aerated water, blending & carbonization

As the cider shelf life requirements have been constantly tightened over recent years, water deaeration systems are used to remove oxygen. Deaerated water is needed to dilute the cider base with up to 20% ABV to achieve the desired ABV% during blending before packaging. Based on customers’ needs and the oxygen limit required or the nature of any further processing, GEA DIOX™ and VARIDOX™ systems are used. All systems offer low CAPEX / OPEX costs due to preassembly and testing in factory before delivery.

The GEA DICON™ units are designed for the continuous high-precision inline mixing of various liquids (see Fig. 6). So the cider base can be mixed with as many ingredients as required. Significant product criteria, such as density, viscosity, conductivity, color as well as alcohol and Brix level of the final cider beverage can be determined and monitored online. [5].

Figure 6: PI&D of a DICON™ unit
Figure 6: PI&D of a DICON™ unit

As the cider fermentation is an atmospheric fermentation, the in-line blending system is followed by GEA’s DICAR™ carbonating system to adjust  carbon dioxide concentration to the desired level. DICAR™ can be combined with any type of filling machine on the market.

Storage and filling of ready-to-drink products

Cider is bottled and stored in BBTs just like conventional brewery products – one of GEA's core areas of expertise. We are thus capable of integrating these processes into the customer’s existing equipment without interfering with the existing production. During greenfield projects we ensure perfect harmony between the different product and production lines, which the customer requires for the most flexible and efficient state-of-the-art production plant.

GEA provides everything from a single source

GEA has a large toolbox of technologies available – including raw materials intake and handling, fermentation, separation, filtration and blending,"

says Torben Bauch in summary. “Our strength lies in the numerous projects we have carried out in the cider segment as well as our extensive brewing experience. Coupled with our understanding of engineering, we have an answer for every process phase and every customer requirement."

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