Friday, November 4, 2011

Cider in the World and Apple Wine in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Pictures: Apfelwein im Roemer

I grew up with apple wine in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Although there are 3 beer breweries in Frankfurt and the world renowned Rheingau and Rheinhessen wine regions just 30 minutes away from Frankfurt by S-Bahn or car, I would say that Frankfurt am Main is a city of cider.

Frankfurt am Main has a large number of traditional apple wine taverns (Apfelweinwirtschaft), where you sit on communal benches, eat hearty local food and drink sour and tart German apple wine. Typically, there is only one apple wine – the house apple wine – available.

Robert and Christian Theobald’s “Zur Buchscheer” in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen is one of the apple wine taverns in Frankfurt, where the apple wine you drink is also produced on the premise.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Robert Theobald's at his "Zur Buchscheer"

Here is: Schiller's Favorite Apple Wine Taverns in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Ciders in the World

Apple wine is a German variant of cider, which is made all over the world. The French cidre is produced in Normandy and Brittany. It comes as cidre doux, cidre demi-sec and cidre brut, but most French cidre is sweet. Typically, French ciders are sparkling. Higher quality French cider is sold in champagne-style bottles (cidre bouché). German cider has a tart, sour taste. In the UK, cider is available in sweet, medium and dry varieties. In the US during colonial times, apple cider was the main beverage, but after prohibition the word cider came to mean unfiltered apple juice. Alcoholic cider is called hard cider in the US.

Cider was already known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the 11th century it was introduced into Spain and was used there as a medicine for scurvy. It was introduced into England in 1066 when William the Great brought some from France into England.

Apple Wine in Frankfurt am Main

German apple wine has an alcohol content of 4%–9% and a tart, sour taste. Traditionally, it is not bubbly. Arguably, the capital of German apple wine is Frankfurt am Main.

In Frankfurt, much of the apple wine is consumed at the wooden, communal tables in the local apple wine taverns with hearty local food, like Green Sauce (made from 7 herbs and yogurt accompanied by boiled eggs and boiled potatoes), Rippchen mit Kraut und Brot (grilled pork, sauerkraut and bread). It is served in a Geripptes, a glass with a lozenge cut that refracts light. A filled Geripptes is called a Schoppen. If you drink more than a glass or are in a group, you typically order a Bembel (a specific Apfelwein jug). The different sizes of a Bembel are designated after their contents in glasses from 4-er to 10-er Bembel.

Apple wine did not gain popularity in Hessen until the 16th century. By the mid-19th century, 12 large commercial apple-wineries existing in Frankfurt, along with hundreds of small or private apple-wineries. Today, over 60 large and small commerical apple-wineries exist in Hessen, producing 1,040 million gallons (40 million liters) annually.

The apple wine tavern is as distinctive a Frankfurt institution as the Bierkeller is of Munich or the Weinstube of Mainz. Many of the best-known establishments are concentrated in Sachsenhausen, but others are dotted all over the city. They are strongly traditional. They offer hearty local cuisine, usually at moderate prices.

Pictures: Apple Wine Taverns "Frankfurter Hof" (above) and "Wagner" (below)

Making Apple Wine (Cider)

Just as wine making begins in the vineyard, cider making begins in the orchard. Tree ripened fruit, picked at maximum flavor and sweetness is the best starting point for cider. But there is one big difference between cider and wine: Apples must be ground before pressing. The entire apple is ground to a pulp called pommace. The pulp is almost always pressed immediately. The next step is the fermentation. Generally, there is less sugar to ferment in apples than in grapes. Therefore, cider tends to have lower alcohol content than wine.

In the cellar, cider makers have as many options for managing fermentation as winemakers — chaptalisation, wild yeast, temperature control, adding sterilized juice, malolactic fermentation, stopping fermentation before dryness to achieve a naturally sweetened cider, to name a few issues.

Like wine made from grapes, the flavor of cider can vary from dry to sweet. Like sparkling and still wine, both sparkling and still ciders are made. Sometimes the cider is cloudy with sediment and sometimes completely clear. The color can range from light yellow through orange to brown. The variations in clarity and color are mostly due to filtering between pressing and fermentation. In terms of alcohol content, cider can vary from 2% to 8.5%. Generally, apples grown for consumption are suitable for cider making, although there are also special cider apples.

For sparkling cider, basically the same methods are available as for sparkling wine. Higher quality ciders can be made the same way as Champagne is produced. A few producers in Quebec, inspired ice wine, have developed cidre de glace - ice cider. Calvados from Normandy is distilled from cider. Cider may also be used to make vinegar.

Premium Apple Wines of Artisanal Apple Wine Producers in Germany

A few years ago, a number of apple wine producers have ventured into the art of apple wine making by starting to produce vintage apple wines and special variety apple wines. While the choice of apple wine in an apple wine tavern is as basic as it can get (the house apple wine), the apple wine portfolios of the artisan apple wine producers resemble very much those of the Rheingau or Rheinhessen wine makers a few miles away: There is a variety of different apple wines, with the vintage, apple variety, alcohol level, and other information indicated. One of the leaders of this new generation of artisan apple wine producers is Andreas Schneider. I visited him at his Obsthof am Steinberg in Frankfurt.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Andreas Schneider

Another icon in the apple wine world of Frankfurt am Main is Michael Stoeckl. He runs the country restaurant Landsteiner Muehle in the Taunus, about ¾ of an hour north of Frankfurt by car. Michael Stoeckl’s passion is apple wine. He calls himself “Apple Wine Sommelier” and his restaurant “Apple Wine Bistrorant”, suggesting that it is a combination of Apple Wine Tavern, Bistro and Restaurant, focusing on apple wine in terms of drinks and food. The selection of apple wines available at the Landsteiner Muehle is indeed impressive: Ranging from Michael Stoeckl’s own apple wine to the premium apple wines of Andreas Schneider in Frankfurt am Main and other German producers to ciders made in other parts of the world.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Michael Stoeckl and Premium Apple Wines produced by Andreas Schneider and Michael Stoeckl

Apfelwein im Roemer

Michael Stoeckl and Andreas Schneider are the founders and driving force behind Apfelwein im Roemer, an annual event in Frankfurt am Main that brings together cider producers from all over the world.

The Roemer is the historical mayor’s office in the center of Frankfurt. With the support of the city government, cider producers from Germany and from other countries gather in the Roemer for a day to present their products. This year, 40 cider producers from 8 different countries poured 250 ciders.

The 2012 Apfelwein im Roemer is scheduled for March 18th.

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Schiller's Favorite Apple Wine Taverns in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

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