Anthocyanin Cider

Joseph Kilbourn

The mulberry tree / Photo by Jennifer Delgadillo

The mulberry tree / Photo by Jennifer Delgadillo

For I/C’s debut exhibition, Synthesis, we collaborated on a special cider lineup with Ash & Elm Cider Co. Joseph Kilbourn created two unique brews that used ingredients inspired by the artists’ work. Those ciders are available through the run of the show, ending August 4th. Gallery hours and information here.


I have been adjacent to visual art for awhile, having majored in music performance at Butler University and being married to a painter and writer for the last 10 years. Now, after working at Ash & Elm Cider Company for 3 years (the first employee hired at the company), I see many parallels between what matters visually to an artist and the attraction of a well-crafted cider.

We have released over 60 different varieties of cider at Ash & Elm, and when I heard that both artists participating in the Synthesis show were using anthocyanin pigments in their artwork, it was easy to find inspiration.

I have studied anthocyanins quite a bit for work as they are involved with the quality control measures on several products. Anthocyanin pigments are naturally found in so many plants and especially in fruit, and the pigments themselves are chameleon-like in that they change color depending on pH (which in the case of cider, is determined by the type and intensity of the acidity).

In addition to different types of fruit having different acidity (and therefore different color), the climate and soil in which fruit are grown will also directly impact the pH of fruit — for example, a berry which ripens slowly in colder weather will retain more acidity than a berry which ripens quickly in the summer heat. And depending on when they are harvested, these berries will be colored differently due to the different acidity levels.

The visual cue of anthocyanins can show the difference between ripe sugary dark fruit with little remaining acid, and tart under-ripe fruit, which are rich with compounds like ascorbic acid. Being able to visually distinguish these qualities while foraging food as a hunter/gatherer would have a direct impact on survival.

This all might seem academic, but the appeal of a rosé cider depends on harvesting, processing, and blending fruit in the right ways to get an attractive, vibrant color in the glass. Therefore, we titrate the acidity of each batch of cider to assure the fruit we use will produce the colors want and thus the cider will have the right appeal.

Here's a picture with two samples of our tart cherry cider poured from the same tank. The only difference is that the one on the left has a little bit of added acidity. They both have the exact same amount and type of anthocyanin pigment, but the pH is different due the added acidity, and thus the color is drastically different.

Here's a picture with two samples of our tart cherry cider poured from the same tank. The only difference is that the one on the left has a little bit of added acidity. They both have the exact same amount and type of anthocyanin pigment, but the pH is different due the added acidity, and thus the color is drastically different.

To the right is a picture of two samples of our tart cherry cider poured from the same tank. The only difference is that the one on the left has a little bit of added acidity. They both have the exact same amount and type of anthocyanin pigment, but the pH is different due the added acidity, and thus the color is drastically different.

To my disappointment, I've heard people insult rosé cider as something that's just for young women who have been conditioned to like all things pink, but I think there is a lot more at play in the appeal than some pretty in pink societal associations. The visual cue of anthocyanins can show the difference between ripe sugary dark fruit with little remaining acid, and tart under-ripe fruit, which are rich with compounds like ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Being able to visually distinguish these qualities while foraging food as a hunter/gatherer would have a direct impact on survival. This is incredibly valuable visual information because eating too many overly acidic berries would have a negative effect on digestion in an upset stomach, but in another context ample acidity would have medicinal qualities to help the body deal with certain ailments like scurvy.

Knowing the intricacies of how to manipulate color can enrich and prolong life.

The desire of humans to work with the nuances of color in not just some marketing ploy. The rich variety of color possibilities invites both study and play. Knowing the intricacies of how to manipulate color can enrich and prolong life.

In reaching out to the artists for more details about the work in the show, I got the following quotes:

Lauren: "mostly focus in black beans (often used as food dye) as an idea. But I’ll be using Indiana mulberries too!  Anything Anthocyanin will work, blueberries or blackberries."

Victoria: "So the piece that I’m making for the show (Spectrum, not Computer 1.0) has some natural color pigments... ingredients I’m using include pomegranate, vinegar, salt, heat!, sumac…"

We made a small trial batch of sumac cider last winter and blended it into a hot mulled cider with Indiana persimmons, and it turned out really well. The sumac cider by itself was great and I wanted to give people a chance to try it, so it was a natural choice to pair the Sumac Semi-Sweet with Victoria's work. The sumac itself is more subtle, like a spice, so it took several people many hours separating out the sumac bobs (peppercorn-like fruit/seeds) to be steeped into a keg of our house Semi-Sweet cider. Fortunately, sumac dries out and keeps like a spice quite easily, so we were able to buy some from a friend who harvested it locally (local urban farmer, Jason Michael Thomas).

And Lauren's mention of mulberries was an instant personal association for me. An old mulberry tree grows on the property my house is on, and the fruit usually just covers my driveway or goes to the birds every year from June to August. The fruit itself is extremely colorful, but the summer heat generally makes the berries taste like a sweet jam without much acidic bite. I thought it would meld well with out least tart cider, ESD. We ran the berries through a counter-top juicer and it was amazing how little mulberry juice it took to completely dye a keg of that tannic English-style cider to both look and taste reminiscent of a Beaujolais wine.

Synthesis Cider 1 — Sumac & Semi-Sweet

Tart, lightly earthy, rosé-like
Sumac

Type: Rhus glabra, a local smooth sumac
From: local urban farmer, Jason Michael Thomas 
Sumac tea flavor profile: The sumac is bright and tart, somewhere between pink lemonade and cranberry juice

Semi-Sweet Cider

Synthesis Cider 2 — Mulberries & ESD

Plenty of body, some local terroir, for the red wine drinker
Mulberries

From a giant mulberry tree less than a mile from Ash & Elm  

Extra Special Dry Cider

Wild fermented
Apples harvested and pressed by Doud Orchards in northern Indiana




Benjamin Blevins