You know that stuff you drink in fall that's made of apples? What IS that stuff? Cider? Juice? What's the difference? Ah, welcome, my friend, to the wonderful and wacky world of history, the English language, and modern technology.
Every school child learns the romanticized story of Johnny Appleseed. Every adult (should) know the real story of Johnny Appleseed. That all those seeds he planted were for pressing cider, not eating fresh out-of-hand, and of course, that cider was the hard, alcoholic stuff.
So, back in the day, "cider" meant an alcoholic beverage (there's your truncated history). And in many countries of the world today (here's where the English language comes in), "cider" still means an alcoholic beverage. Which is why we get some mighty interesting questions from time to time from foreigners when they visit our stand and purchase our cider.
And the modern technology bit? That's where pasteurization and preservatives come in. Added preservatives prevent spoilage. In Johnny Appleseed's time, "preservative" for cider meant (again) alcoholic cider. Hey - once it's alcoholic, it won't go bad! So, once modern added preservatives came along, it became possible to make cider that did not become alcoholic. And here in America, for whatever reason, we continued to call that "cider" and the alcoholic stuff "hard cider", whereas in other countries, the non-alcoholic stuff is called "sweet cider" and the alcoholic stuff is simply called "cider".
When you see stackouts of cider in the grocery store that are not refrigerated and have a "Use by" date of weeks or months, be assured that beverage contains added preservatives!
Pasteurization kills bacteria. It is required in many areas that sweet, fresh, non-alcoholic cider be pasteurized prior to sale, although laws vary by state and even sales & production location. Pasteurized cider starts out, theoretically, bacteria-free, which many believe is safer for consumption. However, it WILL turn alcoholic (or to vinegar) over time if there are no preservatives added to it.
So - your "sweet cider", depending where you live and purchase it, may be unpasteurized or pasteurized, or come with preservatives or no preservatives added. Phew - who could imagine such options?
As for "juice". Actually, there's no LEGAL definition which describes the difference between what is "juice" and what is "cider". It is generally accepted that cider is ground and pressed apples without much/any straining of solids. Which is why it is thicker and you can see 'bits' floating around, whereas "juice" generally indicates a product that has been strained of particulate matter. Which is why "apple juice" is usually so clear you can see right through it, and is therefore also weak on complexity of flavor and 'toothiness'.
As for flavor?
Here at NSO, with the exception of Gold Rush varietal cider (available 1 week only in November), our weekly cider is a blend. Ike tries his best to put a nice balance of sweet and tart apples in every batch. That's why it tastes different, week to week...different apple flavors make different cider flavors!
This is probably more than you wanted to know, so we'll stop here except for some awesome recipe ideas listed below which you can use with NSO (you pick the name...) "sweet cider", "cider", "non-alcoholic cider", "just plain yum in a bottle".
Here at NSO, we pasteurize our cider, but use NO preservatives. So leave that cider sit around a bit too long and you may get to enjoy the "cider" of Johnny Appleseed yore! Don't want to let it go that far? Cider freezes beautifully! Just remember to pour a bit out of the bottle to allow for expansion like water into ice cubes.