Monday, October 21, 2013

A short tale on American Cider

By Ria Soler

As the temperatures begin to cool off and the days get shorter, so too does the palate change. The rosés and pinot grigios that tasted so perfect on a sunny day in mid-July just don’t have the exact same savor on a chilly evening in October. We start to crave different flavors, something to match the season, something that says “autumn”. Enter Cider.

What’s more autumnal than apples? And cider- small batch, handcrafted American cider, is a delicious representation of the fruit and an ode to an interesting and largely overlooked part of American history. Cider has gotten a bad rap over the past 100 years or so in the US, and its only now that the tide has started to change. Cider has always been popular in Europe- the Spanish love it and the Brits adore it. But here it has been largely overlooked for over a century. So what’s the story?

When the pilgrims first landed in what was to become New England one of the first things they did was plant apple trees from seeds and cuttings they brought with them on their ships. These were high acid varieties of apples they brought along specifically for cider production, not for eating. People drank almost constantly then, and they were constantly drinking cider. By the turn of the 18th century cider production in New England alone was 300,000 gallons, and the average New Englander was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year! President John Adams was reported to start his day with a breakfast of cider, and there was even a type of low-alcohol cider produced for children, known as ciderkin. The American folklore character known as Johnny Appleseed, was a real person named John Chapman who planted apple orchards on people farms not for eating apples, but for home cider production. Americans just loved cider.

Cider started to fall out of popularity with the influx of German immigrants who preferred their native beer to cider and dramatically increased beer production in the States. Then the calamity known as prohibition arrived and brought all alcohol production including cider to a screeching halt. When booze production was back up and running cider just didn’t come along for the ride. Orchards had been converted to sweeter varietals of apples that weren’t the sort used to make dry cider.  Grain was ready, then and there, to start making beer from. It would take years to convert apple groves back to cider apples. And so cider, the preferred beverage of the first American settlers basically ceased to exist in the USA.

Cider production in the US is now on the rise after a hiatus of about 100 years. People are realizing that cider is interesting stuff. Quite simply put- cider is delicious. Refreshing, dry, complex, some of the best can almost be champagne-like in quality. Others have a rich malty apply earthiness that is terrible appealing.  And small production cider, much like small-production wine making, shows a sense of place.

A good example is Orchard Hill Cider, hailing from the Hudson Valley, one of the hot beds of artisanal cider making. It’s made from their own farm grown apples and is bottle fermented and unfiltered, giving it an extra complexity. It’s a great balance of leesy, yeasty sourness and tart refreshing apple blossom. Try it with roasted pork loin in a mustard sauce.

Another phenomenal cider from the East Coast is from further south, in Virginia along the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Foggy Ridge cider uses several varieties of both English and American apples for their cider. And since they harvest by hand for peak ripeness that means several harvests for each varietal of apple. This cider is done in a very champagne-like style. It is dry and complex, with fine bubbles and a high-toned nose of apples and pears. Pair it with any cheese plate, though it would be a particularly stunning combo to pair it with earthy washed-rind cow’s milk Meadow Creek Grayson cheese. Meadow Creek Dairy is a small cheese producer from just down the road from Foggy Ridge!

And last but not least, showcasing the incredible versatility of the category, here’s something interesting and different. Eden Orleans Bitter Aperitif cider is a blend of Vermont apples and bitter herbs. Meant to be drunk before a meal as a bitter to pique the appetite, or as a component in cocktails, it has a delicate apple flavor with honey and anise notes.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Ria Soler is a spirits and wine professional with an extensive background in education, events, marketing, and writing. She loves a martini, two at most...

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