NATIONAL CIDER DAY is November 18th – just in time for that ultimate American turkey extravaganza that has historically featured hard cider in a multitude of forms since colonial times – from dry sparkling aperitifs to sweet desserts.
Today at BinWise we explore current trends in the cider revival fermenting in farms, bars and restaurants nationwide….
While Thomas Jefferson was renown for his exquisite taste in wine, you were as likely to find cider gracing his supper table: the founding fathers of America drank ciders in a variety of styles as a dietary staple. Colonists grew apples, then pressed and sold cider in its sweet form, or further fermented the juice into its ‘hard’, alcoholic form. Benjamin Franklin–who invariably had something pithy and wise to relate–wrote about cider in his famous Almanac, an adage with which we couldn’t agree more.
The 20th century was unkind to cider’s fortunes in the States, and the drink languished as a niche seasonal beverage to be trotted out at the odd harvest festival or pumpkin patch fête. There has been a renaissance of interest in recent years, driven in part by the emergence of “gluten-free” lifestyles and an interest in organic farming, but buoyed heavily by a surge in the world of craft-brewing.
Beer’s heyday has been an essential element in the revival of sparkling ciders, as beer-makers looked to expand their portfolios beyond the traditional lineup of hoppy suds to appeal to new customers. As a result, there’s been an explosion of hard ciders hitting the shelves, ranging from sweet to bone dry and using a surprising array of ingredients and ingenuity to spruce up a staid old drink. The new incarnations of hard cider might still use pears and apples as a backdrop, but the addition of other flavorings, and aging in wide variety of casks has led to a wild and delicious new world of flavors and textures to explore.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in response to a new geography of drinks to navigate, there’s a new class of cider sommeliers.
Dan Pucci, the former sommelier and manager at Eataly and Otto, who introduced cider pairings at the critically acclaimed Box Kite pop-up, is New York City’s first pommelier. Named in 2015 as one of Zagat’s influential 30 Under 30 list, Pucci is currently the Cider Director at Wassail, where one can wash down a delectable Weisswurst with a selection of 2 dozen ciders by the glass.
In response to cider’s rising popularity, this year The United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) introduced The Cider Certification Program. This first ever cider accreditation program is designed for distributors, servers and others who are interested in becoming trained experts on all things cider. Expect a pop in pommeliers in the near future.
A Bi-Coastal Phenomena
Apples grow with equal alacrity on either coast, so it comes as no surprise that that there are cideries and restaurants serving delicious local cider on both coasts.
One of our favorite left-coast cideries is Finnriver , an organic family farm and artisan winery producing handcrafted hard cider and fruit wines, founded in 2008 by partners Eric Jorgensen and Keith and Crystie Kisler.
FinnRiver presses ciders predominantly from red-delicious, gala, and granny smiths, although there are a host of other heritage varietals (Kingston Black, Dabinette, Chisel Jersey and New Town Pippen) that add a depth of flavor to the final blends. Equally blending old and new, some of their ciders are pressed using contemporary equipment, while some of their smaller batches utilize techniques and equipment from a definitively bygone era.
If you find yourself in Portland, Oregon with a hankering for Finnriver or other local ciders, seek out Bushwacker Ale House, where amongst its selection of 250 diverse styles of cider, there will surely be one to fit your palate. Amongst the usual spectrum of dry to sweet ciders, you’ll find a smoked version made by smoking wild apples over apple wood before pressing–it’s a distinctly “scotchy” cider that may not be for all, but is sure to warm the palate and soul on a raining Autumn eve.
Cider in Bottles and Bars – New York Style
Hudson Valley and other parts of the Empire State sport their own enviable array of cideries many of which can be enjoyed in some of Manhattan’s poshest restaurants. A fascinating local cider to try would be the Wolffer No 139 Rosé Hailing from an 175-acre estate in nearby Sag Harbor, the addition of a bit of red grapes lends the dainty quaff a pinkish hue, which looks beautiful swirled in a Reidel as you enjoy dinner at Eleven Madison Park.
Another local must-try would be the ciders of Aaron Burr cidery. Produced in Hudson Valley by Andy Brennan and his wife Polly, the ciders are made of foraged wild-apples from ancient trees near his home. These “Homestead” ciders are complex, funky and stunning (and made in incredibly small batches). Juliette Pope of Gramercy Tavern expresses her deep admiration for Brennan’s foraged works, carrying his ciders on her list when available: “It has real austerity and a lot of nuance.”
Aaron Burr Cider recently was added to the wine list at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park – which is evidence that cider revival is not only surviving, but thriving. We’re overjoyed that this classic American beverage has navigated some rocky shoals in its history but has survived and flourished to grace our holiday table. Make sure you get a hold of some of these true American wonders during the holiday season!
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