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Your Beermonger: What to Do About Cider?

by ARLnow.com August 17, 2012 at 11:15 am 3,761 29 Comments

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

As per reader requests from our comments section, today we’re looking at the relatively recent phenomenon of hard cider and its sudden, rapid growth here in the United States. I should say resurgence to be more accurate, though: Cider has a history here that dates to nearly the beginning of Colonial America, and was the national drink for most of our existence. What happened, you may ask? Well, that’s a long and fascinating tale that I’m about to condense into a few paragraphs.

A (very) brief history of cider in America:

Cider became the drink of choice for the earliest European settlers through the process of elimination. The crabapples that the first colonists found upon their arrival were inedible, so seeds for common and eventually cider-producing apples made their way from England. The apples took to the New England climate and that along with the conditions proving tough for barley production made hard cider the logical choice for those first Americans looking to ferment some goodness for themselves. As the young nation grew, so did the production and popularity of cider. Even the kids got into the act: Ciderkin, a type of extremely low-alcohol water-cider made from pouring water over the left-over pomace from standard hard cider production, was a popular dinner table beverage for children of the Colonial period.

So what happened to cider? First, the huge early 20th century influx of immigrants from Europe brought many new citizens to the U.S. whose tastes ran more to beer than cider. Also, Prohibition happened. Prohibition was devastating to the state of alcohol in America for far longer than most of us tend to think about; by the time Prohibition was repealed, modern farming technology had improved to the point where the barley-growing portions of the Midwest could churn out massive amounts of grain for the big brewery houses of the day, who were the only ones big enough to create a presence nationwide post-repeal. The era of Big Beer had begun, and hard cider was reduced to an afterthought, a fringe beverage drowned in a sea of Lager soaking the U.S. from coast to coast.

The modern wine industry and craft beer revolution represent our first steps toward normalcy, a natural pendulum-swing back from the industrial dominance of the bigger firms post-Prohibition. Cider, it seems, is making a real comeback in an attempt to get in on the action. Much of this actually has sprung up in response to the needs of those who are sensitive to gluten. With so few choices in gluten-free beer (and only a couple of those choices being even remotely worthwhile), many are discovering hard cider as an alternative. Cider also gives farmers an outlet for their wares that doesn’t involve dealing with gigantic multinationals looking to make a cheaper applesauce. In the past few years alone, the market share of hard cider has doubled, and while its overall place in the market is tiny any growth is indicative of an emerging trend (by comparison, even with craft beer’s outstanding growth taken into account, beer as a category has lost ground over the same time period).

I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with cider. I never particularly enjoyed the ‘big name’ ciders I would see on shelves as they always struck me as cloying. Over the time I’ve been doing my current job, I’ve had the ‘cider people’ clamoring for me to carry more and more variety, only to see them rarely show up when I do. Today, I find myself coming around to cider a bit, with new options out there we didn’t have years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of trying many new ciders that I’d be happy to carry in stock and there are seemingly more every week that I feel like I may need to try. Here’s a quick list of some to look out for:

Aspall Organic: A personal favorite. Years ago I got to run through the line of Aspall ciders and found the Organic felt a tad drier even than the dry cider. Ever since it’s been a go-to for me and for customers looking to get away from the cloying, sweet mess that hard cider can all too often be.

Jack’s Hard Cider: This relative newcomer is grown, pressed, and packaged all onsite in Biglerville, Pennsylvania. Not only does it come in 6-pack cans (cans!), but it’s a great American cider packed full of rich apple flavor while stopping just short of being sweet. I can’t keep this stuff in stock at Arrowine.

Angry Orchard: Based out of Cincinnati, Angry Orchard is starting to make in-roads in our area. I’ve only had the chance to try their Crisp Apple, but found it to be just bracing enough and pleasant in flavor. To this point Crisp Apple and their Apple Ginger varieties are available here, so check them out if you get the chance.

Bold Rock: The only cidery on the list whose product I haven’t tried yet. I mention them because they’re based in Wintergreen, VA, and just starting to hit the market. If you’re into cider and want to support a regional business, you’ve got a new option with Bold Rock that should be pretty widely available as it rolls out over the next few months.

Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

  • SayWha

    Are you kidding, how is Crispin not on this list? Heck, even Strongbow for that matter – I got the impression when I went to the UK that it’s sort of the equivalent of Budweiser over there, but compared to all of the cloyingly sweet ciders you get here it’s like heaven.

    • As a Brit, yes, Strongbow is a mass produced, in every pub cider, and it’s mediocre. However, I still buy it sometimes because many American ciders ARE way too sweet.

      Just tried the Angry Orchard ginger. Not sure about it, yet.

      • TheBeermonger

        Not sure about the Angry Orchard Ginger yet myself as I haven’t tried it. As for the Crispin; it’s already pretty widely available, but this was a list of ones I liked and I think merit watching–and Crispin isn’t on either list.

  • CW

    Is all cider for sale heavily filtered? I had a friend who used to make its own and it kept all the apple goodness, like, well, cider, as opposed to just being rotten Mott’s apple juice.

    • American ciders and the few imports are west country style ciders, which are filtered. Norfolk style cider is not, but I have never seen it for sale in this country…it’s hard enough to find in England.

    • TheBeermonger

      It’s a good question, and I haven’t heard anyone from any of the cideries I’ve talked to mention it, which I think they would. Most reps mention every little bit of the process like it’s an episode of Mad Men (“‘It’s Toasted'”).

  • Good Grief

    Are there any low calorie ciders?

    • JS

      Jack’s is pretty low cal by cider standards at either 120 or 100 calories per 12 ounces. Blows most ciders out of the water (I stopped drinking Woodchuck the second I bothered to look at the nutrution label and saw that it was 200+ calories per bottle).

      • Good Grief

        Thanks, I’ll check it out! I prefer cider, but more than one is just too much sugar/calories.

        • TheBeermonger

          Unfortunately if you’re counting calories any alcoholic beverage is not the way to go (don’t believe the hype on those ‘low cal’ beers w/the ads of fit young professional types jogging, etc). Get a little extra workout it or cut some space out in your diet to compensate.

          • TheBeermonger

            Or do what I do and chalk it up to ‘occupational hazard’.

  • dewey

    Albemarle Ciderworks http://www.albemarleciderworks.com is a Virginia producer available at Whole Foods. I recently visited Farnum Hill in New Hampshire http://www.povertylaneorchards.com/farnum-hill-ciders/ who don’t have a retailer south of New York which is a shame because their Extra Dry cider is truly excellent.

    • TheBeermonger

      Haven’t tried Albemarle yet or heard much about them, actually. Might have to look into it.

  • Ballstonia

    Anytime you head out West its worth tracking down the Dry Glider Cider from Colorado Cider Company (http://www.coloradocider.com/our-cider) and the Dark and Dry from Spire Mountain (http://www.fishbrewing.com/spire-mountain-cider/). The Colorado Ciders can even be shipped to VA via Beerjobber, if you don’t mind buying a whole case.

  • HP2000

    Spire Mountain Cider’s Dark and Dry is pretty darn good.

  • Becoming indifferent

    What to do with cider? Dump it down the drain.

    • TheBeermonger

      Ha! I felt the same way for a long time. It’s beyond rare to see any in my fridge, but I’m not nearly as anti-cider as I used to be.

  • dewey

    There are a bunch of apple festivals nearby coming up in the fall http://www.virginiaapples.org/events/index.html. Also VA Tech Horticulture Dept has a Pomology page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/VtechPomology

    • TheBeermonger

      Good stuff, dewey. Thanks!

  • Not Me

    Cold daught hard sider and EXTRA hot Buffalo wings… Awesome together! 😀

  • dewey

    Another VA cidermaker is Foggy Ridge http://www.foggyridgecider.com/

  • John Fontain

    I hope this isn’t a dumb question but is cider basically apple-based wine?

    • TheBeermonger

      Yes and no. Ciders can be pitched with any type of yeast, including wine and champagne yeasts so in a way they can be considered a type of wine. With most ciders clocking in between 5-8% thought, the ABV levels of ciders aren’t as high as wine which ranges (in dry wines) from about 10.5%-15.5%. That’s painting with a pretty broad brush, though.

  • dewey

    You can get apple flavored wine such as Mountain Sunset from North Mountain vineyard http://www.northmountainvineyard.com/index.php/new-wines/blush-wines. Cider is fermented apple juice and not an apple/grape blend.

  • dewey

    …you can make cider from other fruit juices, Perry is made from pears and tastes great.

  • Chris

    Hey Nick,

    You read Pollan’s Botany of Desire? I think you’re a bit off on your history here. Apples don’t reproduce by seeds like you imply above. Apples employ a ‘shuffle the deck’ reproduction strategy, so if one wants to grow a specific varietal, you actually need a graft from an apple tree of that same varietal. Early Americans weren’t too upset to have gross apples, though, because even nasty apples have fermentables, and you could always add other stuff to round out the palate.

    If you homebrew cider, also, crabapples are excellent for getting an interesting flavor profile (adding tartness, iirc)

    Apologies if I’m nerdraging here, I’m just an over-caffeinated geek this afternoon 🙂

    • TheBeermonger

      I welcome all info from all sources. In hindsight I should have focused more on the stock that was brought over rather than the simplified ‘seeds’ thing, but it’s not a botany column–yet. Everything I’d read about early American ciders mentions that while crabapples and gross apples can be used, they weren’t as desirable as others; but that just seemed a little wordy and I could tell this column was going to get a little wordy as it was.

      Also, never apologize for over-caffination. You’re ready for the world.

  • AJ

    no mention of Anthem Cider? as a beermonger, i’d think that you’d be familiar with Anthem Hops, Nick. tsk, tsk.

    • TheBeermonger

      A cider no one has ever asked me about? Their Wandering Aengus is being pushed a bit more, but I never see it anywhere and like I said, I get no call for it. It might be great, but if no one else cares I’m not taking up valuable beer shelf space for it.

      That is to say yes, I know it’s out there.

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