Cider may be indelibly written into American history, but no matter how many tankards John Adams drank with breakfast, it’s a beverage that confuses us. Cider, to everyone but Americans, implies the presence of alcohol; here, unless we preface it with “hard,” we picture the hot, spiced variety that warms us after a romp through fallen leaves. Even then, the sweet, mass-produced hard ciders sold at grocery stores differ vastly from the bracingly dry, hand-crafted ones we’ve discovered.
So, the drink requires a bit of education. Luckily, this is the kind of studying we like. And with it being Cider Week New York, when better to hit the books bottles and brush up on this colonial revival?
For tastes a little bit country, a little bit city, there’s the Pom Pomme and Succession ciders from Descendant Cider Company in Queens. Yep, we said Queens. New York City’s first urban cidery picks apples in the Hudson Valley and then presses and ferments them in their 600-square-foot city digs (palatial by local standards). The two styles - one like a savory, sparkling rosé and the other a crisp, easy-drinking (ok, -guzzling) semi-dry cider - both have a permanent place at our dinner (and picnic) tables.
At Shacksbury Cider in Shoreham, Vermont, nine varieties of so-called “lost” apples (tannic, acidic and tasty in cider, not so tasty on their own) from New England and the real, across-the-pond England go into the ciders that come in both bottles and cans. The cans are perfect for bringing to outdoor venues, parties and for mixing into cocktails (like the cider shandy: half dry cider, half citrusy soda). The bottles are fermented just like Champagne and until completely dry – perfect for the dinner table. Sunday’s roast chicken best swipe right.
A secondary fermentation in the bottle (called “bottle conditioning” in the apple biz) is also what gives Oyster River Winegrowers’ Hoboken Station Cider, Foggy Ridge’s Serious Cider, and Orchard Hill Cider Mill’s Gold and Red Labels their complex, structured, yeasty character (like an apple turnover, but dry and in liquid form). All let the local, heritage apples they press do the talking - so see if you can hear their Maine, Virginia and New York accents. These are ciders that drink like wine, expertly partnering with everything from Thai takeout to Thanksgiving dinner.
Aperitifs-lovers will find plenty to love about Eden Ice Cider Company’s Orleans Bitter and Herbal Ice Ciders that are made in West Charleston, Vermont but according to the guidelines governing Quebec ice cider-making. Juice pressed from local apples is left outdoors to endure the long, cold Vermont winter. Sounds harsh, but they come out much stronger (literally!) for it. The super concentrated juice gets fermented with Champagne yeasts and then infused with wonderful things, like basil and anise hyssop leaves and stems in the Herbal, and red currants and bitter roots in the Bitter. Both pique the appetite as pleasantly as their Vermouth and Campari counterparts.
Hey, Founding Fathers – we’ll have what you’re having.