Cider is having a moment, thanks to passionate makers around the country who are bullish on its flavor profile and versatility, with some ciders offering a dry finish and others even imparting notes of vanilla.
Like wine, the flavor and mouthfeel of a cider depends on several things, including the cider-making technique itself as well as the region of the country where the apples are sourced.
“There are more and more cider makers planting heirloom apple varieties and making higher quality cider using those same apples,” says Amie Fields, a cider educator and co-founder at Botanist & Barrel, a cidery in Cedar Grove, N.C. “Others are foraging for feral apples and making truly one-of-a-kind terroir-driven vintage cider.”
The finest ciders being made around the country are premium artisanal varieties that are actually—by definition—considered wines, says Elizabeth Philbrick, co-founder of EsoTerra, an artisanal hard cider brand located in Dolores, Colo., that is sold at its tasting room, shipped nationally, and available at select luxury resorts in the region. “These take a significant time to make—ours take six months to several years—and they’re made, served, and stored like wine. Best of all, they age really well and, over time, become more interesting.”
A peek inside the production space at EsoTerra, a cider brand based in Colorado
Photo Credit: Ri Ganey
In its region of Colorado (EsoTerra calls itself the “cider of the Southwest”), Philbrick says there are over 500 varieties of known apples and over 100 unknown varieties to work with, leading to the creation of a diverse spectrum of ciders.
“Each one has just as much variation of flavor that a grape varietal would have,” she says. “Cider apples tend to be small and gnarly looking, like potatoes, but these are the apples that will have these wonderfully unique flavors, like subtle hints of pineapple and guava, that only appear after they’re fermented.”
At Botanist & Barrel, which calls itself the South’s only natural cidery focused on spontaneous native fermentation and petillant naturel ciders, an old-school cider-making method in which fermentation occurs in the bottle, trapping the carbon dioxide and yeast in the bottle, cider offers endless flavor profiles, Fields says.
Bottles and charcuterie at Botanist & Barrel in North Carolina
Photo Credit: Brooks Bennett
“Think dry rose or high-elevation white wines,” she says. “We make over 100 seasonal small batch ciders each year with local fruits, from Champagnelike terroir-driven apple ciders, to cider/wine hybrids using local Southern grapes.”
Ask Todd Cavallo, owner of Wild Arc Farm in Pine Bush, N.Y., and he’ll tell you that he thinks part of what has broadened cider’s appeal is the fact that people, wine drinkers especially, are more open-minded about it.
“We’ve noticed that customers aren’t putting a grape wine on a pedestal and thinking that wine is the only thing you should drink and everything else is lesser,” he says.
He also thinks people are connecting more to the history of the beverage, though that history is fraught, acknowledges Ellen Cavalli, co-owner of Tilted Shed Ciderworks, the first farm-to-glass orchard cider maker in Sonoma County that opened in 2011 in Windsor, Calif. “We’ve all been taught that John Adams drank a tankard of cider every morning and Thomas Jefferson grew cider apples, but it was his slaves who did all the work.”
This is yet another reason today’s cider makers are seeking to forge a new chapter in the history of this favorite beverage.
“They want to tap into [the history] and bring back the better parts of what cider means for American culture and drinking culture as a whole,” Cavallo says.
WHAT TO DRINK—AND HOW TO DRINK IT
Not all ciders are created equal.
“There are lots of canned varieties out there, what we call ‘soda pop ciders’ that are often really sweet and contain artificial colors and flavorings,” Philbrick says. “The reality is that it’s the premium artisanal ciders that are the fastest growing subset in the cider market.”
A glass of cider at the EsoTerra tasting room
Photo Credit: Ri Ganey
Like wine, cider pairs with an endless list of foods, from spicy entrees to creamy pasta dishes. (Note: Cider has a lower alcohol content than wine, usually between 6% and 8% rather than 12%.)
“Because cider has good acidity and it’s not overly tannic or overly alcoholic, it won’t compete with many flavors,” Cavallo says. “You can pair cider with anything you’d drink a light white or sparkling wine with. My favorite thing to do is to pair cider with a pork dish. Pork chops and apples are always a good pairing. You can’t go wrong.”