Not Your Father’s Hard Cider
Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake'd out
As American as…
In England, cider leans toward the very dry and tannic, perhaps akin to Special Bitters or Dry Irish Stouts (try Aspall Dry Premier Cru). In France, where the cider press was invented in 13th century Normandy, ciders tend to be farmhouse-style entailing low alcohol like a light, earthy saison (try Dupont Bouché Brut de Normandie). Spanish sidras of the Asturian and Basque varieties are tart and funky from wild yeasts, and just may deceive a fan of Belgian lambics that he’s drinking a rare gueuze (try Sarasola Natural).
By comparison, Hall says of craft beer’s early days that Americans tended to pick a regional style and stuck with it, and believes that domestic cidermakers do likewise. “You couldn’t make cider in America in all three of the traditions,” such as English, French, and Spanish. But, grins Hall, “That’s what we’re going to do.” Not that Virtue will confine itself to just three types of cider.
Some American cidermakers strive to break the mold and conquer new frontiers, as is our tradition. Just as the craft brewing industry sprang from the homebrewing community of the seventies and eighties, home cidermakers have dosed their craft with that What-If mentality for ages.
Jeff Carlson is a Michigan homebrewer and a board member of the Great Lakes Cider and Perry (cider made from pears) Association who began brewing “in earnest” in 1992 (but had “dabbled… in wines from concentrates and Pabst Malt Syrup” beers since the ‘70s). With the wealth of fresh apples surrounding him, he began buying apple juice by the carboy-full. After learning about pH, acidity, and fermentation temperatures, he earned the American Homebrewing Association Cidermaker of the Year award in 2000. Then repeated the next year. And then won back-to-back again in 2008-09. English styles are fine by Carlson, and cherry ciders are the rage in sour cherry-rich Michigan, but in true homebrewer fashion, he has made hot ciders not by adding mulling spices and warming them on the stove but by adding jalapenos or Atomic Fireball candies. “I even got a commercial producer, Uncle John’s Cider Mill here in Michigan, to do the Atomic Fireball thing. It sold like crazy.”
Finnriver Cidery in rural northwest Washington, like Wandering Aengus, makes a dry-hopped cider. It’s made from Finnriver Farm’s bittersweet and bitter-sharp heirloom apples as well as the Cascade hops the farm managers use for their homebrew. Co-owner Crystie Kisler says IPA lovers “get it” right away. “We are grateful to diehard beer lovers who haven’t scoffed at cider but opened their minds, and mouths, and found they like the variety of new tastes that ciders offers.”
Brian Yaeger lives in Portland, OR.