Not Your Father’s Hard Cider
Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake'd out
The Cider Hunter
There are a few matters differentiating craft cider from craft beer, but they’re mostly on the consumer or education side. In the UK, a community of cider geeks already exists. The American market has yet to develop this. Between the two primary online beer communities, RateBeer.com provides a platform for reviewing ciders—possibly due in part to its more international user base. BeerAdvocate.com co-founder Todd Alstrom once proclaimed in a forum thread on the subject, “BeerAdvocate is 100 percent beer. We will not be including cider or perry.” Perhaps one enterprising fan can develop CiderAdvocate.com. It should be noted that there really was a website called All About Apples for the apple loving community as a resource about American orchards, but it merged with OrangePippin.com.
Whereas the British have the NACM (founded in 1920), there’s no American cider equivalent of the Brewers Association to promote domestic cider and perry and hence no Great American Cider Festival, yet. David White of the Northwest Cider Association says that this past February, a National Cider Conference was held to discuss the logistics and benefits of a national organization.
But that leads to an even more fundamental hurdle to understanding and appreciating cider. It doesn’t have its own Michael Jackson; there does not exist a World Guide to Cider that clearly outlines cider styles. Ben Watson, author of Cider, Hard and Sweet, does have a chapter on cider styles in his book, but it mostly outlines its regionality. When people talk cider, they use descriptors like dry, bittersweet and tannic. Watson has consulted on establishing categories for competitions, chiefly the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition dubbed GLIntCaP, with 19 categories such as English cider, New England-style cider, common cider, and common perry.
But people like to have styles to wrap their heads around. It’s how beer lovers have discerned if they prefer amber ales or pale ales, or what they’re getting if they order a Dry Irish Stout over a Cream Stout. Wine drinkers reach for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon over Cabernet Franc or Petite Sirah instead of Syrah. Grape varietals, as much as the terroir of soil, tell imbibers what they’re in store for. For cidermakers’ part, some are experimenting with single-varieties.
Watson ways, “There are actually a number of producers who are experimenting with single apple varieties, both European vintage apples—Kingston Black being the most widely represented—and classic American apples (Baldwin, Golden Russet, Newtown Pippin, and Wickson, among others). So these varietals are being rediscovered and in some cases fermented and bottled separately.”
Smith naturally has tried a lot of these ciders and reflects on a Newton Pippin-only cider he tried. “It wasn’t good. But I encouraged people to try it.” For his money and taste, when he can find them, he agrees with Watson that Kingston Black—immensely bittersharp to the point of inedibility—is a fabulous cider apple.
Brian Yaeger lives in Portland, OR.