Just as there are now hundreds of cultivars of hops, the same goes for varieties of apples. Just don’t expect a Mikkeler Brewing-esque single-variety line for each and every one. Whether Virtue Ciders gets into heirloom ciders or not, Hall recognizes the opportunity. “I think there’s room for single varieties, but it won’t be the best seller.” He’s a Cox’s Orange Pippin man himself, but maintains that the best ciders are typically blends of various apples. The real opportunity, as Hall posits, is in the various processes: experimenting not just with varieties but levels of ripeness and maceration. “If you let the apples oxidize, they pick up different colors and flavors.” Don’t even get him started on yeast strains, pitch-rates, and temperatures.
And this is where cider again may appeal more to beer enthusiasts than wine drinkers. Hall suggests, “Cider is two parts beer, one part wine. Even though it’s fermented fruit juice, it has refreshing qualities that you associate with beer. But it has acidity like wine.”
Smith, too, thinks cider is more beer-like. “It’s made like wine (because it is), but when people think about wine, certain things pop into their head like that it’s expensive,” and he also mentions the “snob factor.” At Bushwhacker, their objective is to appeal not just to each camp of fermentation fans (“You can nose it like wine, or just sit back and enjoy it or geek out but enjoy yourself,” he says), but to everyone. Cider is stepping out from the others in the category. It’s more than just an alternative to the malternatives.
That cider had to fight the impression of being only for girls or just a fad used to keep Smith awake nights. In fact, he says one distributor bet that the bar would close within six months. If only that guy could’ve foreseen the opening of a place like Tertulia in New York’s Greenwich Village, chef Seamus Mullen’s take on the classic Spanish sidreria—the cider equivalent of a brewpub. “I thought we were going to battle that misconception,” says Smith, elated at the growing appeal; “I don’t want to go back to a real job.”
Lastly wine seems to have caught on, though how many people have their own grapevines? Tons of folks have an apple tree in their yard and making cider at home is pretty easy. Better yet, for commercial purposes, Hall admires the farms that are in the hands of the fifth or sixth generation of apple growers who have staunchly kept alive the heirloom apples. “If I can keep another generation staying in farming, keeping those orchards there instead of planting Mansanto corn or soy beans, that’s a great thing.”
Whether craft cider can follow another path of craft brewing that we’re just now starting to see—family run breweries taken over by the second generation—Hall is not unfamiliar with phenomenon. He was 23 when his dad built Goose Island. His kids are now 12 and 10 and insists the plan is to have them take over some day. “I’m not building this thing to sell it; I’m building it to keep it.” For his daughter’s part, her seventh grade science fair project entailed utilizing dad’s mill, press, and hydrometer to test the density and sweetness of multiple ciders.
*In our November 2012 issue, All About Beer Magazine apologized for the gender-defining language in this story.