Cider Buzz Rules!!

by: BeerAdvocate on 09-12-2001
Apples are not indigenous to North America, outside of the barely edible varieties of the crab tree and the like. Throughout history apples have been in the trail of civilization, dating back to at least 900 BC. Thanks to the Romans, and all of their conquering, apples were spread around the world - leaving not only a tasty little fruit, but yet another convenient way to produce alcohol. Orchards really began to flourish in Europe during the Medieval Days, when those keen little monks added this to their long list of resources for food and alcohol production. The same could be said for the early European settlers. When they first came to North America, apples seemed a better use for alcohol production than anything else. So, "as American as apple pie" should read more like "as American as hard cider". The colonials also embraced hard cider, as not only was it easier to produce than beer or wine, but it was quite the cost effective way to make their hooch.

Back around 1625, William Blackstone sowed the seeds for what was perhaps the very first American orchard, placed close to Beacon Hill. William Endicott, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was a distinguished orchardist as was George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As far as Johnny Appleseed goes, he was probably partaking of the hard cider rather than thinking of people baking apple pies. Cider was held in high regard right up to the end of the 1800's, but its appeal soon fluttered. Maybe it was the Industrial revolution giving the working class the thirst for light lagers? Prohibition? Or could it have been an aggressive attack from the budding soft drink industry and the likes of Coca-Cola? Hey add a little cocaine to soda and voila! ... a nice refreshing beverage without the alcohol, but still packing a kick.

So where has this pride and history of hard cider gone after Prohibition? Where's cider now? Most ciders produced today have an addition of sulfites and perhaps other preservatives. Sugar and apple juice concentrate are often used as well as natural or artificial colourings. Most are far from being what they used to be, traditionally. And, it seems like the cider industry has become more of a rat race rather than a craft niche market and one of quality. In the 1980's imported English and French cider made their way to America to appease the changing tastes, spawned by the beginning of the micro-beer revolution. By the 1990's racy marketing and gimmick on top of gimmick showed that the cider industry could get as shallow as the macro-beer industry. Of course it does not help when you have the hard lemon, hard tea, alcoholic water, and now hard cola side of the beverage industry chipping away at your sales. But still, cider's stem remains attached ... waiting to ripen and hit the industry on the head.

Domestic Brands

Cider Jack Hard Cider, this whole entire brand of syrupy sweet hard ciders has a tap handle everywhere. Racy marketing and an aim towards drinkers with a sweet tooth have done well for them. Brands include Hard Cider (5.5% alcohol by volume), Raspberry Hard Cider and Cranberry Hard Cider (both 5.0% alcohol by volume).

Hardcore Hard Cider is the Boston Beer Company's venture called Hardcore Cider Company that is based in Ohio. Hardcore Crisp Hard Cider is oak aged to add at little depth and character to be closer to traditional ciders, their Hardcore Golden Hard Cider is lighter and more on the lines of a present day cider.

The Woodchuck Cider brand has been around since the 1980's as The Joseph Cerniglia Winery. In 1996 cider production outgrew the their facility so they started up Green Mountain Cidery in Springfield, Vermont which in 2000 they relocated to a new location in Middlebury, Vermont. As of August 14th 1998 the are owned by HP Bulmer Holdings P.L.C., the same company that owns the Strongbow brands. The Green Mountain Cidery brands include Amber, Dry & Dark, Granny Smith, Colonial (all 5.0% alcohol by volume) and Pear (4.0% alcohol by volume). These are all good ciders for different taste, well balanced and a pretty wide range of flavours.

Ace Hard Cider produces some of the best damn hard ciders in the country, unfortunately we could not get a sample out of them in time for this deadline. Take our word though, you may not find this at the local bar but it is scattered around town at various liquor stores. They produce a regular Apple Cider, Pear Cider, Honey Cider and Berry Cider.

Imported Brands

The Strongbow cider that you get over here is still fermented in England unlike the Woodpecker brand which is produced where Woodchuck Cider is. As for Magners ... it is crap! Most Irish people we know don't even think that it is cider and drink it to only get tanked, not for the flavour.

Most imports tend to be lackluster or don't travel well, however there is a newcomer is on the scene, Savanna Dry from Stellenbosch Farmer's Winery, South Africa. This is a hell of a cider, with a cool clear bottle presentation. Unfortunately it doesn't look like it is having much luck breaking the tough Boston market, so get it while you can.

French Farm House Ciders

B. United Importing brings us the more decadent old world style ciders. These sparkling farm house style ciders have the character and depth of champagne, with hints traditional cider flavours. From Domaine Dupont is Cidre Bouche Fermier and from Domaine Christian Drouin is Comte Louis de Lauriston Cidre Bouche Brut and Couer de Lion Pay's de Auge Cidre AOC - you may see these in different vintages and will get different flavours off each year as apple crops vary year to year. These ciders are corked and caged, like champagne.

Whether you are having it straight up, or making a mix like a snakebite, hard cider needs deserves the same amount of respect as beer. Especially as they are notorious for making people "loopy," but that's another story ...
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