Story by Georgia Perry // Photograph by Jeff Kubina
Cider gets a bad rap. And deservedly so, right? To the craft beer drinker, cider is like drinking a wine cooler. It’s candy in liquid form, and learning about it would be a waste of time and, frankly, an insult to the craft of craft beer.
Well, it ain’t necessarily so, Joe.
While it is true that certain ciders classify as a kind of “Alcopop,” or as they are euphemistically referred to, “refreshment ciders,” there also exists a huge spectrum of artisanal ciders made entirely from 100 percent fermented apples with no added juice concentrate. Their tastes and textures range greatly and believe it or not, they are not all sweet! (Believe it.)
“Audiences are discovering there’s a truly artisanal product out there, much more than the mainstream six-pack, fruit-flavored ciders,” says Alan Shapiro, director of the annual Portland and Seattle Cider Summit festivals.
Artisanal cider has a rich history
in Europe—especially England—where cider apples were grown as early as before the Norman conquest of England in 1066, according to the National Association of Cider Makers. Cider has a strong history in America, too, and was most popular in the early-to-mid 1800s before the German immigration, which quickly made beer the alcoholic beverage of choice.
Prohibition also played a part in cider’s fall from grace, but its production and consumption is on the rise. In fact, cider experts like Shapiro claim that craft cider’s trajectory is closely related to that of craft beer, but just 20 to 25 years behind. It is also similar in spirit to craft beer. The German Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot), one of craft beer’s founding principles, decrees that beer should be made from only water, yeast, malt, and hops. Similarly, artisanal cider is distinguishable from “refreshment” cider in that it is made from 100 percent fermented pressed apples plus yeast, without the addition of bulk juice, juice concentrate, or other artificial flavors or colors.
With more varieties of cider being represented in high-end groceries like Whole Foods, boutique restaurants promoting cider on their menus, and the opening of Bushwhacker Cider—a bar devoted entirely to cider—last year in Portland, Oregon, people have access to craft cider in ways they haven’t before.
Interested in dipping your tasting toes into the cider pool? We’ve prepared a breakdown of some basic cider styles to jump-start your cider education, along with suggestions for how to pair each cider style with basic foods. Yes, not only is cider compelling on its own, but it also pairs fantastically with a variety of dishes.
According to Sharon Campbell, owner of Tieton Cider Works in Tieton, Washington, “People sometimes think of cider as being too sweet and so don’t choose it for a meal. But the more people who start trying it with food the more they’ll find it’s really a food-friendly drink.” Bon applétit!
U.S. Farmhouse Cider
Naturally still or slightly carbonated, U.S. farmhouse ciders are lightly sweet and comparable to a glass of Pinot Noir. Fruity and a little dry, they are more approachable than U.K. farmhouse ciders.
When drinking U.S. farmhouse cider, it’s best to keep it simple when it comes to pairings. Nothing too strong—leave the bitter greens out of your salad, as they would wrestle the flavors of the cider. Instead, try some buckwheat crepes, with roasted seeds and nuts. Light cheeses, such as Manchego, are also a good option with this cider, suggests Sharon Campbell, who regularly hosts cider and food pairing dinners featuring Tieton’s lineup of ciders.
Farnum Hill Cider
Poverty Lane Orchards & Farnum Hill Ciders, Lebanon, NH
U.K. Farmhouse Cider
Similar to Belgian farmhouse beer, U.K. farmhouse cider is dry, funky, and acidic, with more of a bite than U.S. farmhouse styles. It often has higher alcohol content than other ciders, and the prime regions for producing U.K. farmhouse cider are West Country counties of Summerset and Devon, where cider is often crafted in barns that are hundreds of years old, says Portland, Oregon-based cider expert Morgan Miller.
When pairing with U.K. farmhouse cider, it’s best to complement and bring out the flavors of the cider with bright food flavors like bitter greens, which cut through the funkiness of the cider without overpowering it, says Portland’s Amber Nelson, a culinary arts student and bartender at Bushwhacker Cider. Goat cheese and citrusy flavors are also good options. Try lemon chicken with a side salad featuring goat cheese.
Farmhouse Dry Still
Broome Farm, Peterstow, U.K.
Basque cider is “sour, sour, sour,” explains Nelson. They are a natural for lovers of sour beer and pack a punch with acidic and astringent elements. According to Miller, the north coast of Spain comprises what is likely the most fanatical cider drinking region in the world. Basque ciders are “bone dry and tart,” he says, and when drinking them, always pour into your glass from about five inches away to aerate the cider.
Go for something fatty to stand up to the sourness of the cider, recommends Nelson. Fried jalapeño peppers, bacon, or prosciutto-wrapped melon are all excellent options. Additionally, spicy Thai or Mexican food will also compliment the cider. In essence, “anything spicy, fried, or fatty” works well with Basque ciders, says Nelson. Campbell and Miller both recommend a sheep’s cheese such as a hard Petit Basque, which is extremely popular in the region.
Basque country in Spain
Imported by De Maison Selections, demaisonselections.com/isastegi.html
Draft cider is typically light and sessionable, with a lower alcohol content than other ciders. Traditional draft is aged, stored, and served from a barrel, cask, or keg. Draft cider is also often fermented from dessert apples, which results in a higher initial alcohol content. The alcohol is then reduced by reintroducing juice or even juice concentrate to the ciders, which also makes them sweeter, explains David White of OldTimeCider.com, a blog about traditional cider. Draft ciders have a heavy apple juice-like flavor, and are also often combined with the juices of other fruit flavors. Cider purists tend to look down on draft ciders, which are commonly on tap across the U.S.
Nelson recommends pairing draft cider with a charcuterie plate with cured meats like pates and sausages, or crackers with a hummus, pesto, or roasted red pepper dip. When preparing a salad with draft cider, go heavy on the cheese, beans, artichokes, and olives—all flavors complement without overpowering.
Blue Mountain Farmstead
Blue Mountain Cider Company,
Sparkling cider is made similarly to Champagne, and results in high carbonation and small bubbles. It is often light, very dry, and has a lower alcohol content. According to Campbell, “Sparkling cider is very sexy. You want to have a glass of this to celebrate.”
Like Champagne, sparkling cider is bubbly and effervescent, and pairs well with mild cheeses to bring out its crispness and fresh flavors. Try a baguette with havarti cheese, fresh fruit, and some simple nuts. Or get adventurous with a berry cheese, such as skyr blueberry cheese, suggests Nelson. When it comes to texture, opt for chewy bitter greens with more of a tannic mouth feel, as they will balance the bubbles in the cider.
Willamette Valley Cidre, 2009
EZ Orchards, Salem, OR
French cider is made with bittersweet and bittersharp apple varieties. The apple flavor comes from a process called “keeving,” during which proteins in the juice are removed, limiting the ability of yeasts to convert all the sugars. The residual non-fermentable sugars left behind through keeving are what keep the natural apple sugar flavors alive in French cider, explains White.
Cider is the regional drink of Normandy. As a result, Normans often use French ciders as you would white wines, in cooking seafood, in fondues, or paired with mild cheeses, explains Miller. Feel free to “do as the French do” and experiment with cooking with cider. When it comes to straight pairing, Campbell recommends a light summer stew with plenty of herbs and vegetables.
Bordelet Sydre (Cider) Brut
Cidriculteur Eric Bordelet
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