Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hard Cider: Breakfast of Champions Returns – Revived

Hard Cider this ain't, but regular cider is a favorite autumn draft at fairs and farmers' markets. Photo by Richard aka Dpifan.


old is new again, and nothing is quite as fashionable as hard cider, the alcoholic version of the fall classic. Hard cider has burst back on the scene, a fresh alternative to the beer option.

But guess what? In the USA, hard cider is older than baseball. Older than beer. Older than the country itself. And almost as old as apple pie. Hard cider was THE DRINK in colonial America, back in the days when people were afraid to drink local water, fearing contamination and illness.

Hard cider was so popular that most people, even children, drank it for breakfast. Milk wasn't pasteurized back then, and cider became what many thought was a healthy alternative. Imagine that.

Eden Ice Cider is a dessert wine with a long aftertaste. Photo courtesy of Eden Ice Cider.

Thank goodness someone turned us on to coffee and orange juice rather quickly. In fact, the nation's love affair with cider, rum and bourbon is one of the reasons why Prohibition gained such traction. And so, the beauty of cider retreated to the past, largely forgotten in this part of the continent.

But 15 years ago, someone woke up: Hard Cider. Let’s make it again! And the old regular has quickly become the pub scene’s newest favorite. But why? Or rather, but what?

Cider 101: What is “Hard Cider”?
What is hard cider? Cider – what Americans call “hard cider” and people elsewhere call cydre, cidre or sidra – is a fermented non-citrus fruit juice, most often made from apples, pears, sour cherries or a blend thereof.

Magners, particularly popular in Ireland, is often served over ice. Photo courtesy of The Passionate Foodie.

To conjure the basic flavor, imagine a basic non-alcoholic apple cider. Now imagine it somewhat less sweet, about the same sugar content as ginger ale. Add a bit of a tang, a bit of bite. Factor in slight fizziness (light carbonation). Now add in a kick, just a touch of alcohol, about as much as one would find in a beer (4-6%). The color will vary widely from pale straw (Original Sin) to deep amber (Magners). A rather refreshingly light drink, hard cider pairs well with any wintertime meal or hearty soup. Some popular brews include Magners and Woodchuck.

Cider 301: Advanced course
There’s nothing wrong with Magners or Woodchuck. In fact, I drink them myself. But if that’s the span of your cider sensibilities, go east, young bloods! Seize the world! France's Normandy has been crafting dry hard ciders for centuries; Great Britain produces and drinks more cider than anywhere else in the world; many other countries brew batches to make your toes curl with delight.

Clos Normand is bottled like Champagne and has an aftertaste that speaks of cloves. Photo courtesy of Euro Brews.

For finer ciders, take the basic hard cider described above and kick it up a notch. Make it far less sweet (dry). Think instead of the sweetness of a fruit-infused seltzer instead of ginger ale. Now tame the carbonation and add complexity: a slight bitter edge or an almost yeasty smell or a mild slightly oaky-spicy finish. Ahhh, what a fine cider can be.

What to serve it with? Keep Britain and Normandy in mind: fish and chips, mussels, a nice creamy cheese. Or if you must (as I often do), a good hearty burger works well, too.

To expand the cider palate, try these unusual finds:
Clos Normand
750 ml
$7, Mission Wine & Spirits
Not all of France swoons with wine. Northeastern France, with its rich extensive orchards, revels in its cidre instead, and its Clos Normand shows what can be done with apples. Carmel in color and bottled like Champagne, Clos Normand’s drier taste pairs well with creamy cheeses, shellfish and roasted pork (which I haven’t tasted in years, but I promise, it would go brilliantly!). A gently pleasant aftertaste lingers, not too sweet, as with a reminiscence of cloves. Lovely.

Original Sin
12 oz. six-packs,
$10, White Horse Wine and Spirits
As pale as pale can get, this cider is dry dry dry, and yet infused with lovely soft flavors. Serve well chilled with salmon burgers and dinner salads.

Original Sin is very pale and dry. Photo courtesy of Great Brewers.

Eden Ice Ciders
375 ml
$29, NapaCabs online

For an exceptional change, try ice ciders, an apple dessert wine. Brewers press cold-stored apples only after winter sets in, and then sets the juice outside to free for at least six weeks, concentrating the flavors to exquisiteness. Eden, a small batch producer in Vermont, crafts heaven in a bottle. Sweet, full, rich and creamy with a lingering aftertaste, serve Eden Ice Cider as dessert itself and watch your guests marvel at an apple’s beauty revealed.

Drinking on an autumn day. That’s hard cider in a bottle. Delicious!

Next up: Need a Holiday Surprise? Try the Rich Wines of (Southern) France

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