By ERIC ASIMOV
Published: November 8, 2013
New York Times
In Paris earlier this year, I stopped for lunch at Breizh Café in the Marais, a Breton spot that is just about my favorite place to eat crepes. Not only is the food great, but Breizh offers an extraordinary list of dry artisanal ciders, most unavailable in the United States. It’s a joy for any cider lover.
Five years ago, it was hard to find dry ciders beyond a few producers like West County and Farnum Hill. Most American ciders were sweetened to appeal to a clientele reared on cloying beverages. Fortunately, the audience is growing for dry ciders, which like beer largely range in alcohol content from about 5 percent to 8 percent. Nowadays, far more small producers are making serious dry ciders.
In fact, we found enough that the tasting panel was able to sample 20 dry American ciders, with many more to spare. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by David Flaherty, the beer and spirits director for Hearth and the mini-chain of Terroir wine bars, and Juliette Pope, the wine director for Gramercy Tavern. Both are cider aficionados.
It may seem silly to cast the United States as a cider newbie. If there was a national beverage in colonial America and through the first century of independence, it no doubt was cider, the fermented juice of apples as well as pears and other pomaceous fruits. But cider declined in popularity in the late 19th century, as waves of German immigrants brought a taste for beer, which could more easily cater to a nation that was industrializing and beginning its transformation from rural to urban.
The apple, of course, has remained popular, at least as food. Yet apples for eating and apples for cider can be as different as table grapes and wine grapes. The best ciders require a higher proportion of tannins and bittersweet flavors. Biting into a cider apple can be an astringent, face-scrunching shock with little resemblance to the sweet, crisp flavors of any variety a schoolteacher would welcome.
In European cider regions, hundreds of different apples are grown for cider and blended for complexity. Over time, many species have mutated to the point where farmers can no longer identify all the apples under their care.
In the United States, many cider orchards disappeared during Prohibition, which was what really killed cider here, as Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw point out in their excellent new book “World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition and Terroir” (Sterling Epicure).
When Prohibition ended, a thirsty nation sought immediate gratification. Beer and spirits were easy to produce, while new orchards, like new vineyards, require five years or so to become productive. In time, cider came to refer to sweet, unfermented apple juice. The traditional fermented beverage grew rare and eventually acquired a modifier, hard cider, to differentiate it.
Perhaps the clearest indications that the American desire for cider is growing are the corporate efforts to enter the market. Stella Artois, the brewer owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, now sells Stella Artois Cidre. For those who prefer beer that tastes like nothing, another Anheuser-Busch brand, Michelob, now sells Ultra Light Cider. Meanwhile, MillerCoors bought the Crispin Cider Company last year, while Angry Orchard cider is the fastest growing brand of Boston Beer Company, producer of Samuel Adams.
The panel was thrilled with the quality and range of the dry ciders we tasted. Juliette was particularly taken with the breadth of styles, from firm and austere to rich and fruity. If many of the ciders lacked the distinctiveness and complexity of the best European ciders, that will come in time as growers and producers gain skill and experience and as orchards mature.
“Cider disappeared just long enough that much of the knowledge is gone,” David said. “There’s lots of experimentation going on now.”
2.Leonard Oakes Estate
3. Farnum Hill
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