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Your Beermonger: What to Do About Cider?

By ARLnow.com - ARLNow.com

Friday - 8/17/2012, 11:15am  ET

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

As per reader requests from our comments section, today we’re looking at the relatively recent phenomenon of hard cider and its sudden, rapid growth here in the United States. I should say resurgence to be more accurate, though: Cider has a history here that dates to nearly the beginning of Colonial America, and was the national drink for most of our existence. What happened, you may ask? Well, that’s a long and fascinating tale that I’m about to condense into a few paragraphs.

A (very) brief history of cider in America:

Cider became the drink of choice for the earliest European settlers through the process of elimination. The crabapples that the first colonists found upon their arrival were inedible, so seeds for common and eventually cider-producing apples made their way from England. The apples took to the New England climate and that along with the conditions proving tough for barley production made hard cider the logical choice for those first Americans looking to ferment some goodness for themselves. As the young nation grew, so did the production and popularity of cider. Even the kids got into the act: Ciderkin, a type of extremely low-alcohol water-cider made from pouring water over the left-over pomace from standard hard cider production, was a popular dinner table beverage for children of the Colonial period.

So what happened to cider? First, the huge early 20th century influx of immigrants from Europe brought many new citizens to the U.S. whose tastes ran more to beer than cider. Also, Prohibition happened. Prohibition was devastating to the state of alcohol in America for far longer than most of us tend to think about; by the time Prohibition was repealed, modern farming technology had improved to the point where the barley-growing portions of the Midwest could churn out massive amounts of grain for the big brewery houses of the day, who were the only ones big enough to create a presence nationwide post-repeal. The era of Big Beer had begun, and hard cider was reduced to an afterthought, a fringe beverage drowned in a sea of Lager soaking the U.S. from coast to coast.

The modern wine industry and craft beer revolution represent our first steps toward normalcy, a natural pendulum-swing back from the industrial dominance of the bigger firms post-Prohibition. Cider, it seems, is making a real comeback in an attempt to get in on the action. Much of this actually has sprung up in response to the needs of those who are sensitive to gluten. With so few choices in gluten-free beer (and only a couple of those choices being even remotely worthwhile), many are discovering hard cider as an alternative. Cider also gives farmers an outlet for their wares that doesn’t involve dealing with gigantic multinationals looking to make a cheaper applesauce. In the past few years alone, the market share of hard cider has doubled, and while its overall place in the market is tiny any growth is indicative of an emerging trend (by comparison, even with craft beer’s outstanding growth taken into account, beer as a category has lost ground over the same time period).

I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with cider. I never particularly enjoyed the ‘big name’ ciders I would see on shelves as they always struck me as cloying. Over the time I’ve been doing my current job, I’ve had the ‘cider people’ clamoring for me to carry more and more variety, only to see them rarely show up when I do. Today, I find myself coming around to cider a bit, with new options out there we didn’t have years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of trying many new ciders that I’d be happy to carry in stock and there are seemingly more every week that I feel like I may need to try. Here’s a quick list of some to look out for:

Aspall Organic: A personal favorite. Years ago I got to run through the line of Aspall ciders and found the Organic felt a tad drier even than the dry cider. Ever since it’s been a go-to for me and for customers looking to get away from the cloying, sweet mess that hard cider can all too often be.

Jack’s Hard Cider: This relative newcomer is grown, pressed, and packaged all onsite in Biglerville, Pennsylvania. Not only does it come in 6-pack cans (cans!), but it’s a great American cider packed full of rich apple flavor while stopping just short of being sweet. I can’t keep this stuff in stock at Arrowine.

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