December 24, 2013 by brainslightlyfermented
I’ve been noticing that cider has been on quite an upswing lately. I’ve been seeing it everywhere. I noticed this article late last month on NPR’s excellent and thoughtful food blog The Salt. A colleague of mine mentioned that he ferments his own cider. A cider from Normandy was the featured wine-by-the-glass pour at a classy restaurant I went to last week. All this cider hype bubbling through the air caught my curiosity. After some digging around I uncovered a beverage steeped in rich history that shares many production methods with my favorite libation, that being wine fermented from grapes. Indeed, like grapes there exists many varietals of cider apples, each with their own unique characteristics. Crushed apples are pressed, and the juice often spends aging periods in wood barrels, just as grapes do.
Cider has been consumed since before biblical times, with first mention occurring in 55 BC by the man Julius Caesar himself. Consumption of a cider-like beverage, called shekhar, by ancient Hebrews is well documented. Cider’s proliferation meandered all the way to England from France via the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, where in both countries it is still popular today. So guess what the Pilgrims did when they flew the coop to Plymouth Rock? Planted apple trees.
“Bible and a brew, baby”
Cider historically has been consumed largely as a safer alternative to local tap water, just as beer was used in Germany. Plus if you lived in medieval Europe, life likely sucked, so why not take the edge off? It also has a lower alcohol content than distilled spirits which helps keep social order from tearing apart, like what occurred during the “Gin Craze” of London during the first half of the 18th century.
“Every night was like David Lee Roth’s green room, and probably smelled like it too”
So anyway, after the Pilgrims landed and began making cider in the colonies, and as the population grew, so did its thirst for cider. Americans began drinking millions of gallons of cider each year. John Adams was said to throw back pints of it first thing in the morning. Even little kids used to drink a low alcoholic version of the stuff. Interestingly enough, we can thank Johnny Appleseed for much of the cider that the early pioneers consumed. Mr. Appleseed (birth name, John Chapman), was born in Leominster MA in 1774 and spent 50 years walking around barefoot planting apple nurseries. True, he was an eccentric man, a lone, shoeless vegetarian wandering the Earth planting trees, but he was an industrious entrepreneur as well. As the pioneers moved further and further west, Johnny would scope out areas he guessed the settlers would choose to inhabit, and plant apple nurseries there ahead of time. By the time the settlers presumably arrived, Johnny would sell them the nursery. The whole wearing a pot on his head is likely folklore, however.
At this point, cider begins its slow demise, culminating in the death blow that was the passage of the Volstead Act of 1919. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in 1820, urbanization forced many people off the farm and into the sweatshop, and at the time, cider didn’t travel so great. Perhaps this was one reason for the rise of American whiskey. Who knows, I just thought of that. As we approach the turn of the 20th century, waves of immigrants brought a thirst for beer which dominated their market, and eventually made me hate college parties.
The nail in the coffin-barrel was the enactment of prohibition in 1919. Unable to make hard cider, farmers converted their orchards from producing cider apples (which are inedible, by the way) to producing apples for consumption. When the ban on alcohol was lifted, all the farmers had already gutted and replanted their orchards so they just continued to shove apples down our stomachs instead of through our livers. Only within recent years has cider really started to make a resurgence. Now you can find great craft-cider producers in just about every area of the U.S. And now for a short review:
Samuel Smith Organic Cider, 5.0% ABV
Samuel Smith is the oldest English brewery in Yorkshire county, dating back to 1758 and still brews with well-water from their original well, as their website (circa 1998) will tell you. Having greatly enjoyed their beers in the past, when this cider was recommended to me by the helpful staff at Merchants Liquor Mart in Danvers MA, I felt like it would be a good starting point to begin exploring ciders.
I enjoyed this cider slightly below room temperature, so a bit warmer than the recommended serving temperature of 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps due to this, when I poured the cider into a small mason jar, it foamed up quite rapidly, receding in the same quick manner, and leaving behind a small layer of spritzy mousse.
The sunny, lightly golden color of the cider was made all the more festive by the plentiful, energetic bubbles racing to the top of the glass. Upon smelling, (I know, I probably should have used a wine glass. Oh well.) the only sense of apple I picked up on was a slight aroma of apple skin, with most of the nose being dominated by yeasty, sourdough bread aromas.
Once I began tasting the cider, the apple notes kicked in. The apple notes were bright, reminiscent of a very crisp Macintosh apple, but were intertwined with funky, fermented earthy tones as well- whiffs that evoke imagery of smelling the orchard’s floor, littered with freshly felled apples. As the taste moved to my back palate, a wonderful fresh burst of acidity with qualities of Granny Smith apples rushed over my taste buds. This perhaps lead me to my most meaningful conclusion on this cider. The vivacious acid content encouraged me to feel that this cider would be an excellent pairing with food. Wherever you might see fit to add a splash of apple, I would encourage you to experiment with a nice, dry, craft cider like this one. Pork immediately springs to mind, but chicken, salmon, turkey, salads and cheese courses could be excellent pairings as well. The ability to work with food is what, for me, propelled my attitude on cider past being a beer geek afterthought into an accepted member of the dinner table. I look forward my future experiences pairing food and cider, which I might add, has the potential to be much more economical than winel.
In closing, I encourage you not to sleep on cider, as the craft varieties offer surprising complexity and an intriguing history.