American cider today, plus nine craft ciders to drink immediately
Our national taste for cider began to reemerge in the 1990s, when imports from the United Kingdom started showing up again in American bars and liquor stores, but only in the past decade have domestic apple-magicians begun to turn out serious cider in measurable quantities. American cideries increased production 264% between 2005 and 2012, as the evolving national drinking palate (and our devolving tolerance for gluten) encouraged more and more home-fermenters to get into the commercial game.
High-end, not-from-concentrate cider is now produced all over the United States, with localized hot spots in the Midwest, Virginia, and both top corners. These juices vary widely in style, because legit cider is produced from regionally purpose-bred apples. Cider apples differ from traditional eatin’ apples based primarily on sugar and acid composition -- cider apples need to be sweet enough to allow efficient fermentation, yet tannic enough to provide some backbone -- and they are far less profitable for most farmers, which leads to greater crop diversity, as they’re not worth commoditizing.
In the Blue Hill Mountains hamlet of Dugspur, Virginia, Diane Flynt makes her world-class Foggy Ridge ciders with traditional French and English apples augmented by a wide range of American heirloom varieties. The light and refreshing Foggy Ridge Serious Cider is made with Tremlett’s Bitter, Ashmead’s Kernel, Dabinett, and Roxbury Russet, among others. The sweet, port-like, 18% alcohol Pippin Gold dessert cider -- made with Newtown Pippin, Grimes Golden, Ginger Gold, and Golden Delicious -- is an outstanding aperitif that will make you reconsider just what fermented apple juice is capable of.
Portland’s Cider Riot! combines locally grown traditional English cider apples (including Yarlington Mill and Kingston Black) with tart wild apples from the Yamhill County woods and dessert apples from the Hood River and Yakima Valleys to produce Burncider dry draught, which employs both ale and wine yeasts and is modeled on the pub ciders of the English West Country. They also make the deliciously dry Everybody Pogo hoppy cider, a distinctive marriage of Hood River apples and Willamette Valley hops.
Farnum Hill in Lebanon, New Hampshire, uses an evolving cast of fruit to craft each edition of their Dooryard line; their flagship Extra Dry relies on Ellis Bitter, Dabinett, Somerset Redstreak, Golden Russet, and others to produce a “radically dry” cider boasting tropical and mineral notes that provide uncommon depth and complexity.
Austin Eastciders represents Texas with sweeter (which is to say, less dry) ciders made from classic Old World apples and uniquely Southern varieties such as Winesap and Arkansas Black. The signature Eastciders Original blend employs American dessert apples and European bittersweets, and the tangier Gold Top is a blend of more than 40 different varieties.
Other excellent new-wave artisanal ciders include Boston’s Downeast, which was born in a Bates College dorm room and now pumps out some of the region's easiest-drinking good-time ciders, including their Original Blend of Cortland, McIntosh, Gala, and Red Delicious. Down the road in Somerville, Bantam uses Champagne yeast and honey to produce their breathtakingly delicate Wunderkind. Revered Nat of Portland makes a Belgian wit-style cider, Hallelujah Hopricot, with American apple juice steeped with coriander, orange peel, and Grains of Paradise and fermented with French saison yeast.
No matter where you live in these great 50, you now have access to regionally made hard cider of unsurpassed quality. With the Summer still upon us, and a proliferation of artisanal cider the likes of which hasn’t been seen on these shores since before the Civil War, there’s never been a better time to enjoy America’s original all-day drink.
Will Gordon drinks the good stuff and the other stuff in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He tweets about food, drink, and lesser things @willgordonagain.