People have been drinking cider almost as long as they’ve been growing apples, although there’s no record of the beverage in the Garden of Eden. Before the development of reliable transportation systems, most cider was consumed in its region of origin. Tourists who have visited Normandy in northern France tend to have fond memories of the low-alcohol, sweeter version that pairs well with virtually everything, from breakfast to dessert.
The United Kingdom is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cider. Here, the style falls into the category of heritage cider, made from wild apples and crabapples as well as varieties such as Dabinett, Kingston Black, and Roxbury Russet. British cider also tends to be drier and slightly higher in alcohol than the French rendition.
Some of the biggest producers are now in North America, scattered in a band of cooler climates including New England, Ontario, northern California, and Oregon. Immigrants to the United States during the Colonial period adapted their cider traditions to the New World. Today, the modern commercial style is made from popular apples like McIntosh, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Golden Delicious.
While the beverage is known as hard cider in the states, alcohol levels are mild—between 5 and 8 percent on average, a far cry from the 16 percent of some California red wines. Modern cider is lower in tannin and higher in acidity, which also makes it more food-friendly. Add to that the ever-present desire to explore something new, different, and trendy, and it’s no wonder cider is turning up on wine lists across the country.
Introducing those bottles to consumers can be challenging, even though the craft beer boom has made diners more receptive to alternative choices. Industry insiders advise restaurants to treat cider like wine, encouraging them to tell stories, stress unique points of origin, emphasize the apple varieties, and focus on the compatibility of cider with foods such as cheese, veal, poultry, and pork.
Making cider resembles the winemaking process, except it’s obviously harder to extract the juice from the fruit. The apples are ground into a pulp by a cider press or mill, a piece of equipment similar to the press used in olive oil production. Many ciders are lightly sparkling due to the release of carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. The addition of sulfur dioxide plays a more crucial role than it does in winemaking; the SO2 prevents spoilage and encourages the conversion of sugar to alcohol, even if its presence conflicts with cider’s image as natural and healthy.
There are currently more than 900 producers in the U.S. making at least one type of cider. The clear leader in market share is Angry Orchard, located in the Hudson Valley in Walden, New York. The brand’s variety pack is a good introduction to the category as it contains bottles of the Crisp Apple, Rosé, Easy Apple, and Pear Cider.
Given that Florida isn’t exactly apple country, you might assume there’s no cider made here. You’d be wrong, although the state’s 10 producers fall into the category of hybrid facilities that also make beer, wine, or mead. Whether or not you want to drink local, there’s no dearth of choices. The website of an area beverage superstore revealed 107 labels, with 1,643 listed chain-wide. Most were famous names such as Angry Orchard, Citizen Cider, Ace, and Stella Artois, but Three Daughters Key Lime Cider from St. Petersburg is also available to slake your thirst. «