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Monday, June 24, 2013

A Few Words About Cider

Cider fest: cool location.
We're in the midst of Oregon Cider Week, with events continuing on from the cider fest over the weekend (click the link to see what's happening).  I know this is a beer blog, but I'm going to start covering cider more often.  For one thing, I really like ciders, which offer an excellent point of variety.  But I also think ciders are going to begin to find more and more tap space alongside craft beer.  They fit in a continuum occupied in part by beer.  Indeed, the more I learn about them, the more I find really fascinating overlap.  The traditional way of making cider is au naturel--without adding yeast.  When you taste some of the acidic Spanish and blue cheesy French ciders, or get a whack of phenols from English ciders, it puts you strongly in mind of wild ales and especially lambics and gueuzes. 

Last night, Greg Hall--erstwhile brewer at Goose Island--hosted a private event to introduce people to his new project, ciders made from Michigan apples.  I buttonholed him for a few minutes to ask about why a Siebel-trained brewer with a generation of experience brewing beer would switch to cider.  He offered some interesting insight.  In a word, place.
 "Apples are much more like wine grapes.  But [unlike grapes] apples grow everywhere--different apples grow in different places.  I think in ten years the cider market in the US is going to be like the wine market in France where you come up to the NW and you're drinking ciders made from NW apples; in the Great Lakes they're different.  In Virginia they're different.  There's even a guy in Texas making cider with local apples.

"For beer drinkers, there's the appeal that it's very drinkable like beer, but it's lighter-bodied and you can go with that local thing. Portland is a great example. Everybody wants to know where their chicken came from, right? We can tell people where their apples came from. The local terroir appeals to them."
Greg Hall of Virtue Cider
The Pacific Northwest is one of the most apple-centric parts of the country, and we've taken to ciders in a big way.  The interesting thing is that we haven't yet scratched the surface in terms of the kinds of ciders that could be made here.  Oregon and Washington are known for their eating apples, not the tannic cider apples that give English, French, and Spanish ciders their structure.  Cideries like EZ Orchards, where ten years ago Kevin Zielinski planted French apple varieties, are just beginning to produce very complex, rich ciders that beckon drinkers to what the future may hold.  In much the manner of craft beer, American cider-makers are happy to experiment and throw in other fruits.  Northwest cideries have pioneered dry-hopped ciders, which meet beer drinkers half way.  (Craft Brewers Alliance have seen the future and are working with growers in Walla Walla to make Square Mile Cider, including a Galaxy dry-hopped version.)

Back when America was an agrarian country, ciders were ubiquitous--far more popular than beer.  We're not headed back to that time, but ciders have a way of scratching an itch no other beverage can.  I will always drink more beer than cider, but I hope to be drinking a lot more cider than I used to.  I hope you do, too.
To how many fests can you commute by tram?

3 comments:

Pete Dunlop said...

The roots of cider in this country are quite clear for anyone who cares to look. I'll be interested to see how far the current cider craze goes. Is it a fad or a permanent trend? We shall see.

Jack R. said...

Many of your readers know, regardless, it must be said
.. Michael Pollan's 2002 'Botany of Desire' tell the story of the story history of cider in early American.

Further to your point, several Salem, Ore., beer-centric restaurants dedicate a tap to cider. As does Boulder, Colo., newest gastropub, BRU. And, cider is my wife alcoholic beverage of choice.

Lastly, Angry Orchard hard cider is credited with 2013 Q2 Boston Beer Company's increased sale.

Anonymous said...

If the cider bug bites or you ever find yourself in Normandy on one of your Eurobeer trips. Check out la route du cidre. It's kind of like Portland in a way with several cider/pomme/calvados producers in such close proximty to each other. Just make sure your french is up to snuff or go in the summer.

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