Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #18- Hard cider

Hard Cider- the lager alternative

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Let’s face it. Not everyone likes beer. We’ve pondered this position for many years and cannot come up with any other answer than the fact that they aren’t trying hard enough. It’s probably going a bit overboard, however, to say these folks have poor taste. Many beer haters we know are absolute connoisseurs of hard cider.

As soon as humans learn that certain fruit juices can be magically turned into tasty intoxifying beverages that don’t make you ill (unlike water, historically) they will indeed produce this beverage for daily consumption. Cider was most likely the first fermented beverage to be produced in colonial America. Easily produced at home, it enjoyed continued popularity even through prohibition. Cider met a decline in the United States after the end of the Second World War as light lager rapidly overtook the American palate.

Cider continued to be produced in Europe during the post war years, especially in the British Isles. The start of CAMRA (The CAMpaign for Real Ale) in Britain brought cider back into the world spotlight in the early 1980’s. It once again began to show up on store shelves and on draft in American bars. Recipes for cider also began to appear in the pages of homebrewing books.

Some people are surprised by cider’s breadth of flavors. Like wine, they range from very dry to very sweet, and each brand has unique complexities. The most commonly available ciders in the US, Woodchuck, Hornsby’s, and Woodpecker, tend toward the more easily marketed sweet side, but with a mimimum of searching, one can find several choices to please the more sophisticated palate.

Dagan Celtic Cider, produced in France, is closer in color to fresh pressed cider, but filtered. This cider is much drier than the overly sweet Woodchuck, and is in line with most of the true “craft” ciders that we have tasted in the past. The apple flavor is subtle and refreshing with just a hint of sweetness.

Doc’s Draft Cider is produced at the Warwick Valley Wine Co. in Warwick, New York. This cider is lighter in color than the Dagan and is a touch sweeter, but still much drier than Woodchuck.

The third cider producer is Bellwether Hard Cider, located on the west shore of Cayuga Lake. Bellwether has been producing fine ciders for about six years and offer five distinct varieties. Two are still, which means no carbonation. The other three are carbonated. They range from off-dry to semi-dry with one flavored with tart cherries.

Bill Barton, the proprietor of Bellwether gave a tour and some history about cider making. They use 100% local apples in their products and have planted their own orchard recently. The cidery is located at 9070 Route 89 in Trumansburg, New York and is well worth a visit while on a wine tour of west Cayuga Lake.

Although Bellweather is a bit of a haul for a casual beverage purchase, it’s a perfect stop if you’re on a Cayuga Lake wine tour, and the crisp, fresh cider provides an excellent counterpoint to the ubiquitous Finger Lakes reislings. Bill told us that they are working out details for distribution in the Rochester area. We will keep you posted on any developments, but keep your eyes open in the Rochester Public Market.

So if you’re not a beer lover, be happy; you still have something to live for. Just remember, a cider a day keeps the doctor away, but swig down thirteen and you’ll need a new spleen (sorry, it’s hard to rhyme with ‘liver’).

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

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