Late October is peak apple season, when the last of the apples are ripe for picking. You may already know that when given time to ferment, apples also make awesome booze. The resulting fizzy beverage might be refreshing enough for summer, but there’s something about the taste of boozy, warming cider that makes it the perfect drink for fall.
Cider has experienced a boost in popularity in recent years, thanks in part to rising enthusiasm for craft beer. Make no mistake: cider is not beer. It’s impressive that you can find cider on draft just about anywhere (other than your local dive). In fact, many of the best restaurants are now carrying extensive cider lists. Unfortunately, even at classy culinary craft havens like Eleven Madison Park, known for their focus on New York State’s “agricultural bounty,” cider is found on the beer list. Not cool, guys.
While New York may still be earning its stripes in the craft beer game, the state is actually the second-largest producer of apples in the country and home to many veteran cideries. If celebrating fall with cider sounds like fun, the party's just getting started: NYC Cider Week runs from October 24 to November 2. Antsy to make plans for a big apple bash? Check out the impressive lineup on their website. Get it, big apple bash?
When talking about cider, it’s important to know that all apples aren’t created equal. While there's nothing quite like picking a perfect Cortland or Honeycrisp right off the tree, there are plenty of varieties that taste terrible but make awesome cider. Kingston Black is practically inedible, but highly prized by ciderists for its desirable high acidity. Other apples are used for their unique aroma — think of the way brewers combine hops to make a great IPA. It’s hard work to make the perfect blend, but cider is truly at the top of its game.
The next few weeks may be focused on the upcoming New York crop, but we're not the only state with awesome apples. Washington and Michigan are two of many states with excellent cideries. Each brings something unique to the table, and sometimes this means adding other popular agricultural products, like local hops or cherries. Here are some of my favorites to keep you company this fall:
- Cigar City Cider and Mead: Fight the Power Sour Apple Cider
You can generally bet whatever comes out of Tampa's Cigar City beer brand will be pretty damn good, so why not cider? Sure enough, this puckering beauty could be a game changer. If sour apple Jolly Ranchers are your favorite (like they were mine), this cider is for you. There's tons of bright green apple acidity with the right amount of sweetness to balance it out.
- Aaron Burr Cidery: Ginger Apple Cider
Named after the famous founding father, Wurtsboro, NY's Aaron Burr Cidery is a throwback to a time when cider was America’s table wine. This one takes their rustic approach to new creative heights with the addition of carrot and Chinese ginger. It’s spicy, tart and very carbonated. The spice is perfect for fall and would be a perfect pairing with hearty foods, as the 7.6% has enough punch to cut through fat.
- Virtue Cider: Sidra de Nava
If I were writing this a month from now, I’d say Virtue’s bourbon barrel-aged cider, The Mitten, would be my go-to. But while it’s still not freezing cold, keep those memories of summer alive with Sidra De Nava by this excellent cidery from Fennville, Michigan. This is an extremely tart cider with an acetic bite of lemon and green apple, but a pitch-perfect example of the Spanish sidra style, which can be off-putting for those who are expecting the super-sweet American-style cider. It’s especially redeeming when paired with sharp cheese and lightly dressed greens.
- Millstone Cellars: Hopvine
Hops and cider seems like a bit of a stretch, but this blend from Baltimore, MD’s Millstone works wonders. There's honey added along with the hops to encourage fermentation, making Hopvine on the sweeter, stronger side at a warming 8%. It might sport "hop" in the name but the hops only add a touch of that bitter herbal quality. Instead, this cider is full of sweet, tart apple flavor, plus the perfect amount of funk.
- Finnriver Cider: Finnriver Habanero Cider
Hot peppers have a hard enough time working with beer, so I really couldn’t see them adding anything to cider. I was wrong. This is proof that you can’t judge a cider by its cover, especially not when it’s from the experts at Chimacum, WA’s Finnriver. This cider begs to be paired with chips and salsa. The chili heat definitely burns, but combining it with sweet, dry apples was an excellent call.
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