It’s Cider Season

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


Cider season is an exciting time of the year. Matthew Amster-Burton writing on put it this way:

Real cider is transporting. Real cider is a cloudy fall day, leaves underfoot, New England and Normandy and Somerset and Seattle.

(Coincidentally, is was a cloudy fall day, leaves underfoot in, well, upstate New York when I captured the images of the bottles you see above.)

When it comes to cider, we’re lucky to live in these parts. Because we have an abundance of quality apples and a ton of brilliant food-crafters. Artisanal cider is flowing!

Autumn and its change in the weather brings with it an attitudinal shift. Slow-cooked braises, roasted meats and vegetables with their richer, deeper flavors replace lighter fare. No longer do we pair rosé, light whites or even light reds with our meals. Nowadays, for a while, at least, fall means cider for us. We have begun to think of hard ciders as wine. They are similar in that one can choose from a big range of styles and flavors. Some are sparkling. Some are still. Some sweet. Some dry. Some way dry. The good ciders exhibit their terroir every bit as much as good wine.

The thing about cider is there is no limit to small producers doing great work.

And as with other small-batch food pursuits, cider is being crafted as a labor of love across the country, often bottled by the cider-makers themselves. And this enthusiasm has caught on. Cider weeks, cider festivals and all-cider pubs have begun to pop up all over in celebration of the art of the cider.

Recently, I talked to Michael Albin at Hudson Wine Merchants in Hudson, New York about procuring some of this season’s special bottles. He put together a great sampling for us. The thing about cider is there is no limit to small producers doing great work, so this is by no means an exhaustive selection. Find the best your region has to offer and tell us about it.

The photo above shows five bottles from three producers. From left to right they are:

1. Sydre Argelette from Eric Bordelet

OK, this is from Normandy, France, not the Hudson Valley, but this sparkler is delicious. The cider-maker, Mr. Bordelet worked as sommelier at Arpege a 3-star Parisian restaurant, where he became deeply familiar with the top winemakers and wineries of France. In 1992 he took over the tiny patch of family-farmed orchards in Charchigné, in the heart of Normandy’s premium cider producing area. Since then he has set about rescuing the ancient heirloom varieties of pears and apples that produce tiny quantities and amazing flavor. We’re glad Michael included this bottle. Amazing.

2. Newtown Pippin from Original Sin

This from their website: The Newtown Pippin is the apple of our forefathers: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planted it on their personal estates. Benjamin Franklin had Newtown Pippins shipped to him in London in 1759, thereby establishing the U.S. fruit export industry. This cider is made from fresh pressed Newtown Pippin Single Heirloom Varietal
, first harvested in Queens, NY, in 1740. This is a dry, fragrant cider, “a green apple in a glass’. Put this with a juicy roasted chicken. Perfect.

3. Traminette Apple from Aaron Burr Cidery

Aaron Burr Cidery, located in Wurtsboro, New York, is a small homestead farm dating back to the early 19th century. These folks use foraged and wild apple varieties (as well as Traminette grapes in this case) to produce their tasty ciders. They say this on their website about their approach: “The path backwards involves a long undoing but luckily the descendants of early cider apples do still exist in the wild.” A Champagne-like cider. The first and only licensed cider sourced from wild, non-commercial apples! Incredible.

4. Homestead Apple from Aaron Burr Cidery

This is a bone-dry cider. Nothing sweet about this one. Reminds me of how a mineral, flinty Chablis feels in the mouth. This cider is unfiltered, unpasteurized and becomes naturally effervescent in the bottle. It’s made from cider apples: Pippins, and an unidentified blend of 50 to 100 different wild and abandoned apples. “The best place to find wild apples for our cider is at the peak of the Shawangunk Ridge–in the woods and on hay farms, just where Sullivan county borders Orange and Ulster counties,” according to Andy Brennan, owner of the cidery. Get a bottle. Or six.

5. Homestead Elderberry from Aaron Burr Cidery

This cider is made from 10% elderberry, 1% sumac berries, 4% huckleberry, and 85% apples (all foraged from the Shawangunk Ridge). That’s a lot of hand work and a really unusual mix of ‘fruit’. The 2012 Homestead Elderberry Cider possesses a red hue, is dry, rich, and cloudy with light carbonation. The natural bubbles are small, almost Champagne-like. The taste is not sweet or juicy. The flavors are subtle and understated, with a finish that carries a funky tang, a reminder of the forest floor from which the apples were foraged. Delicious and different.

This is an old, historic beverage being updated, made current, by many talented makers. Get into cider. Search out your local sources for cider. Go to tastings, ask questions, see what you like, see what you don’t like. Have a tasting with your friends.

The five ciders listed above are a mere drop in the cider tsunami currently underway. Cider pairs brilliantly with food, that’s one of the great things you’ll discover and your times around the table will be better for it.

Have you discovered the new ciders? Do you have a favorite? Care to share your thoughts?

Photo credit: Craig McCord