This weekend temperatures got especially chilly, and I, for one, turned my heat on for the first time (at the office too—my fingers are getting cold just typing this!). So when I mention “cider” you might be thinking of warm, spiced apple juice, which you might serve while carving pumpkins.
I’m thinking of another delicious beverage—some would say the only cider—or “hard” cider. “Hard” is in quotation marks, because to most of the world and to cider enthusiasts in the US, cider is always fermented apple juice. Like the warm, spiced apple juice, hard cider fits especially well with the flavors and activities of the season, and you’ll see it on seasonal taps and store shelves in the fall. Real cider isn’t always sweet, and has a balanced bitterness that comes from special cider apple varieties. Some cheaper ciders are made from concentrate, producing an inferior product—think of buying wine produced from concentrate. Small, local cider-makers are showing up all around the Northwest, putting the time and care into their products that vinters or microbrewers do.
Cider is generally considered a specialty, niche product these days, but it was the drink of choice in colonial America. When drinking water was unsafe, apple cider was consumed with meals as a safe alternative. It was also an easy way to preserve large quantities of apples, which were readily available to many homesteaders. Cider’s decline began when the industrial revolution brought people off farms and into the city. With an influx of German immigrants and increased grain production, beer began to take over. Prohibition delivered the coup de grace to the cider industry in the US.
Cider is coming back now, pushed by local eating and gourmet trends. In Washington, cider makes a lot of sense, and WSU suggests that cider apples are an excellent alternative fruit for Western Washington growers. Other famous cider regions have maritime climates like ours—think Normandy and western England—so many cider apple varieties grow best in this climate.
With “homesteading” coming back in an urban form, homebrewed cider is coming back too. Apple surpluses can be pressed with a borrowed cider press (or small quantities can be juiced in a juicer), and then fermented to become cider. Cellar Homebrew on Greenwood has books and ingredients for cider-making. It’s best to have some “bittersharp” apples in your cider to round out the flavor, try asking local cider-makers where to find some.
Ready to taste some ciders?
Rockridge Orchards inspired this post; I had their “X” hopped cider this weekend (talk about a real Washington product), which made an excellent accompaniment to a harvest dinner. Rockridge sells at several of the local farmer’s markets, including the West Seattle and University Markets, which are open year round.
Another local producer is the Vashon Island Winery, which sells direct from the winery.
The Northwest Cider Association has a list of their members online, which are some of the larger (but still small) “cideries” in the region.
Ivars hosts on annual cider tasting event, this year’s is on November 11 and tickets costs $35.
Bars with rotating taps that feature local microbreweries usually feature a cider in the fall, try Beveridge Place if you’re in West Seattle.