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Hard Cider for your Holiday Quaff?November 21st, 2012 at Wed, 21st, 2012 at 4:20 pm by Karen Dale
Wondering whether “white, red, or rose” goes best with turkey? Skip the quandary—head for the hard cider selection in your local grocery.
When my mind’s mouth considers the heavy autumnal flavors of tomorrow’s feast, the whistle-dry, apple-y flavor of hard cider seems to fit the meal better than the vinegary taste of, say, white wine. I’ve been trialing hard ciders lately, and I’ll pass on what I’ve found and what I’ve heard from Thriftway’s hard cider guy, who I talked to in front of their hard cider selection in the Organic Produce section (not the wine or beer aisles).
In this country, “hard” cider is cider with a kick: an alcohol range just under 7%, between that of beer (4-7%) and wine (7-12%). Up until Prohibition, hard cider was America’s most common quaff, as most farms had apple trees and the brew was easy to make.
Here on the Island, we have two locally-made commercial hard ciders. Ron Irvine of Vashon Winery has been making hard cider for years, and his “Irvine’s Vintage Blend” mixes table and cider apples for a dry, earthy pour from a Grolsch bottle (see my prior blog on the apple-pressing I attended two weeks ago).
On the upper end of the price scale, Dragon’s Head Cider has been selling wine-bottles of its “Traditional Semi-Dry” at Thriftway since last year. (I also visited their top-of-Island cidery this month and will write about it in the next blog).
Jim Hill, the Thriftway’s hard cider guy, told me last week that Dragon’s Head Cider is their best-selling hard cider because “Folks like to buy local. Its taste is light but complex: champagne-like, I think,” he opined. Personally, I found it so dry at first to seem insubstantial: it took allowing the glassful to breathe and some mouth-swizzling before I caught the quaff’s nuances.
Ciders become dry because they ferment out so completely: the yeasts eat all the sugars in the apple juice, consuming with the sugar some of the apple flavors. Some makers add back some sugar after the first fermentation to create carbonation and restore some of the apple taste. Keep your ciders in the frig: there’s a slight chance that an unpasteurized hard cider may, if warmed, start to referment and run the risk of the bottle popping or exploding.
I asked Jim about ciders with more of a fruit-forward taste. I already knew about Spire (Once “Spire Mountain”, it’s been around for decades) with its sweet apple or pear ciders. Jim recommended Sea Ciders from British Columbia: they have several bottlings, including their “Flagship,” an ultra-dry German still cider, “Prohibition” that’s settled in rum barrels, and “Pippin” that uses not only Pippin apples, but the varieties “Winter Banana” and “Sunset” in the blend.
Jim’s personal favorite came from Finn River cidery of the Olympic Peninsula. They have a “Dry Hopped” blend you’ll enjoy if you like IPA-style beers, plus a sparkling Black Current cider.
Thriftway gets some French, Scottish, and English ciders: among them Weston’s “Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy,” an unfiltered hard cider that’s lightly fermented, with some of the apple particulate still floating around in the juice (apparently if you want to bring up that apple flavor, you up-end the bottle to redistribute the sludg…aHEM, apple LEES, professional speaking).
Homebrewing Hubbie and I, while touring the SW of England, once amazed and delighted a couple of Cheltenham journalists by enlisting their help to find a pub that offered scrumpy. So we went a’huntin’, found it, and as we hoisted our pints for a toast of this local specialty, one of the boys said, “I never thought I’d be sitting in my local letting an AMERICAN lecture me on beer.”
So let me toast and thank you, readers, with a glass of hard cider. To the holidays and better imbibing!