I developed an appreciation for cider during my study-abroad and later work-abroad in England. The United Kingdom has the highest per capita consumption of cider in the world, as well as some of the largest cider-producing companies. They take this beverage seriously, and as a result, produce a lot of high-quality cider.
Unlike beer, cider is made from a combination of yeast and apples. Apples add many heart-healthy benefits through the addition of vitamin C and antioxidants, but they also increase the sugar content (beer, by comparison, is sugar-free).
The apples used in the brewing process are different from the eating and baking varieties that you’re familiar with. Cider apples are bitter and dry. They contain high sugar levels and tannins. Horrible for eating, but perfect for cider-making.
The earliest recorded instance of cider-drinking dates back to 55 BC, when the Roman Empire first arrived in Kent, England, and observed the townspeople enjoying an alcoholic beverage made from apples. It’s popularity grew from there.
Cider isn’t a prominent beverage in the United States, so you might be surprised to learn that it was one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in America’s early days. North American settlers were crazy about their cider! When settlers first arrived in the country, they discovered that growing barley and other grains for beer was difficult. Apple orchards, however, were easy to plant and maintain in the American soil. In some areas, it was safer to drink cider than water! As a result, cider drinking flourished among early Americans.
In the early 1900s, cider production began to wane as more Germans and Eastern European immigrants arrived and brought with them a penchant for beer. It came to a dead halt in 1920 with the establishment of prohibition. Many apple orchards were burned and destroyed. The rest transitioned to growing sweeter apples for eating and baking. While the U.S. government repealed prohibition 13 years later, cider would never again be as popular as it once was. It was easy for beer breweries to jump back into production. Apple orchards needed time to convert their trees to begin growing apples that were right for cider-making. Many decided it wouldn’t be profitable to make the change, and cider-drinking in the US mostly died out.
Despite a rocky history in the United States, cider has grown in popularity in recent years. Several modern American brewers have begun adding hops to their ciders to introduce a flavor more like beer. Many others add juices from other fruits to create fruit ciders. One popular variety is Perry, or pear cider, which is made from fermented pears instead of apples, or a combination of apples and pears.
I sampled three ciders for this week’s tasting: one traditional apple cider, one perry, and one fruit cider.
According to the manufacturer, this was the first perry to ever be brewed in the state of California, beginning production in 1996. It is made from a combination of apples and pears mixed with champagne yeast.
The cider pours a pale yellow-green color, and smells sweet and juicy — just like a tasty pear should smell as you sink your teeth into it. The taste is similar, and trust me, it is exquisite. This was, without a doubt, the best of the ciders I sampled, and one of the best ciders I’ve ever tasted. Refreshing, sweet, and juicy. I will definitely be buying this again.
Kiwifruit cider. Sounds strange, right? When I saw this on the shelf, I knew I had to try it.
Brewed by New Zealand’s Moa Brewery (but only available in the United States), Moa’s Kiwifruit Cider is a unique taste. It pours a pale yellow color, with a weak scent of traditional apple cider. The flavor is dry but crisp, and very tart. It’s clear that the flavor of the kiwi was added after the first fermentation because it is mainly recognizable in the beverage’s sour aftertaste. Otherwise it’s similar to a typical dry cider. While I’m generally a fan of kiwifruit, the tartness was too strong for my liking, making this my least favorite of the three.
Made in the Pacific Northwest, Anthem Cider uses a variety of dessert apples rather than traditional cider apples in their brewing process. The varieties used change seasonally with the changing availability of different types of apples, thus affecting the taste.
The cider appears normal enough, pouring a pale yellow and smelling subtly of fresh apples. It is sweet and dry. I was expecting a strong apple taste, but the dessert apples seem to have less of a bite, resulting in a more subtle flavor. Refreshing, but not particularly juicy. Decent, but I think I would have preferred something a little more bold.
Like this post? Check out the rest of the series.