When most of us think of cider, we imagine one of two things. There’s the fresh-squeezed, non-alcoholic cider that we buy after picking apples at an orchard, the perfect accent to a crisp, fall day. Then there’s the hard variety that we purchase in the form of a six pack in the wine cooler section of our local beer store. Like apple juice for adults, it’s a little sweet, a little fruity and, overall, has been widely accepted by most American consumers as part of a cider revolution. But did you know that the ciders you pick off most store shelves, or that you drink at a tailgate, are sometimes only about 51 percent apple or, even worse, apple juice concentrate?
The cider most of us drink is a far cry from the traditional ciders produced by our forefathers, both in New England and in Europe. It was a lesson well learned at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Mount Nittany chapter of the American Wine Society, where a small group of wine connoisseurs gathered at Windmere Hall in State College to learn just how much their favorite drink has in common with the often humble apple cider.
The guests of the day were Autumn Stoscheck and Melissa Madden, of Eve’s Cidery and Good Life Cider, respectively. The two highly knowledgeable women hail from the Finger Lakes region of New York, where they help to educate the public on the world of cider via the Finger Lakes Cider House.
It’s almost immediately apparent that the variety of ciders the women are boasting are totally unlike those found in any six pack. Like wine in packaging, appearance and presentation, they prove the cider producers’ take that the beverage is, in fact, not so different from wine at all, and should be given the same level of reverence by the food and drink community.
During a normal tasting, the ciders are served alongside a selection of hyper-local foods — including Seneca bleu cheese, house-made pear butter and other items you’d find on a charcuterie board any random day you happen to stroll into the Cider House. The tasting is truly an experience, and attention is drawn to the aromas, mouthfeel and delicate notes of flavor in much the same way wines are analyzed by those who know them best. Additionally, each cider has its own history and geographical identity, which is reflected in both the scent and taste.
Over the past several years, the amount of cider found in the Finger Lakes region has tripled, but the cider resurgence has been slow in coming. The beverage was mostly killed off by Prohibition, as orchards were chopped down to make way for crops that could actually turn a profit in a country where cider suddenly had no place.
However, while Americans turned their attention to spirits which could be manufactured more inconspicuously, the European tradition of cider-making continued, and it shows. Whether sipping a bone dry cider originating from the Basque region of Spain, with a history stretching back to the pre-Roman era, or a more intense French variety from Brittany, you’re sure to be pleased.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of cideries in the U.S. that are making an effort to bring the same types of production and tradition to American audiences once again. Using time-proven and time-intensive methods to create an elegant and fantastic array of ciders, they are successfully fashioning a selection of beverages unique due to their place of origin and their loving caretakers. It’s these types of ciders that can be found at the Finger Lakes Cider House.
To further discover the much under-served traditional cider industry, head to the Finger Lakes Cider House— just a three-hour drive from State College — any day of the week, with tastings until 4:45 p.m. Sunday through Friday, and until 5:45 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, visit www.fingerlakesciderhouse.com.
For similar educational opportunities, check out the Mount Nittany chapter of the American Wine Society. Upcoming events include explorations of the wines of both Portugal and Germany, with expert-led sessions to engage the senses, whether you’re already a sophisticated oenophile or just curious about the world of wine. For more information, contact Bob Schlegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.