Cider, Part 1
Apples grow well in Upstate New York, where I was raised, and fresh pressed apple cider was a favorite autumn treat. Sometimes we'd drive out to a cider mill in a rambling old barn and buy it fresh from the press. The result was tangy, cloudy with apple particles, and delicious. Even as a kid, I found cider more tasty than apple juice, which was filtered to clearness, too sweet, and not very interesting.
Sometimes the cider would turn a little "hard," meaning fermentation was adding a bit of alcoholic kick, but for us, it was basically a non-alcoholic beverage. I still enjoy this kind of cider, and if I have guests around the holidays, I'll often heat up a gallon, adding whole spices like stick cinnamon and cloves and allspice. I'll also slice up an orange into pretty round circles and simmer it all together for a hot cider punch. Nice!
Cider, Part 2
When I moved to England, I discovered a new kind of cider: a traditional alcoholic beverage that goes way back in history. Fermentation is basically an anaerobic chemical reaction involving sugar and yeast, and the sugar can come from many sources, including grapes and malted grains, which are used in wine and beer respectively. Drinks similar to cider can be made from other fruits--perry, which I've never tried but would like to, is made from pears, and I gather peaches can be used as well. I'd love to sample that!
The modern version of British cider is a bottled beverage that is filtered so it hasn't the cloudiness I was used to. Commercial varieties have specific alcohol levels--usually, but not always, on the light side. Bulmer's Woodpecker Cider is popular and widely available, including in the US. It was first brewed in Herefordshire--good apple country!--in 1894.
When I lived in Oxford, guests at student parties would bring bottles of alcoholic beverages to contribute to the refreshments. Top of the pecking order was a bottle of wine, followed by beer, with cider brought by those for whom money was particularly tight. The drinks would be finished off in that order, too, with cider bottles the last to be emptied. A ditty I learned at the time said, "Beer on cider, is a good rider. Cider on beer, will reappear." I think it was a warning. <G>
Now cider is turning into an artisanal beverage, which I discovered when the Mayhem Consultant suggested we visit the Millstone Cellars in the farm country half an hour or so north of us. Millstone is in a handsomely remodeled historical barn, and it handcrafts ciders and meads, just as vintners and boutique beer brewers make their beverages. Way fun!
We learned that different kinds of apples are used, and that cider apples are often too tannic to be good eating apples. Millstone seeks out farmers who raise heirloom apple varieties, and they continually experiment to come up with new flavors. Adding ginger strikes me as a fine idea, and they had a batch aging with stalks of lemongrass, which looked like bamboo. (Pictures below are from the Millstone site.)
I bought a bottle of Cherrykriek, which combines sour cherries with cider made from Rome Beauty and York Imperial apples. It has a pinkish tone and a pleasant fruity tang. The MC went for Blossom, made with Jonathan and McIntosh apples and wildflower honey.
I don't know much about the mead, which is made from honey and is one of the most ancient and widely made fermented beverages of all. I'd read about it in books, and when I lived in California many years ago, I saw a bottle in a store and bought it out of curiosity. It was ghastly. <G>
But now mead has become another artisanal beverage and is being made with sophistication and creativity. Different varieties of honey will give different flavors for a base, and additional flavorings can be added. When we got married, a friend gave us a bottle of boutique mead made by her brother's company in Santa Fe, and it was a very different and much more interesting proposition from the mead I'd had years earlier.
I find it fascinating how these older drinks are being reborn in new ways, and are being made with the same care as wine and beer. Are you a fan of cider? Was it part of your childhood? Have you tried mead? What do you think of them?
My book The Bargain has a scene when the hero and heroine are enjoying a picnic that includes cider made on his Hereford estate. So just for fun, I'll give away a copy of the book to one person who comments between now and Thursday midnight. And maybe tonight I'll open my bottle of Cherrykriek cider!