It might have seemed like any other well-curated tasting at the Astor Center this week—a multitude of mellow artisanal cider producers pouring their wares to an interested, thoughtful, and, yes, thirsty crowd. But while the seemingly innocuous growth of cider producers and availability of their bottles might appear as absent-minded as the spreading of seeds à la Johnny Appleseed, cider, it seems, is here to stay.
Last year, the fermented apple quencher grew 62 percent in the United States, and while Big Boy producers like Miller (Crispin), Sam Adams (Angry Orchard) and Anheuser-Busch (Michelob Ultra Light Cider) reach the masses—and, perhaps, give them their first taste of hard cider—it tends to be sticky kid stuff. Sweet, simple low-alcohol juice. But there’s a burgeoning, sparkling set of small-scale cider makers making mind-blowing bottles right outside your door. Stuff that’s complex, dry, and thoroughly unique. Quaffs more akin to full-on food pairing meals than supplemental swigging. Like the riesling-like offering from Virginia’s Foggy Ridge, the syrupy yet buoyant brilliance of Eden‘s ice cider from Vermont (written about in our pages last winter) or the Champagne-like brut-style elegant apple sparklers coming out of New York’s Orchard Hill.
Tuesday’s tasting was for sommeliers, store owners and journalists, but it was, in fact, a preview of what’s to come in October during NY Cider Week October 18-27, where more than 200 restaurants will be featuring a sampling of local ciders on their menus. I got to walk around and talk with the couple dozen producers pouring and check out a few seminars to get those of us who are cider simpletons up to speed. I attended the first one lead by Edible contributor David Flaherty, who filled my head with facts that kind of blew my mind. Like how, in the 1700s, cider was the most commonly consumed beverage in America, to the tune of 35 gallons per person a year. That NY is the second largest apple producer in the country (Washington is number one). That the journey of apples from China and Kurdistan is as long and intriguing as the spice route. That it isn’t just countries like Spain and France with deep cider traditions; we have them, too. One that was nearly killed by Prohibition but that has been slowly but surely finding its way back to its former 18th-century glory.
“We are essentially clawing our way back to the past,” laughed Flaherty, who pours his passion for the stuff all over the beverage list at his day job as beer and spirits director for Hearth, and who is hell-bent to introduce artisanal cider to the masses. “It’s like Yellow Tail Shiraz. If that’s the only thing you ever had from Australia, you’d think that all Syrah was just sweet, sticky stuff and ignore some really great wine in that country.” Stay tuned for more cider preview profiles leading up to Cider Week on Edible Manhattan…