Wine People: Cider Needs You

Please stop thinking of cider as a sweet beer alternative and give it another try. Thank you. Plus a podcast bonus clip of cider talk with The Cider Qween.

  
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In this week’s full podcast episode, we talked about ciders that pushed the boundaries of what people think they know about fermented apple juice, including Oliver’s Lubrication, Botanist & Barrel’s Less is More, and Graft’s Native. You would think, by now, that drinks people would have embraced good cider for the artisan-made, family-farmed, authentic beverage that it is.

But the cider revolution still awaits. I (Jason) literally wrote a book about cider and how amazing it is, and I still have trouble convincing family and friends to give cider a try. In fact, the summer months before the book launch in September 2019 coincided with the Summer of White Claw — and anyone who’s been paying attention knows that the public’s thirst for hard seltzers has not been a wonderful thing for cider’s prospect in the popular imagination.

Some think the White Claw trend ultimately could be good for cider in the long run: That the thirst for Claws and other hard seltzers will weed out the lousy mass-market ciders that gave the category a bad name. Meanwhile, the small production, high-quality craft ciders will still be made and eventually find a home among beverage enthusiasts. Honestly, who knows? We cider people can dare to dream.

In any case, we’ve been saying for years that part of the cider world’s dilemma is that it still can’t decide whether it wants to be like craft beer or wine. We have been a loud proponent of cider following the path of wine — in design and packaging, in education, in vibe, in overall conversation. I mean, on the most basic level, it IS wine. You don’t “brew” cider; cider is wine made from apples instead of grapes. Full stop.

Since many people have come to cider from the world of craft beer, there’s been a reluctance to embrace the various wine rituals and winespeak, and we can empathize: So much of wine jargon and ceremony is pretentious bullshit. But how, then, does one talk about cider? Do we turn cider into a situation where we see things like Blueberry Saison and Peanut Buttercup Stout and Dry Hopped Triple Smoked Kolsch? God, we hope not.

Apple varieties matter. How and where cider is made matters. The complexity of flavor matters. Cider isn’t just an alcoholic version of the Martinelli’s sparkling juice you drank at the Thanksgiving kiddie table. Grow up.

In today’s newsletter, we’re highlighting ciders that aren’t afraid to embrace the wine side, all for around $20. If you’re cider-averse, we believe any of these could change your mind.

Aaron Burr Appinette, $20 (750 ml)

Aaron Burr is located in New York’s Catskills, and cidermaker Andy Brennan is a legend in the cider world. Brennan uses mostly-foraged wild apples and releases his ciders after a few years of bottle aging. “My interest is in exploring what wild means,” he says. “I’m anti-cultivation.” Aaron Burr ciders are coveted in drinks circles. The Appinette bottling, though, is on a completely different plane — a co-ferment of 70 percent wild apples and 30 percent Traminette (a hybrid grape that’s a genetic cross between Gewürztraminer and the French-American hybrid Joannes Seyve). It’s earthy, salty, and dry, but with the unmistakable tropical fruit notes from the wine grapes.

Botanist & Barrel 2020 Skin Contact, $21 (750 ml)

Botanist & Barrel’s Skin Contact cider is named for its co-fermentation with montmorecy cherry skins (absolutely not whatever you were thinking). This dry cider will entrance you with its light rose color and subtle nutty undertones then whisk you away with deep cherry nuances — channeling a big lounging-beneath-grapevine-covered-marble-trelis vibe. Most importantly, Botanist & Barrel’s Skin Contact nails a perfect balance of that pet-nat funk we’ve all come to love. 

Anxo Grand Cru, $21 (4-pack of 12-oz cans)

Anxo’s co-founder, Sam Fitz, came to cider from the world of craft beer — he was the first certified Cicerone in D.C. But in 2014, Fitz made a trip to Spain’s Basque Country, and tasted Basque cider for the first time. To say the experience was a transformative is an understatement. “I grew up without any connection to apples. Apple came from the same place as grapefruit or pineapples,” he said. “Then I went to Spain. And I realized the cider world had something that the beer world can just never have. What I was drinking was a connection of modern life and I guess a sort of old way of life.” From its inception, Anxo has always been committed to canning its cider, for maximum accessibility. But don’t be fooled. This is a not beer substitute. A cider like Grand Cru, a biannual “cuvée” of bittersweet, bittersharp and heirloom apples fermented naturally in large wood casks is about 10 times more complex than that middling sauvignon blanc you have chilling in your fridge.

Sea Cider Wild English, $20 (750 ml)

Named for the wild yeast fermentation of English cider apples, Sea Cider’s Wild English is an ultra-dry cider packing distinctive tannins of the traditional Herefordshire style cider (yep, one of the ‘shires). It’s robust, earthy, and flexes a pronounced acidity and structure reminiscent of red wine. Pair it with salty and savoury snacks like popcorn, pickled vegetables, or that moderately-priced aged cheddar you proudly selected from the “fancy” part of the cheese aisle. Wild English is “not for the faint of heart”, but if you’re in the mood to school your red-wine loving friend on the fantastic world of natural dry ciders, then pop a bottle of this Sea Cider classic and get to teachin’.

Greenwood Cider Lingonberry, $10 (500 ml)

Greenwood Cider is known for its unfiltered ciders that illustrate an “uncompromising combination of modern tastes and traditional cidermaking methods” (translation: if you’re into weird, exceptional cider, this stuff is on-point). If their Fire-Roasted Pepper cider doesn’t tickle your fancy, then a taste of their Scandinavian-inspired Lingonberry cider will have you hooked. Lingonberries, which are similar to cranberries in taste and color, add a pleasant level of tartness to this cider’s Washington apple base. If you appreciate fruit forward ciders, but like to keep it dry, this one is great to try.