The rebirth of cider

America was famous for its wide selection of fine cider until it was criminalized. Cider? Yes, today it might seem odd, but before companies like Budweiser (not the real Czech one, the American imitation brand) rose to dominance of the alchohol industry, many people had a do-it-yourself attitude to the spirits. The SFGate reported in 2003:

American settlers in the Northwest Territories and Ohio River Valley welcomed the eccentric Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, because his sour apples yielded cider.

“Just about the only reason to plant an orchard of the sort of seedling apples John Chapman had for sale would have been its intoxicating harvest of drink, available to anyone with a press and a barrel,” writes Michael Pollan in “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” “Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier.”


Until Prohibition, apples were more likely to be made into cider than eaten. Pollan reasons that the infamous Carry Nation wielded her ax not just to bust down saloon doors but to chop down apple trees as well. After Prohibition, beer, wine and liquor supplanted cider.

Now US has been so cider-free that most Americans do not even realize that it can or should be alcoholic. Each fall, gallons of apple juice are set out in ironic moonshine-looking jugs for children and parents alike to revel in the bounty of fall and a mislabel of cider. I suppose baloney slices are real meat to many people too, but I digress.

Alas, some folks have conjured up the ghost of harvests past and are starting to advocate for small-batch brews of real cider.

The term “hard cider” is only used in America. Elsewhere it’s just called cider, and nonalcoholic apple juice is called, well, apple juice. The confusing nomenclature originates in part from Prohibition, when apple juice replaced the alcoholic stuff but was still called cider. Once Prohibition was repealed, fermented cider took a back seat to other alcoholic beverages yet the Prohibition term for apple juice stuck, leading alcoholic cider makers to call their products hard or fermented cider.

Cider is made a lot like wine but the process is quicker. Apples are pressed for their juice, which is then inoculated with yeast. The juice ferments in stainless steel tanks for about two weeks and then it’s ready for bottles or kegs. Unlike wine, apple cold storage allows for a steady supply of fruit so cider can be made year-round.

Why do I bring this up? A couple reasons:

First, I have fond memories of drinking locally-made cider varieties down in South West England once upon a time (not tyne, as that’s up north country). I’ll never forget the dark wood benches of the dimly-lit country pub where I was cornered and told not to drink more than a pint of the best stuff: “You take a layer of hay, a row of apples, a layer of hay, a row of apples, and then throw in an old leg of lamb. Let her sit until just ripe and then turn the screw, lad. If you’re lucky you might get rat or two for flavor! See those chunks in your glass? That’s good Scrumpy!”

I’m getting hungry for a ploughman’s just thinking about it.

Second, I just noticed that the BBC has reported on recent growth in cider brewing, including some smaller names:

Making 454,000 litres of cider a year, Sheppy’s Cider is a mere drop in the ocean of the UK’s total 500 million litre annual cider sales. Yet its range of ciders is in big demand, with Sheppy’s Cider now being sold nationally at Waitrose supermarkets, and in the south west at Sainsbury’s and Asda, in addition to mail and internet order and from its own farm shop.

Not surprising that the method of quality comes down to a very simple test:

The cider-making is led by David Sheppy, who does all the blending simply using his taste buds.

Very occasionally he will add some sugar just to aid a secondary fermentation, or some water if the cider is particularly strong one year.

Ah, like a fine bourbon or scotch but right from the neighborhood orchard.

Now where did I put those apple seeds…?

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