Cider is rapidly becoming America’s darling as an alternative to beer and wine. This fermented apple juice is not only rich in flavor but also in antioxidants. Moreover, it is gluten-free. Cider is, in a lot of ways, “apple wine.” Given all this, it is clearly a drink meant to be shared, if not for your health then for your friendships, according to Mr. Franklin.
“He that drinks his cyder alone, let him catch his horse alone.”
~ Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack
Cider has a truly interesting history.
Once considered America’s favorite drink, cider was widely consumed by the early English settlers on the East Coast.
Due to the inedibility of the apples the English settlers found upon arrival, the colonists requested apple seeds to be sent from England, and they began cultivating orchards. Initially the cultivation of barley and other grains was difficult, so cider became the beverage of choice. Furthermore, due to its low alcohol content, cider was a beverage that could be consumed throughout the day and as an alternative to water when sanitation was an issue.
However, later, the Temperance Movement and Prohibition slowed and nearly eliminated the production of “hard” cider. It wasn’t until later that apples gained popularity as a table fruit.
Today, craft cider is rapidly gaining popularity just as is the craft beer movement. In particular, the Pacific Northwest offers a unique location where the soil is rich, the water plentiful, the winters mild, and summers ideal, making this area a perfect location to grow apples.
As craft beer consumption has exploded, drinkers are now looking to find the next interesting beverage. Craft cider offers a great alternative to beer. Besides being gluten-free, it is slightly sweeter (depending on the cider you choose), and it also is a great food-pairing option.
The cider industry is ripe for expansion, especially with the fact that ciders fill an interesting niche market. With its being sweet, gluten-free, and natural, and having a low alcohol content, cider creates an appealing market option for women and for drinkers seeking the next big thing. It has also caught the attention of the larger breweries such as MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch, and Carlsberg A/S. In February of 2013, MillerCoors and Molson Coors bought Crispin Cider Co. Anheuser-Busch also introduced their premium-priced Stella Artois Cidre and a low-calorie Michelob Ultra Light Cider.
Despite all these big breweries purchasing up some of the small cider houses, there are still plenty of individual craft brewers making the kind of cider that may not appeal to the mass market. However, in the quantities these individual craft brewers produce, this is not an issue.
According to the Northwest Cider Association, “cider can range from light, delicate and sparkly to rich, dark, and full of complexity. There are hundreds of varieties of cider apples that can grow a wide variety of luscious flavors, fragrant aromatics and intense tannins. These are the building blocks for good cider. Cider makers carefully select their preferred varieties to get the flavors they seek.”
Cider appeals to all those looking for a new taste experience: from wine lovers, beer lovers, and chefs, to foodies and anyone who is curious. Everyone can now enjoy the new resurgence in the world of cider, and all the new flavors are there to experience.
Basque-Style Cider, also known as Sagardo
Having returned from Spain recently and having experienced the Basque style of cider, I was looking forward to finding cider with a similar dryness and almost bitter taste. A cider house in Basque country is also known as Sagardotegi, in Basque. The word sagardotegi is built on three roots: sagar (apple) and nardo (wine) give the word Sagardo, literally “apple wine”, translated into French from cidre. The suffix -tegi means a building or activity in a place. The word translates as “place of manufacture of apple wine (cider).”
The Basque country of Northern Spain is well known for its cider, and, like traditional French-style cider, Basque-style cider tends to have a bittersweet taste to it that pairs extremely well with foods of the region. From the picture below you can see how the Basque style of cider is stored and later retrieved by lucky cider lovers. The cider is aged in large oak barrels and retrieved by customers on a rotating basis of about 20 minutes so that the barrels are always partially filled. The ritual of capturing the cider is called “Txotx.” See the photos below! In this case, we were on the outskirts of the lovely city of San Sebastian, Spain (Gipuzkoa), at a place called, Petritegi Sagardoa.
You are allowed about an inch of the cider stream at a time, and this ensures that you get the freshest cider possible. It is common tradition in Northern Spain for people of all ages to capture their own cider. The trick is to capture this beverage from a distance to oxygenate the cider. There is generally a line of people waiting patiently behind you to grab their next inch of fresh cider.
Back in the US
When I returned from Spain, I missed the cider houses and the taste of cider in Europe. In the U.S., I tried a number of the commercially made ciders, with no real success. However, one day, I was invited to join a number of friends for a homemade pizza gathering and there met Sharon Zielinski, the sister-in-law of Kevin Zielinski of EZ Orchards. Mark, Kevin’s brother, quickly introduced me to this dry, traditionally-made French-style cider—and I fell in love.
EZ Orchards is located in NE Salem, Oregon. Kevin Zielinski is the lead cider maker; his family has owned and operated this farm and its orchards of apples, pears, and peaches for three generations. He is focused on making the traditional French-style cider from French cider varieties that are more bittersweet in taste and have the tannin structure necessary to make a traditional cider.
What makes this French-style cider from EZ Orchards different is that it uses spontaneous fermentation, which means that there is no foreign yeast added to the apple juice, and the only yeast it has is wild yeast from nature itself. This ensures that there will be a cold fermentation process lasting from two to three months. This also ensures that there is maximum flavor and aroma in the cider, as well as natural carbon dioxide development in the bottle, thus providing that sparkling quality that we all love and enjoy. Following in the footsteps of the traditional methode champenoise (a process very similar to that used for the creation of French champagne), the cider undergoes its last stage of fermentation in the bottle.
You might be wondering how other commercially-made ciders are made. In general, mass-produced cider generally has yeast added to it; this yeast addition can change the output and the speed of fermentation. Additionally, mass-produced cider has carbon dioxide added at the end right before bottling takes place.
To learn more about EZ Orchards, check this video out:
Here’s a unique chance to taste and experience Northwest cider:
Now, it’s time for me—and you!—to enjoy a nice glass of cider! Cheers!
My Favorite Cider Houses
5504 Hazel Green Rd NE, Salem, OR. 97305
Lake Oswego, OR. Available at many locations
33848 SE Eastgate Circle, Corvallis, OR. 97333
275 S Beavercreek Rd #149, Oregon City, OR 97045
For a list of cider houses in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Canada, click here for the NorthWest Cider Association Members.
“Salud! Santé! Prost! Cheers!”
About the author: April Yap-Hennig
April Yap-Hennig is a wine lover and marketer with 12 years of experience in International Marketing and Communication in Europe and the United States, and with life experience also in the Caribbean and South America. She holds a Masters in Viticulture and Enology from the University of La Rioja, Spain, an MBA from Purdue University, and B.A. from University of Utah. She is also a Certified Wine Sommelier from the International Wine Guild in Colorado. April was born in Utah, raised in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, and has lived and worked in The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. Her love of wine started when she studied in La Rioja, Spain, during her undergraduate studies. This is where she fell in love with the country, the region, the people, the culture, and, finally, the wine–thus changing her life and eventually her career.
She is now the co-founder and owner of Epicurean Media, a beverage-and-food artisan public relations and marketing consultancy; she also founded and writes the Sacred Drop Channel at www.sacreddrop.com. She is forging a new future in Oregon with her husband and their hilarious French bulldog, Guapo.