If you’re thinking of a mug of hot spiced apple juice when you think of cider, you are in for a revelation. Author Jason Wilson of Cider Revival takes you on an adventure through the orchards of New England through the Finger Lakes and beyond to share his passion for cider. This read will whet your palate for heritage ciders enough to visit an artisan cidery or search for it locally.
As I read about wild orchards and cider makers foraging apples from uncultivated trees, I grew more curious about the history behind cider. This tale by an accidental pommelier and his passion for cider led me through cideries, presses, tasting rooms, and harvests.
There’s an entire cider-loving culture out there making it the way it used to be back in early America.
I’ve learned that cider apples aren’t like the ones in the supermarket. Not Honey Crisps, Galas, or Granny Smiths. Real cider comes from wild gnarly cider apples like the Wickson Crab, the Golden Russet, the Ellis Bitter, among others. The not so pretty and not sweet to eat. One knowledgeable in cider apples calls them bittersharps, bittersweets, heirlooms, and spitters. These apples are gathered, pressed, fermented, and bottled in small batches by heritage cider makers. And that’s where the revival of America’s forgotten beverage comes into a new age.
“A few years ago, all logic be damned, I dove headfirst into the world of cider. Perhaps the bar is low, but at this point I have become– dare I say it– a cider expert. No, probably expert is too grand. I don’t make cider, and I don’t grow apples. No, instead, let’s say that I have become a knowledgeable aficionado, an educator, and maybe even a critic. I even passed an exam given by the United States Association of Cider Makers, which bestowed upon me the title of Certified Cider Professional. Dear reader, what I’m trying to say is this: I am now on my way to becoming a Certified Pommelier. God help me. This is my story.” ~ Jason Wilson, Cider Revival
The fermented fruit drink called cider has been around for centuries, dating back to ancient Rome, yet we’ve held the notion that wine is for the cultured. But cider is much more than just something to quaff like beer. Though French wine terms like terroir and sommelier don’t quite apply, they sort of do. (Just change the s in sommelier to the p in pomme, which is apple in French). The press of the apple proves to be just as drinkable as the crush of the grape.
My unexpected romance with apples began with a sudden preference for tart green apples in particular. I crave the tart and funky looking apples at the farmers’ market, not the shiny red sweet ones sold in supermarkets. I want to know the farm and where the apples grow. I have a new desire to visit apple orchards, looking up the few that are within driving distance from my house in Los Angeles.
Cider apples grown here in California may not have colonial roots like their East Coast apple cousins, with the likes of Johnny Appleseed planting them into the soil, but I’m willing to try.
And how do these ciders taste?
A single varietal from Eve’s Cidery made with Northern Spy apples is described as intense, nervy ciders with soaring acidity. As with wine, cider can taste like dark fruit, stony minerality, and austere tannins. A 2015 bottle of South Hill Cider’s Packbasket is bone-dry, with razor-like acidity, full of complex flavors— old stone, wildflowers, grass, autumn leaves, even a tiny bit of cow pasture funk, but balanced by bright, fresh fruitiness. I love how cow pasture funk, grass and autumn leaves all come together as a taste. As Wilson explains, it’s “undeniably a taste of this place.”
Cider Revival is about the renaissance of cider heritage. It will inspire you to taste the place where the apple came from, and leave you curious about where the cider culture is going.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Wilson is an award-winning journalist and the author of Cider Revival, Boozehound and Godforsaken Grapes. The series editor for Best American Travel Writing since its inception in 2000, Wilson has also written for the Washington Post, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many others.