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Truly American Drink enjoys revival


by Tyler Morrison

October is about the time of year when I promise myself that I am going to spend more time exploring the world of apples. Out of the 7500-ish varieties of domestic apples, I’ve tried, what, 30? Maybe 40? And even then, the count only goes that high because I make an effort to try any variety I don’t recognize. The gentle apple represents-or somehow implies a certain wholesomeness. “An apple a day.” A gift for your teacher on the first day of school. Certainly no food can be considered more American than an apple pie. If there can be no more American fruit than the apple, then the most American way of preparing it can only be; fermentation.

I’ve written about cider before. I have oft-recurring love affairs with all things old-fashioned. I adore a timeless cocktail, and I believe that the best foods transcend time. Cider is a beverage of long world standing that has sadly-in all but the most purist of circles-fallen on hard times. Cider was so central and important to the potential union, that laws dictated American settlers plant apple orchards. But this once-proud tradition has faded in the face of a growing population, industry needs, and a shift of palates to beers produced by and for a new wave of immigrants.

Even in the United Kingdom, traditional homeland of hard core cider drinkers, consumption is at an all-time national low. Gone are the complex, flavorful products hand produced by cidermakers closely connected to the orchard where the apples grow. Instead, most things labeled as cider are mass-produced sweet alcoholic sodas with a vague afterthought of anything particularly apple-y. (Apple-ish? Apple-esque?)

Put simply, real cider is a traditional form of fruit wine, albeit one made with apples and/or pears. It can be anywhere from desert dry to dessert-sweet. The carbonation ranges from nonexistent to gushing, like champagne. It may taste clean and simple or challenge your taste buds with acidity and an intense, ancient, and wild character.

So why give cider another chance? Look at American beverage culture over the past sixty years. The 1950s saw the great “blandification” of American tastes. Food became an industrialized commodity with a focus on convenience rather than taste. Periodically, little pockets of rebellion would kick up. The ’60s and ’70s saw the rise of the American wine industry. In the ’80s and ’90s, the first craft breweries began from the fevered experiments of homebrewers. As the country hit the turn of the millennium, real cooking became cool again. The new craft beer and food movements gave rise to a revitalization of the local and traditional. Call it “locavorism”, if you must, but people have discovered the power of knowing where something is made and who made it.

With that, cider is finally seeing its long-due renewal as a bright member of the truly-American drinks family. Serious money and talent is beginning to focus on the apple. Old-school craft brewers are eyeing the field and bringing fresh and creative products to market. Farmers are happily following right along since they finally have a market that needs decent and odd apples for a good price, and if you’ve ever read this article before, then you are fully aware of the importance I place on taking care of our growers.

Another compounding reason for cider’s growth is the rise in the interest of low-gluten diets. Low- or no-gluten diets are the dietary fad de jure and response to the increased diagnosis of gluten ‘intolerance’ and celiac disease. Unfortunately for sufferers, gluten is a combination of two very common proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Together they form gluten, a tough webby miracle-mesh that gives things like bread its hallmark textural ‘chew.’ Sadly, then, this also means beer is out if you are gluten intolerant. Of course, wine is always a convenient option, but sometimes you want to relax with something bubbly and low-key like beer. (Especially if you aren’t supposed to have it.)

You’ll notice that cider is being heavily promoted as gluten-free and why not? Cider tastes awesome while gluten-free beer, despite everyone’s best efforts, still tastes like flannel-lint. No matter the reason you want to explore cider-be it dietary, historical, or just the want for a different taste-there’s a way to enjoy and appreciate the gift of the apple tree. I mean, I shouldn’t even have to remind you-it’s your duty as an American.


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