Idaho Ciders and the Right Fruit

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From Idaho, writer Guy Hand makes the case for American ciders.  His article appeared recently in Boise Weekly:

After all, we’re not tasting beer or wine here. It’s bright, slightly sweet, but far from cloying, and as Oates says, makes a U-turn on the tongue toward a kind of fruity astringency. I don’t know much about hard apple cider, but the education they’re giving me is starting out pretty damn delicious.

I’m learning, too, that hard or fermented apple cider is far more American than apple pie. Cider sailed over on the Mayflower, and Johnny Appleseed definitely wasn’t thinking dessert when he scattered all those seeds across the land. Like most Americans, he had a thing for hard cider. It was, after all, the nation’s most popular alcoholic drink. Then came prohibition. After a solid century of obscurity, hard apple cider is again climbing up the charts. It’s big in New England. In the Northwest, Washington and, to a lesser degree, Oregon are getting props for producing fine craft cider. Idaho could, too.

As we work our way through half a dozen samples, I’m struck by how distinctive each tastes.

In fact, in cider hot spots like Yakima and Port Townsend, growers are re-planting old-fashioned cider apples, varieties that were long ago yanked from the ground in favor of commercial table apples, which are often too cloying for high-end cider. (Of Washington’s 225,000 acres of apple orchards, only about 30 acres contain cider apples.) In that sense, the hard cider movement is slipping on Johnny Appleseed’s shoes by offering a little pomey biodiversity in a land tilted too far toward apple monoculture–the insipid Red Delicious makes up more than 40 percent of America’s commercial crop.

This resonates, particularly right now.  Our sampling team just spent the weekend at the Boston Wine Expo, pouring Farnum Hill’s lightly alcoholic, traditional ciders to the crowds.  Inevitably, we are asked what kind of apples we use.  And then once we start listing our cider apples — Kingston Black, Wickson, Dabinett, Spitzenberg, Ashmead’s Kernel, Golden Russet, and more — people are amazed that they’ve never heard of the fruit.

If you have not yet taken the time to watch this fantastic short video from Michael Pollan’s PBS documentary, The Botany of Desire, you might want to check it out.  Our own Steve Wood and Louisa Spencer talk about cider making, cider drinking, and cider enjoying.

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