Cider…the (manly?) libation of our forebears

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We’ve known for a while that apples grow well in various climates throughout this country. A recent article by Mike Gruss of the Virginian-Pilot highlights legislation to support the work of orchardists and cider makers who enjoy a kinder, gentler climate than we do. Kudos to our colleagues at Foggy Ridge Ciders and Albemarle CiderWorks, both mentioned below.

It’s true that we see interest in cider growing in New England — and more cider is being consumed today worldwide.  So why not Virginia?  Here’s what Mike Gruss wrote:

Virginia has a burgeoning hard cider industry? Yes and no.

Yes, the state has about five businesses producing hard cider, but it’s a small group, up from only two a few years ago. “Burgeoning” is a bit of hyperbole. Trying to find a Virginia-based hard cider to swill in Hampton Roads still will take a bit of restaurant detective work.

“This legislation is a critical breakthrough for those dedicated to reintroducing Virginia and America to the libation our forebears made and enjoyed in the agrarian society from which we sprung,” Charlotte Shelton, founder and owner of Albemarle CiderWorks, said in a statement. “It will be a significant support to the development of a new industry, attractive to the tourists who visit our commonwealth as well as our own people.”

Yet to cavalierly dismiss cider as a new alternative to beer or wine or hard stuff is to be ignorant of the cider’s long history in Virginia.

Sarah Meacham, an assistant professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University who wrote a book on cider, said cidering in Virginia, and specifically in Hampton Roads, dates back to the 1600s.

Unlike in New England, Virginia’s cities and towns were too far apart to create concentrated markets to trade the ingredients for beer. Plus, the warmer temperatures here didn’t favor beer-making.

Instead, colonists took advantage of the bountiful apples and pressed cider. Then they drank it. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of cider.

That was especially true in this area, where cider was cleaner, tastier and healthier than the water. While Meacham can’t prove it, she believes cider was a key factor in keeping colonists alive.

But by 1783, the average white male was drinking seven shots of rum a day after George Washington placed it in a soldier’s daily ration and removed cider, Meacham said. As cities and transportation flourished, cider lost out.

But one part of the cider-making process still influences modern-day thinking.

In colonial times, hops were considered “technology,” and working with technology was considered the man’s job. Cidering was left to women, just as it had been in England.

“Sometimes people do see cider as a woman’s drink,” Meacham said.

An accomplished beer expert I interviewed, who also likes hard cider, likened it to drinking a cosmo.

The new law will allow apples to ferment to a higher concentration of alcohol, most likely around 10 percent. The cider will be less watered down. But the perception prevails: strong enough for a man, made by a woman.

The stigma has lasted. Go out with a group of guys, order a hard cider and see if you can count to 10 before someone makes a pacifier joke.

Still, Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Ciders in western Virginia said sales were up 40 percent at her cidery last year. Meacham believes a cider renaissance could take place among the same audience that favors home brew or handcrafted cheese.

For the full text of Mike’s article, click here.  His question about cider and masculinity brings to mind a blog of a couple years back.  I found it — from writer and blogger Brian O’Rourke who posits that making fun of men who drink cider is UnAmerican…..

Hard cider currently enjoys, at best, a so-so reputation in the United States. Ordering cider at the bar will lose you macho points almost as quickly as ordering a Shirley Temple. You might as well ask the guys at the bar around you to kick your ass and then politely thank them for it.

It’s a travesty that cider isn’t held in the same regard as beer, for cider is delicious, it does not dull the taste buds as many beers do, and it packs quite the alcoholic punch, usually just as much as beer. So where did this beer is better than cider idea come from? It’s my belief that cider (along with many other good drinks) actually tastes too good to be taken seriously. After all, real alcoholic beverages are supposed to be difficult to drink, right? Beer is good, and I probably prefer it to cider, but let’s be honest, beer’s an acquired taste. The first beer you had as an underage youngster didn’t taste all that great. Nor did the six-pack of Natural Light you sucked down every night during college.

And liquor is even more of an acquired taste. Downing a shot of whiskey or scotch or tequila, even over ice, is rough going despite however many years you’ve been drinking the stuff. However, in that strange universe where machoism meets masochism (coincidence those words are so close?), the tougher to drink, the better the liquor.

The good news is, this anti-ciderism seems localized to the United States; across the pond, cider is an acceptable, often preferable, alternative to beer. Why is that the case? I don’t know, but it’s time cider got the recognition it deserves. It’s time we returned to our roots. Today, I came across this great article on Slate.com. For you Yanks out there that scoff at the notion of cider being an acceptable drink for a man, scoff no more, ye bastards, and the next time you’re at one of the few bars in the States that offers a cider on tap, drink up, admit to the error of your ways, and repent.

Oh yeah, we agree.  Men and women, return to your cider-drinking roots.  Drink up.

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