I love beer.
I love brewing beer while sipping on a previous creation and experimenting like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I love the smell of the hops bubbling away in the cauldron with the richly sweet aroma of malts. I especially love tasting the beer, making notes on its fermentation status and sharing my creation with friends.
And I don’t only love my own beer. My relationship with beer extends to those that others create and I enthusiastically rate and review beers from around the world. I could (and do) wax philosophically for hours about flavor profiles, head retention and barnyard funk.
But I have a confession.
Sometimes I get tired of beer.
And it’s those times that I just can’t stomach the thought of yet another dark, malty beverage that I turn my attention to my other fling, artisanal cider. Now we are not talking about ciders such as the Woodchuck or Hornsby varieties that taste like sticky sweet concoctions of alcohol flavored juice boxes.
No. These ciders are as ephemeral as fine wines, expertly crafted with elusive sweetness and redolent of crispy ripe apples.
One of the reasons I like trying new beers so much is that you can buy a nice bottle of beer for under $20 and really taste a superbly made product that is one of the best made in the world. To get a bottle of wine at this level you would need to spend exponentially more. I don’t mind doing this every once in awhile, but I’d still rather pair a ridiculously good beer with my dinner rather than a fine wine, as the flavor of beer is often improved by food. For all of these reasons and more, high end cider is also an excellent choice.
If you have spent some time in Europe or consider yourself an Anglophile, you will be familiar with the cider I am referring to. It’s very crisp and slightly sweet, with an almost fruity wine quality that really showcases the fruit. It tastes wonderful with a piece of cheese, some bread and cured meats.
A curious thing about cider is if you homebrew and want some carbonation, you are going to be making a very dry (read little to no sweetness) cider. When you add sugar to your juice, your yeast will eat every bit it can get. When you add the priming sugar to the fermented juice before bottling, the yeast will eat all that too and leave you will a dry, crisp cider. If you prefer a sweeter drink, you would need to “back”sweeten the cider using either a non fermentable sugar (like lactose) or an artificial sugar (like Splenda). Many store bought brands do the same thing and you are left with a very sweet product that most hardcore beer drinkers won’t touch.
As cider experiences a resurgence in popularity, brewers and trend setting consumers alike have started to take notice. Talented sommeliers such as Frenchman Eric Bordelet have been making some amazing ciders that rival fine wines in their complexity and delicate, layered flavors. Now is the time to become a cider expert before there is a cider bar and gastro cider pub on every corner.
In colonial times, hard cider was actually one of America’s most popular beverages. European settlers brought apple seeds over with them to the new world and cultivated cider with the apple juice. Cider was easy to make and turned the sometimes bacteria filled water, into a safe and delicious beverage. It was considered healthy to drink and socially acceptable to imbibe throughout the day. Our second President, John Adams, even drank cider daily at his breakfast table to settle his stomach.
So this weekend, consider bringing home a nice bottle of Eric Bordelet’s Poire Authentique for about $15, and still have enough cash to take your date out to dinner. Or use your new found cider factoids including John Adams affinity for a breakfast brew to impress your buddies at the March Madness happy hour. Consider bringing cider instead of that overpriced bottle of Pinot to the next dinner party and educate your fellow companions about its dry, fruity flavor profile and sophisticated, European roots. You are now on the cutting edge of all that is fermentation.
Next up: A review of some Bordelet ciders.