The crush is on as planning begins for the feast that celebrates the perennial, quintessentially American observance of our national expression of gratitude: Thanksgiving. The menu lineup of turkey, trimmings, and pastries decking out the holiday table beckon refreshing beverages to round out the spread. The Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect time to fall into the world of hard cider. For Colonial Americans and westward settlers who produced and consumed it by the barrelful, cider was in its heyday until the early twentieth century when its popularity laid fallow. Many cider apple orchards were uprooted at the beginning of prohibition, putting a virtual cork in hard cider production.
These days, hard cider is an old product enjoying new-found revival. The budding hard cider industry is experiencing a huge comeback with new craft producers dotting the adult beverage landscape. According to the Chicago based research firm IRI, cider sales rose 75.4% from 2013-2014 and cider production volume tripled between 2011-2013.
A bottle of Scrumpy: the name is said to have derived from the related old English word “scrumpling” which describes a small apple. Scrumpy is fermented to be “rough” or dry. Characteristically a still, cloudy, strong cider offering wonderful apple aroma with a touch of tartness, Scrumpy pairs well with crisp-skinned poultry, soft cheeses, and roasted vegetables.
Part of hard cider's newly reclaimed appeal lies in providing an alcoholic beverage option for those adopting a gluten-free, low-carb, and celiac aware lifestyle since cider is produced with apples, not with barley or wheat found in beer.
A visit to Distillery Lane Ciderworks nestled in the far-eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Jefferson, Maryland, on an unseasonably warm, breezy fall morning is akin to a stroll through an apple curio novelty exhibit. The sweet, musty fragrance of apples perfumes the air among the rows of mature apple trees, their limbs heavy with harvest fruit bearing names like Summer Rambo, Blue Pearmain, Splendour, Pixie Crunch, Goldrush, Snowsweet, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Liberty. The varieties are vintage, rare, peculiar heirloom fruit suited to their specific and unique purpose: eating apples, cooking apples, and those cultivated for cider making.
“Blue Pearmain” variety
The cider apples grown here ripen from August to November and are then harvested to “sweat” or sit for at least three weeks to fully ripen and develop their ultimate sugar concentration. Then the apples are pressed into juice and special yeasts are added for the fermentation period of two to six weeks, ultimately producing a cider with an alcohol content of about 7%.
The variety of cider apples and aging and fermentation techniques is at the core of the vast range of cider taste profiles. From still or sparkling, clear or cloudy, sweet or dry, cider makers ferment and age juice in oak distillery barrels, stainless steel vats, and even clay jugs used in cider-making antiquity to create distinct flavor and texture characteristics.
Food friendly cider, the most authentic American beverage, can be paired and sampled with most of the various dishes that make up a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Thankfully there is an abundance of hard cider styles, flavors, and varieties to choose from this season.
In response to cider’s rising popularity, The United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) introduced The Cider Certification Program and has created a new category of beverage steward known as the Pommelier. This first ever cider accreditation program is designed for distributors, servers and others who are interested in becoming trained experts on all things cider. - Binwise
The cider sipper’s prayer
The “Roxbury Russet” variety, thought to be the oldest named apple variety in the United States. It was originally grown from a seed planted in Roxbury, Massachusetts in the early 1600s.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.