It's time to have a frank conversation about cider. This is fall after all, the season of plenty, the slow recede of warmth. And as always we need a good drink to encourage us. So we're going to talk apples and pears.
First, cider comes in many styles, a few of which are soulless, most of which are incredibly tasty. Second, cider has a rich and complex history: as rich and complex as the drink itself.
The problem is that the ciders most of us have been introduced to are the kind of pandering ciders that want attention for attention's sake, only to leave us feeling a little used by the end of the affair. The good news is that there is so much more available. Especially now, as Asimov put it in the Times last year, in the midst of the "American cider renaissance." The variety keeps expanding outward, and the riches keep coming in.
As for styles, I'll stick to the good stuff: made by farmers using high-acid cultivars that are not pasteurized or heavily processed before fermentation, aka "not from concentrate." As for history, I'll keep it brief, but it's fascinating and helps illuminate what exactly we're talking about when we talk about cider. Because what I mean—what I'm really in love with—are the traditions.
What follows is meant to be a guide to the season's most exciting cider offerings. It's in no way comprehensive, but I hope it helps. Enjoy the bounty; the possibilities are endless.
As with all things New World, our ciders are a mashup of the old styles made fresh, most directly from the English tradition. Range is bone-dry to dessert-sweet. Farnum Hill leads the way with their dry "Dooryard Cider." It's crisp, tannic and herbaceous, and only lightly fizzy.
Farnum Hill "Dooryard Still Cider" - $19
Farnum Hill 'Extra Dry Cider' - $19
Foggy Ridge 'Serious Cider' - $18
Sort of the queen of the old guard, the land of Calvados. Known for their delicate, slightly cheesy and finely balanced ciders. Fairly bubbly. Range is narrow: dry to just off-dry. Christian Drouin farms trees his family planted over 300 years ago that still bear fruit. Over 30 varieties of apples go into the making of a single bottle. And his Poiré (pear cider) is especially grand.
Christian Drouin 'Cidre Pays d'Auge' - $17
Christian Drouin 'Poiré' - $19
Etienne Dupont 'Cidre Bouché' - $14
Etienne Dupont 'Petillant' (non-alcoholic) - $17
Here we start getting funky. As cider-making traveled up the Atlantic coast of Europe, the style got cleaner. The farther south you go, the more likely it is to call up flavors like "barnyard," although the juice here retains an inviting softness (a barely-there sweetness) to balance the earthiness. Manoir du Kinkiz of Cornouaille brings the thunder stateside in this case. Very complex, funky, smoky and pleasantly rich.
Manoir du Kinkiz 'Cournouaille' - $16
Certainly not least. For Western European traditions, it all started in the Basque region. Here we get acetic ciders, piquant to the puckering point but amazingly refreshing. Trabanco "Cosecha Propia" is our newest Basque addition, a little dialed back from the sourness of our past favorites but no less engaging. This one is still (not sparkling), and made from a wide variety of cultivars. Perfect for the adventurous. Beginners beware.
Trabanco 'Cosecha Propia' - $13
Isastegi - $11