When the first English settlers came to what would later become the United States, they had an apple problem. This problem wasn’t one that could be solved by a trip to the Apple store. No, this was a sourer issue.
The apples abundant on the trees were actually crabapples. Undoubtedly, the hungry settlers had to learn the hard way that they were entirely inedible. But as it turns out, the most inedible, mouth-puckeringly bitter apples make the best apple cider, so the settlers started grafting trees and planting orchards just to make the drink. Thus began the story of American cider.
Cider is the Britney Spears of alcoholic drinks: It started out strong and beloved, had a rough, tumultuous period where it all but disappeared, and is coming back with a surprising energy and vengeance. In cider’s case, its downfall came partly from temperance movements in the 19th century and partly from urbanization, among other things. But since the commodification of apples in the ’90s, cider is coming back hard. A recent talk at the Lower East Side restaurant and cider bar Wassail by pomologist John Bunker explained the intricacies of cider. “At its best, it’s just apples,” said the lifelong apple expert. In the actual apple, you want more bitterness and lower acidity for better cider.
Today, there isn’t really a singular American cider style, but rather a variety of different methods. In honor of the birth of our country, we asked Wassail co-owner Jennifer Lim to give us some of the best American cider recommendations for a tastier Fourth of July.
Poverty Lane Orchards, where Farnum Hill apples are grown, is located in New Hampshire. Farnum Hill was started to revive the cider making tradition in the United States and is trying to capture language to describe ciders the same way people describe wine.
Right before the drink touches your lips, you’ll smell it—a bright, fruity aroma. As for the taste, the cider has hints of peach, dried fruits, pineapple, and even some wood from the barrel-fermenting process. It’s pairs well with fish, specifically grilled rainbow trout.
Farnum Hill is available at various wine and liquor stores in New York, and available to order online.
Hudson Valley Farmhouse
Located in the charming Hudson Valley, Hudson Valley Farmhouse ciders are different from batch to batch. Elizabeth Ryan produces the cider, and is one of the original GrowNYC Greenmarket farmers.
Hudson Valley Farmhouse uses an organic process. The ciders are unfiltered, making them a good first cider since the apple taste is still present.
These ciders are available at many GrowNYC Greenmarkets around town on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They are also available at many bars and restaurants in New York City and the Hudson Valley. Additionally, Wassail carries a cider by Hudson Valley that was specifically made for the restaurant.
Aaron Burr Cider
The Aaron Burr Cidery is the first to produce and license cider made from foraged apples. Aaron Burr has a network of people in the community who provide it with apples that are otherwise useless. It is also in the process of getting its own orchard.
Due to the variability of apples—and depending on the terroir—these ciders have limited availability.
Overall, the ciders have a subtler taste, with hints of berries, and a well-rounded, complex flavor. They pair well with meat dishes, but can also be paired with mushrooms. Aaron Burr is available through distributors found on its website.
Millstone has been operating out of Maryland for the past three or four years, by a father-son team. The father comes from a wine background, the son from a marketing and business background. They look at cider from a different perspective, adding different ingredients and playing around with different blends. Typically, their ciders are made from a blend of 33 different varietal apples.
The flavors can range from dry to funky to tart, and have hints of oak and vanilla from the barrel aging. This flavor pairs well with grilled chicken or pork. Millstone is available at various wine and liquor stores and restaurants.