Wine, beer, and spirits have all had a Renaissance — increasing in popularity and in numbers of small producers — as they bounced back from Prohibition. Cider is the next thing to make a comeback with many small producers hitting shelves around the country and bars in D.C. Even Michelob and Stella Artois have gotten in on the trend by releasing their own ciders, and in Chicago a new bar focusing on hard cider, The Northman, will be opening this spring.
Tim Liu, Bar Manager at Scion Restaurant, who has hosted cider dinners notes about the increasing popularity of cider, "It's similar to the situation about five years ago with craft beer. I think people had to be educated more about styles, and why I am paying more for this beer. Cider has to fight similar battles, where people see it as this sweet, sugary stuff. But there are a lot of people making things like unique barrel-aged ciders, French and Spanish ciders, and even local ciders."
For those who are interested there are a number of compelling, locally-made options to explore. The Serious Cider made by Virginia's Foggy Ridge Ciders came out on top in a recent NY Times taste test for its tannins and tartness, and can be found at Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont. And The Pig serves choices from Albemarle Ciderworks and Bold Rock, where they serve as a perfect pairing with the many pork-based dishes.
Maryland-based Distillery Lane Ciderworks, whose products can be found at Southern Efficiency, uses the craft brewing technique of bottle conditioning its Traditional Dry Sparkling to give it champagne-like characteristics.
This use of craft brewing techniques to put a spin on cider making is becoming common practice among the new wave of cideries. "The same people who were brewing beer are now making cider. For example, the guys who sold Goose Island started Virtue Cider. I take that as a big sign that instead of starting a new brewery, they see a new trend or something new that can grab their attention," says Liu.
Though Virtue hasn't hit the D.C. market yet, look for Wandering Aengus Anthem's Hops, found on tap at Thally. It's dry-hopped for over three weeks, which yields a tinge of bitter, citrusy contrast to a cider's sweetness.
Or try one of Crispin's limited releases, which frequently make use of aging in wine and liquor barrels, and ferment with unusual yeasts like Irish stout and sake. The lightness of cider makes it a perfect vehicle for the nuances imparted by these elements. Crispin is one of the more common cider brands found around D.C. bars, and Meridian Pint is one of the best places to find the limited releases on tap as well as numerous other domestic ciders.
For traditionalists, there are a few places serving ciders from the U.K., France, and Spain. In the U.K., the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has written guidelines for what constitutes "real cider" in an attempt to maintain a disappearing part of its culinary heritage. The guidelines specify that only unpasteurized apple juice be used without the addition of any juice concentrate or flavorings, and specifies the fermentation process and points in time when sweeteners may be added. However, these rules can be a bit draconian, and mean that finding "real" English cider in the U.S. is a challenge. One option, Hogan's, can be found on the bottle list at Churchkey.
Similarly difficult to come by are French cidres, which are made in the northern regions of Normandy and Brittany where the climate is better for apples than grapes. Traditionally served in bowls, it tends to be extra effervescent, with high levels of sugar balanced by tannins and acidity, and are classified by sweetness and percentage of alcohol. The sweetest is the 3% or lower Cidre Doux; the next is Demi-Sec, which ranges from 3-5%, and the driest is Cidre Brut at 5% of above. And similar to Grand Cru in wine, cidre bouché are the highest quality ciders. The most easy to find is the Etienne Dupont at Pizzeria Paradiso, Meridian Pint and Churchkey.
In northern Spain, the cider or sidra is a major part of the drinking culture with dedicated bars called siderías or chigre. Most sidra are flat, but are aerated by pouring or "throwing" it from a height, giving it a slightly fizzy characteristic. Served in small quantities at a time, it's meant to be drunk quickly before it loses its "fizz." The Sarasola at Estadio is a great example of a uniquely musty/funky sidra.
The future looks bright and interesting for cider lovers. Liu explains, "The same curiosity that drew people to try different kinds of beers is what will drive them to try new ciders. In the way that terroir is so important with wine, certain regions of the country will produce different apples, and I think as cider grows you'll be able to see that one is a California style, and this is a Virginia style. That'll be really exciting."
· Bold Rock [Official Site]
· Foggy Ridge Cider [Official Site]