A drink more American than beer?

The US loved cider back when John Adams drank a tankard a day, but the fermented apple drink fell from favour. Now, cider is back – and no longer seen as beer’s cloying stepchild.

Cider’s roots in the United States stretch back to the early days of British colonisation, and the pages of American history are littered with anecdotes about everyone from farmers to politicians drinking fermented apple juice by the gallon.  The second US president John Adams, for example, reportedly drank a tankard every morning. Those apple trees Johnny Appleseed grew? They were for drinking, not eating. Sometimes cider even was used as currency.

Yet in the 19th Century, quality American cider all but disappeared, thanks to the combination of a rising temperance movement, a massive influx of beer-brewing Germans, and urbanisation, which made brew-ready facilities easier to come by than open cider fields. Until recently, if you were lucky enough to find a bar serving decent cider in the US, it probably came from England or France.

But in the last few years, artisanal cider makers have begun to sprout up across the US, helping to shed the drink’s image as the cloying stepchild of beer.

East Coast
When the Vermont Hard Cider Company started out in Proctorsville in 1990, very few cider producers existed. Today, the company’s Woodchuck cider is one of the most widely-found ciders on the market, with common variations that cater to broad palates and a variety of very good seasonal and limited edition ciders, including their private reserve Barrel Select and Belgian White.

But as popular as Woodchuck has been, the company’s greatest achievement has been paving the way for the country’s other cider producers and helping the Green Mountain State have a bigger hand in the cider renaissance than any other.

Another quality Vermont cidery, the Eden Ice Cider Company in Newport produces two aperitif ciders and three complex ice ciders, the latter of which are made by fermenting fresh frozen apple juice. The Heirloom Blend ice cider is well balanced, with just the right amount of sweetness and acidity.

Eden is available at several tasting rooms throughout Vermont, including Burlington’s East Shore Vineyard tasting bar at Shelburne Vineyard, a 10-acre sustainable farm and vineyard. Shelburne also bottles a variety of wines made from nine types of grapes, including riesling and marquette.  

New York state might be second to Washington in terms of apple production, but is second to none when it comes to the quality and quantity of craft cider producers. The Hudson Valley, the heart of New York’s “apple belt”, now has a burgeoning cider alliance that has grown from six to 10 members since 2013. Hicks Orchard, which became the first orchard in the state to allow customers to pick their own fruit in 1905, is home to the Slyboro Ciderhouse, which produces still, sparkling and ice ciders, including the crisp, slightly spicy Old Sin.

Also in the Hudson Valley, Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery likes to get creative with its cider, blending its flagship Doc’s Draft Apple Cider with a variety of other ingredients, such as pears, pumpkins and hops. In the warmer months, drink on Warwick Valley’s patio overlooking the orchards, and in winter, relax inside the barn’s tasting room, complete with wood-burning stoves.

Just further south in New York City is Tertulia, an Asturian cider house in the West Village, where servers dish out tapas and pour Spanish sidra the traditional way – from over their heads.

Michigan is the king of Midwest apples, producing more than any other state in the region, and Almar Orchards in Flushing is the among the state’s best cider producers. From the two-ingredient JK’s Scrumpy Orchard Gate Gold, which uses nothing but apple juice and yeast, to the lightly spiced JK’s Cuvée Winterruption, which adds syrup from the farm’s organic maple trees, Almar makes its ciders using only organic ingredients grown onsite. But if you’re prepared to make the 80-mile trip northwest from Detroit, beware – owner Jim Koan said that “when [people] call for directions we tell them to wear their boots, because this is a working farm, not a tourist attraction”. The 500-acre farm allows visitors plenty of time to stroll around the meadows and orchards before sampling cider at the small tasting bar inside Almar’s farm market and bakery.

From Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, the AeppelTreow Winery and Distillery is worth the 40-mile trip southwest to the town of Burlington. After exploring the neighbouring Brightonwood Orchard – which is home to more than 200 varieties of apples, including the wealthy, the winter banana and other rare heirloom apples – visitors can pop into AeppelTreow’s tasting room for free samples of up to five beverages, including wine, cider and whiskies made onsite. Try the Sparrow Spiced Cider, a semi-dry, slightly bubbly blend of heirloom and modern apples with a generous mix of cinnamon, allspice and cardamom.

Pacific Northwest
With their abundance of apples and shared affinity for artisanal products, it’s no surprise that Oregon and Washington produce some of the country’s most innovative and aggressive ciders. Salem, Oregon’s Wandering Aengus Ciderworks produces some of the region’s strongest, including the mildly tart Golden Russet spring varietal, which is a whopping 9.8% alcohol. On the last Friday of every month (or by appointment), visitors can sample up to eight products at the onsite tasting room.

About 50 miles north in Portland, Bushwhacker Cider offers more than 100 different bottles from all over the country, as well as imported bottles from as far as Lithuania and New Zealand. It also produces a rotating cast of house ciders, including some aged in gin and rum barrels.

Tieton Ciderworks in Washington’s famed Yakima Valley produces cider as tasty and as varied as anywhere in the nation. With nearly a dozen varieties – everything from Bourbon barrel aged to dry-hopped – this award-winning producer hosts regular tasting events throughout Washington and along the US west coast.