Sunday, October 10, 2010

5 Things Commonly Misunderstood About Cider

Forgetting sometimes that most people don't live on an apple farm, that they are not making hard cider professionally, or that their only exposure to cider is the "sweet cider" variety available only in the fall (locally fresh, that is), here is some 411:

1) What Americans call "hard cider" is historically and internationally known only as "cider." We have confused the issue by calling sweet cider, "cider", and we call real cider, "hard cider", but the truest definition of cider is simply the fermented apple juice (w/ alcohol.)

2) Cider and wine are the same thing, the base fruit is the only difference. A good cider-maker will also be a good wine-maker, and vica versa. To make a good wine, you must be skilled, knowledgeable and equipped with the right tools. Most important, you must have good grapes. Good wine-grapes make all the difference in wine making, so too: good cider-apples make all the difference in ciders.

3) There are eating apples and then there are cider-apples. 99.99% of Americans could not name a single cider-apple variety because 99.99999% of the apples grown in the U.S. are eating apples. (Even most orchardists are unaware of cider-apples!) Remember this: You can't make good wine from eating-grapes (nor would you would enjoy eating wine-grapes) and you can't make good cider from eating-apples.

4) America was a nation of cider drinkers for 300 years. Cider was drank in greater volume then beer, wine, and hard liquor combined! Ordinary Americans grew apples like the Greeks grow fig trees, one in every yard. We had American apple terroir like the French have regions of wine fame. Everyone drank cider, even children (a watered-down version,) because cider was safer to drink then most water sources.

5) 100 years ago there were over 14,000 varieties of apples grown in the U.S.; today there is less then 1/10th that. Prohibition, subsidized farming, cheep fuel and government subversion teamed up to devastate our apple culture. Prohibition sought to end home-brewing practices like moon-shining, it also made it illegal to craft one's own dinner drink. It's hard to imagine now, but it's impossible to understate the magnitude of this interruption in relation to the age-old tradition of home-brewing which was a major past-time in rural America. The tradition never recovered. Eventually cheep fuel and federally funded highways made it possible to bring subsidized farm produce from one side of the country to the other for seemingly less energy then growing it ourselves! This made prepared and pre-packaged foods like beer incredibly cheep to produce. The progression of "America's Century" essentially resulted in a monumental break in man-kinds ancient connection to our farming and food-preparing past. So too, 10's of thousands of apple varieties were lost.