Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New York Big Apple

  New York is the second leading apple producer in the country with about 50,000 acres of commercial apple farms.  Despite having the perfect growing conditions for cider apples (an entirely different crop to eating apples), New York has about 100 bearing acres (1/500th) devoted to this different "little" apple.  With the emergence of artisan cider, growers of true cider-apples had gained a voice in the legislative discussion defining what is "cider," no longer was it hydrated apple concentrate in a beer-bottle.  But now, with the acknowledgement of the market (artisan cider sales are booming,) the majority of big apple farms are looking to cider as an another outlet for their fruit.  This is called "value-added" production, it amounts to retrofitting a specific product (in this case cider) to fit what the farmer already produces (in this case eating apples.) 
   Value added cider production is very threatening to the quality of cider in New York because it puts an entire career- an entire art form- under the management of people who are devoted to something different: the management of a farm.  And that's not assuming that value-added cider producers are growing the wrong apples in the first place.  Yet for marketing's sake, those value-added cider makers will claim to be career artisans of the craft and make no mention of the fact they are only now on board.  Big cider is unscrupulous with their claims, but the value-added cider maker is not much different.  Legislators and customers have a difficult time distinguishing from the bottle, one can only know by taste.  Hence, the voice of true cider is returning to bad odds and although artisans may be squeezed out of the spot light by big-farm and business opportunists, we can at least maintain a alternative choice for the customer.  Unfortunately legislators, who are in the midst of deciding the regulatory definition of cider as we speak, no longer can hear the pleas from true artisans, the very people who got this ball rolling. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

2 ciders

   Customers often have an opinion about cider but rarely do they understand that there are two very different types of cider made in America.  For the sake of clarity, let's refer to the two ciders as "True" cider and "Hard" cider.  Both are alcoholic, so don't think I'm talking about the distinction between sweet cider (really "apple juice") and fermented cider.
   OK.  Originally all cider was "True" cider but a distinction emerged out of post-Prohibition regulation which misguided consumers into thinking cider was like a beer.  True cider is essentially a wine, it is nothing like a beer, but "Hard" cider does at least have some beer similarities and thus the misconception arose. 

   So here's a run down on the differences...
   -True ciders are usually "farm ciders", which means they are made in a barn or cave, whereas Hard ciders are usually made in building referred to as kitchens (essentially factories similar to a brewery.) 
   -Like beer, Hard ciders are "about the recipe", whereas, like wine, True ciders are "about the land and season." 
   -True cider is often a blend of apples grown on one farm, whereas Hard ciders utilize apples (and usually concentrate) from all over the world, they are a blend similar in homogenization to a McDonalds hamburger and no distinct flavor or terroir is discernible.  And where True ciders seeks to celebrate the land and the season, Hard ciders seeks to celebrate the person making beverage (again, like Beer.  Beer is made from multiple ingredients from all over the world, no terroir is discernible except from the "chef".  In other words, it's about the beer-maker's skill.) 
   -True ciders are made from 100% whole apples (not concentrate) with no added sugar, artificial carbonation, water or preservatives. Hard ciders tend to use all of the above.  Unfortunately many farm-based ciders creep toward Hard cider when they become commercially licensed.  For instance, they will add sulfite or small amounts of sugar, but they retain mostly True cider properties.
   -Hard ciders are watered down to conform to regulation so that they are under 7% alcohol (thus sold along side beer.) 
   -Hard ciders are always forced carbonated with CO2 gas to give it flavorless carbonation, True ciders are carbonated naturally with alive yeasts which produce lees and added character. 
   -True ciders are rarely filtered and True ciders are often aged for a minimum 6 months.  Hard ciders are "drinkable" and sold in less then 6 weeks. 
   -Less then 1/1000th the cider made in America is True cider.

  In the end, Hard cider mimics beer in it's factory-like production and eradication of farm qualities, while True cider is like a true wine in that it's about the land and the season.  I don't say this because I hate Hard cider, or beer, or for any reason except for the fact that it is absolutely true and very few people know about it.  So if you say you don't like cider, you need to try the diversity of at least 30 True ciders before you can make that judgement. At the very least, you will emerge knowing how different True cider is from Hard cider.