This informative column comes to us from Sean Ludford, creator and editor of Bevx.com, an online beverage magazine. He’s a regular contributor to TaylorEason.com. – Taylor
The mention of cider in the U.S. takes most Americans’ thoughts to the cloudy, amber, delicious, but decidedly non-alcoholic beverage found in groceries and farm stands in the fall. Ask for a cider in the U.K. and Ireland, however, and you will be presented with a very different drink. There, cider is most often clear, carbonated, and most definitely possessing alcohol. Many in the states still refer to this variety as hard cider.
To be fair, cider has been growing in popularity in U.S. bars, restaurants, and taverns for the better part of two decades. Its growing popularity has far more to do with a slow and steady word of mouth rather than an assertive marketing blitz. Cider simply appeals to a wide range of palates. It’s a great substitute for a beer-fatigued palate (or for those who don’t enjoy beer… if that can be imagined), ideal for those seeking refreshment, and often a great partner to food – especially pub food. For me, there is no better accompaniment to fish & chips than a good dry cider. The natural acidity and mildly tart flavors cut through fried food while the crisp apple flavors compliment the flaky white fish. It’s a perfect marriage of food and drink.
Cider, as it is most often found, is refreshing and thirst quenching. It often has far more to offer in terms of flavor than the typical light, fizzy lager beers while offering the same easy drinkability and refreshment. But cider, like wine and beer, offers many different styles. The stylistic lines can most often be drawn by nation of origin.
The UK is the world’s largest producer of cider churning out more than 500 million liters per year. (The population of the U.K. is just around 61 million, so you do the math.) The vast majority of U.K.-born cider is pale gold in color, with crisp, and clean apple aromas and flavors delivered with mild carbonation. It is most often served in a pint glass and sometimes served on ice. But, like with all generalizations, there are exceptions.
The U.S. produces cider very much in the U.K. mold while variations are not uncommon. Cider has a long history on the continent, as it was among the most popular tavern drinks in colonial days. Just as in the U.K., the popularity of cider waned as beer grew. Unlike the U.K., in the U.S., cider all but vanished from the commercial scene until the late 1980s.
France produces some of the most intriguing and flavorful ciders on earth (see review below). Many of France’s ciders are made in the Normandy region where they also produce the tremendous, and vastly under appreciated spirit, Calvados. The making of cider is an integral step in producing Calvados and, as one can imagine, the best Calvados producers also make some of the region’s — and the world’s — greatest cider.
Cider from Normandy, like many great ciders, utilizes a blend of many apple varieties, carefully blending semi-sweet varieties with tart and a few sweet types to create a cider with tremendous balance and character. These ciders tend to be the most “wine like”, exhibiting waves of complex flavors offering new sensations with each sip. They are very food friendly, pairing well with everything from steamed mussels to roasted fowl. These ciders are also an excellent choice to accompany your cheese course as the flavors and textures marry well with a variety of cheese styles (far better than most wines).
When entertaining or simply stocking the fridge, I hope that you don’t forget the cider. It’s a wonderfully versatile and uplifting beverage that pleases a wide range of palates. Besides, when was the last time that you attended a dinner, or thrown a dinner party yourself, where cider was enjoyed as the aperitif or served with the cheese course? BevX readers set the trends so be the first and give your friends new cause to rave about the host!