By Carlynn Woolsey, Foodable Contributor
Hard cider has a storied history in America that dates back to the days of our earliest settlers. It was the drink of choice for the Pilgrims since water was full of bacteria and potentially fatal, and cider was cheaper to produce than either beer or wine. By the turn of the 19th century, backyards were littered with cider apple trees, waiting to be turned into homemade hard cider. Over time, its popularity waned in part due to prohibition and the arrival of foreign brewing practices on our shores, but today hard cider is making a comeback. You may not have your own cider apple tree, but in the coming months, it will be difficult not to find a bar or a restaurant serving up hard cider on its own or mixed into a cocktail.
Earlier in 2013, IBISWorld reported that hard cider sales have grown by an average of 27.5% annually over the last 5 years. With big name brewers like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken entering the cider game, these numbers are expected to continue to rise. Bar owners and restaurateurs are taking note as well, with cider-centric locales popping up across the nation. One example is Bushwhacker Cider out of Portland, OR, where over 250 unique varieties of the beverage are up for grabs.
Cider apple crops are easily sustained, with trees that will stand tall in inclement weather and yield fruit for years on end. As farmers begin to diversify crops and producers become more versed in the arena of fermentation and aging, the possibilities for cider variations have increased. This has lead to a movement away from over-carbonated, over-sweetened commercial hard ciders of the past, to more refined local flavors.
Hard cider is best served at room temperature, as the cold will bring out more sour notes – unless you are a fan of those, of course. For champagne drinkers and proponents of acidic white wines, hard cider is a viable beverage alternative. The fact that it is less filling than beer makes it appealing to those who typically prefer to order a brew, too – especially when a meal is involved. Given the gamut of styles now available, hard cider pairs well with a wide range of foods, including cheese, shellfish and red meat.
Another positive for “alcoholic apple juice” is the perception that it is healthier than other behind-the-bar options – it boasts a fruit base after all. Because hard cider is also naturally gluten-free, keeping it in stock allows beverage directors to capitalize on another important trend in the food and beverage industry.
Where mixologists are concerned, hard cider is becoming an important ingredient on account of its high acidic content. It can balance bitterness in a cocktail or be the bubbly backdrop to a punch or sangria. Easily sourced and inexpensive to boot, hard cider is an ideal complement to any bar.
If you want to try your hand at mixing up a hard cider cocktail at home, check out this recipe for Spiced Hard Cider Sangria:
Ingredients (Serves 6)
2 Oranges, Thinly Sliced
2 Cinnamon Sticks
4 Star Anise
4 Whole Cloves
2 Cups Apple Juice or Apple Cider
½ Cup Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice
½ Cup Orange Liqueur
1 22-Ounce Bottle Hard Apple Cider
Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher. To serve, pour over ice.