During Colonial times, it is said, every American had a cask or two of hard cider in their cellar. And no wonder: Good hard cider is a beautiful thing. It's crisp and refreshing on its own, and a versatile partner with food and desserts.
We were late to the party on the comeback of hard cider in New York State (the nation's No. 2 producer of apples) because we thought hard cider was sort of a spiked, amped-up version of traditional sweet cider. As usual, we were we wrong.
Some hard ciders are bone dry and some are so fruit-forward they're like a party in your mouth. Some are still, some are bubbly and there's even a super-sweet version called ice cider. Some ciders are combined with fruit or fruit juice (think cherries, raspberries and blueberries) to take them in another direction. These are delightful chilled, or even chilled and poured over ice, if it's hot out.
So give our local and regional hard ciders a try. They're as distinct as the people who produce them. And they could become the apple of your eye.
SIX TO TRY:
1911 Spirits: You gotta love that Beak & Skiff introduced a hard cider six-pack. This gives 1911 a presence on store shelves right next to the Redd's, Johnny Appleseed and other mass-produced ciders made with apples from who knows where.
1911 Spirits ciders are available in five flavors: original, raspberry, blueberry, light and crisp and sweet apple. The six-packs, for now at least, are available only in the original. Note: It took us several stops, but we found the six-packs at Nice 'n' Easy.
Harvest Moon Cidery: Ciders from this farm winery at Critz Farms, south of Cazenovia, are made in small batches from apples grown and pressed on the farm, using an antique cider press. Harvest Moon ciders were our first experience with hard ciders. Eureka! We're especially fond of the Rippleton Original, a dry, Champagne-style cider, the Heritage Hops Hard Cider (made with hops grown in Madison County, which gives it slightly "hoppy" aroma and flavor) and the Cherry Moon hard cider, which is blended with tart cherry juice.
Eve's Cidery: Eve's is a small, family-run orchard and cidery in Van Etten, in the Finger Lakes. The farm doesn't have a tasting room. We happened on their stand at the Ithaca Farmers Market one Saturday in October and gladly enjoyed a tasting (at 10 a.m., no less). We especially enjoyed the 2013 Northern Spy, a clean, dry, sparkling cider made with one of our favorite pie apples. The young man doing the pouring recommended serving this cider with spicy Thai or Vietnamese food. It also would work well on the Thanksgiving table.
Bellwether: Bellwether is one of the leaders of the hard cider revival. They've been making hard cider near Trumansburg (Cayuga Lake West) since 1999 using many varieties of New York State apples. Ciders range from dry to semi-sweet, and include sparkling and still varieties. I regret we came home with only one bottle of the original, which is crisp and refreshing and said to pair well with grilled meats, chicken, fish and spicy foods. So we'll have to get back there this winter. The tasting room is open year-round.
Steampunk: Can a cider be called a joy? Or killer? We enjoyed our first taste of Steampunk cider, made by Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, on a visit to the Niagara Wine Trail. It's bold and tangy and golden -- and my favorite hard cider, to date.
When we spotted Steampunk on the shelves at Ryan's Wine and Spirits in Canandaigua recently, we had to bring some more home.