All you have to do is walk outside and inhale a deep draught of the crisp, earthy autumnal air and you’ll know that apple cider is what you should be drinking right now. It should also be what you’re selling, in one of its many forms. The key to making money with cider is to understand the different types.
Cider has been around as long as humans have known about apples. Without preservation, apple juice will naturally ferment into “hard” cider on its own. So cider has been considered an alcoholic beverage for most of its history, going back to medieval times. But refrigeration and pasteurization came to be, so we now have two kinds of cider.
Picking for pints
In most countries, cider is alcoholic and made from apples, sometimes with other fruit (usually pears) added. Although every country with an apple-growing tradition makes some form of hard cider, the most important producers for our market are Great Britain, France and the U.S.
In each of these countries, cider enjoys a history of being the rustic, farmer’s drink of choice. Wine was (is?) for the effete, and grain could always be sold as a food staple rather than brewed into ale. But a surfeit of apples could give a farmer many pints of a safe beverage with which to wash down his meal. Iain Gately, in his book Drink said that in 1721 one village in Massachusetts made enough hard cider to provide “a hundred pints for each family every week throughout the year.”
There are different styles of hard cider, determined mostly by where it’s made. In the west country of England, it is made with specific “cider apples” that can bring a rustic (i.e., rough) note. Further east, more eating apples are used, and the resulting cider is a little more refined—almost wine-like.
Normandy, France, is home to many apples trees and cows, and cider there is made with small cider apples that look a lot like our crabapples. These French ciders are a little rustic also, and go very well with the local cuisine that often includes apples, cream and cheeses.
Most American cider is made from the kinds of apples we eat, and the resulting style is more “appley” and less rustic. Try pairing these ciders on a menu with pork dishes and richer preparations, as the natural fruit acidity—which beer doesn’t have—will complement nicely.
Mixing it up
There are a few cocktails made with hard cider, like the Black Velveteen (stout and cider) or Pernod and Cider, both featured in Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. But that same book is lacking in classic cocktails that use non-alcoholic cider as an ingredient.
Sure, the Jack Rose uses applejack as its predominant spirit, but there aren’t any other classic cocktails listed. Regan does bemoan the absence of applejack behind most bars, and describes it as a remarkably flexible spirit. But that doesn’t help you figure out what to do with all that delicious cider available right now.
So get behind your bar and create some cocktails! One of my standby drinks right now is Bourbon & Cider, with a squeeze of lemon. It’s a modern version of the Stone Fence, a cocktail chronicled by David Wondrich in his book Imbibe. But try some combinations.
For instance, ginger is wonderful with apples, either fresh or in ale form. Just about all of the brown spirits can work here, so use your imagination. French restaurant? How about Calvados and cider with caramel, and call it a Tarte Tatin?
Now if I can come up with that drink in 30 seconds, I bet you’ll be able to come up with a whole menu of new apple drinks in an afternoon.