Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cider, The Underrated Alcohol

Since it's fall again--The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end--it is apple season, which means cider. Sure, there is sweet, fresh cider, apple juice's rustic cousin, but we want to talk about cider, the lightly alcoholic fermented kind.*

In the UK, there is an ages old love of the stuff. Also in Normandy, where the climate doesn't allow grape-growing, so the apple is the source of the region's alcohol and the farmers take as much pride in their cider (although the French insist on calling it "cidre") as the Burgundians take in their wine. Supposedly, every American homestead had an orchard back in the day; every fall, they'd bake up a bunch of pies and make cider with the rest. The cider from 50 trees was barely enough to last the average family through the year. It was, apparently, the 19th century's Coke, and the Amish still drink it like that, to tell from Lehman's selection of cider-making hardware.

Last fall, after the woman of our dreams rejected us, we put out the flames with a truck load of cider, an exercise we rationalized as an in-depth taste test. (Sublimation, n. The refocusing of psychic energy, which in Freud's theory was finite, away from negative outlets to more positive outlets.) Magners, mass-produced in Ireland, where they drink it over ice, is our favorite. Strongbow, an English import from the same conglomerated corporate overlord, is drier but has less apple flavor; it is the most beer-like cider we know. Woodchuck, from Vermont, has the most pronounced apple taste, and their Granny Smith varietal is particularly good, although overall we find their brew too sweet. Cider Jack is perfectly serviceable for getting undergrads drunk but we can't recommend it beyond that, but you can tell that right away by the prominence of the raspberry flavored swill on their website.

A week or two back, we found a lone bottle of French cider (ahem, cidre) at Trader Joe's, carbonated in the bottle champagne style, with the lees of the second fermentation still in the bottle. If we had been more patient and let the bottle stand long enough to settle the lees after getting it home, we suspect this would have been spectacular. As it was, it was intense and rustic but overshadowed by a too-strong yeastiness.

*There is also a distilled form, variously called hard cider, apple jack, or apple brandy. Calvados is a famous example. George Washington was supposedly a huge fan of Laird's, and back in his day, the standard method of distilling the stuff was to bury a cask in a snowbank for the winter, digging it up periodically to scoop out the ice on sunny days and then re-burying it. After a hard winter, the remaining liquor was 80 proof come spring. Simply magical.

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