Apple cider is as American as, well, apple pie. It’s been part of our culture since European settlers brought apple seeds across the pond just to brew the boozy beverage, back when the fruit itself was deemed too bitter to enjoy on its own. This trend caught on, especially in New England and the Northwest where apple harvesting thrives. Hundreds of apple varieties are available to today’s cideries, who use them to make increasingly sophisticated ciders with diverse flavor profiles.
“For a long time, some of the only ciders that were readily available were the syrupy sweet ciders that large producers were making from apple concentrate,” explains Meg Garry, cider pub manager at Citizen Cider in Vermont. “We’re really lucky to be in a time where there are a lot of different, high-quality ciders to try and to choose from.”
Citizen Cider sits in good company in the Green Mountain State, home to dozens of apple orchards and some of the best ciders in the world. It’s no surprise that the state’s official fruit is the apple. “If you’re driving through Vermont, you’d be hard-pressed not to stumble upon an orchard, whether you’re looking for one or not,” says Garry. “Cider is—at its core—an agricultural product itself and starting with great fruit allows us to make great ciders.”
But you don’t have to be on the East Coast to enjoy a delicious local brew this time of year. Northwest locals have plenty of stellar options to choose from—just refer to the Northwest Cider Association, which represents almost a hundred cideries in the area.
“Washington accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the national apple production,” explains Andrew Byers, lead cidermaker at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, Washington. “This region is best set to respond to the growing demand for cider.”
And demand is definitely growing, as Byers and Garry agree. When Byers started making hard cider in 2006, most people didn’t know anything about the fermented version of the drink. Within the last 14 years, he’s watched more cider houses popping up around Finnriver, and a wider demographic of consumers showing up to get their fill.
“Cider as a category has been growing steadily since 2012,” Byers says. And it’s no longer just the sweet stuff college kids buy on grocery store shelves; its flavors have evolved for every palate. “In addition to contemporary American-style cider made from dessert fruit or non-cider fruit,” Byers says, “We are also blessed with a growing crop of bitter sweets and bitter sharps to make profound and complicated ciders that truly call to the connoisseur.”
With more complex flavors comes more options for pairings. “Cider makes an incredible food companion,” says Garry. “Part of educating our guests about cider is showing them all of the different ways that cider can be enjoyed with food, whether that’s cooking with cider or having a cider with your meal.”
SEATTLE CIDER COMPANY’S DRY HARD CIDER + CYPRESS GROVE LAMB CHOPPER
About the cheese: The only sheep’s milk cheese produced by goat dairy Cypress Grove, this gouda-style wheel evokes a mildly sweet flavor with caramel undertones and a nutty richness.
Why this pairing works: Self-described as “one of the driest on the market,” this cider has refreshing tart flavors that contrast perfectly with the subtly sweet and nutty flavors of LambChopper. Add a slice of cured meat to elevate the complexity of flavors.
FINNRIVER SOLACE CIDER + CHEVOO SMOKED SALT & ROSEMARY GOAT CHEESE
About the cheese: Chevoo’s velvety goat cheese is blended with smoked sea salt crystals and fresh black pepper and soaked in rosemary-infused extra-virgin olive oil for a delicately indulgent flavor.
Why this pairing works: This still cider is reminiscent of a fruity Riesling, with a slight acidity that matches the fresh chèvre—one of Byers’ go-tos. “I eat a lot of goat cheese,” he says. “Bright ciders with herbed chèvre is just perfect.”
Pairings For All
CITIZEN CIDER’S NON-ALCOHOLIC SOUR CHERRY APPLE SPARKLING CIDER + BEEMSTER CLASSIC
About the cheese: After aging this classic cow’s milk cheese for 18 months, Beemster’s original wheel develops its distinct caramel coloring, firm crystallized texture, and sharp buttery notes that offer a smooth and savory experience.
Why this pairing works: In addition to their boozy options, Citizen also offers two “All Times” varieties of non-alcoholic sparkling ciders for everyone to enjoy. When you’re looking for something sweet to share, their juice pairs deliciously with the salty flavors of this iconic Dutch wedge.
COLD HOLLOW CIDER MILL’S FRESH APPLE CIDER + JASPER HILL FARM CLOTHBOUND CHEDDAR
About the cheese: This award-winning Cabot Creamery and Jasper Hill Farm collaboration is made with pasteurized cow’s milk and aged for over nine months in a bandage that maintains its delicate moisture. The result is a wheel with a tangy nuttiness and crumbly texture that balances traditional autumn flavors with ease.
Why this pairing works: You didn’t think we’d exclude the fresh cider of our childhoods, did you? This all-American pairing fuels our nostalgia with a simple-yet-indulgent match of fresh Vermont apples with a sharp and nutty cheddar.