Hard Cider House Rules

Report hails drink's comeback, calls it to alcohol without the "folderol" of wine

CHICAGO -- Hard cider, which has been popular in America for centuries but has been overshadowed by beer, is now making a comeback, reported the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

Hard cider sales soared 50% to $71.5 million in the past year, according to the report, citing Chicago market research firm SymphonyIRI Group. The Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams, has entered the market with its Angry Orchard Cider. Anheuser-Busch has launched a low-calorie version called Michelob ULTRA Light Cider. Also, Heineken USA is now importing Strongbow Cider.

Local craft breweries from Michigan to New York to Washington are putting their own spins of hard ciders, said the report.

Most hard cider has 5% to 6% alcohol, about the same as many beers, and half that of most wines. It ranges from 120 calories per 12-ounce bottle, not unlike many light beers, to 180, like many regular beers.

Cider-makers take pains to use a complex variety of apples in their quaff--sweet eating apples like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Gala as well as bittersweet apples such as Michelin, Binet Rouge, Medaille d'or. Some growers are even planting crabapples again, the report said. So the cider, like wine, can range from light and tart to heavy and sweet. Some are still, others are fizzy, even sparkling.

A good, dry hard cider tastes clean, fresh, crisp, refreshing--unencumbered by the "folderol" that comes with wine, the report added. It embraces the same complexities of fruit, acid and tannin as wine. But nobody's going to tell you it fades on the middle palate.

Cider-makers suggest approaching hard cider like white wine--a lean, crisp sauvignon blanc, for example.

In England, where hard cider never lost its popularity (they simply call it cider), chefs stage multi-course dinners with a different cider for each course. The lightest, driest ciders are aperitifs, even with sushi; fuller, heavier ciders go with seafood or smoked sausage soup; sweeter ones with desserts such as apple pie.

Fans say ciders stand up to spicy Indian, Chinese and Mexican fare as well. They go with the cheese course, with gouda, bleu, Emmenthaler.

In cooking, they are used in place of wine or beer in cider-poached mussels, pork stews, even cider-laced doughnuts.

Serious fans use them in cocktails, with gin and ginger in a Ginger Crisp, with light rum and pineapple juice in a Caribbean Crisp.

Another hard cider product gaining popularity is an improbable drink called ice cider. On picturesque Prince Edward County Island in Lake Erie, growers leave Russet, Ida Red and Northern Spy apples on the trees long after the usual September/October picking. In January, when they are frozen solid, with juices and acids concentrated and water trapped in the ice, they are picked, pressed under tremendous force and fermented. The result is an incredibly opulent, honeyed dessert cider of 6.5% alcohol that goes superbly with aged cheese, foie gras and apple upside-down cake, said the report.