American cidermakers are brewing that liquid gold again. —INGRAIN, Summer 2018
Only recently have apple varieties been bred and cultivated primarily for eating raw or using in cooking. The tart, highly tannic varieties of wild and cultivated apples that make excellent cider have been used to make cider since ancient Roman times, possibly earlier. European immigrants brought cidermaking essentials on their overseas voyages to America (the Mayflower’s cargo list included a cider press). Apples were easier to grow than the grains required for brewing and many forms of distilling. Cider also had a beneficial side effect: the alcohol helped purify unsafe drinking water.
Soon, German and British immigrants in New England and the Midwest were making what amounted to liquid gold. Cider was used for bartering and even by some tenant farmers to pay rent. An American cottage cidermaking industry was born.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the availability of American-brewed and imported beer and other beverages proved to be stiff competition for cider. Prohibition was the final insurmountable struggle for mom-and-pop cidermakers. Most farmhouse-style cider makers in the United States (and later, the apple varieties cultivated for cidermaking) disappeared. Sweet, one-dimensional ciders more akin to fermented apple juice became the standard offering that most Americans came to know as “hard cider.” It was up to the great cider regions of France, England, and Spain to keep the craft of true farmhouse-style cidermaking alive.
The 21st century has welcomed a new era of cidermakers in America. In apple-producing states like Michigan, cidermakers are making ciders from a wide variety of local fruit once again, season by season.
Get the full cider lowdown in Up Your Cocktail Game.
Ready for some cider recommendations? Check out the Beginner's Guide.