THE CASE FOR CIDER
Like many great American cities, Philly is hopping on board the hard cider wagon. The cider markets have ‘tapped’ into the growing, hip number of young, affluent craft beverage enthusiasts. If you haven’t yet joined the hoards of hipsterati gravitating toward drinking their “apple a day,” In Between Rivers is happy to provide a little nudge!
Origins of Cider
“Hard cider” generally refers to a fermented alcoholic beverage derived from apple juice or apple constitute. Cider actually has an impressively long history. Cider became popularized in England in the 11th century, and colonists brought seeds with them to the New World centuries later. North American apple harvesting began with Jamestown settlers in the 1600’s. In the 1700’s the lack of clean or filtered drinking water meant higher reliance upon distilled liquids. Thomas Jefferson even planted apple trees at his Monticello estate and was known for cider-making.
Cut to: today’s markets are shifting toward the craft trend, and many craft drinkers appreciate hard cider for it’s old-world style and innovative taste.
Cider vs Beer
The popularity of cider amongst beer drinkers is undeniably growing. It’s not surprising, considering beer bigwigs like MillerCoors, Heineken, and Anheuser-Busch have all branched out into the cider market.
Interestingly enough, many states do not distinguish hard cider as it’s own entity. In PA for instance, cider is regulated as beer. PA cideries have to be very cognizant of what regulations and laws to follow regarding the sale of distribution of wine vs. beer. Depending on whether a state regulates cider as beer or wine, the allotted proof levels must align with that classification. Ciders regulated as beer must abide by the ABV% limits for beer. This is why many ciders are between 5-7% ABV.
However, cider is NOT beer. For one, cider is fermented - not brewed. The alcohol in cider is produced when yeast begins to break down sugars, a process called fermentation. In this way it’s typically more similar to the winemaking process.
So if you love craft beers but prefer something bubbly, crisp, and refreshing, hard cider can be your new drink of choice!
Cider vs Wine
Common ciders are made from culinary or crab apples, and just like wine come in a variety of regional styles. Also similar to wine, hard cider demonstrates a broad range of aromas and flavors. Cider can be dry, sweet, crisp, fruity, low alcohol, high alcohol, and anything in between!
English ciders are commonly made from bittersweet and bittersharp apple varieties. This means they can be mildly acidic but high in tannin (the thing that provides ‘body’ to fermented beverages), or they can be highly acidic and low in tannin. English ciders can also be barrel-soaked to give a funky, earthy taste. There are even English ciders with distinct bacon flavors!
Meanwhile, French ciders tend to be sweeter, subtler, less acidic, and lower in alcohol - think champagne! The cider is made naturally sweeter by stopping fermentation before a specific level of dryness is reached. Spanish-style ciders are known to be more tart, and are typically still as opposed to sparkling.
What you’re probably most familiar with would be New England ciders. These have a sharp, bold apple taste, may be barrel-aged, and are often sweetened with brown sugar, molasses, or honey.
As more and more cideries are experimenting with their cider-making processes, the trend is leaning toward treating cider more like wine. Wine typically has anywhere from 12-18% ABV and, like cider, begins with fruit juice or pressed fruits. When cider is pressed from apples, you get a distinctly higher-proof beverage. Hard ciders are even being made with other fruits like peach, pear, and apricot!
An Apple a Day
Cider is becoming a popular choice for health-conscious boozehounds as well! For those suffering from gluten allergies or celiac disease, cider is a delicious alternative. ACE, Crispin, and Magners each offer gluten-free ciders. Since cider is made from apples, most ciders are naturally gluten-free. And frankly, they taste a lot better than most gluten-free beers. Of course, as is the case with any drink, be sure to check the label!
Calorie counters can rejoice for cider too! Mandy hard ciders have a calorie count on par or only slightly higher than lite beer. Additionally, the level of antioxidants in cider are around the same as red wine, a drink universally regarded as having health benefits.
Anticipated industry growth has hip cities all over the country following suit. PA ‘s funky liquor laws allow in-state beer manufacturer's (and therefore cider) to self-distribute directly to retail. Whereas out-of-state manufacturers must enter into exclusive distribution agreements with beer wholesalers.
There are a number of places around Philly where cider fans can find fresh, local ciders. Local cideries like Frecon Farms and Ploughman Cider have been featured at many local bars and restaurants, garnering recognition from the Philly Farm and Food Festival in March. Check out these places and more!
What makes Philly’s growing craft cider movement so great is Philadelphia itself - a sprawling city surrounded by farms offers a uniquely fresh cider experience.
So how bout them apples?