Cider has always held an important place in the traditional rural American kitchen. In colonial days when clean water was not always guaranteed, nearly every pantry was stocked with a few barrels of hard cider.
Sonoma County is home to some of the worlds best apples. During the last century untold acres of orchards were uprooted in order to make way for the more lucrative grape harvest. Today, with the market for high-end ciders blossoming to life, apple orchards in the area are once again a much-prized resource.
Though most top shelf cider must still be found at cider houses or restaurants, decent ciders are at last beginning to appear on the shelves of some of the larger grocery outlets. Until quite recently the bulk of the nationally distributed ciders were relatively abominable affairs, largely made with apple concentrate imported from China, the world’s largest apple producer, with added sugar used in order to boost the alcohol content during fermentation.
Today, the modern American craft-brewing movement that began with beer has now moved to cider. This has engendered a wealth of wonderful craft ciders that offer a complex array of bright fruit notes and nuances. These dry and subtle ciders are particularly suitable to pair with salty and smoky foods making them always welcome at a barbecue.
One example of top-flight west coast cider is Sebastopol’s Devoto Gardens. The company produces Apple Sauced, a single-varietal cider made with dry-farmed Gravenstein apples. Using champagne yeast, it is quick-fermented to preserve the zesty, tangy flavor of the fruit. And this is remarkable fruit indeed as the climate where the orchards are located in Sebastopol are an ideal location to dry-farm apples. The fog that rolls in every night helps keep the fruit crisp and allows it to ripen slowly. Just as with grapes, this slow-ripening process is the real key to developing subtlety and complexity in fermented fruit beverages.