Despite all the savvy cider lovers now patronizing upscale taprooms, too many Americans still associate cider with a sweet, slightly fizzy fermented beverage. Though its true that most mass-marketed hard ciders, particularly those imported from China, (the world’s largest apple producer), are now made with added sugars in order to boost the alcohol content during fermentation, there are also a growing number of artisan small-batch cideries dedicated to making traditional handcrafted artisan ciders.
In early America, cider was often associated with the values of independence and self-sovereignty. In those days, when potable water supplies were often uncertain, keeping barrel or two of hard cider in the cellar was a wise precaution. Today, with unpolluted water again a public issue, the practice is worth revisiting.
California’s Sonoma County is home to some of the world’s best apples. As a result, truly extrordinary cider is produced in the region. The cool fog that rolls in from the sea each night is what helps keep the apples here crisp and allows them to ripen slowly. As with grapes, it is this slow-ripening fruit process that allows acids and compounds in fruit to develop the subtle flavor notes that appear in the final fermented beverage.
During the last century many of Sonoma County’s best apple orchards were uprooted to make way for the more lucrative grape harvest. Today, with the market for high-end ciders once again on the rise, fields across the region are being planted to apples.
Some Sonoma County cider makers produce fruit from trees that are older than the state of California itself. Over six generations, Gowan’s Heirloom Orchards, have gone from delivering apples by horse and wagon to growing and selling more than 80 types of apples.
This spring marked the family’s 142nd apple-growing season on the family’s 240-acre property in the Anderson Valley on Northern California’s Mendocino Coast. Two of their ciders were recognized as 2020 Finalists for the Good Food Awards in acknowledgement of among other things, biodiversity stewardship through the cultivation of pesticide-free produce. Other fine Sonoma County cider producers include Ethic Ciders, Thistle Meats, Bellwether Farms, SHED, and Spiritworks Distillery.
A particularly noteworthy Northern California cider comes from Sebastapol’s Devoto Gardens .Apple Sauced is the name of their single-varietal cider produced from dry-farmed Gravenstein apples. The cider is made with champagne yeast and quick-fermented to preserve the tangy flavor of the fruit.