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Cider Days

Cider Days

When I was growing up, autumn was the time for U-pick apple orchards, homemade taffy apples, and non-alcoholic apple cider.  I didn’t learn about “hard” cider until my first visit to an English pub.  I ordered a lady-like half pint and really enjoyed it, but it was difficult to find once I was back in the states.  Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.  In addition to popular mass market brands like Angry Orchard and Crispin, there’s a growing cadre of American craft cider-makers.  Many brands of English and Irish ciders are now available here as well.

Cider is closely associated with the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire in western England.  In his book Ciderland, James Crowden says that it is “so deeply embedded in the psychology and mystique of the West Country that it is very difficult to disentangle the tradition from the landscape itself.”  If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the Cider Museum in Herefordshire.

Cider was popular at every level of English society, from the working classes to royalty.  It’s no surprise that English settlers brought cider-making techniques with them when they set sail for America.  According to the Washington State University Extension Service, it was the most common drink in Colonial America.  Even children drank a watered-down version.  But by the late 1800s, beer had surpassed it to become the most popular alcoholic drink in America.  Prohibition was the final nail in the coffin of hard cider production in the U.S.  Until its recent resurgence in popularity, the tradition only survived here through the efforts of a small group of aficionados.

Even in England, the use of authentic cider-making techniques was starting to wane.  This led the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to begin a campaign for “real” cider.  You can check out the “About Cider & Perry” section of CAMRA’s website to find British pubs that serve real cider.

But thanks to its increased popularity in the U.S., you no longer have to go to England to find the real stuff.  Just check out the growing number of craft cideries across the country.  One of my favorites is Albemarle CiderWorks in Virginia, which I had the pleasure of visiting several years ago.  Albemarle has been producing artisanal ciders since 2009.  They’re on the dry side, just like their traditional English counterparts.  You can also check out the offerings at a growing number of cider festivals that are cropping up across the U.S.  Cider and perry educator Eric West maintains a comprehensive listing of U.S. producers and festivals on his website.

Whether you enjoy your cider dry or slightly sweet, English or American, it’s the perfect time to explore this classic tastes of autumn.




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