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Hard cider sales are bubbling up ( WINE & BEER )

If your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, they probably brought apple seeds to plant when they arrived in the New World. The fruit was not so much for eating as for making hard cider.

The Pilgrims didn’t trust the local water — probably rightly — and knew from experience back home in England that the fermentation process would make the cider a bacteria-free form of hydration.

Hard cider was so popular then that they gave it in diluted form to children; historians say John Adams downed a draught for breakfast daily to settle his stomach.

While beer took over first place in the 1800s with the advent of German settlers and mammoth breweries, cider remained popular until the Temperance Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s and Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933.

I’m glad to see that it’s now making a little comeback.

Hard cider sales soared 50 percent to $71.5 million in the past year, according to the Chicago market research firm SymphonyIRI Group. The Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams, has entered the market with its Angry Orchard Cider. And Anheuser-Busch has launched a low-calorie version called Michelob ULTRA Light Cider.

Local craft breweries from Michigan to New York state to Washington are putting their own spins of hard ciders.

Most hard cider has 5 to 6 percent alcohol, about the same as many beers, and half that of most wines. It ranges from 120 calories per 12-ounce bottle, not unlike many light beers, to 180, like many regular beers.

Cider-makers take pains to use a complex variety of apples in their quaff - sweet eating apples like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Gala as well as bittersweet apples such as Michelin, Binet Rouge, Medaille d’or. Some growers are even planting long-shunned crabapples again. So the cider, like wine, can range from light and tart to heavy and sweet. Some are still, others are fizzy, even sparkling.

A good, dry hard cider tastes clean, fresh, crisp, refreshing - unencumbered by the folderol that comes with wine. It embraces the same complexities of fruit, acid and tannin as wine. But nobody’s going to tell you it fades on the middle palate.

Cider-makers suggest approaching hard cider like white wine — a lean, crisp sauvignon blanc, for example.

In England, where hard cider never lost its popularity (they simply call it cider), chefs stage multi-course dinners with a different cider for each course. The lightest, driest ciders are aperitifs, even with sushi; fuller, heavier ciders go with seafood or smoked sausage soup; sweeter ones with desserts such as apple pie.

Fans say ciders stand up to spicy Indian, Chinese and Mexican fare as well. They go with the cheese course, with gouda, bleu, Emmenthaler.

In cooking, they’re used in place of wine or beer in cider-poached mussels, pork stews, even cider-laced doughnuts.

Serious fans use them in cocktails, with gin and ginger in a Ginger Crisp, with light rum and pineapple juice in a Caribbean Crisp.

Another hard cider product gaining popularity is an improbable drink called ice cider. On picturesque Prince Edward County Island in Lake Erie, growers leave Russet, Ida Red and Northern Spy apples on the trees long after the usual September/October picking. In January, when they are frozen solid, with juices and acids concentrated and water trapped in the ice, they are picked, pressed under tremendous force and fermented. The result is an incredibly opulent, honeyed dessert cider of 6.5 percent alcohol that goes superbly with aged cheese, foie gras and apple upside-down cake.

Highly recommended

e_SBlt Angry Orchard Hard Cider, “Traditionally Dry:” light and crisp and clean and refreshing, with pure, tart-apple flavors and subtle hints of something like tannin; an excellent aperitif; $9 per six-pack.

e_SBlt Crispin “Brown’s Lane” Imported Classic English Dry (Hard) Apple Cider: lightly sparkling, quite dry, with flavors of tart apples, caramel and earth and a bitter almond finish; $2.69 per 16.9 ounce bottle.

e_SBlt Prince Edward County Ice Cider, Ontario: intense and concentrated flavors of apples, cinnamon and honey; medium-sweet, with excellent acid balance to keep it from cloying; $30 per half-bottle.

Recommended

e_SBlt Hornsby’s Amber Draft Hard Cider: light and crisp, with spicy cinnamon flavors and a sweet finish; $20 for a 12-pack of 12-ounce bottles.

e_SBlt Angry Orchard “Apple Ginger” Hard Cider: crisp, medium body, flavors of sweet apples and spicy ginger, with a sweet finish; $9 per six-pack.

e_SBlt Angry Orchard Hard Cider “Crisp Apple:” light and crisp, slightly sweet, with concentrated apple flavors and a sweet, tangy finish; $9 per six-pack.

e_SBlt Michelob ULTRA Light Cider: by Anheuser-Busch, 4 percent alcohol, 120 calories per 12-ounce bottle: clear in color, slightly sweet, light in body, with lightly sweet apple juice flavors; $7 per six-pack.

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