I am a cider lover, and I am not afraid to admit it.
My name is Mark McTavish, a cider expert and beverage industry professional based in Los Angeles. As a Canadian growing up in apple country near Toronto, cider became my beverage of choice at a young age. Not too young of course, when I was 19 and could legally enjoy such a beverage. Often times I found myself running to the end of the bar to order my pint of cider, so that my mates would make the easy assumption that their was a manly lager in my glass. Funny how we identify with our alcohol, and cider has historically had a less than attractive reputation in this country. Until now!
Cider is the hottest craft beverage on the market, period. Loved by locavores, aggies, foodies, and hiptsers alike. Many view it simply as a gluten free beer, many still think cider is nothing more than apple soda with alcohol. Once heralded as America’s national beverage for more than 200 years, real craft cider is making an enormous comeback. Those who use 100% fresh pressed juice are making the best ciders, those who use proper cider apples (as opposed to those found at the grocery store) are making even better ciders. Think of cider as wine, but made with apples (not juice from concentrate). Imagine fermenting grape soda, sound like fine wine to you? It is time to appreciate real craft cider for what it is, and all that it entails. Consider the 5-7 years required to grow an apple tree, the muscle it takes to press the fruit, the many months required to ferment the cider. Respect the orchardists, the cider makers, the craftsmen and craftswomen who celebrate this brilliant beverage.
Now if all of this sounds too serious for you, then you are like me! I prefer to have fun with my beverages, not a fan of rules and not one to put my cider in a box (literally). To me it is quite simple, cider is fresh pressed juice…..fermented. For those of you who are not in the know, fermentation is the divine gift that allows we humans to create magical smile inducing beverages.
Let’s respect the apple, and then look beyond it. Different from wine and more liken to craft beer, craft cider incorporates a wide variety of ingredients. Tropical fruits, desert plants, hops, spices, etc. Think about your beverages as food, and ask them to deliver an experience in the way that your food would. Elevate your expectations, you only live once right? I encourage you to pair great cider with great food, this is a path less travelled and one that you may share with others. Trust me, your new found knowledge will lead to bewilderment and plenty of excitement at dinner parties!
Here are five cider experiences that will awaken your senses, and will lead you down the path to cider euphoria:
Cider: 101 Cider House SoCal Scrumpy
Description: Quince Cider
Tasting Notes: Sea Salt. Apple. Quince.
Nothing can prepare you for an epic feast quite like a mouthwatering Charcuterie board. The combination of salty cured meat and pickled vegetables really gets the juices flowing, and don’t be afraid to add a little lard! No proper Charcuterie experience would be complete without the appropriate beverage to compliment the multitude of flavors and textures on your plate. The obvious choice is farmhouse style cider, known to be bone dry and loaded with barnyard funk.
I recommend SoCal Scrumpy from 101 Cider House, a raw cider made with legendary Quince! The mouth puckering astringency of this cider pairs beautifully with the textural intrigue of a rabbit terrine or duck liver paté. With a natural sea salt essence and tiny effervescent bubbles, it will dance in step with a fiery Sopressata or sweeter fennel seed Finocchiona. Bring on the fatty stuff, the bright acidity of the SoCal Scrumpy cuts through fats and cleanses the palate between each bite. For a real flavor explosion throw in some pickled vegetables and fruits, I recommend cornichons and a grainy mustard. Beware…..this may be sensory overload and should not be rushed, slow it down for maximum enjoyment.
RAW FISH VS. RAW CIDER
Cider: Millstone Cellars Gingeroot
Description: Ginger Cider w/ Baby Ginger & Blueberry Honey
Tasting Notes: Tart. Ginger. Honey.
Many consumers are now leaning toward a healthy diet that features a plethora of raw food items, none lead you to fill your glass quicker than those that come from the sea. Think Champagne and oysters, beer or Sake and Sushi, or white wine with just about any fish! Been there, done that. It’s time to explore something new in your glass, and cider is a natural choice that delivers an entirely new sensation with your raw seafood dishes. Cut the heat of your wasabi with bone dry effervescence, match briny oysters with bright acidity, add an earthy yet fruity essence to enhance umami.
Look no further than ginger cider, the perfect match for sushi (ginger would be on your plate anyway). Consider Gingeroot from Millstone Cellars, this small craft cider maker from Maryland uses fresh baby ginger to produce a deliciously fruity cider that delivers a gentle heat. Baby ginger is much more delicate and pleasing to the palate, as compared to the typical ginger we have all come to know. Now think raw shellfish, dishes such as clams and oysters are best paired with a beverage that will allow their character to shine through. Gingeroot is only slightly effervescent (naturally conditioned in the bottle with blueberry honey, YUM!), and will not overpower flavors with bubbles. The concentrated mineral qualities of this raw cider will pair incredibly well with just about any salt water snack!
CEVICHE EL NEGRO
Cider: 101 Cider House Black Dog
Description: Black Cider w/ Coconut Charcoal, Lemon, and Fresh Lavender
Tasting Notes: Tart. Charcoal. Lemon Bomb.
Ceviche is Latin America’s answer to sushi, and is of course extremely popular here in California. Fresh fish is the star of the show, accompanied by fresh and simple ingredients like cilantro or spicy chiles. Ceviche is an increasingly popular and healthy dish that offers an array of flavors, colors, and textures. Keep it light and refreshing, serve a sparkling cider that will compliment the citrus and fresh fish flavors. Perfect for an afternoon in the California sunshine with friends!
It may sound odd at first, perhaps even confusing, but the world’s first Black Cider makes an incredible match for any ceviche. The “Black Dog” from 101 Cider House offers a tangy citrus punch that was engineered with Latin cuisine in mind, also pairs well with spicy Guacamole. When considering the traditional beverage of choice for ceviche, everyone thinks of a classic Pisco Sour. This Peruvian cocktail is made with lemon juice for tang, egg white for texture, and simple syrup. Not all that different from the characteristics of Black Dog, which features locally grown lemons and a rich mellow texture that is the result activated charcoal from coconuts! Save your eggs for breakfast, replace that Pisco Sour with one of the worlds most unique ciders!
HOPS & HEAT
Cider: 101 Cider House India Pale Cider
Description: Dry Hopped Cider w/ 100% Citra
Tasting Notes: Citrus. Floral. Hops.
Add some pizzazz to your plate, combine spicy foods with a hopped cider. This will get your tastebuds dancing, both spices and hops will kick you right in the mouth! Hopped ciders have become extremely popular of late, and for good reason. Thai and Indian cuisine have exploded on the food scene across California, featuring sizzling hot curry dishes that will put a smile on your face while tears run down your cheeks. We love to punish ourselves with fire in our mouth, perhaps a response to the sinful sensation we experience when eating these exotic creations. Just like Japanese automobiles, Red Bull, and Yoga…..spicy Asian cuisine has crossed the Pacific to find a permanent home in America, and is finally discovering it’s true destiny as the soulmate to hopped ciders.
Look no further than the India Pale Cider from 101 Cider House, a raw cider that is cold fermented and dry hopped with 100% Citra hops. Cold (dry) hopping this cider adds a refreshing character that is bursting with citrusy floral notes and tropical fruit, and yet it doesn’t incorporate the bitter alpha acids typically associated with an IPA or other hop centric beers. Think of it as a hopped apple wine, that is enjoyed like a naturally sparkling beer. It compliments spicy foods and cleanses the palate, an all in one solution for any hop head who likes to bring the heat!
Cider: Troy Cider MMXIV
Description: Sonoma Farmhouse Cider w/Wild Apples & Pineapple Quince
Tasting Notes: Barnyard. Buttery. Earthy.
We have all experienced wine and cheese, it’s big business around the world. What many consumers don’t know is that many cheese mongers prefer cider to pair with their cheese! Raw or “natural” ciders are in fact cheesy, a result of a process called Malolactic Fermentation. The acid found in apples (malic acid) converts naturally to the dairy acid (lactic acid) during a “natural fermentation”, this makes cider the obvious beverage of choice to enjoy with cheese. Selecting the right wine for your cheese is often over-complicated, choosing cider to pair with cheese is far easier as they are natural companions.
To make things easier for you, I recommend Troy Cider MMXIV (their 2014 vintage). This is a true farmhouse cider made in Sonoma, barrel aged and finished still (no bubbles). Imagine a buttery Chardonnay that is blended with hay bales, bonfire smoke, and a sea salt mist coming in from the Pacific Ocean. This raw cider captures the essence of Sonoma in every bottle, and it’s true expression is realized when served at room temperature. Pair with just about any cheese, I recommend buttery local cheeses (think raw aged Cheddar) or a funky washed rind . If you are looking for an old world selection, Manchego is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Turn up the excitement of your cheese plate by adding an assortment of jams, nuts, and local honey. Troy Cider MMXIV is made with wild grown apples and Pineapple Quince, a rare varietal that grows in Sonoma and was created by legendary botanist Luther Burbank. That being said, be sure to include some Membrillo (quince paste) on your plate!
Written by: Mark McTavish, Half Pint Ciders