“…And they have cider, for the ladies!”
A gruff, muscle-bound man kicks open the door to a bar. As his eyes adjust to the dim light of the divey watering hole, he sees what he came for: his partner, who happens to be a total knockout blonde bombshell and her kidnappers. There’s a brief pause while the kidnappers size our hero up, and then the fighting starts. Furniture and bones are broken at an equal pace as our hero kicks, punches, and shoots his way across the room. As the dust settles, our hero steps over the broken, lifeless forms of his attackers, and plants the long-awaited smooch on the blonde he came to save. She faints, and he holds her in his right arm, and with the left he motions the terrified bartender over. “Give me your driest cider.” He drinks it in one long gulp, slams the glass on the bar, and leaves, carrying the blonde in his arms.
So, after reading the above paragraph, if your first thought was “wow, what a girly drink for a tough guy,” I am writing this directly to you.
I was inspired to write to you on this topic after reading a review for a brewpub I go to often. The reviewer was raving about the décor, the service, the beer, and as his final remark said “and they have cider for the ladies too!” It wasn’t a malicious comment by any means; in fact, at the core of it, he was really complimenting this location for having a variety of beverages appealing to people of all walks of life, which is great.
And he’s not wrong; there are plenty of ladies out there that love cider. One of my favorite ladies, Ronda Rousey, was quoted in Maxim magazine once saying “Buffalo wings and cider is all I need,” although somehow I don’t think a female professional UFC fighter is what he had in mind when he wrote his review. My problem with what he said (aside from the healthy dose of sexism) is that he has dismissed an entire beverage category, and a significant piece of American heritage, because he has likely only had sweet macro-ciders. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, wouldn’t it irk you if someone tried a Bud Light Razzberita and told you that all beer is for girls?
So, you think cider is too girly for you. The number one reason for this is: you have been successfully marketed to. Good cider takes a lot more time to make than good beer. Cider is essentially a fruit wine, so you have to age it, although not as long as grape wine. Beer is usually good to go in a month. Cider generally falls into the beer world, so most of the macro-ciders are produced by beer companies that want to have a viable product in the shortest amount of time to make the most money. They don’t want you to like proper cider, because it’s so much faster, easier, and cheaper to make a frankencider with apple juice concentrate and sugar, so they present cider as an alternative to beer, because they already make beer, and this allows them to capture more of the market.
Also, as Americans, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to cider; there aren’t a lot of proper cider apples being grown in the US. This is largely due to everybody’s least favorite time in US history, Prohibition. I’m sure you’ve seen the clips of prohibitionists splitting open barrels of liquor and beer, but did you know they also cut down and burned whole orchards full of cider apples? Cider apples are not good for eating; they taste bitter and acidic (people still refer to some apples as “spitters” because they are so jarring to the palate as a raw fruit), and the only real use for them is making cider. If you had any of these trees, prohibitionists knew you sure weren’t eating them, and they chopped and burned them until very few remained in the whole country.
When Prohibition was repealed, people wanted to start drinking again, of course. An apple orchard takes about 5 years to reach a really viable production level. I can plant barley and have a crop in a few months. You’ve been forcibly sober for 13 years, are you going to wait another 5 to make proper cider, or are you going to go full steam ahead making some tasty beer? I thought so. And so a great American tradition was cast into obscurity, at least until the recent and ongoing cider revival.
Speaking of which, did you know that cider is one of the greatest American traditions? I know that a good ol’ Bud might feel like the American choice, despite the fact that it’s owned by a giant, mostly European conglomerate. You’ve been marketed to again. Cider is the most American thing you can drink; the country was founded on the stuff.
John Adams literally drank a tankard of cider every day for breakfast. Thomas Jefferson used to brag about his large stock of malt liquor and ciders. Benjamin Franklin, the ultimate American playboy, frequently spoke about his love of cider, quoted once for saying “It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.” George Washington won his presidency by buying 144 gallons of cider for voters the day before election day. William Henry Harrison won the presidency on a campaign based on “log cabins and hard cider,” the most identifiable American things at the time.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Johnny Appleseed. His real name was John Chapman, and when Americans started heading West, he brought a whole lot of apple seeds with him, and planted small orchards along the way, and it wasn’t because he had a real persistent craving for Red Delicious. John Chapman, American settler and frontiersman, wanted to make sure he could get a cider no matter where he was.
What I’m trying to say is that if cider were a person, he would put on a pair of Levi jeans, drive to your house on a Harley-Davidson to beat you at baseball, drink a bottle of straight Kentucky bourbon, teach you how to grill the perfect hamburger, bake you the best apple pie you ever had, and pull himself up from his bootstraps to start a successful business all in the same day. Cider is super American. If you’re a proud American, you’re almost obligated to love cider. Cider was certainly more influential in America’s history than beer ever was.
And our Founding Fathers’ cider was certainly not the cider you are likely familiar with. I will bet you the Empire State Building, four helicopters, and several sports cars that their cider had nowhere near the 30 grams or more of sugar you find in a lot of commercial ciders. Their cider was bone-dry, cloudy, and deliciously acidic, much like many craft ciders out there today that you should try.
I know that flavor is really the big issue with many cider-dismissers, and I think if you were drinking the cider of old America, you would absolutely love it. There’s a reason that in the movies cowboys, the quintessential American icon, drink their coffee black and their whiskey warm and straight; it’s tough and manly! We, as American drinkers, want to have to earn our appreciation of our beverages; it shouldn’t be easy to drink. In fact, I’ve known many people to use the phrase “easy-drinking” as a polite way of saying a drink lacks the complexity to seriously consider it a good beverage.
So when you try a “cider” that is essentially sugar water, of course you hate it; there’s nothing there to consider, nothing to challenge yourself with. But if I told you I had a drink for you that tasted like smoke and ham and sea salt and olives, I bet you’re a little more interested. There’s a whole region in Spain (Asturias, to be exact) that makes ciders that taste just like that, and they are, in fact, one of the biggest cider producing and consuming regions in the world. And Asturians would absolutely agree with you that the average American macro-cider that you hate is not good. There’s a lot of contemporary American cidermakers that are making things just as complex and interesting and unique, and you should try them, ESPECIALLY if you don’t like the sugar water masquerading as cider. Chances are, you have good taste in cider and didn’t know it due to lack of exposure.
Like I mentioned before, there’s just as many cider styles as there are beer styles. For example, I hate hefeweizens. I just can’t stand how they taste. Does that mean that all hefeweizens are garbage and I’ll never try one again? No! They aren’t for me, that’s for sure, but I’m not telling anyone that hefeweizens are bad or that they’re for the ladies. There’s a ton of beer that I do enjoy, and I just prefer those instead. Cider is no different; you don’t like one style, but there’s probably a bunch out there that you DO like. And I would hate for you to miss out on something you like just because you had one bad cider, or because you lacked the confidence to order something different than your usual beer.
The next time someone offers you a cider you haven’t had before, just try it. I don’t know a single bartender that wouldn’t give you just a taste of one. And I also promise you that ordering a cider at the bar won’t make you less of a man. It will actually make you more of an American!
So now you know; cider isn’t just “for the ladies,” it’s for everybody.
Written by: Peter Clausen, Half Pint Ciders