Photography by Shana Novak. Prop Styling by Greg Garry
"It's just wine, but with the wrong fruit." That's how Dan Pucci sums up hard cider. A wine professional who fell in love with the tart, funky snap of Spanish cider on a trip to the Basque region, he's since made it his mission to track down varieties for the new, cider-focused Wassail on New York's Lower East Side. With a broad selection on tap, the drinks he's chosen demonstrate cider's real potential, something that Pucci finds especially relevant for drinkers today. The apple-based brew is fermented like wine, but has a lower alcohol content and a refreshing quality that is an easy sell for beer drinkers.
While Europe's cider history is long and traditionally distinct by region -- French cider can be finely bubbled and delicate; English cider, rustic and bitter -- in American ciders there are no rules. "It's very much about experimenting, which can be amazing and fun," says Pucci. Because our cider tradition is still young, small producers are thinking outside the box, experimenting with new techniques to create brews that are uniquely theirs. Some, like the Catskills' Wayside Cider, use nothing but foraged fruit from the area near their distillery -- the ultimate in local sourcing. Others, like the Finger Lakes' Blackduck, are devoted to running a completely sustainable business, from tree to tap.
The Northeast has a booming cider community, thanks to its apple-growing history, which reaches back to Colonial days. But the West Coast is catching up. San Francisco's Upcider gives pride of place to local drafts like Forestville, Calif.'s Tilted Shed, whose January Barbecue is made by smoking some of the apples before they're fermented, to yield a ripe, complex cider perfect for sitting around the campfire.
One of the easiest ways for newbies to appreciate cider's versatility is to pair it with food. Higher in acidity than most beers, it cuts through fried or fatty dishes, leaving you feeling clean and light. And because its alcohol content won't overpower strong spices, it's a perfect match for an Indian or Thai feast. So if you're tired of the same old brews, grab a few ciders and give your fall fantasies an upgrade.
These four cider producers -- some of Dan Pucci's favorites -- will make anyone a convert.
Oliver's(Herefordshire, U.K.) "Tom Oliver (the Proclaimers' tour manager) focuses on tradition, but he's also not afraid to experiment with new tastes like hopped and champagne-style cider."
Farnum Hill(Lebanon, N.H.) "Everyone should try this. Made by the grandfather of American cider, it's one of the best -- fresh, tannic, classic, and very,
Eve's Cidery(Van Etten, N.Y.) "A bright cider with pretty bubbles, made by the same process as champagne."
Oyster River(Warren, Maine) "What I would call a second-generation cider -- gnarly, interesting, with a little more rawness to it. It's from a cool orchard run entirely with draft horse power up in Maine."