Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Apple Cider - Happy Juice

The other day I ran into some old friends that I hadn't seen in quite a while. Once co-workers from a past life, I know how busy they are with demanding full-time careers, plus running a small farmstead outside of Corvallis, Oregon.  They've chosen this lifestyle because not only do they enjoy their work, but they also have a passion and joy for the science of turning raw food into preserved delicacies through experimentation and discovery.

All year long they're trying their hand at some new version of a vegetable pate, fruit preserve, or spicy chutney - everything from soft-fruit jams and jellies in the early summer to quince and pear pastes or butters in autumn.
I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have lovely plum wine bubbling away in the cellar right now, clarifying to a rich beautiful rosé.

Knowing this about my friends, I was intrigued and surprised when I heard that they had gone and planted a small orchard full of apple trees for the soul purpose of making apple cider (in it's various forms).

And these apples are not your run-of-the-mill commercial varieties, but true heirlooms with wonderful old world names like Liberty, Enterprise, Ashmeads Kernel, Golden Russet, Hewe's crab apple, Wickson's crab apple, Florina, Dabbinet, and Porter's Perfection.
This diversity is important, because the best ciders are blended using juice from several apple cultivars - apples not grown for eating, but for cider making. A truly complex and well balanced cider is a blending of four main types of heirloom apples which include sweets (high sugar), sharps (high acid), biittersweets (high sugar and tannin), and bittersharps (high tannins and acids).
So I think they have this covered pretty well with their initial planting and their plans to expand even further into the future by using these trees for grafting on to new rootstock and expanding the orchard into a high density trellis system.
Their orchard management is well thought out and the first vintage of cider (Autumn 2013) is underway with enough apples to be pressed yielding close to 50 gallons of cider (mostly the hard stuff with a little fresh juice to enjoy right now).

Now hard cider is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the world today, and was one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the  USA from Colonial times until the start of Prohibition.  

For some unknown reason hard cider didn’t make the same come back that beer, wine and distilled beverages did after the repeal of Prohibition, until this last decade where it apparently is getting some attention.  One reason could be that unlike beer and grain- based alcohol, apple cider is just that, fermented juice pressed from apples and gluten free.

So, realizing that cider's time has finally come, a lot of experimentation is taking place among cider makers who are integrating hops (hoppy cider), barrel-aging (whiskey and gin), and producing dessert ciders akin to ice wines.

In the last decade several ciderworks have popped up around the Willamette Valley, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest, and there are some long established cider houses along the East Coast and in the Heartland of the US.

But if your in the Valley this weekend be sure to stop by Two Town's Ciderworks in Corvallis.  They'll be celebrating their 3 year anniversary this Saturday, October 4, serving their flagship, seasonal and limited release ciders, along with live music and local food. It'd be a great way to introduce yourself into the cider world, if you haven't already, and have a little fun too.

Also, the city of Portland boasts it’s own Bushwacker Cider Bar, with 7 varieties of cider on tab and a 100+ available in the bottle.  They have everything from run-of-the-mill cider for $2 a bottle to house made cider, artisan cider made with ginger, and ciders from England and beyond at $4-15 a bottle.  Best to try the sampler to find the one you really like first.

Given what's going on in the cider world today, I think my friends are really on to something with this artisanal craft cider making endeavor.  And I'm looking forward to them going prime time!

Lastly, for those really interest in the history of cider, check out The American Cider Book by Vrest Orton and Cider: Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson.

Stay thirsty my friends!  Evelyn

OK Jimmy, where'd you put those croissants............

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