Cider is all about personal taste
FINGER LAKES--The region's interest in hard cider and the apple varieties that, like grape varietals, make it distinctive, has spurred new interest in orchards grown for cider rather than for lunchboxes, applesauce and pies.
Even though a "cider apple" could be any apple that ends in a cider, many common apples are not what professional cidermakers want. Cider apples typically have high levels of acid, tannin or sugar which makes them favorable for fermenting into cider. Often cider apples are nicknamed "spitters" for their lack of appeal to eaters--but some varieties have emerged from this experimentation and continue to be prized for the flavors they impart to a beverage.
Fermented or "hard" cider tends to have an alcohol content well below that of wine, more comparable to beer. Like beer, it's usually a sparkling beverage served chilled; unlike beer it has no gluten. It's often made like wine, paired with many of the same foods that go well with white wine. It can be dry, semi-dry or sweet, flavored with spices or fruits or allowed to shine on its own.
Sadie Lewis, winemaker for Earle Estates Fruit and Specialty Wines and Meadery, Torrey Ridge Winery and Worthog Cidery (all at the same address on Route 14 in Penn Yan) as well as producing cider for Rooster Hill Vineyards, has been making cider since 2013. "The way I make cider, it's similar to making wine," she says. "There are other places that consider cider more of a brewed beverage. We've just put some of our dry cider on oak, like a chardonnay. I can't wait to taste it."
There are close to 10 different cider varieties offered at Worthog, many flavored with other fruits and ranging from sweeter to dry. "What takes time with ours is filtering. It's a slow process, it takes a good week to filter so you don't lose as much flavor," she says.
Her parents, who are fans of her cider, like a plain or cherry-flavored cider with roast pork. And Lewis says one year for a wine trail event, Worthog spiced cider was an ingredient in the winery's cheesecake.
Hard cider sold here, as at several other Finger Lakes cider producers, starts out as apples in Craig Wager's orchard. His 50 acres of apple trees include old varieties like Northern Spy and Spygold, and after talking to each cider producer to get an idea what they're looking for, he makes a custom blend of apples into cider specifically for each. As with wine, one consideration is brix, a measurement of the fruit's sweetness. He aims for a brix of 13 before picking apples, so the cider's finished alcohol content can be about 6.5. "I like to use "Jonagolds too--they're in the same group," Wager says. "I'll mix in Empires, what I think will give them enough sugar."
Jon Carpenter, a teacher and one of three partners in Keuka Craft Ciders, which is currently based in Canisteo but expects to have a physical presence near Keuka Lake within a few years, uses Wager's apples as well. "We do a few ciders based on a single variety of apple--Northern spy," he says. "The others are a blend. I have an orchard I'm planting specifically with English cider apples--because the American varieties are readily available."
He says their cider is based on a more traditional English style and only uses apples--no other flavors are added, "and nothing really sweet or fruity." One is aged four months in former whiskey barrels from the Finger Lakes Distillery. Keuka Craft Ciders are currently available in Penn Yan on tap at the Union Block Italian Bistro and the Water Street Wine Bar; it's also for sale at Hoban's Liquor Store.
In Hector, Hazlitt's 1852 Winery is one of several that make their own cider. Tim Benedict, vice president in charge of wine and cider, crafts the ciders at the company's plant in Naples, New York, after purchasing pressed apple juice that arrives at the plant in tankers. "Cider really works well as a lower-alcohol alternative to white wines," Benedict says. "And there are a lot of foods you would normally have a beer with that are good with cider. Salads and certain cheeses are really good with hard cider. We have a medium dry, a semi dry and two flavored ciders year-round."
Benedict notes interest in cider was growing very rapidly until more manufacturers began mass-marketing low-alcohol wine spritzers and hard seltzers. This has led to a flattening of interest. But there's also more cider currently being made, he adds. "It's more in demand now than it's been in my lifetime. I see it as a very healthy alternative. I have issues with gluten, so I don't drink beer. A dry cider has a lot of the things people are looking for, including lower calories. I think that's a real trend."
Carefully-handled cider should have a shelf life of up to two years, so don't lay in a supply for aging but enjoy it sooner rather than later.
Lewis says some of cider's audience has been traditionally drawn from wine tasters who want to try something different, but lately there are people coming in specifically to try cider and compare it to others they've tasted. "I like that we do so many things here--it keeps it exciting," she said. "And I like the cider also because it's like wine but you have to treat it entirely differently. I've been with our cider since the day it was created, so it's got a big piece of my heart."