Latest Cider Trends: Hopped, Sour, Fruit, Barrel-Aging
While I was on vacation, FOTB Lissa Richards filled in for me for last weekend’s Cider Fest events in Biglerville, Pa. The following is her report.
How many different ciders could I try in one day before I got bored of cider?
I’ve been to beer festivals where tasting 40 plus beers isn’t uncommon, but there you taste porters and stouts, lagers and pilsners, IPAs and sours. There’s so much variety. At a cider festival, I’d just be tasting cider. I love cider, prefer it to beer, but wouldn’t that get … boring?
It turns out the answer is “no.” Definitely not.
The PA Cider Fest, in its second year, is an outdoor celebration of Pennsylvania’s growing hard cider industry.
On June 24, cider makers and orchardists from all over the state set up tents in a clearing at Hauser Estate, surrounded by rolling hills covered with apple trees, and poured 1 oz. samples to hundreds of cider fans.
I found it impossible to be bored by the ciders when the samples showed such variety. And not just dry versus sweet or still versus sparkling. Pennsylvania’s cider makers are playing with all sorts of styles, experimenting with ingredients, and all around brought just as much variety to the Cider Fest that you see at a beer festival.
Fruit (other than apple) Ciders.
Not surprisingly (and not necessarily new), many of the cideries use fruits other than apples to flavor their ciders. Whether it was just a hint of cranberry with the traditional apple, or ciders made wholly of other fruits, the majority of the cideries at Cider Fest offered at least one fruit cider on their menus.
I tried a few cherry ciders. Berry was hot: raspberry, blueberry, blackberry. Broad Mountain Vineyard even had a refreshing pineapple cider, which tasted just like pineapple juice – except at 4% ABV. I was a fan of Reid’s Orchard & Winery’s Elberta, a 100% peach cider. It was quite sweet, yet had some bite, and was very peach forward.
Taking a cue from the beer industry, Pa.’s cider makers have been experimenting with barrel-aging their pressings. There were several bourbon barrel-aged ciders, some stronger than others (Civil War Cider’s The Colonel is a whopping 15.5% ABV). Stone & Key Cellar’s Añejo Lime is aged in tequila barrels for six months and will be perfect on a hot night this summer. Another standout was the rye barrel-aged Lounge from Kurant. To my dismay, this was a limited release so they weren’t selling cans and weren’t filling growlers, despite my cajoling.
Hopped ciders seemed to be the hottest trend of the year. At least half of the cideries seemed to have hopped varieties. Jack’s Hopped is a favorite of mine. Kurant had a Mosaic-hopped cider that was delicious (if you’re noting a theme here regarding Kurant, you’d be right. A small batch cidery outside Philadelphia, Kurant is doing a lot of things right).
Frecon Farms’ was one of at least three cideries offering sour ciders, which use Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and similar strains of yeast or bacteria to produce the same funky, tart flavors that fans of sour beer enjoy. Hank Frecon, co-owner of Frecon Farms, told me that the first batch of their sour cider was an accident. Brettanomyces had gotten into a batch of cider and “ruined” it. On a whim, the farm decided to bottle the cider and sell it cheaply. To their surprise, the sour cider sold out swiftly. Realizing they had a happy accident on their hands, the cider makers fine tuned the wild fermentation process, experimented with barrel aging, and started producing their Farmhouse cider. I bought two bottles.
In addition to 20+ cideries pouring something like 70+ ciders (my guestimate), there were a number of local creameries and dairy producers sampling and selling their products.
The PA Cheese Guild also sold beautiful cheese boards featuring a variety of Pennsylvania-produced cheeses. I saw a number of people sitting in the shade of the crabapple trees enjoying a cheese board paired with a freshly purchased cider.
Speaking of cheese pairings, shortly after arriving at Cider Fest, I attended a workshop on pairing cheese with cider.
Sue Miller, from Birchrun Hills Farm, and Matthew Hettlinger, from Doe Run, put together mini cheese plates with six different Pa. cheeses that they paired with six different Pa. ciders. Sue and Matt said that pairing ciders with cheeses is all about experimenting and just picking out what you personally like, but the combinations they put together went so perfectly that I know there’s more to it than that.
This workshop was a highlight of my day, and I wound up purchasing all of the Birchrun Hills and Doe Run cheeses I could get my hands on.
With the variety of food trucks also in attendance, I wasn’t content to leave my snacking to a few pieces of cheese. Deciding from the BBQ, gourmet grilled cheese, Cajun and other offerings was hard, but my date and I decided to share the pulled pork fries and cheese steak fries from the Potato Coop. Crispy, salty, oozing with toppings – we swapped back and forth until we couldn’t possibly eat any more. It was a great, starchy indulgence to break up the cider sampling.