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Ciders for a Big Apple Thanksgiving

Turkey Day is almost upon us here in the Big Apple

I thought it might be interesting this year to celebrate the end of the Harvest with a bottle or three of Apple Cider (called Hard Apple Cider, here in the US)  derived from the fruit which is so closely associated with my home State of NY.  After all, apple picking here in NY is a rite of passage leading up to Thanksgiving for kids and adults alike and very much part of the fabric and deep rooted tradition of life here in the Hudson Valley

To get the inside edge on cider, I met up earlier this week with my local expert, the ‘Doctor’ of fine brews himself, Mr Brendon O’Brien at DeCiccos in Armonk, where we quickly got talking about the history of cider in the US and its resurgence in recent years

According to Brendon, the introduction of cider to the US came about because of a shortage in barley to brew beer, so people started looking for something else they could ferment and  turn into alcohol. There were many immigrants from the West Country of England and Normandy, France with long traditions of cider making, so the natural alternative in the North East was  to make apple cider.  Jumping forward a century or two, the modern cider industry in the US started out in NY and Vermont after English and French imports first came onto the market in the 1980s and 1990s with brands like Woodchuck from Vermont appearing.  In the past 5 years cider production has really taken off with the craft beer brewers approach adopted by cider makers and a smorgasbord of craft ciders have emerged driven by American innovation and consumers (mirroring the way in which the US craft brewing industry mushroomed)

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Some of the 100s of ciders available at DeCiccos

We are now seeing producers steeped in the tradition (of US craft beer) looking at French and English traditional cider making but bringing the New World craft beer approach to the party, using apple varietals from both the New and Old Worlds (such as Heirloom and Dabinett). Craft cider producers have also started to use other ingredients, in addition to apples, by adding fruits and herbs as diverse as chipotle peppers, black peppercorns, agave nectar, lime and oranges, to create a different and interesting, quintessentially American drink.  Others have been looking for exclusivity and uniqueness by using apples sourced locally,  such as a ‘single variety’ of apple and sometimes even apples from one orchard alone – ‘single parcel’, like the concept of ‘terroire’ for French Wine which gives the cider they produce  a ‘sense of place’

The final factor Brendon attributes to the resurgence of the cider industry, has been the huge expansion in the market for a Gluten Free alcoholic product, comparable to a crisp refreshing beer.  Consumers are increasingly turning to craft cider, as opposed to Gluten Free beer, as it is more approachable and easier to drink and when it comes down to it, everyone loves an apple!

So, now it’s time to share our  recommendations for the perfect Craft Cider to drink with one’s Thanksgiving Dinner. After much cogitation, debate and discussion and the inspection of the 100s of different ciders available at DeCiccos, Armonk NY store, we honed down our list to 5 brilliant but very different and unique hard ciders hailing from Vermont, Michigan and sunny Florida

8.5% vol – Eden Specialty Ciders, Newport Vermont

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Eden Sparkling Cider – Dry

This effervescent drink, in the ‘dry’ version we tried, is a cider that is going to appeal not just to beer lovers but to wine drinkers too. It fills the gap between champagne wine and cider impeccably. Light and approachable with a delicious dry finish and serious apple flavor. The first swig is just like one’s first  bite into a nice crisp apple making it the perfect bottle with which to welcome your guests to the Thanksgiving meal. It pairs well with those salty snacks

A true apple from the Garden of Eden

Farmhouse Craft Cider 6.5% – Shacksbury, Vergennes, Vermont

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Shacksbury Farmhouse Craft Cider

Shacksbury, a well known cider producer (also based in Vermont) adopts a classic approach to making cider with this fine beverage . They use a mixture of English, French and local varieties of apples, in particular Dabinett from France. Their approach is more of the Normandy style with their ciders being earthy and tannic in structure and dry.

Farmhouse Craft has a floral aroma reminding one of farm flowers with the acidity of green apples. What makes it so interesting to us, is that, rather uniquely, Shacksbury have aged this cider  in old Bourbon and Rye barrels for a short time. This process has infused the finished drink with a gentle touch of the flavors prevalent in Whiskey, a hint of Smoke and spice and a sniff of the vanilla from the oak barrel

The introduction of these interesting flavors plays well off the green apple acidity and produces a well rounded cider finish both clean and refreshing. It works well with the main part of your Holiday meal, a great accompaniment to Turkey, as the drink’s acidity cuts through the fattiness of the meat and that oak barrel vanilla and whiskey compliments the gaminess of the bird

The Americran 6.8% vol – Citizen Cider, Burlington Vermont 

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Citizen Cider – The Americran

Straight from the apples of Happy Valley Orchard, in Middlebury Vermont comes this fabulous pink tinged drink combining Vermont apples and deep scarlet cranberries ubiquitous with the sauce one piles on one’s bird at Thanksgiving

Slightly tart but redolent of the berry fruitiness of the cranberries mixed with apples, it is a medium sweet to dry perfectly balanced cider. Whether you prefer your cider dry or sweet, you would be more than happy to drink this and what’s more, it pairs perfectly with cranberry sauce, the turkey and in particular apple sausage based stuffing. Brendon tells me that he’s even used it in the cranberry reduction for the sauce and basted his turkey with it. After all, good alcohol yields good food! If there was only one cider her could choose, he says this would be the bottle he’d be choosing for his Thanksgiving table

Zombie Killer 5.5% vol – B. Nektar Cider, Ferndale, Michigan

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B. Nektar – Zombie Killer

B. Nektar specializes in mead and cider

Brendon says this producer is really pushing the envelope in applying the American craft beer mentality to all of their products, using beer names, pop culture references and graphic labels similar to those used in American craft beer and this approach is reflected in the choice of ingredients they’ve squeezed into this superb drink

Michigan is known for its tart cherries, which grow in abundance in the State, so B. Nektar decided to use their honey expertise, apples and those tart cherries to come up with this delight, with its wacky name

In the glass it has a pinkish hue, almost salmon in appearance,  with a slight cherry (even melon) aroma, , when imbibed, subtle apple and honey notes leave a significant and creamy texture on the tongue. It marries well with that heavy Thanksgiving meal, still approachable light and refreshing and certainly not too heavy or filling to drink with food. We reckon it would be just perfect served with a cherry or apple pie dessert too

Homemade Apple Pie Cider 5.5% vol – Cigar City, Tampa, Florida

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Cigar City – Home Made Apple Pie

Last but definitely not least, we reach our last cider recommendation. This extraordinary drink hails from the well known craft brewery, Cigar City

Florida, I hear you cry? They grow oranges don’t they? Well yes, correct. However, they now create mean and maverick ciders too and this baby is the most bonkers drink I’ve tried in a long time

Apparently, a few years back Cigar City started up a cider business. The cider production side of Cigar City is actually more or less a ‘one man show’ care of one Mr Jarret Gilbert, although I’d like to call him ‘The Crazy Professor’  for this Frankenstein’s Monster of a drink he’s come up with. On popping the tab to the can one’s nose is met with wild fireworks, the cider smells exactly like fresh baked apple pie. Cinnamon, sweet apples and graham crackers assault ones nasal passages. Then sloshed down that apple pie is joined by a dash of vanilla, just like ice cream soda

This drink is truly the product of the mad scientist of cider, quite astounding. Throw out your mums apple pie and quaff this instead for your Thanksgiving dessert. Perhaps I should not have been so  surprised given Mr. Gilbert has been using coco nibs, vanilla beans, mango and even super spicy habanero peppers in his ciders. This is truly hard cider on the flavor integrating edge

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Try not to be influenced by this guy (Brendon…..do you mind?)

So, it’s time to choose your cider for the festive meal.  Check out our poll below and make your selection. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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