Who knew that cider has a centuries-old history? Dan Pucci and Craig Cavallo certainly do. The pair of authors—Pucci a leading cider authority, Cavallo a food writer and restaurant/store owner—have just released the thoroughly engrossing American Cider: A Modern Guide to a Historic Beverage, a deep dive into the apple-y beverage’s history, how it’s made and how to properly taste it, and a comprehensive guide to regional American varieties, from New York to the Pacific Northwest and everywhere in between. The first written record of cider may have been all the way back in 64 BC, and cider enjoyed great popularity in North America starting in the 17th century. We recently chatted with the duo about cider’s resurgence (from a mere 10 US cideries in 1991, there are 1,000 today); here’s what they had to say.
To what do you attribute cider’s growing popularity in the US?
There is an increasingly curious consumer looking to navigate the beverage market and find products that make sense to them. Apples grow throughout the country and are an abundant source of limitless potential. On a local level, people seem supportive of local products from their hometown/county/state. So there is an element of regional pride in cider. Additional federal and state legislation has also lowered the barrier of entry for cidermakers, making it a feasible business.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about cider?
That it hasn’t changed. But equally of note is the perception people have that cider is sweet. While many nationally distributed ciders were loaded with sugar, things have changed. Regional players like ANXO are producing more and more ciders that are dryer and focused on high-quality raw materials. ANXO is incredibly transparent about their sourcing and production, and this transparency is the key to educating consumers and steering people away from the misconception that cider is sweet and one dimensional.
What’s most exciting about the state of the cider industry in the US today?
It’s constantly evolving. There are no rules. We are all learning so much, from the growers and producers to researchers and drinkers, that each spring or new bottle release is a chance to see what everyone is learning. There are constantly new techniques, new apple varieties, and new ideas working their way into the cellar, orchard, and bottle. The idea that apple X from region Y produced by Z is “the best cider in the world” is impossible, because no one knows what varieties grow best and make the best cider on viable scales yet. There are also no preconceived notions with cider like there are with wine or beer. No one is out there saying “I don’t like cider made from Chisel Jersey” the way they might say they “don’t drink Chardonnay” or “hate double dry hopped IPAs.” Which is all to say that we’re all learning together in real time, and that’s remarkable. And because apples thrive throughout the country, many consumers have a story or experience tied to an orchard, and translating that into cider is an invaluable experience for the consumer/drinker.
How do American ciders compare to ciders from Europe or other parts of the world?
American cider is unique because the systems in place that landed with Europeans, and the subsequent apple, orchard, and cider cultures, are unique to the United States. Cider in Europe is largely made from apples that have been bred specifically for cider for generations. The large-scale orchards that developed here at the turn of the 20th century and on were designed to grow varieties meant to be eaten fresh, not for cider. There are a large number of cider-specific European varieties being planted across the country, but the lump sum of cider currently made in the US is from culinary apples like Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, and Jonathan—great eating varieties that happen to make great cider.
What is your go-to cider right now?
Choosing a favorite is a disservice to the 1,000-plus producers currently commercially making cider. It also ignores the varying cultures and terroirs throughout the country that shape an incredibly dynamic beverage and category. That said, cider from Tilted Shed in Sonoma County, Keepsake in Minnesota, and Metal House from Esopus in the Hudson Valley all show the potential of the untapped wealth of American cider.