I’m really into this new guy that I’m dating–and he wants to check out Cider Week New York together during November 6th-15th. I don’t want to shame myself by being a know-nothing fool when we go out, but the truth is I don’t know anything about hard cider outside of the fact that this kind isn’t served in steaming-hot mugs with cinnamon sticks. I need to educate myself quickly, so I’m calling on the pros to give me some cider-centric coaching ASAP. If this goes well, I promise I will never roll my eyes at people who make those corny apple-picking trips upstate again. I will never understand the appeal of a hay ride either, but that’s another story.
Okay, basics first: what is hard cider? According to those in the know, it’s essentially just the result of apples & time (ok…and some yeast, which sounds less appetizing but is necessary nonetheless). But cider is not made from so-called eating apples. “There’s culinary fruit, which is the fruit that we think of,” says Jenn Smith, a producer of Cider Week New York. “At the other end of the spectrum are heirloom and wild apples that are often these loveably ugly little nubs.” She adds that cider apples are generally nasty to eat, but make magic when they’re fermented. I guess I can cross off that wild idea about trying to brew my own at home with those Granny Smiths rotting in the back of my fridge now. Hey, I’m not that crafty anyway.
Even though I’ve seen hard cider on tap alongside the beers at my favorite after-work drinking den, apparently these two drinks are not all that similar. Though cider (like beer) has a low alcohol content and is often served sparkling, comparing it to beer is the quickest way to expose myself as a dilettante—and to raise the ire of a cider maker. “Beer is about putting together ingredients. Cider is a wine,” explains Andy Crown Brennan of Aaron Burr Cidery. “Appreciation for cider stems from an appreciation of a vintage, a location, and the culture (and history) in its making.” Smackdown alert! Apparently people who are really serious about their cider talk about it like they would wine, so I’ll be throwing around terms like “what a musky nose” and “the terroir is really speaking to me” into my convo to impress my fella.
And for extra credit, I’ll be checking out some cider blogs and podcasts. Jenn Smith says that United States of Cider is a great blog for newbies and cider experts alike. Jimmy Carbone, who owns Jimmy’s No. 43 bar (and who has been participating in Cider Week for years now), hosts Beer Sessions Radio. Before Cider Week, he’ll be releasing more shows where he talks with cider makers about their craft. Or I can just go full-lazy and download the existing cider-themed podcasts that are already on iTunes.
Blessedly, there are places I can put my new cider knowledge into practice before we go out. There are plenty of free tastings (hello, that’s my favorite way to taste) all over the city during Cider Week, plus bars with tap takeovers offering multiple ciders at the ready. All I have to do is check out the Cider Week website to get the deets. I’ll probably also hit Wassail, a restaurant-slash-cider bar on the Lower East Side, with some of my girlfriends before Cider Week begins. Wassail serves flights of cider—3oz per glass—all year round, so we can sample a bunch of varieties and brands together and not get too hammered to remember which one we liked best. (This happens more often than I’d like to admit, dear diary.)
Since I’ve never tried cider before, Jennifer Lim, one of Wassail’s co-owners, helped calm my beginner’s nerves by suggesting that I try Farnum Hill ciders rather than going totally rogue. “They have spent decades perfecting their craft both in the orchard and in making their balanced and lovely ciders,” she says. Another reason: their ciders are also available at a lot of retail wine & beer shops, so I won’t have to search too hard to find it. I checked this with Jenn Smith, and she agrees that Farnum Hill is the O.G. in this category. “More than any other cider maker, they were the ones sort of establishing the category,” she says. “They’ve been at this the longest, and they’ve got a lot of brand recognition.” Word on the street is that the semi-dry is the way to go for someone who’s new to hard cider, since it’s easy-drinking with just a touch of sweetness.
Everyone agrees that food lurves cider. Jenn Smith says cider and cheese have a natural affinity—and sure enough, there are cheese shops doing events during Cider Week. There’s also multi-course meals with cider pairings, which would make for a romantic (and informative) date with my dude if we’re feeling spendy. Or we could hit Applepalooza at Astor Center. The price per taste is pretty reasonable ($55 for the event, with apple-tizers included—yuk yuk yuk) and we’ll get to try out a bunch of other apple spirits like calvados and apple brandy, too. I’m also going to suggest visiting the Lower East Cider Festival. It’s on Sunday the 8th during the day (love a good daytime date) and it’s name is so pun-erific that it’s gotta be good. “We’re bringing the orchard back to Orchard street,” jokes Jenn Smith. “It’s a block party, a farmer’s market, we’re going to have a community cider press so people can go home with some fresh-pressed cider apple juice and ferment it themselves,” she explains. Ok, maybe I will get crafty with some apples after all! There’s also a host of cider makers pouring their products.
Total win. Strolling arm-in-arm with my guy and some yum cider on a brisk fall day sounds like a scene from a movie…starring me! I guess I can handle this after all, dear diary. Ciao for now, until our next dilemma…