In the last five years, cider has enjoyed a renaissance in New York. A few years ago you’d be hard pushed to find real cider in bars around the city, now it’s common for there to be at least one on tap while craft cider is finding its place on menus all across the five boroughs.
This country was founded on cider, it was the pilgrims’ drink of choice, but it lost popularity in the late 19th century when German immigrants brought over beer production.
Then, Prohibition all but killed cider off, with orchards left unharvested for 13 years. That period of time left a thirst that demanded to be quenched quickly. Waiting five years for orchards to be up and running again wasn’t going to cut it, so the quick production of spirits and beer took over. But recently, business has started to boom again; sales of domestically-produced cider has tripled in the US since 2009. And what place to better acquaint yourself with our fermented friend than at NYC Cider Week, running from now until 2 November?
What this event really shows is that not all cider is the same. Not only is cider fermented like wine, but it can be as complex a drink. To prove the point, Cider Week offers an array of tastings and food pairing events to enjoy the drink at its best.
The 5th annual Applepalooza at the Astor Center on Thursday (30 October) is the event to go to, boasting the biggest selection of cider samples, but you’ll find the full list of events here.
The beer brewing giants have also taken note of the growing demand of this beverage and are supplying their own versions; Stella Artois Cidre, Sam Adams’ Angry Orchard cider, Michelob Ultra Light Cider. But the real beauty of this week-long event is finding out more about the artisanal craft ciders.
A point of difference from European varieties and their traditional methods is that the recent resurgence in the US has given rise to more experimentation; there are now plenty of innovative techniques at play and creative new blends being produced.
In a city where trying out new things isn’t a departure from the norm – it’s expected – the craft cider movement certainly has piqued the curiosity of New Yorkers.
Last year, New York produced 1.4 billion pounds of apples with a value of over $237m (£147m), making it the second-largest producer after Washington State. And this month saw the first anniversary of the Farm Cideries (breweries where cider is made) bill, which has so far succeeded in boosting the number of cider producers across the US, and which this year has made a new license available to farm cideries that specifically use New York State crops. The first people to land one in NYC are husband and wife team Jahil Maplestone and Alex Fisk.
What started out as kettles and carboys in their Brooklyn basement has now become Queens-based Descendant Cider, which they launched on 24 October. I asked Maplestone how they went from turning their home-brewing hobby into a business.
“We kept making it for ourselves and slowly realised there was a gap in the market,” he said. “I guess from the ‘we should start a cider business’ discussion up until now has been roughly four years.
“The actual process of going from home makers to commercial was a slow [one]. We had to start from the beginning and work out everything for all aspects such as licensing and legal requirements, the branding and marketing, the logistics associated with bringing in the raw materials and getting the product back out. All that before we’ve even begun to think about making any cider and which orchards to use. Going from 100+ gallon capacity at home to thousands of gallons is a totally different ball game.”
Maplestone attended industry conferences and met with Glynwood, an organisation that promotes farming in the Hudson Valley, connecting farmers and cider-makers.
And after all that, Descendant Ciders developed two beverages; Succession, a blend of six apples, lightly sweetened, and Pom Pomme, a crisp blend of apples with pomegranate and hibiscus. You’ll find both at The Queens Kickshaw this week.
It’s clear that for Maplestone and Fisk, it has been a labour of love.
“I just knew if we could make a really great product that we were proud of that others would embrace it too,” Maplestone added. “The fact we’re passionate about it, the story behind who we are and what we want to do is something that a big corporation can’t manufacture. And this is something people are looking for now. ‘Farm-to-table’, ‘Locally-made’; all these initiatives are things a lot of people really want to support.
“I want to walk into a bar and hear people talking about a cider they love from a producer they know about and have a connection to the product that isn’t just from the price of a six pack on the supermarket shelf.”
With cider gaining more popularity in NYC than it has in over 100 years, there’s now even more reason to call it The Big Apple.