Artisan Ciders Sparkle

Artisan hard ciders are in the spotlight, outpacing tha sales of craft beer

September 17, 2014

 Photo Courtesy: Santa Sidra

Despite what the calendar says, the recent gray, chilly days are a sign that fall is here—or at least, it's near. And so is the season for crisp, ripe apples, plucked from the tree to be used in pies, crumbles, crisps, buckles and other delightful desserts. Apples also star in all kinds of ciders, which have recently stepped into the spotlight as artisanal producers have invented creative flavors and blends and cider bars are opening across the country. It's cider's time to sparkle, as sales of the beverage outpace the sales of craft beers, by some estimates.

Santa Sidra, premium hard cider produced in Santa Fe by the People of Santa Fe Hard Cider Company using locally sourced, fresh-pressed apples, is helping make cider a star in the region. Santa Sidra is Spanish for “blessed cider,” which makes sense since the two varieties released to date—Seca (dry) and Ligaremente Dulce (A Tad Sweet)—have drawn big fans in a short time, a blessing for any small business.

Santa Sidra's Seca is the more traditional of the two offerings just a tad sweetened with sugar and slightly carbonated. It's delicious on it's own, but also goes well with salads and fish. The Ligaremente Dulce has sweeter notes that pair well with the tart apple flavors, and it's a good one for Santa Fe since it  goes well with our famous green chile. More varieties are in the making, so we'll look forward to what Santa Cidra releases next. You can find Santa Sidra ciders in many Santa Fe restaurants as well as Kaune's, Eldorado Market, Rancho Viejo Village Market and Susan's Fine Wine & Spirits.

I recently tasted Tieton Cider Works, which are also available in Santa Fe. Made with fresh-pressed juice from apples grown in the Pacific Northwest's Yakima Valley, Tieton cider is a blend of American, English and French cider varieties with organically grown dessert apples. I sampled some of the 10 varieties of Tieton ciders and I really love the Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider, a refreshing, light but flavor-filled beer-inspired cider infused with three kinds of hops (Cascade, Palisade and Fuggle). The Blossom Nectar Cider makes a nice aperitif, with sweet notes of apple blossom honey, vanilla and melon. And the Wild Washington Apple Cider pairs well with meat, chicken and cheese with its notes of green apple, pineapple and preserved lemon. Tieton is sold in Santa Fe at Susan's Wine & Spirits.

Cider's popularity isn't just a new trend. When the Mayflower got caught in a bad storm in en route to America in 1620,  a beam cracked, and it was an iron screw taken from cider press onboard that saved the day. By the 18th century, apple cider was  served at every family table. In 1749, almost every home on Staten Island had an orchard and in Albany, apples were being turned into cider for sale in nearby New York City. And by 1775, one out of 10 families in New England had a cider mill on their property.

While there's nothing like a cold glass of sweet cider, don't limit yourself to enjoying it out of a glass. Add it to roasts, chicken, soups and salad dressings and use it to flavor apple cakes and other desserts. It's a versatile spirit, and it's just coming into its own in the 21st century.

Washington 75 Cocktail (From Tieton Cider Works)
1 ounce gin
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce Simple Syrup or 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
2 ounces Tieton Blend Cider, chilled
Dash of Scrappy's Lavender Bitters
Shake gin, lemon juice, sugar and bitters in a chilled cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a champagne flute and top with cider. Garnish with lemon twist and serve.

Ward 59 Cocktail (From Tieton Cider Works)
2 ounces rye
1 ounce orange juice, strained
¾ ounce lemon juice
4 ounces Tieton Wild Washington Apple Cider
Dash of Scrappy's Lavender Bitters

Shake rye, juices and bitters in a chilled cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Tope with cider and serve.

Fennel Apple Salad with Cider Vinegar (From Bon Appetit; Serves 4)
1/2 cup cider
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 large Granny Smith apple, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
1 medium-size fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 cups arugula
1/2 cup pecans, toasted

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend; season dressing with salt and pepper. Combine apple, fennel and arugula in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mound salad on 4 plates; sprinkle with pecans.

Cinnamon-Sugar Cider Donuts (From Saveur; Yields 1 dozen)
¾ cups (7¾ oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ cup (1⅛ oz.) whole wheat graham flour
3½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup apple cider
¼ cup buttermilk
Oil, for forming and frying

Whisk flours, 2 tsp. cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and ½ cup sugar until fluffy. Add yolks, vanilla, cider, and buttermilk; mix until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add dry ingredients and mix until a soft, sticky dough forms.

Combine remaining cinnamon and sugar in a bowl; set aside. Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Using lightly oiled hands, roll about ¼ cup batter into a loose, sticky ball; pat gently into a disk. With your thumb, make a 1½" hole in the center of dough; carefully slide into oil and fry, flipping once, until golden, 3–4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a baking sheet with a wire rack; repeat with remaining dough.

Let donuts cool completely; toss in cinnamon-sugar mixture.