Variations of apple cider have existed for at least a millennium, making it one of the oldest types of fermented libation the world has ever seen. Since its Paleolithic inception, cider has undergone huge swings in popularity that range from being the beverage of choice for early American settlers to the cloyingly sweet "alco-pops" favored by sorority sisters.
While hard cider still has a ways to go to shake off its "girly" beverage stigma, there are a few cider devotees proselytizing its potential. Brian Trout—San Diego's indisputable champion of all things cider, educator at the Homebrewer and for Half Pint Ciders, and one the first people to become a (CCP) Certified Cider Professional—filled me in on the state of what he calls "gorgeous drinks."
"Following the years after Prohibition, craft cider was all but dead," says Trout. However, in the past decade there's been a resurgence in demand. "Over the past 10 years, craft cider has seen...over 70 percent growth per year every year [in America]."
Cider's creation process is similar to winemaking, but "it has a humble 'drink of the people' feel to it the same as craft beer," claims Trout. "According to apple historian Dan Bussey, there are 16,468 apple varietals in North America alone." That means there's quite a bit of variety when it comes to cider flavor profiles, many of which may appeal to craft beer drinkers.
"Craft cider might come across like saisons, pilsners, old ales, wild (sour) ales, lambics, gueuzes and even IPAs," Trout says. There's also overlap when it comes to the yeasts used in craft beer and cider. White Labs has multiple strains in their vaults that can be used to brew both, depending on the end result brewers hope to achieve (dry, neutral, fruity or even spicy).
Trout recommends two local craft cideries for their "American Farmhouse rustic quality"—Julian Ciderworks, where they grow, ferment and process their cider onsite, and 101 Cider House in the Los Angeles area, which focuses on one-off blends that are never pasteurized or filtered, and thanks to their wild fermentation, contain three times the probiotics as kombucha.
Since Southern California's climate and terroir aren't ideal for apple growing, many "local" ciders are actually made from orchards in the Pacific Northwest. However, Trout assures me that several cideries are leading the charge to plant more orchards in the region, which will feature more cider-appropriate varieties and eschew the common "eating" apple cultivars such as Cripps Pinks, Fijis, or Granny Smiths.
Trout predicts that within two years there will be at least one or two cider bars in San Diego, and with two local cideries already in the works—Serpentine Cider and Raging Cider Co.—we may already be on the cusp of a craft cider revolution. And that's just fine with him.
"I'm seeing more restaurants, bars and bottle shops (like Bottlecraft, Bine & Vine, Chris's Liquor & Deli, and Holiday Wine Cellars) offering craft ciders and expanding the varieties, [as well as] more adventurous beer drinkers and wine drinkers not as cider-shy... which creates an environment for craft growth all over."