Last weekend I went to Pour the Core, a cider festival held down in Brooklyn. That sweet, sweet nectar of the gods…how I love it.
In America we call it “hard cider” to distinguish it from its non-boozy counterpart, but elsewhere it’s just called “cider.” We’re apparently the only country that doesn’t know how to simplify concepts. (Our complex healthcare system; our avoidance of the metric system; using pennies instead of dollar coins; calling it “football” instead of “handball” or something, thereby confusing soccer fans everywhere…I could go on.)
BUT I DIGRESS.
“So Emme,” you ask, “where did cider even come from originally? Has it always been popular?”
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED, DEAR READER. In honor of the fun time I had at Pour the Core, I decided to put together a slapdash history of cider. Because the great thing about being out of college, kids, is that you can spend two of your evenings researching whatever catches your fancy.
That being said, I did honestly only spend about two days researching this, so take everything with a grain of salt. Here we go:
There’s a large consensus that apple trees were chillin’ alongside the Nile River as far back as 1300 B.C., but there’s not enough evidence to support whether or not the Egyptians were turning those apples into alcohol.
SO. Back in 55 B.C., the Romans showed up in England and found that the locals had made this delicious apple concoction. Historians seem to agree that that’s the earliest known moment for cider. The Romans brought the recipe back to Julius Caesar and his response was, “Hell yes. This is amazing. Cancel all of my scheduled invasions for next week, Helen.” (Or something like that. Caesar struck me as a pretty chill guy when he wasn’t off leading armies or getting stabbed in the back by trusted countrymen.)
Then, later on, England, France and Spain greatly improved the distilling and fermentation part, and cider really started making a name for itself. Charlemagne even made a reference to cider when he was rulin’ Europe back in the 9th century.
After the Norman conquest of 1066, the English started planting apple orchards specifically to produce the drink. (Everyone was probably so traumatized by the Battle of Hastings and all that followed that they decided, “To hell with it, time to get rat arsed,” and started boozin’ it up.)
Cider stayed popular during the Medieval Times. Monasteries sold cider to the public like it was their divine purpose. Farm laborers actually got a cider allowance as part of their wages. (Everyone remind me to make that stipulation during my next job interview).
Really, at this point in time, people drank more cider than water because water was so terrible for you; full of diseases and parasites like E. coli and cholera. Cider wasn’t a nice home for bacteria, and the drink tasted delicious, to boot. (I almost envy them, and then I remember that their water literally could kill them. …Whoops.)
But then the cider industry started declining because of “major agricultural changes.” I couldn’t find a single source that elaborated on what exactly that means…so I’m gonna assume it means that all of the apple trees became sentient, got up, and walked into the ocean.
SO. Since the English dropped the ball, let’s move on to the American portion of this story.
Back when we were first getting settled on new soil, English settlers brought apple seeds over for us (how nice of them). New England was having trouble getting barley to play nice with its soil, and so the apple trees were welcomed. The trees flourished in their new home, making apples suddenly cheap and easy to obtain. Cider orchards started popping up all over the damn place. (Thanks, Johnny Appleseed.)
Then, of course, we had to copy our English counterparts by DROPPING THE DAMN BALL. Cider’s popularity started to fall during the early 1900’s, thanks to beer. A huge number of German and Eastern European immigrants showed up in the U.S. with a deep preference for beer over cider. Plus, the new, Midwestern soil accepted barley with open arms, making it a lot easier for Americans to produce beer.
And then, of course, came Prohibition. Prohibitionists actually burned down cider orchards. …God, what a shit show that was.
SO. Cider took some time off, went to the beach, really focused on itself and its needs, and then came back later in the 20th century. Thanks to factories, mass production of cider could now be a thing, and boy oh boy, was it a THING.
Which is kinda hilarious, since the recent growing popularity of microbreweries has led to a great number of specialized ciders. People have begun favoring local ciders on tap over the mass-produced varieties. The craft cider movement has BEGUN.
Which now brings us back to the festival I attended last weekend. I and almost six hundred other people showed up that day to try more than 75 styles produced by over 40 different cider makers. We came, we drank, we celebrated this alcoholic creation that we all love.
Good job, cider. You’ve come so far.
Thanks for reading,
FUN FACT: Cider’s low alcohol content has to do with the low amount of sugar for apples. Once all the sugar gets converted, the yeast doesn’t have any food to go on and dies out, leaving the batch at about 5% alcohol content (give or take a few percentages).
For those wanting my cider opinions, here are my top faves from the festival:
McKenzie’s lemon (perfect blend of tart and sweetness).
Aspall blueberry (dry and delicious, like any English cider should be).
Snowdrift (the line in front of their booth was so long, but it was well worth the wait).
Rekorderling (so good that it seriously made me consider moving to Sweden).