Once an infinitesimal part of the beverage market, hard ciders have seen great increases in sales over the last several years and are starting to register in the consciousness of American consumers. Much of that growth has been with women. But more aggressive marketing campaigns are attempting to lure millennial men to the alcoholic apple juice party.
Cider is an odd duck. It's fermented with yeast, and usually has low alcohol content similar to beer, but is made with fruit, like wine. Federal law is equally flummoxed, and says it's beer if it's less than 7% alcohol, apple wine if it's over, and bubbly champagne if it's over .39% carbon dioxide. Why does any of this matter? Taxes -- which are far less for beer than they are for sparkling wine. This can make a big financial impact on producers and final market price.
There are lighter craft ciders that appeal to wine lovers. A number of producers attempt to offer the finesse consumers might expect from fermented grape juice, using apples. As luck would have it, one of the best examples of these in the country is AeppelTreow's Appely Doux, made right here in Wisconsin. With a bright floral but tart flavor, it's closer to a true sparkling wine than a beer, and makes for a beautiful fall quaffer. Appely Doux, or really any of AeppleTreow's offerings, is good with alpine cheeses and quality farmhouse cheddars, as well as with fall fruits, vegetables and game.
At the pinnacle of the cider world is Eric Bordelet from Normandy, France. A former Parisian sommelier, Bordelet left the restaurant world to take over his family's orchards. Using more than 20 heirloom varietals and trees that are 40 to 50 years old, he coaxes flavors and nuance from their juice (each tree is hand-picked) that is as exceptional as fine wine. Biodynamically farmed, his Sidre Brut is available locally.
To sample a few food pairings, and to explore the world of cider further, Brasserie V on Monroe Street has recently been offering nine to 10 ciders on its menu. While these are all bottled, making it a bit difficult to sample more than one or two at a time, they appear with excellent descriptions to help customers choose. A notable offering, Ross-on-Wye from England, produces a still farmhouse cider that is exceptionally clean and reminiscent of natural wine -- an ideal pairing for a Croque-monsieur. Others available now at the Brasserie include Dupont Normandy, Henney's still (not sparkling) cider, Oliver's perry (pear cider), and two varieties of Peckham's, from New Zealand.