Drink Like The Pilgrims This Thanksgiving With Cider

There's more to ciders than just the sweet. Some are mild and dry, reminiscent of white wines and champagnes.
There's more to ciders than just the sweet. Some are mild and dry, reminiscent of white wines and champagnes.

Drink some cider with your Thanksgiving meal. There, I said it. But first, some history; then we get to the recommendations.

"To the settlers of this new country, the apple represented the perfect homestead fruit," Ben Watson writes, author of Cider, Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own. An apple tree would produce bushels of fruit. With so much volume, the most practical thing to do was to make and ferment all sorts of apple-based goods: cider, apple brandy, applejack, and cider vinegar.

By the same token, ale was a bit of a burden to produce: it required a lot of wood to kiln the malt, and colonists were having a hard time getting barley and hops to grow in New England, with the experiments deemed a "dismal failure." Colonists turned to other things to try to find a palatable drink. Corn, molasses, maple sap, pumpkin (though nothing like Pumking, mind you...), even apparently persimmons. Once people came to the realization that apples were the golden fruit, it was like a switch was turned on across the country.

By all rights, the expression should be, "American as apple cider."

By 1767, the per capita consumption of apple cider was upwards of 35 gallons per year in Massachusetts. That's just over one 12 ounce glass of cider a day. It was what everyone drank, every day. It was cheap and abundant. It's a drink we should put back onto the table for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Modern ciders have crept into the alco-pop territory as of late, but there are still some craft cider makers that are putting out ciders that fall into flavors more reminiscent of white wines and champagnes. Here are a few to get you venturing into the world of cider as the perfect, and historically pertinent, beverage of choice. Did I mention they're naturally gluten-free? 

Accomplice Brewery and Ciderworks' Golden Cider

Available in to-go growlers, this drier and richer cider from the West Palm Beach producers offers a perfect introduction to the way cider traditionally tastes. The taproom is located at 1023 N. Florida Mango Road in West Palm Beach, and it's still a work in progress, so you'll have to bring your own growler to fill.

Spire Mountain's Dark & Dry

This dark and murky cider from Fish Brewing Company in Washington state has some tartness that is pleasingly balanced by hints of molasses and brown sugar that finishes rounded with a pleasing dryness. Not a looker, but definitely delicious. 

B. Nektar's Zombie Killer

Explore a little further into some of the variations of cider with a cyser from this Michigan producer. A cyser is a melomel (a fruit mead) made with apples. Zombie Killer is crafted with Michigan tart cherry juice, apple cider, and star thistle honey. It is sweet, but is balanced nicely with the tart cherries. Try it for dessert.

Cigar City Cider and Mead's Hard Cider

The Tampa-based brewery makes some canned cider which is a little less sweet than the usual mass-market beverage. It's full of fresh apple aromas and finishes clean, lending it as a good introductory lesson to ciders.

Samuel Smith's Organic Cider

In an ode to our colonial heritage, this cider from English purveyor Samuel Smith is "bright straw-gold with excellent clarity, presenting a light body with brilliant conditioning, a crisp clean flavor, and a dry finish." Sipping it is like sipping an apple orchard, only without the dirt and insects and all that nonsense.

Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut

Here is a French-styled cider brewed by Cidrerie Dujardin Condé-sur-Vire, made from fresh apples grown in the northwest of France. A medium bodied beverage with some residual sugar though quite balanced with flavors, evoking fresh and cooked apple with a hint of herbal essence. Not the shampoo, though. Brought to the States by Trader Joes, and thus only found there, it is one of the best valued ciders you can get for the quality, price, and ease of picking up a bottle.

I hope these ciders help to bring a little bit of the past to your present and perhaps open up some different flavors this Thanksgiving.

Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers. He is a Certified Beer Server and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.

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