Paul L. Hayden / Lake Superior Magazine
Sweet Truths About Our Hard Ciders
It’s relatively new for Lake Superior’s shores, but hard cider actually is the United States’ oldest drink. Strong, or alcoholic, cider dates to pre-Colonial times when foul water made fermented beverages the safer, more reliable, drinking choice.
“Wine is wisdom, beer is strength and water is dangerous,” as folks once said. Even children drank hard cider because farm milk, quick to sour, was rapidly turned into butter and cheese.
Much like apple pie, hard cider became a populist symbol until the mid-1800s when it was bested by beer, brought (along with brewing knowledge) by German and East European immigrants. Prohibition snuffed out both, and orchards turned to selling sweet fresh cider.
After repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s, hard cider still flagged behind sales of wine, beer and harder liquors.
But recently, thanks to interest in local, sustainable and, yes, gluten-free, craft brewing, hard cider is hitting a tipping (or tippling) point. Nationwide, sales increased 75 percent from 2013 to 2015, making it the fastest growing product in the alcoholic beverage market.
As it turns out, our Lake shores, particularly in Wisconsin, can provide perfect growing conditions for apples, just like the world’s top cider-producing regions in Normandy, France, the Basque area of Spain, and the West Coast of Britain. That makes us a great locale for local hard ciders.
The best ciders are not-too-sweet, food-friendly and with profiles that run from crisp and light, to dark and strong, to sparkling or still.
Hard ciders blend apples with varying levels of sweetness and tannins, the quality most often associated with dry red wine (that catches in your throat). Sweet apples (such as the Golden Russet or Jonathan) are tangy sweet. Bittersweet varieties, often called cider apples, have a higher tannin content and are mildly bitter (think Michelin or Yarington Mill), and the sharps are high in acid and in tannins, teasingly called “spitters” (try Bramley’s Seedling, or Burgundy). The character of the fruit varies with its terroir – the French wine term applied to the climate, growing conditions, soil and geography that generate “the taste of a place.” Many of the best cider apples are found in the wild.
To make hard cider, the selected apple varieties are ground into a pomace or mash in a process once done with pressing stones or in a cider mill, but automated today. Next the pomace is loaded onto wooden racks or straw mats and pressed. Then the juice is left to ferment, either by the apples’ natural bacteria or with added yeast, at low temperatures to retain the apples’ aromas and flavors. The process can take three months to one year. Innovative cider makers may add champagne or wine yeasts or might age their cider in whisky or bourbon casks for different effects. Hard cider may also be pressed from other fruit like blueberries, raspberries or cranberries using the same process. Several breweries also craft apple ale, which unlike cider relies on grains (barley or wheat) and special ale yeasts.
Along Lake Superior, three cider makers are producing distinctly different flavors:
• North Shore Winery in Lutsen, Minnesota, is also home to Sawtooth Mountain Cider House, just off Highway 61. Chuck Corliss and Kim Schroeder, inspired by Castle Danger Brewing Company, decided to put their passion for craft beverages to work just this year. Along with four red and four white wines, they are making two very different ciders. Herbie’s Blend, a rich, full-bodied cider, is sweetened with locally produced Caribou Cream maple syrup and Kim’s Blend, drier and slightly tart, makes a light and refreshing drink.
• White Winter Winery, Iron River, Wisconsin, on Highway 2 is best known for its wide selection of craft meads, but it also is making a lighter, bright, bubbly and very crisp hard cider.
• Hauser’s Superior View Farm, on County Road J in the lush, rolling apple orchard region of Bayfield, Wisconsin, hosts the Bayfield Winery along with its gorgeous orchard and wide variety of apples. It produces several wines and sweet ciders, including Blueberry, Cranberry and Raspberry Farm House Cider. Hauser’s blends its orchard apples with the fruit it grows or sources from nearby farms to create refreshing, sweet ciders.
Hard cider is a staple in my kitchen, for sipping as well as cooking. Like wine, it adds just enough acid to balance rich sauces, stews and soups, while adding a touch of sweetness and zing. As when cooking with wine, you’ll want to use a cider you like to drink in any of these recipes and then plan to serve it with the dish to complete the flavor boost.
Pork Roast with Apples & Rosemary in Cider Sauce
Serves: 6-8 • Prep Time: 15 minutes • Cook Time: 45 minutes • Preheat oven to 450° F
- To taste, salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 (3-lb) boneless pork roast
- 1 head garlic, broken into cloves, cut into slivers
- 2 c. hard cider, divided
- 1 large apple, cored, peeled and sliced
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter or cream, optional
- For garnish, fresh parsley, chopped
Mix together the salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and rub the mixture on the roast. Next, using a sharp knife, make cuts into the meat to stuff with the garlic slivers. Place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan. Put into the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
Open the oven and add about 1/2 cup of the cider, lowering the heat to 325° F. Continue roasting, adding 1/4 cup of cider every 15 minutes or so. Baste the roast with any liquid that accumulates on the bottom of the pan.
Start checking the roast after about 1-1/2 hours of cooking. When it’s done, an instant read thermometer will register about 145° F. Remove the roast to a warm platter.
Put the roasting pan on the stove over one or two burners set to medium high heat. Bring to a boil, and reduce the liquid to about half, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any accumulated brown bits. When the sauce is reduced, stir in the fresh apple slices. Add a little butter or cream if desired.
Slice the roast and serve with the sauce drizzled over all. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Cookbook author and outdoor guide Beth Dooley spends plenty of time in the Bayfield area getting to know the local people and produce.