I was exchanging some e-mails with Elana (probably pizza-related) when the topic of cider came up. "I know NOTHING about cider," Elana wrote. "Except that I like drinking it!" With such a willing spirit and thirst for knowledge (and cider), how could I resist the opportunity to answer the call for a guest post? I ran out of my house and hopped on a ferry to begin the journey to Finnriver Farm and Cidery on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula to learn more.
Let's start at the beginning: What apples are used to make cider? I turned to the man in charge of cider at Finnriver, Keith Kisler, who explained: "We use different types of apples for different types of cider. Granny Smith, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Pinova, Pink Lady, and Gravenstein make up the bulk of our base apples for our ciders. We blend traditional cider apples known as sharps, bittersweets, and bittersharps to varying percentages depending on what flavor profile we're going for. The higher acid dessert types of apples give a crisp, tart, light, green apple profile whereas the traditional cider apples give an earthy, tannic, complex, astringent, and sometimes spicy profile."
All these descriptors sound like what I would use to describe a wine; they are practically interchangeable. I asked Keith about some of the similarities between making cider and making wine: "I'm no expert, but from what I can tell making cider and wine are pretty similar. Both have many styles and approaches. It really comes down to taking fruit, getting the juice out of it gently, adding yeast or risking a wild fermentation, managing the fermentation correctly, racking off the lees, aging, filtering (in some cases), bottling, drinking." (Here is where I give Elana credit for understanding this vital, final step in the cider-making process.)
One of the preconceived notions about cider is that it's all sweet. Though grapes are sweet we don't assume that the resulting wine is going to be, but sometimes I think people are surprised by a dry apple cider. So I want to focus on two fantastic dry apple ciders from Finnriver.
The Artisan Sparkling Cider is an example of how elegant a dry cider can be. It's made using the same technique as Champagne, where a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle: Added yeast and sugar work together to produce bubbles. Unfortunately you are then left with the difficult task of getting rid of the resulting sediment. This process is definitely a labor of love at Finnriver, as each bottle is hand-turned (riddled) to slowly move the spent yeast (RIP, heroic yeast) to the top of the bottle. This sediment is then removed (disgorged) in a process that shoots it out like a rocket, and the bottle is quickly corked. While I was happy to attempt riddling, I was not keen on volunteering for this seemingly dangerous endeavor. (The danger being my fear of wasting cider with my clumsy, ungraceful movements.)
So what does all this extra hard work that secondary fermentation demands add to the finished cider? "It tends to have a yeastier, toasty flavor," Keith explained. In addition he noted how the carbonation is distinct: fuller, with a creamy foam (mousse), longer lasting in the glass, and with finer strings of bubbles (perlage). And as I'm sure by now Elana is wondering what to eat with this cider, Keith recommends spicy foods like Thai and any white fish with "light sauce or no sauce."
The Dry Hopped Cider was really unexpected. With Washington State being such a powerhouse in hops production, I am intimately familiar with the intake of them on a regular basis in the form of beer. But in my cider? Two of my favorite worlds collide! And, as Keith said, it turns out this is pretty much how it came to be: "Farmers Jeff and Janet grow a small plot of hops for homebrewing and they threw some hops in a keg and we loved it. So we followed their lead and recipe and have experimented in minor ways but for the most part have stuck to the original recipe. We think of it as our transition cider for the IPA folks out there." So what is Keith pairing the dry with? "Popcorn with plenty of salt and nutritional yeast." (Naturally I applaud all popcorn and sparkling beverage recommendations.) Beyond popcorn? "Most any other food, especially in the afternoon summer sun barefoot after work. I love the dry hop cider."
So kick off your shoes let's enjoy some cider. I'll bring the popcorn.
Jameson Fink is the Wine Contributor at Foodista.
He responds to my occasional requests for blog contributions with grace, ease and exceptionally well-written and researched stuff. Not like I need to tell you that, you just read it. I have never met Jameson in person. We met on Twitter. This is the magic of Twitter. If you too would like to follow Jameson around on Twitter (I recommend it), you can find him here.
Thank you, Jameson!