The craft brewing phenomenon has produced similar local, small-batch production of other spirits in the past few years, including whiskey and vodka. Like beer, one craft beverage that has begun to go mainstream — and also has become mass produced — is hard cider.
Hard cider has a long history in America, going back to the colonial era. During that time, alcoholic beverages were consumed regularly by all members of society — even children — because the boiling process had the added (then unknown) benefit of killing off dangerous bacteria. In a time before pasteurization, alcoholic beverages were consumed by many instead of cow’s milk, or even water, because people realized they were simply safer to drink (as were other brewed drinks, like coffee and tea).
English colonists brought their taste for both hard cider and beer to America, but found the hops and barley they were used to back home were not easily grown in New England. Apples, however, were. Thus, cider became a staple of the early American diet. The influx of German immigrants and westward migration in the 19th century to the Great Plains — where grains were easily grown — saw beer eclipse cider in popularity. Following Prohibition, hard cider did not return to American glasses — as beer, wine and liquor did — until recently.
Vermont’s Woodchuck Cidery touts itself as producing the nation’s first craft cider, back in 1991. Its signature brand, Woodchuck Amber (which is not really an amber color — I’m not sure where the name comes from) is quite good, not too sweet and, like most ciders, very lightly carbonated. Even better, I thought, is its Granny Smith Cider, which is very light and acidic — not sweet at all — and very refreshing. Woodchuck also produces Gumption Hard Cider, which is available in bottles and on tap, and sweeter with a much more pronounced apple taste than the other two I tried from Woodchuck.
Most ciders produced on a large scale are, not surprisingly, found in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where apple orchards are abundant. Two of the most widely available (if you’ve been to a grocery store or seen a television, you’ve probably heard of them) are Redd’s Apple Ale and Angry Orchard Cider.
Angry Orchard is owned by the Boston Brewing Co., best known for its Samuel Adams line of beers. I found it to be not angry, but very sweet, just like apple juice. My wife commented that it took her back to Vacation Bible School — all that was missing were the graham crackers. Redd’s, owned by Miller Brewing, is technically an apple-flavored beer, not a true cider, and comes in a variety of flavor combinations. Like Angry Orchard, it is very sweet, like apple juice, although I did like the raspberry version.
As craft breweries look to put out more and different styles of beer, some have introduced their own versions of cider as well. Locally, Fairhope Brewing Co. currently has its own cider — Along Came a Cider — available in its taproom, while Birmingham’s Avondale Brewing Co. produces a Farmhouse Cider. Lakeside Cider is on tap at Red Clay Brewing Co. in Opelika.
If cider isn’t your thing, as we move into the early summer there are a number of craft beer festivals on tap for our area.
Southern Napa’s 99 Bottles of Beer of the Lawn was held in Daphne in early May, and, although I was unable to attend, I heard it was a wonderful event with lots of great beer styles to sample.
Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest is Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10, at the Sloss Furnaces. With a reported 150 beers available, it should be amazing. Tickets cost $40 for one day or $70 for a weekend pass (www.magiccitybrewfest.com).
That same weekend, there are two festivals next door in Mississippi. On June 9, the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival (fondren.org/mscraftbeerfest) will be held in Jackson, while on June 10 the Hattiesburg Craft Beer Festival will feature more than 100 beers for tasting. Tickets for the Hattiesburg festival cost $35; information is available at www.hattiesburgcraftbeerfest.com.