It is believed that beer had a very big hand in shaping civilization as we know it. The necessity for grain crops to keep producing the raw ingredients for all manner of proto-hops beverages defined multiple societies’ agriculture. Ancient people had to, after all. Not only did practically everyone consume these drinks, it was the chief food source for the subjugated peoples whose labor provided the foundation upon which cities and empires arose.
What happens when necessity dictates how and what can or can’t be grown? This was the obstacle settlers were saddled with when arriving in the new world.
Colonists discovered only bitter crabapples growing in New England. Grain crops essential to making wort for beer proved very tricky to cultivate there, too. Beer sent over from the old world was good only for X number of months and the travel time over the Atlantic had to be taken into account. Pre-Revolutionary Americans needed a sustainable beverage resource.
Well, if crabapples grow here, why not bring over some apple seeds from England and Ireland? That they did and cider became the go-to drink in nearly every household in the colonies. New England states alone were making around 300,000 gallons of cider by the mid-18th century. As west-ward expansion began, cider went with them.
It puts a very grown-up spin on the old Johnny Appleseed tale we all heard in grade school when we learn that John Chapman – his real name – cultivated and tended to his apple nurseries ahead of explorers and settlers specifically for cider production. The seeds he used produced tart, sour apples ideal for cider. Trees grown from seeds rarely produced sweet apples and had to be grafted and spliced with existing sweet-producing tree wood.
Cider’s popularity dropped off as the early 1900s brought European immigrants partial to beer. Prohibition almost killed it off for good; even non-alcoholic cider was restricted to a maximum of 200 gallons a year. Cider apple orchards were burnt down just in case.
Where grain crops can yield within a year, cider trees require at least three. Easier to make beer, cider was all but dead.
The last three years have seen a big resurgence in cider’s popularity; a $90 million increase in sales over 2013, in fact! Where beer’s myriad styles have fans that have grown to love them – worts and all (sorry) – cider is friendlier across the board with its tart/sweet/dry/crisp qualities.
Ace Cider out of Sebastopol, California has a beauty for us. Joker is palest gold with pretty jet-streams of bubbles racing to the top. Vinous notes of traditional French Chardonnay here along with fresh green apple and a touch of pear both in the nose and on the palate. I’m guessing its crisp, effervescent texture is owed to Champagne yeast. It all comes together for a mouth-wateringly satisfying beverage.
If Chapman were here today, I think he’d be very proud of his legacy.