Part 2: What is Hard Cider?
Last time, we talked about the history of Mead and how it relates to Cyser. Cyser is a hybrid of Mead and Hard Cider, so today we’ll focus on that second half.
Hard Cider is an alcoholic beverage made primarily from apples. Traditionally, it’s been made from specific types of “cider apples,” which are more bitter than the “dessert” apples we commonly eat today. It’s often fermented to dry/mostly dry, often still (no bubbles), with ABVs commonly in the 6-12% range. Hard Cider is naturally gluten-free.
Apple orchards have turned up in recorded history since the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, but the first recorded appearance of Hard Cider was in 55 BC, when the Romans invaded Briton and found the Celts making it from local crab-apples.
The Romans helped spread Hard Cider throughout Europe, and it became extremely popular. People even used it as currency, to pay taxes, and debts. Specific regions began to develop their own unique styles, and to this day English, French, and Spanish ciders are esteemed and judged at the same level as fine wines.
By the 1630’s, Hard Cider was being produced by New England colonialists in America. Most colonists of this time/area were family farmers, and apple trees did extremely well in the rocky, challenging northern soils, so Hard Cider flourished in the New World. It was literally the most common drink in North America for the first 200 years of our history.
A number of factors occurred to doom American Hard Cider to obscurity: First, the industrial revolution moved people from rural agriculture to city factories, killing the family orchard tradition. At the same time, a huge influx of Central and Eastern European immigrants arrived, bringing with them a cultural affinity for beer over Hard Cider.
But the worst blow came from the Temperance Movement of the mid 1800’s. The demonization of alcohol by these teetotalers would eventually result in the 18th Amendment: Prohibition. Since cider apples don’t taste very good for eating, there was no use for the Hard Cider orchards, and the vast majority were cut down.
The craft beverage boom was the rebirth of Hard Cider in America, and a huge boon to struggling farmers. In 2014, New York State introduced the Farm Cidery license, giving farmers and Hard Cider producers powerful legal tools and a platform to grow their businesses. Many have found new success turning their apples back into Hard Cider production, and many others have been encouraged to start their own orchards. Traditional Hard Ciders are now coming back into vogue, as are new methods and wildly experimental styles.
Cyser is a hybrid: a specialized form of Mead and Hard Cider. Next time, we’ll finally answer the question, what is Cyser?