Cider: An American Revival

By the19th century, New Jersey was already established as serving both the New York and Philadephia markets with a variety of goods and services. One of the many products that New Jersey excelled in making, especially around the Newark area, was cider. Today, "cider" means "freshly pressed apple juice", but back then cider was an alcoholic beverage, made from apples by pressing and fermentation. At long last, real cider is making a comeback in this country, propelled in part by the success of the microbrew revolution.

Despite the healthy relationship between craft beers and cider, cidermaking is closer in spirit and method to winemaking than brewing. Winemakers in the New World were held back by the reluctance of wine grapes to grow in the humid, unpredictable Eastern climate. But apples prospered, from New England down to the Carolinas, and cidermaking was under way within a few years of the first settlements. Cider demands special apples, and soon the colonists had developed varieties that produced great cider in each of the cider-making districts: Taliaferro, Gilpin, Hewes Crab, Harrison. These quaint names, unfamiliar now, were once as well-known as Macintosh and Delicious.

Cider suffered from bad press and competition during the last part of the 19th century. The Temperance movement focused on cider's popularity, claiming that its use led inevitably to more harmful indulgences ( a gateway drink?). New waves of immigration from Germany and the Slavic countries also increased the popularity of beer, which could be made anywhere, any time. Cider was dependent on the apple harvest, which was difficult to transport and highly seasonal. After Prohibition, cider never recovered its former place in American palates. Only recently has that sorry state shown signs of changing.

Cider made only from apples can contain anywhere from 2 to 9 percent alcohol. At its best, cider is a light, faintly fruity drink that could stand in for a good Chablis or Chardonnay at the dinner table. Some ciders, called "mousseaux," are made and enjoyed in much the same way as Champagne. Others, carbonated under pressure and supplemented with sugar and flavorings, are sold in six-packs as a pleasant alternative to beer. New Jersey has once again become a center for cider-making as well, with the advent of cideries like Jersey Cider Works (which distributes its Ironbound products in cans, but without the added sugar or flavorings!). If cider enthusiasts have their way, this delightful drink will once again become part of the American taste and table. For now, cider is an adventure – seek and enjoy!  You can start at the Reeves-Reed cider tasting on October 13.

Illustration: a watercolor of the Harrison apple from 1899.