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Food and Drink Features

Some like it hard

As fall blows in, so does the crisp apple taste of hard cider.

Heide Brandes October 19th, 2011

As the trees turn colors and the air takes on the clean nip of coming winter, the sunny ales and fruity wines of summer do not seem to have the same comforting place by the fire as a traditional cider.

Whether warming up a cup of hot mulled cider or sipping the strong, sharp, crisp alcoholic ciders, the apples of fall squeeze out a distinctive drink that’s both comforting, but surprisingly potent, as well.

“Normally, alcoholic cider is pretty strong, especially the longer you age it,” said Gail White, owner of The Brew Shop in Oklahoma City. “It’s stronger usually than beer or wine.”

For those looking forward to the apple-soaked days of fall, more and more cider — both nonalcoholic and alcoholic — is becoming available locally. Even with a gallon of storebought apple juice, a bit of booze and a little creativity, brewing or sipping fall’s nectar is easy.

right, Gail White gets a start on holiday brewing.

Cider has been passing through the lips of humans for thousands of years. Romans were known to brew alcohol from apples, and spread that drink throughout the empire. In the Middle Ages, monks cultivated apple orchards in a more systematic fashion, brewing their cider from their own crops.

After the Normans invaded England in 1066, cider grew even more popular as the French invaders brought new varieties of apples into the land.

As the first ships landed on the shores of North America, apple trees were among the first plants introduced to the New World. Cider remained popular in the United States until Prohibition.

It’s making a comeback thanks to a revival, of sorts, in cider drinking and the art of small breweries that create ciders with a variety of unique flavors and smells.

“Woodchuck and Hornsby’s continue to be the best-selling ciders, but we are getting a couple of good English ciders now,” said John Enterline, assistant manager at the Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard in Edmond. “The English ciders are drier in taste, almost like a white wine. A very good cider should have a nice balance of sweet and acidity.”

More customers are turning to ciders as well, especially those who picked up a taste for the drink while traveling Europe.

“We sell a fair amount of it,” said Enterline. “It’s more popular now because there are better ciders. People who travel to England get  into the habit of drinking it, and when they come back, they want it here, too.”

English ciders, like Strongbow and Samuel Smith, are giving cider lovers more choice. While Hornsby’s and Woodchuck tend to be on the sweeter side, the English ciders are more dry and tart. Pear cider, called perry, is also available.

It’s more popular now because there are better ciders.
—John Enterline

“Cider comes in levels of sweet: dry, medium and sweet,” said Enterline. “They usually don’t put on the bottle what level of sweetness it is, though. Ask the employees, if you are in doubt.”

Those who wish to brew their own cider may have a long wait ahead of them, said White.

“It takes several months or longer to do,” she said. “Most recipes call for six to 12 months.”

The longer cider ferments, she said, the better it tastes. Using mostly champagne yeast, the cider can be up to 18 percent alcohol, but runs toward a dry taste. Matt Reynolds, Oklahoma City brewer and owner of the forthcoming Amber Moon Meadery, said he prefers a beer yeast to retain the sweetness of the apples.

“I like the dark and sweet versions,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of the dry stuff.”

While waiting on the fermentation magic at home, one can find most brands served throughout the metro. Even mixing apple juice with beer can create a fall blend.

“You can make a poor man’s black and tan using apple juice and Guinness,” said Enterline. “It’s like a black and tan (traditionally made with Guinness and Bass), but it has some of that apple sweetness to it.”

Photo by Shannon Cornman

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