What is modern hard cider? I think that’s a loaded question. It’s like asking someone what is a traditional hard cider, which will depend on your tradition. If you had asked me 6 month ago, I would have told you that modern hard cider meant hard ciders boldly featuring adjuncts. This was because modern is defined as something related to the present versus the remote past, and the current argument in the US is about whether hard cider should be following the craft beer industry (modern) or the wine industry (traditional). Questions are being asked about whether we should be adding passion fruit, hops, and pineapple to hard ciders or pursing the pure essence of the apple and the pear. This seemed to be the hot topic. However, lately, I see people talking about modern being about science and the process used to make cider.
Personally, I think both of these are rubbish. Hard cider is neither modern or traditional, and yet it is both modern and traditional. It’s worldly history is rich and traditional, especially in countries like England, France, and Spain. It even has a rich history in the US. However, the US hard cider history is a lost history, and it’s resurgence is most definitely modern. Even if you analyze the rich cider history in places like England, you see the history is not homologous. In the West Country and Three Counties areas, ciders tend to be tannin based while eastern England is acid based because of the fruits used. However, traveling through the West Country I also found hard ciders using adjuncts like elderflower, raspberry, and spices. Is that traditional or modern? Maybe it’s both.
I believe modern hard cider is really about two trends. One of those trends I believe is just emerging and the other is a general food trend that has been gaining ground for years. Let’s start with the general food trend. 30-40 years ago, the US was about convenience. Which was about packaged and preserved food. The goal was easy to fix and easy to eat. To quote a Barenaked Ladies song; “They have pre-wrapped sausages, but they don’t have pre-wrapped bacon”.
That trend has been changing as people realize the impact preservatives and processed food can have on your body and health. The trends for organic and locally sourced have been taking root and growing. Big brands have acquired or built organic food offerings. You know it’s more than a passing fad when Kroger’s, Safeway, and other major grocers have whole sections of organic produce and other products. Look, even Michelob is offering an organic beer. This is a big reason I started making my own hard cider. Just like the farm-to-table push, I wanted to understand and control what went into my cider. Try to find an organic hard cider in the US. You can, but there are not a lot of them. Try to find one that doesn’t use preservatives like sulfites, it’s even harder.
Some would try to make you believe it’s dangerous to not use sulfites, or that it’s not modern because science tells us the correct way to make cider. Driving to work can be dangerous and so can poking a rattlesnake with a stick. You don’t drive a car if the brakes don’t work, and you don’t poke a rattlesnake unless it’s a really long stick. Not using sulfites and preservatives isn’t dangerous but it does require understanding about what you are doing. Also, modern isn’t about whether you are stabilizing your hard cider so you can back sweeten. For me, it’s about understanding what your putting into your body and seeking to make it a healthy addition. If you want sulfites and preservatives, go for it. Just don’t judge others who don’t. Also, don’t be surprised when more people are interested in foods and hard ciders that are truly natural.
I also believe modern is about developing your palate, something most people never consider. Do you know why you like cider? Have you ever really thought about it? Do you like that sour finish that lingers in the back of your throat? Maybe, it’s that drying effect at the end. Maybe it’s the aroma you get when you pick up that glass. Could it be the sweet note of apple and honey? What if it wasn’t the apple, but the burn of ginger at the end? If you haven’t thought about it, I encourage you to contemplate your next cider. I believe this is the next modern trend for hard cider: awareness.
In the US, the trend isn’t about whether hard cider should be made using traditional cider apples, aged in barrels, or combined with adjuncts. That’s because I don’t think we should be looking behind us to define hard cider. I think we should be looking around us. The land and the people that make up America. We are a melting pot of cultures. I believe the future of hard cider in America is in combining the land, the cultures, and the flavors that are around us. Should someone come up with a hard cider recipe for smokey jalapeño prickly pear? Why not?
My wife and I enjoy cooking as well as hard cider making. We made an Asian plum barbecue sauce and chorizo pizza with candied jalapeños. We told a friend about it. After an odd look, they said “I don’t know about that”. It’s been one of our favorite pizzas and paired exceptionally with my plum-ginger hard cider. It reminded us both of a local pizza we ate growing up while also fusing flavors to create something completely new. It broadened our palate and stretched us in a good way. Why shouldn’t cider be the same?
I believe modern hard cider is about a natural or raw style of hard cider using local apples and other ingredients that reflects and even challenges our sense of what flavors go together. Modern hard cider recipes should force us to broaden our palate and expand our methods. If I create a hard cider recipe that people love by using a nutrient deficient must, is that wrong? Should I not like it because I didn’t follow a textbook or scientific approach? Should my hard cider recipes only contain specific fruits and exclude the inclusion and fusion of local flavors? I say “No”.
What do you say? If you agree, check out my book and see how you can get started on the path of creating your own modern hard cider recipes.