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PAINful Drinking: Three Producers Who are Redefining Cider

Austin L. Ray

For too many Americans drinkers, cider has been relegated to the unfortunate territory somewhere between “cloyingly sweet” and “embarrassing to drink.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, much like the craft beer and small-batch spirit worlds, cider is seeing a revolution of sorts.

“Today’s drinkers are becoming more and more interested in trying new things, and cider gives them something a little different from your classic beer or wine options,” Angry Orchard’s Ryan Burk says. “When it’s done well, it’s made with high-quality ingredients and intention, and I think that is what drinkers are looking for. It’s our goal to continue to innovate in the cider world, whether that’s with trying different yeast strains, uncommon ingredients, or new techniques. We’re also seeing drinkers start to experiment with hard cider much like they did with craft beer years ago, using cider as an ingredient in cooking, pairing cider with foods and even in mixology, creating some pretty interesting cider cocktails.”

Part of the work might be in the hands of makers around the country whose product will help define the future. While acquisitions occur and terminology gets argued, there’s plenty of delicious cider being made all over. Below, we highlight three of the United States’ most exciting producers.

Ryan Burk, Angry Orchard Hard Cider

Who: Burk grew up in New York, but made his way to Chicago for law school, where the local beer scene convinced him he was pursuing the wrong career. After helping Michigan’s Virtue Cider start up, he left for Angry Orchard where he now leads “innovation efforts and small batch experimentation at a new R&D facility on a historic 60-acre orchard in the Hudson Valley.”

Where: Hudson Valley, N.Y.

Why his ciders are special: “It really comes down to the high quality ingredients and unique apple blend we use for each of our ciders. For example, our flagship cider, Crisp Apple, took the team nearly 20 years of tinkering and experimenting with recipes until arriving at the perfect pairing. We use a blend of culinary apples and French bittersweet apples from Normandy and Brittany regions of France. They’re bred expressly for cider making and have roots in orchards that have been growing cider apples for centuries. We think it’s an incredibly balanced cider, and gives just the right amount of sweetness and tartness.”

Steve Wood, Farnum Hill Ciders

Who: Wood started working on his orchard in 1965, started managing it in 1973, and bought it in 1984. “This is where I grew up,” he says. “I’ve pretty much been doing this my whole life.”

Where: Lebanon, N.H.

Why his ciders are special: “We know how little we know. We’ve been making cider pretty much as long as anybody on a commercial scale. And we feel like neophytes. We live in a constant state of something resembling fear and eager expectation and uncertainty. We know quite a lot of stuff, but we don’t think we know nearly enough. We’re not confident in anything. We don’t feel expert. And in a way, I think our ciders reflect that. Beyond that, they’re chiefly good because we’re growers and we’ve been paying very, very close attention to the fruit we grow, and how it’s grown… When you start getting confident that you’re an expert at something, you’re probably starting to lose your expertise. We still feel like we’re muddling around in a dark closet.”

Kevin Zielinkski, E.Z. Orchards

Who: “I am from Oregon, and have always lived here,” Zielinkski says. “I live with my wife Vicki on the farm where I was raised, so this may lead you to the conclusion of what I have done for the last 54 years.”

Where: Salem, Ore.

Why his ciders are special: “The experiences I had of drinking cider before I began my explorations are few, and I did not have an epiphany that caused me to crave cider. I did find in cider a fruit I understand, that is what pulled me toward the method I use, and the stubborn adherence to pre-prohibition and European production history. I have the intention to allow the fruit it’s truest voice in my cider. And attempting this is often thrilling and challenging.”

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