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The History of Hard Cider

July 17th, 2014

Apples trees were grown in England even before the Romans arrived, and the Romans brought organized cultivation. As apples grew better than grapes in the cool northern climate of England, cider became the drink of choice rather than wine. The same was true in Northern France. In some regions, cider is actually known as “apple wine”. The U.K. remains the country with the most production of cider, as well as the highest consumption per capita in the world.

The first English settlers in America brought cider with them. As apples were easier to cultivate on the East Coast than barley and the other grains necessary to make beer, cider’s popularity grew. Know the story of Johnny Appleseed? The story I was told as a child was that Johnny Appleseed just planted apple seeds everywhere he walked, growing apples you could eat all over the Midwest. This, as it turns out, is just a storybook tale, though based in reality. Johnny Chapman was a missionary of the Swedenborgian Church and he traveled ahead of settlers planting nurseries rather than orchards and left them in the care of a neighbor who sold trees. Apple trees grown from seed very rarely produce sweet apples for eating – that requires grafting. Johnny Appleseed, by planting sour apples from seed, was really promoting the production of hard cider! Johnny Appleseed’s work was very popular with the settlers as well because in some areas of the Midwest, the planting of fruit trees was a part of the requirements to gain rights to land through the Homestead Act.

Hard cider lost much of its market share after prohibition, because orchards were harder to re-convert to cider apple production, whereas land for barley and other beer-making grains were easy to convert.

Hard cider today, however, is beginning to regain its market share. It is a popular beverage not only in England, but also right here in our home state of Michigan. Many craft cider companies have been growing in our great state, using many traditional heirloom apples to craft both sweet and tart ciders. When apples are picked and how they are processed both contribute to the resulting sweetness (or lack thereof) in cider. The craft cider selection in our cooler has been growing too. Check out these great Michigan cider companies:

Tandem Ciders – from Leelenau County, Michigan, Tandem Ciders uses local Michigan apples to create (mostly) tart ciders. We carry Smackintosch, Early Day, and Pomona (a dessert wine made with apples).

Virtue Cider – from Fennville, MI, Virtue uses modern cider making techniques to produce old world, farmhouse style ciders.

Vander Mill – from Spring Lake, Michigan, Vander Mill uses high quality Michigan apples, never pasturized, and no sugar or preservatives added. They make great flavored ciders, like Totally Roasted (with roasted pecans) and Ginger Peach, as well as their Chapman’s Blend of heirloom apples and their Puff the Magic Cyser (a blend of honey and apples)

Black Star Farms – from Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, Black Star Farms is most well known for their wine, but their hard cider is a delightful treat as well!



What is a Shandy?

June 25th, 2014

More than Leinenkugels, shandies are beers mixed with another non-alcoholic beverage, such as a soft drink, carbonated lemonade, ginger beer, ginger ale, or fruit juice. Similar beer-based drinks are very popular in Europe, with the German Radler (a half and half mixture of Pilsner and sparkling lemon soda) being one that has made it to the Art of the Table shelves!

The shandy is gaining some new following in the USA with the appearance of the Traveler Beer Company. Traveler is a craft beer company out of Burlington, Vermont.  Alan Newman, the founder of Magic Hat Brewery who left the industry when he got bought out by the big guys, was approached by Jim Koch of Sam Adams who wanted Alan’s talent back in the world of craft brewing. Out of this came Alchemy and Science, the parent company of Traveler. Alchemy and Science seeks out holes in the craft beer world, and finds ways to fill those holes, whether they be geographic or style specific. Traveler Beer Company fills the hole of shandies in the craft beer world.

Traveler shandies mix a solid wheat beer with fresh fruit ingredients. Traveler shandies are not just for the summertime. The lemon and grapefruit shandies are year-round products. The strawberry shandy is the current summer seasonal, but look for the appearance of a pumpkin shandy in the fall!

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