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Ciders give America’s favorite fruits a chance to sparkle

If you hail from the Midwest, fresh-pressed apple cider makes you think of autumn — the season where a bountiful harvest results in something a little out of the ordinary that puts one of America’s favorite fruits in a glass. 

Other parts of the world don’t feel the same, but it’s for a good reason. In the same way “football” denotes soccer everywhere but here, globally the word “cider” refers specifically to hard cider, a fresh-pressed fruit beverage that benefits from the addition of alcohol.

More and more, ciders have come into vogue as an alternative to beer, wine and cocktails. In addition to traditional apple cider, there are pear ciders, cranberry ciders and a host of other flavors. Ciders can be sweet or dry, sparkling or still and pour from a bottle, can or barroom tap.

Making cider is similar to making wine. The fruit is pressed, the juice extracted and the remaining pulp composted, used for animal feed or, in some cases, distilled into fruit liqueurs. Calvados and applejack are both distilled from cider and its byproducts.

The juice is fermented for three months before it’s bottled and ready. Sometimes extra sugar is added to make it effervescent, but that takes time and requires special equipment, bottles and corks.

The United Kingdom consumes the most cider per capita, but the beverage also has its fans in Ireland, France and northern Spain. Other parts of Europe offer their own variations on cider.

Cider can be a boutique beverage product, but all the major brewers have hopped on the wagon. MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Stella Artois, Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams’ brewer) and C&C Group (Magners Irish Cider) all either produce their own lines of alcoholic U.S. cider or have bought up a company that does.

Regardless of where you stand on the micro versus macro brewing argument, one thing the volume producers can offer is consistency and quality. But cider fans know there is reason to explore some of the smaller brands available throughout Wisconsin. Here are some notable ones:

As one of the newest boutique brands, Island Orchard Cider also has a Wisconsin pedigree. Milwaukeeans Bob and Yannique Purman own a farm on Washington Island, off the tip of Door County, which has its share of apple trees. That resource, combined with an investigation into Yannique’s French roots, led to the couple’s decision to produce traditional French-style ciders.

At their tasting room (12040 Garrett Bay Road, Ellison Bay) on the peninsula’s northern end, Island Orchard offers a medium dry brut apple cider whose tart fruit characteristics only get better in its oak-aged version. The pair also produces a pear and apple-cherry cider as well.

Seattle Cider, from its Washington namesake city, takes a more adventurous approach to its products. Pint cans of the company’s dry, semi-sweet and citrus hard cider can be found in most package stores. The flavors are refined and tend more toward the dry rather than sweet side. Expect a little spice here and there as well.

Some of the firm’s varieties can be harder to find. Cider Three Pepper, brewed with jalapeno, habanero and poblano peppers, is one, as is Gin Botanical, with layered flavors made from gin ingredients, including lemon, cucumber and juniper, and featuring gin-and-tonic overtones.

Sonoma Cider, from the heart of wine country in Healdsburg, California, takes the beverage in another bold direction. In addition to an apple cider (The Hatchet) and a pear cider (The Pitchfork), the cidery established by father- and-son team David and Robert Cordtz in 2013, also produces The Anvil, an organic apple cider blend aged in a former bourbon barrel.

Barrel-aging is all the rage nowadays, and Sonoma does well with The Anvil. Expect flavors of butterscotch, vanilla and honey on the palate, with apple and oak bringing up the rear.

Who wouldn’t love a cider called Original Sin? And what name would be more appropriate for a cider produced in New York City?

Cider maker Gidon Call taps orchards on the family farm in upstate New York to make the traditional dry cider, working hard to capture the notes and tones found in early American cider styles. In addition to apple, apricot, elderberry and pear ciders, Call also produces single batch ciders pressed from heirloom varietals. The line includes ciders from Newtown Pippin and Northern Spy apples, as well as Cherry Tree, a blend of heirloom apple and tart cherry ciders.

Speaking of heirloom varietals, AeppelTreow Winery & Distillery in Burlington, Wisconsin, is home to 130 heirloom apple varieties. In addition to wine and spirits, AeppelTreow also produces apple and pear ciders in the traditional pre-Prohibition style.

With such a small yield, the ciders (made by owners Charles and Milissa McGonegal) are often hard to find. But you can always visit the tasting room (1072 288th Ave., Burlington) for a sample. Charles, a chemist by trade, will be happy to tell you more about heirloom apple varieties than you ever thought possible.

Of course, not every Wisconsin cider-maker has the interest or means to get their product from the ground to the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great travel destinations.

Bayfield Winery (86565 County Hwy. J, Bayfield) is the state’s northern most cidery, overlooking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Located within Hauser’s Superior View Farm, the winery produces ciders from local fruit. Look for hard-to-find flavors like blueberry, cherry, cranberry and raspberry. Arrive in the fall and you can even pick your own apples.

About a half-hour south and west of Bayfield, White Winter Winery (68323 Lea St., Iron River) was established in 1996 as Wisconsin’s first commercial mead producer. Mead-maker Jon Hamilton soon expanded to produce wine and ciders. Specialties like cyser, a blend of honey and cider, and paarynat, a naturally sparkling pear cider, make White Winter a worthy stop.

Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery (W 12266 King Lane, Stockholm) sits high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River in Pepin County. Heirloom varietals drive much of the cider production, which includes the Kingston Black Limited Semi-Sweet Cider made from apples of the same name, and Somerset Semi-Sweet Still Cider, made from Kingston Black and St. Edmund’s Russet, classic English cider apples.

Maiden Rock even produces Crabby Cider, made from zesty Dolgo crabapples, proving they have both a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.

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