Despite its rapid rise and renaissance, cider has yet to see the publishing world embrace its various facets. Unlike wine and beer, cider is not the subject of numerous books extolling us “how to”, explaining “where from”, detailing “what’s next” or laying out “what’s important”. But that’s likely to change as more and more people begin to drink cider and come to appreciate its past, its diversity and its variety. One person leading that change is Darlene Hayes with her recently published, “Cider Cocktails: Another Bite of the Apple”.
Hayes, an orchard-dwelling cider geek of the first order, has produced a splendid, easy-to-read book that gives us a new way of enjoying and appreciating cider: as a cocktail ingredient. The various cocktail recipes throughout the book (it also includes numerous appetizer recipes) include old, new and newly imagined recipes all using cider of one kind or another.
What I learned from trying my hand at a few of the recipes was that cider almost always serves to freshen a drink. But what’s most important to understand is that cider, coming in so many styles and variations now, possesses innumerable assets as a cocktail addition.
Hayes was kind enough to answer a number of my questions concerning her motivations for writing “Cider Cocktails”, her own cider experience and her thoughts on how to be a better cider geek. You can read more of Darlene Hayes at her website All Into Cider.
TCJ: What was the genesis of the idea to write about how cider can be incorporated into a cocktail view of the world? Is this something you’ve played with for a while?
HAYES: Cider has actually been used in mixed drinks at least as far back as the 18th century and quite likely used as an ingredient in punches much earlier than that. I became fascinated by cider cocktails through research I’ve been doing on a book/cookbook about American cider. I have a long-standing interest in cider and food. I’ve been making cider of my own on a small scale for some years, and cooking with it for almost as long. Cider is great in the kitchen adding a dimension of flavor to dishes similar to that of wine and yet distinctly different and it’s often used in recipes that come from historic cider making parts of the world such as Normandy and Asturias. At some point I came across references to the Stone Fence, a classic 18th century mix of barrel aged spirits and cider, and started collecting pre-Prohibition cocktail manuals, which are full of cider-based mixed drinks. I tried them all of course, tweaking them to suit my tastes. That inevitably led to experimenting with my own creations. My other project is a year or so away from completion, and as interest in craft cocktails is on the rise I thought it would be fun to put together a small book of recipes that would help broaden market perception of craft ciders as mostly session drinks.
TCJ: Can you briefly explain the best way to treat cider in the context of a cocktail for those who might want to play around on their own? Is it, for example, best to think of cider as a mixer of sorts?
HAYES: Thinking of cider as a mixer is certainly a good place to start, subbing in a cider for club soda, for example. But cider in a cocktail can go so much further than that. Many modern American craft cider makers are experimenting with a huge range of additional flavors in their ciders, an anathema to many traditional cider makers but a bonanza to someone looking to create a great cocktail. I often start by thinking about flavors that go well together. For example, I really like dark chocolate, the darker the better in part because I really like its bitter edge. Chocolate-flavored liqueurs like Crème de Cacao are sweet and chocolatey but not at all bitter, so why not pair it with a bitter hop-infused cider? The key is balance – a sweet element, a sour element, the punch of high-proof alcohol, and the moderation of a lower alcohol cider, even if it’s just a splash.
TCJ: What is your own favorite Cider-based cocktail? Why?
HAYES: That’s really an impossible question to answer, mostly because the answer changes depending on my mood, the time of year, the situation etc. I love a Gin Gin Jenny (gin, ginger cider, and lime) on a hot summer afternoon, especially made with Finnriver’s Forest Ginger Seasonal cider. As an opener to a more formal dinner party, particularly for folks that don’t think of cider outside of a pub context, I love serving Cidre Royales (sparkling cider with a touch of cassis) – so elegant in a tall champagne flute. And when you don’t want to take the time to mix something nothing beats Orleans Herbal apperitif cider on the rocks with a twist of lime.
TCJ: Tell my how you were bitten by the Cider bug…was there a revelatory moment?
HAYES: There wasn’t a single moment, more of an inevitable continuum. It started when my husband and I built a house in an old apple orchard. He bought me a grinder and press for Christmas the year we before we broke ground. The old trees are culinary varieties, of course, mostly Gravenstein and Winesap with one lone Wickson Crabapple in the middle, and many had been torn out over the years leaving a lot of cleared space. At the same time I was traveling to both the UK and France a couple of times a year on other business, and I began extending those trips a bit so that I could travel to cider making regions, drink cider, and talk to cider makers by way of improving my own cider-making efforts. That led to cider-centered trips across the US and to other cider-making parts of the world, to learning to graft rootstocks so I could add cider-specific apple varieties to the orchard (34 more trees and counting), to the idea for a book/cookbook as a way to contribute something to cider’s modern renaissance. The history and culture of cider around the world is really quite fascinating. And in a way the history of American cider is the history of America.
TCJ: What are five ciders you think every budding cider geek ought to try?
HAYES: Another hard question. There’s a lot to be said for having some sense of the flavors of different cider making regions, although many of my personal favorites are hard if not impossible to find outside their country of origin. There are enough reasonable examples that can be had with a little searching, so 1) one from France (Le Pere Jules Cidre de Normande or Eric Bordelet’s Granite), 2) one from Spain (Trabanco Sidra Natural is the easiest to find, but it must be properly poured or the true flavor is impossible to get), 3) one from Germany (Weidman & Groh Speierling or Cydonia – a modern take on apfelwein), 4) one from the UK (Henney’s Vintage or Fromme Valley, or something from Tom Oliver, but I don’t see those much), and 5) something made from a classic American cider apple blend like Foggy Ridge’s First Fruits or West County’s Baldwin.
Another thought would be to suggest American ciders that expand the idea of what cider can be. To that end 1) anything from Aaron Burr (the 2013 Neversink Highlands is amazing, but probably gone by now), 2) Castle Hill’s Levity, 3) Eden Ice Cider’s Sparkling Dry, 4) 2 Towns’ Traditions Riverwood, and 5) Farnum Hill’s Kingston Black, although its bitterness might be challenging for some palates. Still, it’s an interesting take on a single varietal using a classic British cider apple.
TCJ: What has been the reception to the the book?
It’s been great! The release date was just about a week ago, although I had some advance copies with me at the Portland Cider Summit. It sold quite well, and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst attendees and cider makers alike. You got the first review copy sent out, so you’re ahead of the curve a bit.