Step aside hoppy IPA’s and creamy coffee stouts. There's a new drink in town: hard cider.
Cider is nothing new. It’s a centuries old drink – according to records, Julius Caesar enjoyed it in 55 BC when Romans arrived in England. President John Adams had his apple a day in the form of cider.
Today, it's a budding industry supported by devoted artisans and tenacious cider nerds looking for the next rare bottle.
The Honest Abe Cidery in Carson opened last year, and it turns traditional cider on its head. Honest Abe's serves a barrel-aged cider, a take on limoncello cider, and one that owner Spencer Chambers calls EmancIPAtion with a capital IPA — a cider with IPA-like hops added in.
“To me, this is the best of both worlds," says Spencer. "Here, you get the dry based cider and the flavor and aroma of the hops, but none of the bitterness you generally get in a IPA.”
Cider makers like Spencer use fresh pressed apples and local ingredients — the apples come from Big Bear, and the honey in the limoncello cider comes from farmers in Temecula.
If you make the drive up the 101 to Westlake Village, you might end up at 101 Cider House, another local cider maker with plenty of bright, colorful flavors: from 101’s Cactus Red, which has a neon pink color and tastes like prickly pear – to Black Dog, a smoky black cider that has hints of lemon and activated charcoal that you can see.
In the same way craft breweries denounce lightweight, bland lagers, independent cider makers have their own corporate ogre: Angry Orchard.
“Angry Orchard is sort of like the Bud Light of ciders,” says Sarah Bennett, a food and drinks writer who’s been published in the L.A. Times, the L.A. Weekly, and the O.C. Weekly. “But [some people] don't realize that there is this whole other world out there, what these artisanal ciders are doing to the cider once it becomes a fermented beverage."
"It’s not just these sickly sweet lemonade flavored juices," she adds. "Which is what you are finding on supermarket shelves.”
Otto Radtke is owner of SoCal’s first cider bar, Great Society Cider and Mead, which opened up a few weeks ago in downtown Long Beach.
“Cider, by nature, is dry, and you only make it sweet when you add sugar back into it,” Otto says. “When you come to our place, you won’t get a lot of very sweet things. We have a few things because some people have a sweet tooth. But a lot of the things are actually quite dry, or tart, or sour.”
Great Society has 20 ciders on tap from all over the world, including craft cider taps from companies in Oregon, Washington, Canada, and England that have been around for years.
Simon House is western director of sales for Ace Cider. His dad founded the company in Sonoma County, back in 1993, and it’s the first family-owned cider company in the U.S.
“Cider is pretty new in its development,” Simon says, sipping on a glass of unfiltered blood orange cider. “The variety within the cider category hasn’t been too apparent. The majority of what the cider category is, in its current existence, is generally sweet. But then just like wine – cider ranges from sweet to dry or dry to sweet and it can even be sour. The common beer connoisseur now probably understands — beer can be bitter, it can be funky.”
The future of cider is anyone’s guess, but market research shows that, based on volume of sales, Los Angeles is the largest market for cider in the United States.
With more people drinking cider, Sarah says she now covers cider as part of her beat — she thinks the gluten-free crowd has helped.
“I think they will achieve a market, and that their market will grow. As more and more cider bars open you will see that," says Sarah. "That's the most important part — and what we saw with craft beer. You need the bars to open first — more so than even the facilities that make it, you can’t have breweries if there is nowhere to sell it.”