Autumn manifests a batch of hard ciders worth revisiting.

As the amber harvest moon looms, days shorten and leaves turn. back east on the mainland, signs of fall appear: Markets are again bursting with seasonal nostalgia and its associated flavors. Aromas of caramelized apple butter and just-picked Braeburns dance with the wind, bringing cozy delight that can only be associated with this vibrant spell of change. And luscious apple cider, a veteran children’s treat, too, has been modified for adult pleasure.

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Cidre de Normandie

Hawai‘i residents need not loll in wander-lust, for hard ciders have conjured autumnal bliss into a bottle. And ciders’ flourishing popularity touts a new generation of craft, spiced and pleasantly surprising spirits.

“Cider is such a great product that can balance perfectly between the lovers of beer and wine,” says Bill Carl, certified Cicerone and beer specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii.

Traditionally a refreshment of European origins, colonial settlers, who harvested bushels of the abundant fruit, uprooted Europe’s spiked apple recipe and made the crisp beverage an early U.S. staple. Now, New England, the Great Lakes region and Washington are American cider strongholds. Per Carl, praised foreign allies include England, France, northeastern Spain, Germany and Australia’s Victoria region.

Where there are ciders, there are wineries: a commonality noted in orchard perusing. Take France, both a cider and wine artisan. Carl attributes France’s success in that higher latitudes tend to produce the best ciders. Alas, aridity is the seed that grows ace ciders and crus. Mike Sato, director of specialty beer and liquors at Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors, cites coolness as another aspect.

“[Coolness] lends to producing fruit with higher acid and lower sugar. It’s the same thing with grapes. You don’t want to let them get too ripe,” Sato explains, “or you’ll have too much sugar.”

The drink is renowned for its refreshing smoothness; yet, the palate is unique and discerning. When it comes to selection and taste, consider cider like wine. Quality is a matter of authenticity.

“A quality product does not rely on added sugar, but instead, it lets the pure, natural flavors of the apple shine through …” Carl shares. “All of the traditional cider-making regions of the world have their own distinct qualities, essentially their terroir … the best cider producers use a blend of apples to create the highest quality product. For example, a blend of semi-sweet, tannic and acidic apples creates a beverage with a wonderful balance.”

Whether Pacific Northwest, the U.K. or Normandy, when scouting ciders, seek equilibrium: balance and purity. Premium ciders are composed of whole foods (less added sugar) and mélange of varieties.

“There needs to be a balance between different types of apples, bitter and sweet,” Sato shares. “First and foremost, in anything, whether it be wine, spirits, sake or cider, the main thing I always look for is balance.”

With the late boom in liquored pommes, you’ll surely taste one tailored to your preference. But to save time, forego bad apples with educated recommendations.

So we ask, what do cider aficionados sip on? French flavors from Normandy, that’s what. In fact, Carl suggests serving a northern French in lieu of Champagne for an uncommon brunch liquid.

“Cidre Christian Drouin Pays d’Auge has been a favorite of mine, mainly because of the producer’s meticulous attention to detail,” Carl says. “Pays d’Auge cidre is a blend of 70 percent bittersweet and bitter apples, 20 percent sweet apples and 10 percent acidic apples and is fermented with wild yeast for three months. The orange-rust color of the cidre is absolutely beautiful with flavors of pure apple, some umami and smoke-like flavors in the finish from the use of the wild yeast.” Santé indeed.

In Normandy, Champagne-like ciders accompany a meal of crêpes sucrées (dessert crêpes) or galettes (savory buckwheat crêpes). American ciders veer on the sweet side, while the English are masters at a drier brew. Sato, too, is a fan of French (and English) imports’ dryness, but notes J.K.’s Scrumpy (a star Michigan cider, available at Tamura’s) as a domestic standout.

And peculiarly, cider is to whisky what Bombay is to tonic. Grownup apple juice, when duly mixed, produces ballsy toddies.

“If you are into a true cocktail with cider, it is hard not to go with a whisky pairing,” Carl expresses. “If you have ever had the pleasure of renting a cabin in Volcano, Big Island, the warming concoction of rye whisky, cider and a simple cinnamon stick is a great way to enjoy a cool night in front of the fireplace.”

Sample Carl’s whisked invention, an apple and rosemary-laced Loretto [recipe below left], or ignite your tipple with Angry Balls: a brazen mixed drink Sato assures “tastes like apple pie.” Brash name aside, this libation marries the spice of Fireball’s cinnamon-laced whisky with Angry Orchard’s sweetness for a cocktail with moxie.

If stirred poison apples aren’t your métier, health-conscious lushes and locavores reap equal pleasure from cider sans fixings. Wheat evaders will be equally pleased to discover that most ciders are naturally gluten-free.

“The future of food and drinks has definitely taken a turn for the best with everyone looking for locally sourced, organic or sustainably-produced products, and ciders are no different,” Carl reveals. “The emergence of craft beer has been a wonderful thing for cider. As the consumer has been heading more and more toward local and small batch products, they are moving the same way toward cider.”

Look out for a new crop of organic handcrafted brews from Tieton, Washington to make waves. Its three-generation, award-winning Tieton Cider Works manufactures both hard apple and pear ciders. But branching to another fermented fruit will have to wait.

SIP THIS!

ANGRY BALLS
Ingredients:
12 oz. Angry Orchard Crisp Apple (1 bottle)
1.5 oz. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Method:
Combine 1.5 oz. cinnamon whiskey and 12 oz.

Angry Orchard Crisp Apple in a pint glass over ice. Bottoms up.

Recipe from Angry Orchard and Fireball

LORETTO CIDER
Ingredients:
1.5 oz. Maker’s Mark Whisky
.5 oz. Campari Liqueur
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
.5 oz. Homemade Rosemary Syrup
2 oz. Ace Apple Cider

Method: Combine lemon juice, rosemary syrup and liquors in a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice inwto highball. Top with apple cider. Garnish with a thin apple slice and rosemary sprig.

Recipe courtesy Chandra Lucariello, Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii mixologist