As I’m sure you’ve all noticed we tend to be a little obsessed with cider here! Why? Well, honestly my very first cider experience is partially responsible for me founding The Crafty Cask almost 20 years later, so I have a slight soft spot. But beyond that, we’re at a SUPER exciting time for cider in our country! A time that’s so magical that it honestly brings me back to that very first, pivotal cider experience. I was studying abroad in San Sebastián, Spain and had the opportunity to visit to a true Sagardotegi, or cider house.
The First Sip
Picture this: you walk into a building that almost has a barn-like or farmhouse feel to it. Floor covered in cedar chips. Huge casks…I mean like 10’ tall…lining the walls. There were tall standing communal tables scattered throughout, except right in front of the casks where there is a wide-open space. As I approach, I see people lining up to stand a few feet in front of a cask who’s spout has been opened and is now shooting a liquid rainbow of cider across the room to catch in my empty glass. I approach, nervous like crazy…what if I miss it? What if I don’t really understand what’s going on here? What if I’m not even supposed to be in this line to do this? Aaaah! But I do it. I catch the cider in my cup and step aside.
Now keep in mind – this is 2001. For context, the popular mainstream cider brands that we all know today weren’t even introduced here until 2012. I’m also only 20 years old at the time. The only cider I ever had was the non-alcoholic kind from a local apple orchard in Massachusetts where I grew up. But when I took a sip? My taste buds exploded with life…confused and excited all at the same time. This tasted nothing like the apple cider I knew. This was dry with almost a cheesy funk to it. I LOVED it. In an instant this new taste and experience gave me a glimpse into a culture, people and place. I became a hard-core Spanish cider enthusiast at that very moment.
And that was before I even realized the next part of the experience. Once you have your cider you belly up to one of those communal standing tables where everyone is served the same food of Manchego cheese, membrillo, Marcona almonds, cod tortilla, bread and a steak as big as your head and so rare it’s practically still mooing. Those cedar chips on the floor? Well apparently they’re not only to soak up the spilled and splashing cider but the occasional drips of blood from your glorious steak as well. Where was I? How did I get here? I was lost in the moment…lost in the experience. Happy in my soul and loving every minute of it.
Back to the US…The Breakup
Fast forward about 8 years years. While I had run across some cider here and there since my time in Spain it was pretty rare. But all of a sudden I start seeing “hard ciders’ in stores and in TV ads. Excited that the magical sip I fell in love with in Spain was finally making it to the States I bought some. And then I bough some more. And then I kept buying any new brand or style I saw. I was desperately clawing my way through sticky-sweet, jolly rancher tasting cider. More and more disgusted and disappointed with each dollar I spent. WHAT was this crap? This wasn’t my cider. This wasn’t what I knew and loved in Spain. So I gave up. Abandoned my first love and made fun of it for years with my friends. How girly it was, how sweet it was. I was a mean ex-girlfriend.
But then…maybe 6 years ago I saw a Sidra on a menu at a Spanish restaurant. A Sidra, not a Cider. And I knew what Sidra meant…Spanish style cider. My heart leapt a little. I couldn’t help it. So I ordered it. And almost fell out of my chair. It was back! And immediately our 15-year break up was over. And I dove head-in. Searching out sidra everywhere I could think it had a chance of showing up. Stalking it. Finding it. Loving it. And all of a sudden, as my friends continued to trash-talk cider I found myself defending it.
And then! The wildest thing happened. I started seeing American ciders on restaurant menus (I had already explored and devoured all of the British and French ciders I found). At first, I avoided them like the plague. My first American experience with cider had scarred me. But I slowly started to try them. Mostly disappointed at first. But encouraged enough to keep trying. And then I started finding some gems. Some ciders that were completely different from sidra, but delicious in their own right. Still a bit sweeter and less funky than sidra, but certainly not the jolly rancher soda I had with that first American sip.
This, my friends is the Craft Cider Revolution. My Craft Cider Revolution as I’ve seen it through my eyes. One of those things you don’t even realize your witnessing until you look back all those years later. The US Cider makers got it wrong when they first tried to bring cider back into popularity here. Sure, there is a market for what they were making. But it was a small market. And not representative of the diverse, complex palettes of our population. Mistakes are ok. Especially when people step up and fix them. But the thing that sucks about this is that it gave A LOT of people the wrong idea about cider. You all know what they say about first impressions. Well, we showed up to our generations first cider date with way too much make-up, perfume and hairspray.
The Great Love
Sorry about that Tippler Nation. We’d really like another shot to win you over. So next time we call, can you pick up the phone? Thanks. We promise your future cider dates will get increasingly better until you start finding your own true loves as well. And I promise you, they’re out there! So yeah. We’re a little obsessed with cider here at The Crafty Cask. Stick around, and let us introduce you to our friends.
Ready for us to start matchmaking now? Check out Tilted Shed (online shipping), Ethic (online shipping) and Shacksbury (VT tasting room but decent distribution in good bottle shops/restaurants)to start! And make sure to sign up for our newsletter and/or YouTube channel to keep the introductions coming. After all, dating is a numbers game 😉
And to you great craft cider makers out there? THANK. YOU. Let’s be friends and hang out so that we can introduce you to Tippler Nation. We’d love to hear from you and help tell your story. It’s going to be a beautiful romance…