Over 1,000 cider producers and other industry professionals dodged the polar vortex to congregate in a frozen Chicago for CiderCon 2019, organised by the US Association of Cider Makers. Susanna Forbes picks out the five top trends we can expect to see on our shores shortly
Favour the flavour
US cider splits into ‘heritage’, generally including a significant amount of tannin-rich fruit, and ‘modern’, those made primarily with culinary and table apples. Many of the latter can be ‘heirloom’, having been around for generations. Either way, things are happening, with rosé cider leading the curve for both (see below).
Flavour-wise, tropical flavours top the modern charts. Hopped ciders continue to feature, but in a more considered way. Hops are named and special blends drawn up. The younger demographic, particularly those on the East Coast, favour novelty, so spiced and botanical ciders are gaining traction, as are cysers (honey fermented with apple juice) and Asturian and Basque-style ciders.
On the heritage side, the nation’s tannin-rich orchards are reaching maturity, heralding more complexity. Fruits are being added, sometimes foraged, crossover specialists like Art+Science meld the natural wine and cider world, while the use of barrels is becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated, as illustrated by Ryan Monkman of Canada’s Field Bird, with his bespoke barrel-ageing regime.
In the pink
Rosé cider leads regional and national cider growth by a country mile. But, unlike in the UK, a pink-hued cider in the US is equally likely to come from red-fleshed apples as from hedgerow fruit.
While research shared at CiderCon revealed that US red-fleshed apples all descend from one variety, so significant is this style split that the US Association of Cider Makers introduced two new categories into its useful Cider Style Guidelines.
Format plays a part too. ‘People who drink heritage rosé want the experience of popping the cork,’ says Jennie Dorsey, manager of Schilling Cider House in Portland. ‘When they want rosé on draft, they want a pint of it.’
Made to match
Food pairing is racing on, with the accent on localism and seasonality. The USACM’s Certified Cider Professional approach embraces the four Cs: contrast, complement, cut and complete, while factoring in intensity and texture, and being mindful of the sweet, salty, sour and umami flavour quartet.
While the funk and sparkle are useful, cider needs a more ‘delicate’ approach than beer, says Kevin McMullen, executive chef at the Fountainhead Group, owners of Chicago’s legendary Northman bar. Stellar Chicago food matches encountered included Eris’ Pungenday India Pale Cider cutting the rich texture of butternut squash soup with its creamy goats cheese fritters. And the zippy acidity, fruit sweetness and crisp green notes of Farmhouse’s Haflinger cider complementing an applewood smoked beetroot, preserved lemon, watercress and horseradish dish.
Industry education continues apace, with the first certified pommelier exams being held at CiderCon.
To overcome the lack of a shared language about cider styles, the USACM updated its Style Guide, a move which is already ‘trickling down into the industry, media and consumers’, according to executive director Michelle McGrath. Whether a cider is dry, medium or sweet is another source of confusion, particularly when tannins come into play.
To tackle this, the New York Cider Association is working with Cornell University to create the Orchard Based Cider Dryness Scale, a sweetness scale inspired by the International Riesling Foundation's sugar guidelines. This integrates the effect of tannins into traditional sweetness/acidity measurements, translating into a simple one to four scale which can be replicated on bottle labels and drinks menus.
Cans and kegs
While progressive restaurants are embracing cans as well as large and small bottle formats, glass remains the format of choice for restaurants. Elsewhere it’s cans and kegs.
In retail, Neilsen recorded a 70% increase in six-pack format, and 20% overall in 2018. While trend-setters like New York’s Graft and Washington DC’s restaurant-come-cidery Anxo have deliberately canned from the start, medium-sized cideries are migrating more of their ranges over. Social buzz analysis around cider reveals that the format discussion is all about kegs.
It probably pays to get 2020 CiderCon in the diary. Since it takes place in California, at least you won’t need to dodge a polar vortex.
Photos: Cider Culture