JThe first time Peter Yi tried Basque cider, it hit him like a flash. His experiences as a wine buyer led him to believe that ciders were sweet, simple, and didn’t go well with food. But this one was different – aromatic, dry and complex, everything he expected from a good wine.
“It took me 25 years in the wine industry to realize that this is the flavor I’ve been looking for all my life,” he says.
Fermentation seemed natural to Yi, a Korean-American, who had made Korean kimchi and rice wine. He became obsessed with making this style of cider in the United States, eventually founding Brooklyn Cider House with his sister, Susan.
He is not alone. Craft cider making has exploded in the United States in recent years, with new producers popping up all over the country. Americans are drinking 10 times more cider than a decade ago, says Michelle McGrath, executive director of the American Cider Association (ACA). Small brands are now the hottest sector in the industry; Regional cider market share increased to 51% in early 2022 from 29% in 2018, according to Nielsen’s latest cider market study.
And as the industry grows, it diversifies. Today’s cider drinkers are younger, they come from different backgrounds, and they want beers made by people who look like them. Asian, Black and Latino cider makers, in turn, are experimenting with new flavors and methods that celebrate their culture, while making connections to the land and agriculture in an industry that has often overlooked their contributions.
For José Gonzalez Sr, a real estate broker in Salem, Oregon, the cider-making journey began five years ago when he and his wife went to a cider festival in San Diego. They liked what they tasted, but something was missing. “My wife said it would be nice if we had ciders with the flavors we grew up with like lime, tamarindo and Jamaican [hibiscus]“recalls Gonzalez.
He asked his mother, Lourdes, to make batches of tamarind and hibiscus agua fresca – traditional Mexican soft drinks made with fruit, water, sugar and lime juice. They mixed the aguas with bottles of hard cider and loved the taste. Today, they sell La Familia brand hard ciders flavored with guava, tamarind, green apple, and hibiscus in their Salem tasting room and throughout Oregon.
Gonzalez says the brand has a large Latinx following, as well as people who appreciate craft beer culture and try something new. His son José Gonzalez Jr, known as Jay Jay, loves seeing people who look like him come over to sip cider and talk about trips to Costa Rica or salsa dancing.
“People love it,” says Jay Jay. “They tell us that we are different.”
The history of cider
The first recorded mention of cider dates back thousands of years, when the Romans wrote of the Celts making the drink from local crabapples in 55 BCE, according to a history of cider from the University of Washington. This ancient beverage has long brought communities together for harvesting, making and drinking, and although more traditionally associated with places like the UK, France and Spain, the US also has a long history of drinking. cider that began with American settlers in the 1600s.
But cider history wouldn’t have been possible without people of color. “In our corner of the country, much like the barbecue, enslaved African Americans were responsible for the making and making of cider,” says Tristan Wright, founder of Lost Boy Cider in Virginia.
At Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, Jupiter Evans was an accomplished enslaved cider maker, whose life was detailed in a Civil Eats profile. Japan and Korea share a long history of fermented foods and beverages, and apples are revered in Japanese culture. Today, cider apples are picked by a largely Latin workforce that supports the industry, says Robby Honda, owner of Tanuki Cider.
A fourth-generation Japanese-American, Honda grew up playing in the century-old Gravenstein apple orchard his great-grandfather planted in Sebastopol, a small town in northern Sonoma County. Somewhere between his love of sustainability and reading The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, he convinced his late brother to launch the cider brand in 2014.
Its Santa Cruz cider is based on the same Newtown Pippin apples that are grown for Martinelli’s, the brand famous for its sweet, alcohol-free sparkling apple cider served to kids and teetotalers during the holidays. By paying a premium for apples, the Honda brand is helping to keep the apple crop alive in Watsonville, California, where most orchards have been replaced with much more profitable crops like grapes or strawberries.
“Symbolically what that means…saving those trees and not pulling them out to plant berries or grapes or some weed and preserve that orchard and the historical story it tells, that interests me,” he says. .
In addition to revitalizing ties to history and the land, today’s cider makers and enthusiasts introduce new consumers to the breadth of what cider has to offer.
The boundaries between cider and grape wine, both made from fruit fermentation, are blurring. Oakland’s Redfield Cider Bar + Bottle Shop offers a range of local ciders, including some produced by natural winemakers. “What got us excited is that the natural wine world has really embraced cider,” says Mike Reis, owner of the bar with his wife, Olivia Maki.
Malaika Tyson, one half of the Chicago couple known as Cider Soms, says cider falls into two general camps: the dry or sour ones made from ancient cider apples and the sweeter ones made from flavored culinary apples. fruit or herbs. But within that there’s a variation for every palate – from rosé, sour and single-varietal to funkier options made with natural yeast.
Tyson and her husband, Sean, who are black, first discovered cider in St Louis and say moving to Chicago has broadened their choices. As more black consumers slowly discover the drink, Tyson thinks it’s unlikely to explode in the next moscato. “It doesn’t have the prestige that wine or cognac has for black people,” Tyson says. “It’s not like there are black celebrities who drink it.”
Hannah Ferguson – a black cider maker and triple threat who can also make beer and wine – says she thinks more black consumers will enjoy cider once they hear about it. At a recent black trade show, she had to let attendees know that she doesn’t pour apple juice. “I had to explain to them that it’s like a mix of beer and wine…and we carbonate it like beer and we add flavors to it,” Ferguson recalls. “And then they were like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ ”
‘Community cider gave us’
Ferguson started making wine as a hobby, trying his hand at homemade riesling and shiraz, which eventually led to a job as a beer brewer. Now she’s busy preparing for the opening of her Dope Cider House and Winery (an acronym for “lounging on positive energy”) in downtown Youngstown, Ohio, which will make her the first black woman to open a cider house in the state.
At Dope, she will offer a range of dry and sweet seasonal ciders made from local apples, as well as a hot spiced cider in winter. Although the cider community is very white, Ferguson says it has also been very welcoming. At his first cider talk, many people offered to share tips for getting started.
Across the industry, there is a growing commitment to fostering greater diversity. Wright says Lost Boy has a workforce that is 70% Bipoc and LGBTQ+ because having a diverse team just felt right. Anxo Cidery and Beer Kulture, a non-profit organization dedicated to inclusion in the beverage industry, funded scholarships for Bipoc producers to attend CiderCon, the annual meeting of American Cider Association, says Maki, of Redfield Cider, who sits on the ACA’s Anti-Racism, Equity & Inclusion Committee.
Other big brands collaborate with smaller minority-owned brands. Ferguson, for example, is teaming up with Angry Orchard — the brand that revived the taste for cider in the United States — on a cider for Barrel & Flow, the annual dark brewing convention in Pittsburgh this year. And in May, Tanuki Cider’s Honda and winemaker Michael Sones launched a co-ferment of Newtown Pippin apples and pinot noir grapes called Newtown Noir.
For its part, Honda is uncomfortable being labeled Bipoc or Japanese American cider maker – it’s just a guy who decided to make cider, because he thought it would be fun. “Make t-shirts and stickers, throw parties and music and, like, poof, you know?” said Honda. But it turned out to be so much more.
He says race is never brought up during his partnership with Sones, who is white. They’re just two guys who both love fermentation. “What I’ve gained from the community that cider has given us is definitely the most valuable thing.”