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Cider: a hard question


– Erin McCann

A Twitter reader submits:

Other than the pervasive pumpkin, the other autumnal delight in the USA appears to be ‘cider’.

Stop. Please just stop there. You mean ‘apple juice’. You don’t appear to call tomato juice a Bloody Mary until it gains some Worcestershire (pronounced Wooster) Sauce and vodka, yet apple juice gets a special, unnecessary, name of it’s own. Orange juice does quite well as the juice of the orange, as do most other juiced fruits and vegetables.

It feels wrong to discuss ‘hard cider’ with other adults, so will America please just get with the civilised world and accept that cider is a wonderful and life-affirming alcoholic drink? Thank you.

Points, a pint of scrumpy and a ploughmans to blighty.

Well, actually, no. Apple juice and apple cider are not the same product. Nor is American cider the type of cider you’d order at a bar. 

In an American grocery store, if you buy a bottle of apple juice, what you get will be a clear product made from pressed apples and highly filtered and purified. It is available year-round. Many commercial apple juices contain very little apple, a lot of high-fructose corn syrup or extra sugar, and are made from a concentrate of other fruit flavors.

American apple cider is an unfiltered, unsweetened, opaque product that is usually only available in the fall because of its short shelf life. It can be served hot or cold, occasionally with whipped cream, and it is non-alcoholic (though it lends itself nicely to being mixed with a shot of whisky or bourbon). Real, honest-to-god American apple cider is best purchased at roadside stands or orchards in this brief window of fall, and it is amazing. 

(What you’re buying at Starbucks, though, sold as Spiced Apple Whatever? Yeah, that’s juice.)

What we call hard cider – what you, presumably a Brit – call, simply, “cider” is a fermented drink, slightly carbonated, and only available to Americans over the age of 21. You’d be hard-pressed (pun intended) to walk into a beer store or bar in the US and not find at least one cider available, so yes, I think we can all agree it’s a wonderful and life-affirming alcoholic drink. (Though it does have the reputation in America of being that drink you’re forced to buy for the one friend at the party who doesn’t like the taste of beer.) 

Advantage: US, because once you’ve had fall cider, you’ll understand.

(Photo: Eliza Adam/Flickr)