A tasting of ciders bottled in California

I recently interviewed the authors of “American Cider” for Good Food, and I thought it would be fun to do a tasting with Madeleine Brand. We hear lots of stories about John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), who planted wild apple orchards wherever he went. Well Johnny didn’t come to California.  

Our apples originally came from two major sources. In the south of the state, the Spanish brought them to the mission system and created orchards. In the north, Russians arrived in Alaska for the fur trade, but as they faced hard times growing enough food in the northern climate, they sailed south towards San Francisco and created Fort Ross. They brought apples with them.  

The contemporary cider boom in California started about 10 years ago and is now statewide with cideries up and down the state. 

Cider is made like wine. Fresh juice is fermented, and from there you have styles similar to wine. Some cideries add yeast or sugar. Some ferment until bone dry, others allow more sweetness. Some is bottle conditioned, meaning extra yeast and sugar are added to the bottle to create more fermentation and trapped bubbles. Then there is pet nat (aka pétillant-naturel or natural effervescence) created by bottling the cider before the fermentation is completed.

As with beer, currently there is a love of the sour in ciders created with wild apples and/or wild fermentation.

To help me source representative ciders for our tasting, I reached out to Lou Amdur of Lou Wine Shop and George Cossette and Greg Peters of Silverlake Wine. We worked with what they had in inventory and came up with the following group:

Filigreen Farm Newtown Pippin
8.6% ABV
Apples from Booneville, CA; Cidery in Chico, CA

-The Newtown Pippin is one of the oldest apple cultivars in the U.S. It was originally discovered in Queens, NY in the 1700s. 

-“This cider is wild fermented to complete dryness in neutral red wine barrels. Our cider is bottle conditioned, with a small amount of fresh juice added back during bottling for natural carbonation,” Lassen’s website says.

Hartless Cider
7% ABV

Templeton, CA

-“Quince makes up 25% of this Golden Delicious Apple Cider and lends the unique flavors and crazy interaction your palate has probably never experienced before. Aged fourteen months in Italian Terracotta Amphora and spritzed with fresh apple juice before bottling for slight bubbles. Enjoy chilled,” AmByth’s website says

-How it’s made: native yeasts, unfined, unfiltered, bottle conditioned.

101 Cider
6.9% ABV
Los Angeles, CA

-“A juicy combination of grapefruit peels and citra hops. This thirst quencher is the perfect accompaniment to your daytime adventures. Whether you're a Hazy IPA fan or a Natural Wine enthusiast, this is the kind of day drinking you want to be a part of!” 101 Cider’s website says. 

Durham Cider and Wine Company
7% ABV

San Luis Obispo, CA

-This cider is fruity and semi-dry.

-“Spicy, saline tang paired with floral fun. This "veg-nat" is a tart, refreshing drink meant to be paired with succulent dishes like pork ribs. 65% Gravenstein apples, certified organic, from the dry-farmed, 140+ year old Gowan's Orchard in Philo, CA,” Durham’s website says.