Edible Monterey Bay

Behind the Bottle

BEHIND THE BOTTLE

 

HARD CORE

Cider is Santa Cruz’s newest bubbly    

By Laura Ness
Photography by Michelle Magdalena and Patrick Tregenza 

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Hard cider is considered America’s original drink, but in the early days it was made in order to purify water. Orchards with hundreds of apple varieties were planted everywhere the early settlers ventured. Remember the legend of Johnny Appleseed?

Crushed apples were fermented to create an alcohol-infused beverage, which was then blended 50/50 with water to kill the bacteria in it. Colonists typically drank about a gallon of low-alcohol cider per day. Eventually, industrial progress introduced deep well-drilling technology, which provided naturally clean water, reducing demand for cider. Later, waves of European immigrants brought with them a growing preference for beer, and then, sadly, Prohibition and The Temperance Movement led to many orchards being destroyed.

But, recently, cider has been bubbling into craft breweries, grocery stores, and hip restaurants and bars all across the United States. Cider shipments jumped more than 88% in 2013 from the year before. While California has lagged somewhat behind the Northeast and Canada in its embrace of cider, it already has a sure foothold in Santa Cruz.

SANTA CRUZ CIDER: A CHANGE OF BREW

The newest venture to start fermenting local apples into cider is Santa Cruz Cider Co. The business officially launched in March, and it happens to be our region’s first company dedicated solely to making cider. Other notable local cider makers include John Schumacher of Hallcrest Vineyards, who has been developing his own “Santa Cruz Scrumpy” line of ciders since 2009, and Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, who has been brewing ciders since 2010. 

“There was a little bit of cidermaker error in the first batch,” Grahm says, referring to the 50% of his bottles that exploded.

Much as our local jammers do with berries, the cider makers are sometimes salvaging fruit that wouldn’t qualify as Miss America finalists, meaning they would normally wind up in the compost bin. Instead, it gets to be the life of the party as a sparkler that transports the essence of apples, quince, cherries, pears and pomegranates right into your glass.

Nicole Todd, who founded Santa Cruz Cider together with her husband, Felix Todd, and her sister, Natalie Beatie, all worked at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Co. Realizing she had a gluten allergy, Nicole sought alternatives to beer, trying cider, wine and mead. She was alarmed to learn that part of the local apple harvest always goes to waste, so cider became her natural selection.

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(l-to-r) Santa Cruz Cider’s Justin Henze, Natalie Beatie, Dave Ott, Nicole Todd and Felix Todd

Todd’s Lot 13, the crew’s first light, dry cider, was made in 2013 from 600 gallons of juice hand-pressed from Watsonville apples, with the help of Equinox’s Barry Jackson, Santa Cruz’s undisputed sparkling wine specialist. It was on the menu at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Co. until it recently sold out, but some of the juice is still aging in wood for release this fall. Nicole and her partners promise to release it if they don’t drink it all first.

This year, the company plans to brew 1,000 gallons, and eventually, the hope is for Santa Cruz Cider to open its own tasting room.

“Customers have expressed excitement and relief that there is a gluten-free offering that is not the over-the-top-sweet ciders that most of America is drinking right now,” Nicole says. “The Santa Cruz customer is educated and aware, making this a great market for our small, local, organic, handcrafted cider.”

John Schumacher, the long-time Santa Cruz area winemaker behind the Hallcrest and Organic Wine Works brands, grew up on a two- acre apple orchard that sold candied apples, applesauce and apple butter, but no hard cider. In 2009, a couple of his employees turned him on to their homebrew cider, which inspired Schumacher to start the Santa Cruz “Scrumpy” cider brand.

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Santa Cruz Scrumpy’s John Schumacher with Joshua Price

Debuting in 2010, with a classic English-style hard cider, made from seven different varieties of local organic apples, it was named after the old English term for late harvest “leftover” apples. 

Then came “Chider,” a deliciously refreshing cherry-infused apple cider, followed by “PomCider,” made from organic pomegranates. It’s the tangiest of the lot, beautifully magenta in hue and should be consumed from a champagne glass. All are just under 7% alcohol and are available in 650-milliliter bottles.

Schumacher just released a “more serious,” very dry, artisanal-style, white oak barrel-fermented brew, for which the lees were stirred for two months. “My goal is to make cider in the style of wine, and this one is very similar to the way a high-end Chardonnay is made: incredibly creamy and rich, and not at all sweet. It should be served in a wine glass to accentuate the floral and fruit aromatics.”

Schumacher says cider is much more challenging to make than wine; it’s half the alcohol, increasing sanitation concerns.

Schumacher is now seeking organic certification and is on target to make 20,000 cases of cider this year—double his production in 2013. He expects the 2014 cider will be made mostly from Pippin, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Fuji apples and crabapples— but some of the orchards he sources from are so old, they’re still trying to identify the heirloom varieties!

Separately, Schumacher has just released in 375-ml bottles another sort of apple drink—a pommeau, or apéritif popular in Normandy and Brittany, France, that is made from combining apple brandy with un- fermented apple juice or cider.

“Scrumpy” ciders can be found on tap at 99 Bottles and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Co., and in bottles at Shopper’s Corner, Scotts Valley Market, U-Save, New Leaf, Staff of Life, Whole Foods and the Hallcrest tasting room in Felton, which is open daily.

BONNY DOON: CIDER FOR FRANCOPHILES

Randall Grahm began the quest for “Querry,” a spin on the French word for pear cider, “Perry,” in 2010, out of a love for the dry French ciders from Normandy, especially those made by Eric Bordelet.

“I love the elegance of French ciders,” Grahm says. “They are lower in alcohol, higher in acid than other styles and, above all, are tremendously fragrant.”

Grahm’s first batch was made from primarily Bartlett and Seckel pears, Pippin apples and crabapples and a wee dram of quince, hence, the name “Querry.” The quince is unmistakable.

SantaCruzCider©Magdalena20145809“There was a little bit of cider-maker error in the first batch,” Grahm says, referring to the 50% of his bottles that exploded. “But we got that under control, and had a very successful run in 2011.”

By retaining carbonation from the primary fermentation and not allowing a secondary fermentation in the bottle, the cider is somewhat less carbonated and also lower in alcohol than Bonny Doon’s first vintage. And less explosive.

The 2013 Querry (under screwtop) is 62% pear, 36% apple and 2% quince, and the tartness of the latter does a lot of the talking. Bonny Doon also makes Winter Nélis, from a late-ripening heritage pear. Wonderfully fragrant, crisp and flavorful, it boasts an acidity lacking in Bartletts. These pears, however, need a long hang time, risking bird devastation, despite their nasty thorns. Grahm jokes that pickers evaporate during harvest.

Grahm hopes the friendly, fruity nature of these sparklers will ap- peal to adventurous younger drinkers and older ones who can no longer tolerate high alcohol. He says “Querry” makes a superb apéritif or a substitute for a white wine with a starter course.

By last year, Bonny Doon’s cider production had grown to 7,000 cases. Querry is now dispensed in 750-ml wine bottles (retailing at $16 from the winery’s website), but the plan is to bottle 20% of the 2013 vintage in 375-ml splits. Querry can be found locally at Bonny Doon’s Davenport tasting room and Gabriella Café, at Oakland’s Oliveto and in San Francisco at Coi, Upcider, Tosca Café, and St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant.

Here’s to a new way to enjoy your “apple a day!”

Laura Ness spends a lot of time in vineyards, fields, cellars and kitchens, observing the magical process of turning Earth’s bounty into heavenly delights. She writes for several Monterey and San Francisco Bay area publications and blogs at www.myvinespace.com