Though no saint by any means, William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the U.S, campaigned in 1840 using hard cider and log cabins as symbols to show he was in touch with the common man. Someone you could sit down and have a tankard of cider with. At the time he was the oldest U.S. President elected to the office (68), and the first to die in office only a month into his term.
“Its indeed bad to eat apples, its better to turn them all into cider” - Benjamin Franklin
While cider is rare in today’s market compared with beer or wine, this was not always the case. Historically, hard ciders were the original table wines in the colonies that became the United States. Every farmstead started by planting apple trees in order to produce hard cider and vinegar. At that time, there were no waving fields of grain for beer or great fields of grape arbors for wine, since European cultivars did not do well in America before new varieties were developed. Just as with grapes and grain, most of the European apple varieties brought here early on tended not to thrive in the colder New England climate and so the colonists came to rely on trees planted from apple seeds, as opposed to grafting. Grafting, taking a piece of a desired variety and attaching it to another tree or rootstock, is the only way to propagate a particular variety. However, every individual seed planted grows into a new apple variety, often having no resemblance to its parents at all. This made for an incredible diversity in the fruit that came up, thus giving us our own North American varieties. And from these new wild apples came equally diverse and complex hard ciders. Hard cider was the beverage European settlers drank in the early stages of living in North America and thrived through the late 1800’s.
However, the American culture of hard cider was for the most part lost. Mechanization made grain production cheap, and easy to transport and store; urbanization of people because of industrialization, and the temperance movement/Prohibition, (among other things), combined to virtually wipe out hard cider production in the U.S. So recently, when producers began reintroducing cider to the American market, they turned to ciders from other countries as a base of inspiration. Modern techniques are used to produce a specific consistent cider, often trying to mimic certain European styles. Many producers today work hard to produce cider with residual sweetness and/or carbonation, by using forced carbonation, sulfites, sterile filtration, pasteurizing, added sugars and flavors, preservatives, etc, often ending up with a drink more closely resembling a soft drink than what ciders historically were. Thus, most cider on the market today has little connection with the cider culture from 250 years ago.
If you were making cider on your farm a few centuries ago, your cider would be unique to your location based on the source of the seeds you planted, your soil flora and fauna, climate, and regional yeast strains, plus variations every year depending on which trees produced more fruit, and how that fruit developed. The process was simple: gather apples, crush/press the fruit, collect the juice, put it in a barrel, and let it do its thing. As your cider fermented it passed through an aging continuum, never staying in one state for very long. It would have started as sweet juice, and as it slowly fermented would have lost sweetness, gained alcohol, and for a period of time exhibited effervescence as the yeast gave off carbon dioxide while fermenting the sugars in the juice. By sometime in the winter the yeasts would have consumed all the sugars, and the carbon dioxide level would drop as it escaped into the air. Eventually, by spring or summer you would have a dry (not sweet), still (non-effervescent) beverage. If there was any left.
Our cider ethos:
At Bear Swamp Orchard, we love the notion that cider produced on every property, by every maker, is different, and that it will also vary throughout its aging continuum, and from year to year. In order to embrace that diversity, and to express the terroir of our own location, we use our own organic apples grown with minimal inputs and harvested when fully ripe, creating fruit with complex structure and flavors. We allow the yeasts from our orchard to ferment our fruit, and don’t interfere with fermentation by filtering, sulfiting, pasteurizing, or adding other processing/fermenting aids. Our orchard’s yeast community is healthy and diverse since we grow organically and use a minimum of sulfur on some varieties to control fungal diseases. We use some modern varieties of fruit, but use older varieties and unnamed, wild seedling trees to provide character and structure to the cider. Our goal is to produce cider similar to what might have been enjoyed by people living here centuries ago; a cider that can really only be created here.