Three Cheers for Sustainable Cider

There's a new revival afoot in the sustainable food realm. Traditional and no so traditional hard ciders are making a comeback, reinvented by young farmers and orchard keepers. While microbreweries and wineries still strive to become wholly local, organic, and sustainable, cider could very well become the most sustainable alcoholic beverage out there, depending of course, on how it is made.

The tradition of cider is similar to the European tradition of wine, in that ciders were often made from whatever fruit was growing on the land, and fermented in a warm corner of the back barn. They were the epitome of local, capturing the unique wild yeasts of the immediate area during the fermentation process. Hard ciders were a very widespread and traditional beverage of choice throughout Europe, particularly in regions of France, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. Some of this tradition transferred in some way to North America, where the figure of Johnny Appleseed is credited with spreading cider cheer throughout the new land. Apple trees were grown for cider, and cider apples were not for eating. Geographic and regional areas developed their own unique varieties of apples, which were entirely specific to that place.

Today, apples have been paired down to only a handful (comparatively) of familiar varieties , most of which are meant to be sweet apples for eating. Those curious and bitter heirloom cider apples are much harder to find. But in hopes of reviving a quite forgotten sustainable agricultural and cultural tradition, a growing number of farmers are producing traditional hard ciders for market. In the most sustainable and ideal scenario, the cider is made from apples from the producing farm or local area. Unlike beer, cider making does not require the addition of water (which is a big reason why beer will never be heralded as the most sustainable beverage). The juice from the fruit is mixed with yeast and perhaps some sugar, maybe some other juices from locally grown berries or fruits, and that's it, in a nutshell. The new wave of cider makers are experimenting with tradition to craft a more refined version of the age-old beverage, while catering to both adventurous beer drinkers and wine enthusiasts alike. Still, the basic premise remains more or less the same as it's always been. Ferment, bottle, drink. At a small scale, and with a little good old-fashion creativity, cider making can prove to be a very sustainable agricultural endeavor.