On Monday, one of my favorite beer writers, Jason Notte of Marketwatch, told us to drink more fruit beer. He is a wise man, and that is generally sound advice. However! What if you’ve been drinking too much fruit beer lately? What if you’ve had the good sense to overdose on, say, 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon, which has recently been mocked by Budweiser (and praised by Drunkspin), signaling that it is a righteous enemy of your enemy and therefore a perfect picnic lubricant? Actual flesh-and-juice watermelons are a pain in the ass to deal with, but watermelon beer is quite easy to drink, both mechanically and by-the-dozen-ally.
Or what if you never even had a chance to drink your fill of fruit beer, either because you don’t fuck with gluten or you’re the sort of weirdo who just dismisses the entire category? Notte picked a fight with men who fancy themselves too hairy for fruit beers, and those dudes sound like complete weenies. But while I don’t want to cater to any gender-based opposition to the stuff, I can live comfortably in a world where decent, rational, and/or gluten-averse people just don’t like fruit beer. We can accommodate those folk. As long as they drink cider.
Hard cider sales grew 90 percent in America from 2011 to 2012, followed by another 89 percent jump the next year, and 75 percent in 2014. That nuts! A lot of this increase is attributable to a general shift away from gluten, and another lot of it has to do with Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams’s parent) cramming Angry Orchard down our throats at every opportunity. But there is also a more comforting reason for cider’s sudden rise: A lot of the new stuff is really, really good.
Until just a couple years ago, a bar patron was very lucky to have two cider choices. There’d probably be a Magner’s tap crammed in between the Guinness and the Stella Artois, and a nicer joint might also have a few bottles of Woodchuck lying around out back. But now a reputable beer bar is likely to have at least one good brand of not-from-concentrate craft cider on tap and another couple in bottles, and a thoughtful booze shop may carry a dozen or more.
This is great news, but it can also be expensive news. Many of the higher-end new ciders are priced in the double digits for a 750-milliliter bottle, and while I’m certainly not saying they’re overpriced, I am saying it’s tough to spend decent-wine prices on a drink that only packs a decent-beer punch. (Alcohol percentages vary from cider to cider, but most of them hover around 6 percent.)
Most of the cheaper ciders—Magner’s, Angry Orchard, Smith and Forge (MillerCoors), Johnny Appleseed (InBev)—are one-dimensionally sweet. Which makes Boston’s Downeast Cider House your solution to the price-quality conundrum: For about $10 per four-pack of 12-ounce cans, you can get their Original Blend, Unoriginal Blend, or Cranberry ciders, plus a few seasonals here and there. They’re all good, but I prefer the Original, a 5.1-percent-ABV blend of McIntosh, Red Delicious, Cortland, and Gala apples. It’s sweet, sure—it’s fermented apple juice—but in a stern sort of way, with tart acidity balancing out the sugar and adding enough depth to make it my favorite new bourbon mixer.
Remember the bourbon from the headline? This is where that comes in. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but this is what you should do: Get yourself a shot of decent-but-cheap bourbon. I’ve been using Jim Beam lately because that’s what they have at the bar where I drink most of my cider, but your whiskey preference isn’t that important here as long as it’s not total garbage. The next step is to take a meaningful gulp from a full pint of cider. Then add your bourbon, swirl it around three times with your finger, and live a better life.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.