Do you know the difference between hard cider and apple cider beer? The public relation’s representative for Angry Orchard gently reminded me when a recipe for Angry Orchard Summer Ale Hard Cider Beer Shrimp Boil was published last summer. Oh… well that was quite an error on my behalf. But, I did notice a few friends mention how they love “…Angry Orchard’s
Apple Cider Beer…” Wait… Am I the only one who mistakenly thought it’s the same product with various names or brands? According to Time Magazine, the production of American hard cider more than tripled from 2011 to 2013, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million gallons. Which means, there could be quite a few people who are confused about the difference. If we’re part of a growing trend of increasingly purchasing hard ciders, perhaps we should learn more about it.The Angry Orchard’s public relation’s representative accepted my request to interview Ryan Burk, Angry Orchard’s Head Cider Maker. Cheers to learning about hard cider in the interview, and towards the end, get a recipe for Roast Curry Hard Cider Chicken and Cabbage.
How did your experience lead to being Angry Orchard’s Head Cider Maker?
I’ve always had a passion for apples and cider. I grew up in Upstate NY, one of the most apple rich areas of the country with a great cider making tradition, and began working on the orchards as a kid. I took off for college in New York City and then law school in Chicago and got really involved in the local craft beer and homebrewing scene, and eventually I wound up helping with a start-up craft cidery. What was at first just for fun quickly turned into brewing school (Siebel Institute, Chicago) and a full-time gig making cider.
I’m based at our new home for research and development, the Angry Orchard, located on a historic apple orchard in Walden, NY where my primary focus is on cider experimentation and research. As interest in cider continues to grow, we hope the orchard will become a place people can come to try new cider styles and learn about cider’s history and how to make it.
What’s the difference between Hard Cider and Apple Cider Beer?
Hard cider is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. It’s more similar to wine than beer in the sense that cider and wine are both made from fermented fruit, while beer is made by brewing grains. Apple Cider Beer is not a separate category, just a misnomer for hard cider. However, there are apple-flavored beers out there, but those are simply beers with apple flavoring.
It’s only recently that we’ve seen people become increasingly interested in trying cider and learning about this “new” beverage, when in reality, cider actually has a long history in our country. It dates back to colonial times, when it was one of the most popular alcoholic beverages due to the prevalence of its main ingredient: the apple.
What variety of apples are used for creating Angry Orchard’s ciders?
To develop our ciders’ distinct tastes and flavor profiles, we’ve traveled all over the world searching for the best apples we can find. We carefully select specific, high-quality apple varietals that will deliver the characteristics we’re looking for in each of our ciders. For example, our flagship cider, Crisp Apple, uses a blend of culinary and bittersweet apples from Europe. The bittersweet apples we use are traditional cider making apples from France, varieties like Dabinett, Binet Rouge and Harry Masters Jersey. Bittersweet apples are quite different from many of the varieties you can pick up in your grocery store. They’re usually pretty tiny and gnarly looking — definitely not something you’d want to take a big bite out of. But that’s what makes it great for cider making, since they offer high tannin and other qualities that are beneficial to the process.
Some of our other styles — including Green Apple, Cinnful Apple, our summer seasonal cider, and Hop’n Mad Apple, use American culinary apples including Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith.
The variety of apples we blend together to create each of these ciders and the years of experimenting until we perfected our process are what make these ciders special. The terroir, (which loosely translates as “sense of place”), where our apples grow is unique to cider making the same way a vineyard is to winemaking.
What are your thoughts for the increasing popularity of Hard Apple Cider?
Cider is growing at an impressive rate. Today’s drinkers are increasingly interested in branching out and trying new things, and cider provides something a little different — it’s high quality and refreshing, and can satisfy beer and wine drinkers alike. Just as we’ve seen the palates and interests of craft beer drinkers continue to grow in sophistication and expand over time, drinkers today are approaching hard cider in the same way. We think that Angry Orchard appeals to beer and wine drinkers looking for a refreshing alternative and a beverage made with quality ingredients.
I also attribute the growth to the current farm-to-table movement. People are greatly interested to know where their food is coming from and cider is derived from one of the most natural sources, an orchard. We pride ourselves on sourcing and working closely with the farmers we get our apples from.
Also, despite the fact that cider has seen explosive growth in recent years, it is still small and relatively unknown here in the US. To help continue that growth for all craft cider makers, we at Angry Orchard encourage drinkers to learn as much as they can about cider, and we see our new orchard and Innovation Cider House in Walden, New York as a place people can come to explore.
When creating one of Angry Orchard’s seasonal styles, what are your influences?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. When brainstorming ingredients for a seasonal recipe, I think about a number of things — like what’s in season and growing locally, and what flavors, foods and traditions are associated with a certain time of year. For example, Cinnful Apple, our current fall seasonal cider, has a spicy kick of cinnamon which makes you think of the types of food we eat during the fall/winter and pairs well with many of these foods as well, like BBQ, butternut squash soup and pumpkin pie to name a few.
What’s your favorite Angry Orchard’s style and what recipe would you pair with it?
It’s hard to pick a favorite style because it depends on the occasion or what I’m eating. I really love Angry Orchard Crisp Apple. It has a bright, fresh, juicy apple flavor and great balance between sweet and dry, along with tannin from the bittersweet apples we source from France. It goes well with almost any food — but especially rich, bold food like barbecue. Another favorite is Strawman from our Cider House Collection. Inspired by centuries-old farmhouse cider making techniques, it is dry with a big, ripe apple flavor and a little bit of farm funk. When it comes to pairing with food, I love this cider with ripe Camembert cheese, charcuterie and a crusty baguette.
Ryan, Thank you for taking the time to help us learn more about hard cider.