Craft Cider is Catching On
By Julie Johnson
For more than a decade, beverage writers have heralded cider as “the next big thing,” a traditional beverage on the brink of rediscovery. And yet, it never quite happened: Cider’s moment seemed forever stuck at some point in the near future.
That future was unlikely to arrive so long as the only examples of cider that consumers encountered were the rather one-dimensional, overly sweet brands from a few large producers. Recently, though—just like the craft beer movement that cider was widely predicted to emulate—small-scale cider makers have begun to introduce consumers to the diversity and complexity of their beverage.
“So much of it depends on the variety of the apples,” says Maureen Ahmad, founder of Chatham Cider Works in Pittsboro. “The deeper you get into craft and traditional cider lore, the more you realize there are so many kinds of cider based on the kinds of apples that were grown in a region. You look for apples that ferment to the characteristics you desire.”
Ahmad sources all of her apples from North Carolina, which is the seventh-largest apple-growing region in the country. “It’s right up there with Washington State and Michigan, so we do have a long agricultural tradition of orcharding up in the mountains,” she explains. She also foraged wild apples this year with Triangle Land Conservancy. In harvest season, the apples are pressed on-site, and cider made from the juice all year.
Chatham’s ciders are on the strong side, up to 10 percent alcohol by volume. “There are ciders that drink more like a beer: they’re very bubbly and very light. Our ciders drink more like a wine,” Ahmad says.
Chatham Cider Works produces one base cider, then treats it in different ways. “We have one that we ferment a second time in the bottle, which is a methode champenoise,” she says. “We have another that we force-carbonate [with added CO2], which is a more traditional style of cider. Then we have one that we age in bourbon barrels and carbonate.”
“Cider is the fastest-growing beverage category in the U.S. right now,” says Ahmad. “Although it is starting from a very small base, it’s growing at something like 40 percent annually.” North Carolina now boasts more than 20 cideries—all opened since 2012—plus another five or six companies that make cider alongside beer, wine, or mead.
Naughty Penguin is the state’s newest cidery. It was planned to be Raleigh’s first; instead, founder Matt Galiani found space nearby in Morrisville. His is a one-man operation, so he opted to save both time and money by buying juice instead of pressing his own fruit, and he relies on orchards in North Carolina and Virginia.