It’s been over five years since I moved back to Vermont. I was living in Boston, studying wine and philosophy while working at a fine wine shop. It was there that I fell in love with a bottle of French Normandy cider made by Etienne Dupont. “Cidre Bouche Brut” pours with a crackle of bubbles, amber in color and crystal clear. Aromas of apples, leather and moist earth fill my nose and when I took a sip – bliss. It’s incredibly dry and almost tannic, making me pucker up. The palate is an awe-inspiring experience of fresh-pressed apple juice layered on top of mushrooms, spice, leather and hay. It tastes both fresh from the press and cellar-aged at the same time, a level of complexity I’ve never before experienced.
And then I moved back to Vermont.
Five long years I tried to get Etienne Dupont ciders into the state. I hounded the distributors to bring it in. I begged it’s importer to find a channel into Vermont. But alas, it was not to be.
Until just last week when my beloved finally made its way into my arms once again. While celebrating with a bottle of Etienne Dupont cider with some friends, we discussed all the wonderful local cider that has come up in the past few years.
Citizen Cider (Essex Jct.) is both riding the crest and generating the fresh wave of the cider revival. The boys – Kris, Justin & Byran – started Citizen Cider in 2011 with a mission to produce a cider for the people, a truly quaffable cider. Their flagship, Unified Press, was launched with overwhelming praise. It’s off-dry (i.e. lightly sweet), sparkling and super refreshing after a long day of work. They have quickly captivated the everyday cider drinker and have found a permanent tap-line at The Farmhouse and other beer bars around the state.
Not wanting to hang their hat on just one cider, Citizen Cider is experimenting with new offerings. The most recent of which is a Dry-Hopped cider featuring a highly sought after hop varietal, Nelson Sauvin. Nelson Sauvin is known in the beer community for it’s citrusy zing. The hop originates from a Sauvignon Blanc producing region of New Zealand and captures all the same grapefruit and gooseberry characters as the wine. This citrusy character finds its way into their cider adding a new layer of complexity, but does not add any bitterness, something that I’ve found a lot of people are wary of in cider.
Woodchuck Cider (Middlebury) also recently released a cider with hops: Cellar Series Dry Hop. Fully fermented cider is run through a tank of whole cone Cascade hops to extract citrus and pine notes. Cascade is typically used in India Pale Ales and has a rather bold flavor, making the Woodchuck dry-hopped cider a bit more aggressively “hoppy” than it’s Citizen Cider counterpart. The Woodchuck one is a touch more sweet (albeit not as sweet as I expected) and that helps to keep the Cascade hops in balance.
Champlain Orchards (Shoreham), a new-comer to the hard cider scene, has been doing well with their Pruner’s Pride, a cider fermented with honey, and Pruner’s Promise, which is lightly sweetened with Honeycrisp juice. They’ve also just launched a new draught offering called Pruner’s Draft which should be a touch more dry than the bottled ciders and by now is appearing in bars around the area.
Just south of us in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Poverty Lane Orchards has been producing some of the best dry ciders in our region under the Farnum Hill label. The cidery focuses on more of a French-style cider. My favorite is the Dooryard line. Dooryard is a constantly changing blend and no two batches are the same. I love this idea of picking up a bottle, knowing that I’m going to get an impeccable dry cider, but not quite knowing exactly what it’s going to taste like.
And just recently I met with some young guys who plan to produce Vermont still cider, i.e. not carbonated, under the name Shacksbury Cider. I’ve tasted some initial blends and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.
If you haven’t had a glass of hard cider in a long time, you might try it again. I think you’ll be impressed with the quality of these newer ciders.
This is the original text of my column published in the Burlington Free Press under the same title. You can find that version here.