A look at the tasty history (and future) of hard cider
With the leaves gradating from green to yellow and the summer heat slowly fading away—humor me here, a girl can dream—, fall seems to be just around the corner. If you’re looking for a festive way to commemorate the changing of seasons that isn’t a pumpkin spice latte, I recommend a glass of hard cider.
Simply stated, cider is made from the fermented juice of apples. Its appearance, taste, and color are classified similarly to white wine. And like all alcoholic beverages, cider carries a rich history, especially in America.
According to Angry Orchard’s “Roots of Cider,” the first recorded sale of an apple orchard is documented on a tablet found in Mesopotamia from 1500 BC, setting the buyer back three prized breeder sheep. Later, in 55 BC, Caesar’s legions carried apple seeds as they conquered Continental Europe, planting orchards to replace the native crab apples.
By the Dark Ages, cider began to grow in popularity in Europe. In the cooler regions of Northern France, grapes didn’t grow as well as apples did, so monastery gardens made changes accordingly. By 1066 AD, the Norman Conquest of England brought several new apple varieties from France, and cider became the second most popular drink in England, only a step below ales.
Cider was so popular, in fact, that Medieval England used it as currency, often used to pay farm workers and typically offering three to four pints per day.
And while the Pilgrims might have been eager to build a New World, there were still a few comforts of home they’d bring with them, including apple seeds and cider-making supplies. Angry Orchard tells the story of the Mayflower getting caught in a storm three days after setting off from Plymouth.
The storm cracked a beam of the ship, and the Pilgrims would have had to turn back had they not found a “great screw” to hold up the beam. It’s speculated that this great screw was part of a cider press.
So does that make cider responsible for the birth of America? I’ll leave that up to you.
Some of our favorite American heroes were documented fans of cider. Isaac Newton was known to produce hard cider on his family estate, as did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Before Abraham Lincoln was president, he worked at Berry & Lincoln, where he worked as a bartender serving cider. In 1840, cider was given at least partial credit for William Henry Harrison’s presidency. While Van Buren did his best to paint Harrison as unsophisticated, Harrison’s image of a down-home, log-cabin, cider-drinking everyman made him universally appealing—but I’m sure the hard cider served during his Whig rallies helped him a little as well.
But by 1900, expansion into barely-friendly climates made beer easier to produce, and German and Eastern European immigrants brought with them an already-established affection for the beverage. Beer gradually became more popular, and for a brief period cider saw a dip in production. But with the help of artisanal crafters, like Angry Orchard, a comeback is inevitable—and welcomed.
Hillary Eames graduated from Covenant College with a BA in English December 2015. She’s lived in Chattanooga for thirteen years and has strong opinions on F. Scott Fitzgerald and superhero movies.