Well-made cider has all kinds of benefits that make it perfect for Los Angeles drinkers. It’s chock full of nutrients, like what you would get from a juice bar, but with a host of natural probiotics (and a splendid buzz). Plus, it's naturally gluten-free.
At a recent cider tasting Mark McTavish, president of Half Pint Cider purveyors and owner of Troy Cider, noted, “L.A. is a new audience of cider drinkers who mostly want sweet, clean, easy-drinking ciders” — which is why McTavish is looking to craft beer drinkers and artisanal food lovers as a target audience for some of his higher-end products.
“Cider is better for cheese than wine," McTavish said. "Contrary to popular opinion, when pairing with cheese it goes: cider, then beer, then wine.” In certain regions of Spain, the cider and cheese connection is so strong that it would be unthinkable to have one without the other.
McTavish is in the process of opening his own cidery in Westlake Village, which uses fruit harvested from orchards located along Highway 101. The traditional cider-making process is simple: collect apples, press them for juice and ferment.
There are myriad types of hard cider with their own specifications. “Real cider” in the U.K. must be 90 percent fresh apple juice, “sidre” in Spain is poured escanciado — from a great height — and “perry” is similar to cider but made from pears.
However, most modern American ciders, the kind you readily find in supermarkets, are made from apple juice concentrate (with added sugar), fermented, then force-carbonated and sweetened again before bottling. They are highly filtered and resemble a soda spiked with booze.
For a cider that has been stripped of its nutritional benefits and replaced with anti-foaming agents and flavorings, look to Anheuser-Busch InBev's Johnny Appleseed, the company's 2014 foray into the cider market. The cider is branded as “refreshingly sweet and intense” — and tastes like a Jolly Rancher.
And while the quality is much better than Johnny Appleseed, that bomber of Julian Hard Cider you thought came from the apple-growing town of Julian, Calif., is actually contract-brewed in Oregon with Oregon fruit. The company is in the midst of a nasty lawsuit about it.
These cloyingly sweet ciders stand in stark contrast to the small-batch cider available in L.A. Artistically crafted ciders are often unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. They might be wild-fermented or contain champagne yeast. Some use additional fruit like quince or botanicals like hops; others spend time in bourbon barrels. Sweetness runs the gamut from dessert-like to bone dry.
Outside of the bar or bottle shop, a reliable place to buy cider is a cheese shop. Look to Milkfarm in Eagle Rock or Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica for the mind-blowing Sea Cider Prohibition (pair it with a zesty blue cheese) or Troy 2013 (with a smoked cheddar).
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For a solid cider selection at a bar try Eagle Rock Public House, where they offer Troy along with a couple of Spanish ciders in bottles, or Surly Goat (and the rest of the Goat Group bars), where ciders are rotated on tap.
K&L Wine Merchants has a spectrum of domestic and international ciders. Many boutique wine shops carry cider too. Try Domaine LA for the best international selection, Silverlake Wine for its carefully selected cider offering (there's only one), or Bar & Garden, where you can join a cider tasting on Tuesday, March 10, from 5 to 8 p.m.