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hard cider

Is Craft Cider the Southwest’s Next Big (Boozy) Thing?

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Best known for its award-winning beers, the Southwest is becoming a hotbed for the next trend in brewing: craft cider

By Kara Newman

Austin Eastciders draws inspiration from traditional English craft cider. Photo courtesy of Austin Eastciders.
Austin Eastciders draws inspiration from traditional English craft ciders. Photo courtesy of Austin Eastciders.

On the menus and black-boards of spots best known for wine lists and craft beer, another, up-and-coming beverage is finding its place. Hard cider was one of America’s original drinking traditions, dating back to Colonial days. Thanks to Prohibition, cider-making traditions slowly fell away. But now, the fermented apple beverage is having a renaissance, including noteworthy sips made in the Southwest.

“Cider is so versatile,” explains Josh Johns, manager/owner of Fire & Hops Gastropub in Santa Fe noted for its robust list of cider offerings, including New Mexico’s own Santa Sidra craft cider. Johns ticks off a number of motivations behind the cider boom: “It’s gluten-free. It’s refreshing, not high in alcohol. It doesn’t have as much gas, carbs or malt as beer.” But he soon lands on the ultimate reason to drink it: There’s a style for every taste, from bubbly and super-dry, almost like champagne, to sweeter pours flavored with fruits or spices.

Echoing the rise in craft breweries during the last decade, artisan cideries have boomed in the last couple of years. Colorado and Texas in particular have been fertile ground for the exploding cider movement, which makes perfect sense given the thriving beer culture there as well.

Consider, for example, Austin Eastciders, a pioneer among Texas cider-makers that draws inspiration from English ciders (one of the founders, Ed Gibson, previously owned a cider bar in England). Using apples grown in Texas and elsewhere, Eastciders has become known for easy-drinking craft cider packaged in cans, such as Texas Honey Cider, blended with local honey. However, they’ve also made waves with experimental limited edition offerings, such as a cider infused with barbecue burnt ends for Austin Beer Week, and a forthcoming “bourbon cider,” aged in former Woodford Reserve barrels.

Why the crazy experiments? Cider drinkers, particularly younger ones, are “looking for something different,” says Mark King, co-founder/president of Austin Eastciders. “People need to learn that they’re not sugar sweet — they’re not soda pop. They’re fermented apples. But once people get educated about the cider craft, they see how many flavors can be derived from the apples.”

>>New to cider? Give these three favorites a try.

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