Records indicate that the Romans were drinking it two thousand years ago, though historians posit that they only discovered it after invading the lands that now form modern-day England. By the eleventh century, following the Norman Conquest of 1066, cider was all the rage throughout Europe. The beverage survived the Middle Ages, eventually developing differing production methods based on geographical location—from lightly fizzy, often off-dry Norman ciders to funky Basque ciders to dry, often tannic British ciders.
In the U.S., its history is less consistent. The drink was a favorite of the colonial era, the Founding Fathers included; John Adams is (in)famously purported to have consumed a tankard’s worth with breakfast each day. But somewhere amidst a growing nationwide thirst for beer and the restrictive limits of Prohibition, cider’s popularity waned. In the States, the term became most often associated with either too-sweet, mass-market iterations or the fresh-pressed, non-alcoholic version of the stuff.
Recently, though, craft cider has begun to experience a resurgence. The funky, amber end-result of fermenting fall’s quintessential fruit is being rediscovered Stateside—and making its way into the hands of bartenders looking to add savory notes, effervescence and/or acidity to a cocktail.
“In my mind, [cider] occupies this liminal space between sodas and beer,” says Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland, Maine. “Good hard cider can have enough flavor to punch through the spirits you’re mixing with, while not [stealing] the spotlight from the other ingredients.”
The ingredient’s broad spectrum of flavors—ranging from bright and clean to cloudy and funky—also allows for more varied experimentation than other bubbly companions. “Dry, fermented apple cider brings a whole different set of characteristics, and can make much more complex, even challenging drinks,” says Columbia Room’s JP Fetherston.
Fetherston’s Stone Fence Riff #1 digs deep into the historical archives and updates the colonial classic with peppery allspice and citrus to soften the dry bite of cider and rum. New York City bartender Katie Stipe draws on similar flavors in her large-format Fall Monty, which pairs cinnamon syrup and amontillado with apple brandy and Spanish cider.
Volk goes in a different direction entirely with his Mexican Tricycle, a riff on Morgenthaler’s Broken Bike (which itself is a take on the classic Italian Bicicletta), pairing cider with mezcal and Cynar for a bitter, slammable long drink. “It’s really easy to drink three or four of these in a row any time of day or night,” says Volk.
In his Cardamomagin, meanwhile, Scotch, cider and “spectacularly musty” black cardamom syrup play together nicely for a sweet, herbal, smokey drink that’s the fall drink equivalent of a warm cardigan on a chilly night. And at the Lower East Side’s Wassail—New York City’s first cider bar—head bartender Jade Sotack changes her menu mainstay, the Gin & Juice, seasonally. This recent riff is a play on the the classic G&T, which pairs funky Basque cider with tonic syrup and gin for full-bodied take on the Spanish obsession.