Artisanal hard ciders—crisp, bubbly and not at all sweet—are exactly right for this time of the year. And though they’re plentiful in the U.K., mainstream U.S. brands are, unfortunately, mostly coarse, taste of highly processed apple juice and are usually lumped in with cheap domestic beer. (Hardly the sort of thing that’s going to convert anyone to the cause.) The better niche for boutique hard ciders is alongside fine wines and a few of our local winemakers are finding their singular takes on this underappreciated tipple with impressive results.
The most interesting is a meticulously crafted cyser, simply named, well, Cyser. The moniker isn’t just a cool variation of “cider,” but refers specifically to a beverage made of honey and apples. It’s a unique collaboration between Coffee Pot Cellars owner/winemaker Adam Suprenant (he’s also the winemaker at Osprey’s Dominion) and his beekeeper wife and business partner, Laura Klahre.
Klahre contracts with Breeze Hill Farm on the North Fork, where her mason bees pollinate the apple trees that were the source of the fresh-pressed cyser. It was released in June, in honor of National Pollinator Week. “Native bees are the future of agricultural pollination and this is a way to get people to think about a native bee affecting what they eat and drink,” she said. The cyser is dry and delicate, with only 0.5% residual sugar and 7.5% alcohol. The aroma and taste is not overtly apple, it’s more clover blossom and linden, with a hint of honey. It would pair beautifully with traditional hard cheeses, like cheddar, and dried fruits. It’s also versatile and refined enough to join the turkey at the holiday dinner table.
But what’s really remarkable is the finely textured mousse and bubbles that continually rise in tiny streams—a “persistent bead” in winespeak. You don’t get that kind of carbonation in beverages made in bulk. It’s a hallmark of the méthode champenoise, the technique used to make true champagne. The process is time-consuming and the reason why champagnes are usually expensive. However, despite the work that’s gone into it, this cyser retails for a very reasonable $14.99.
From winemaker Roman Roth at Wölffer Estate on the Island’s South Fork, we have Wölffer No. 139 Dry White Cider and No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider ($16 for a 4-pack of 355ml bottles). Roth grew up in Germany drinking cider and in 1997 he and late owner Christian Wölffer were inspired to make their own versions in partnership with the Halsey family’s Whitecap Farm in Bridgehampton.
Both are made with White Cap’s apples and both are light and crisp. The white is a more traditional apple whereas the rosé is lean and elegant, offering hints of strawberry and showing an attractive salmon-pink color from a small amount of grape skin extract. Also, the labels are gorgeous! Colorful, cheerful and bohemian, they make drinking cider downright stylish. Roth recommends pairing them with pork chops, applesauce and a crisp, fresh slaw of beetroot, apples and carrots.
Lieb Cellars on the North Fork makes a hard cider from apples grown at nearby Briermere Farm. Called Rumor Mill, it’s a dry, sparkling cider with 7% alcohol, exuberant bubbles and a classic apple cider taste ($9 for a 750 ml bottle). Lieb winemaker Russell Hearn described it as “fresh, crisp, with distinct citrus, green apple and mineral flavors.” It’s ideal for picnics and rustic fare and would make a festive base for a harvest-time cocktail. The staff chose the name “Rumor Mill” to gently poke fun at themselves and the close-knit East End wine and food community. Beneath the logo on the label they’ve hidden a few outrageous rumors.