What is more American than apple pie, baseball, and fireworks on the Fourth of July? Not much, but Johnny Appleseed seemed to think that apples were an integral piece of American culture.
In Montana, there are at least six cideries, in Florence, Hamilton, Red Lodge, Bozeman, Darby and Missoula. There are many more cideries in the northwestern U.S. than one might expect, but they aren’t as publicized as breweries. With a growing interest in apples, and local cider, hopefully, that will change.
There are numerous styles of cider, and even more apple varietals. The least common style of cider is dubiously called, “Common Cider.” This category consists of “Farmhouse” and “Draught” ciders. The farmhouse is the equivalent of a brewery’s small production beer, and often made with fruit from commercial or private orchards. This style is often dry, using ambient yeasts for fermentation, resulting in a more varied product.
The second style, the Draught cider, is what we, in America have come to expect on tap at any given bar. It is made with juice from concentrate, added sugar, and added alcohol. These ciders are, thankfully, in my opinion, becoming less and less popular, in lieu of the “homegrown” variety of Farmhouse cider.
One of Montana’s hidden gems is Montana Ciderworks. The artist responsible for these treasures is Lee McAlpine, one of the only women cider masters in the United States. This cidery is located just south of Darby. Montana Ciderworks makes four types of cider, the North Fork Traditional, the Darby Pub Cider, the McIntosh, and the Small Batch single varietal cider.
The North Fork Traditional cider offers a fantastic balance between a round, full apple fruitiness and sharpness from crab apples that give it a fantastic, clean edge. The Darby Pub cider offers a gentler approach, with woodsy cinnamon, almost apple pie like notes. The McIntosh single varietal cider uses heirloom apples, grown in the Bitterroot Valley. It is a floral, yet crisp cider that is a wonderful accompaniment to food, but also stands on its own as a party treat. The Small-Batch Cider is made with Dolgo apples. It is oak aged to allow for vanilla flavors to round out the crisp, green apple notes. The green apple character in the Single Batch cider is surprising since the Dolgo apple itself, is not green.
Wandering Aengus, of Salem, Oregon, makes a deliciously crisp variety of ciders that bear no resemblance to the super sugary “grumpy apple juice” in the grocery stores. The two most available lines of cider from Wandering Aengus are the Anthem, and the self-titled Wandering Aengus ciders.
The Anthem cider line focuses on being more approachable, coming in cans and bottles that are perfect for picnics. These ciders are simple and straightforward, with flavors, like pear, cherry and hops. The Anthem Cherry cider is my favorite, by far. It is made with Montmorency and Bing cherries, which give this cider more depth and subtlety than expected.
Wandering Aengus’s high-end releases, the self-titled Wandering Aengus Ciders, are the Wickson Single Varietal Crab Apple, Wanderlust, Golden Russet, Oaked Dry, and Bloom. Each cider possesses its own personality, more sharp than sweet. I appreciated these ciders best with grilled food. Their tart nature washed down the sweet smokiness from the food beautifully. I found the Golden Russet cider to be the most enjoyable of this line. It was fruit forward, but still dry enough not to be syrupy. It would be perfect with a sharp cheese or savory pasties.
Apples are perfect for this time of year, for pies, stewing, drying, or to drink in hard or non-alcoholic ciders. An apple a day, eaten or sipped, keeps grumpiness away.
Kat Northup is a certified sommelier with George’s Distributing.