When I was 23, I decided a few thousand dollars more in credit card debt wouldn’t kill me, and I booked a trip to Australia.
A friend was studying abroad and had asked me to join her for a while. It seemed too good to pass up, so I got on a plane and flew around the world. It was a trip full of firsts. My first time abroad. A chance to see a show in Sydney Opera House and feel the sand of Bondi Beach between my toes. The first – and only – time I ate kangaroo. My first taste of hard cider.
This was before widespread use of the Internet, before cellphones grew from our hands, before you could FaceTime a friend on the other side of the globe. My friend and I were both a bit little less organized then than we are today, but I took it on faith after we’d talked by phone that she’d be at the airport to pick me up.
About an hour after I arrived unmet and lugged my pack to the curb at the Sydney airport, I began to question my faith. She was between semesters and generally itinerant at the time, so I didn’t even have a reliable landline number for her. Could we have gotten our days and times mixed up? The feeling of contemplating where I might sleep that night, since I knew no one else in the hemisphere, so terrified and exhilarated me that I can still summon it.
By the time she arrived, I was so worked up and exhausted that I could hardly breathe. We took a cab to downtown Sydney, where we dropped my luggage at that evening’s hostel, then wandered out into the warm summer night, the charming bounce of the Australian accent ringing in our ears.
Shortly at a pub, she pointed out the Strongbow cider tap, and we ordered pints. Trained as my palate was to the dull thud of mass-produced American light beer and generally uninspired wine, it thrilled to the first sip of cider – lighter, crisper and more bubbly than anything I was used to. It went down easily, the obvious sugar disguising an alcohol content higher than I was accustomed to.
“Slow down, girl,” my friend warned. “That stuff packs a punch.”
And she was right.
Many pints later, the blur of the night converged with mounting jet lag and fading adrenaline, stunning me into a dark slumber on the hostel bunk. I can’t say that was the last time I had cider on that trip, but I was cautious of its cunning charm.
Imagine my delight when about a decade later, I spotted the first cider taps in bars in the U.S. Until the 19th century, hard cider ranked among America’s favorite beverages, but for most of the 20th century, it was absent from the domestic market. Our national obsession with craft beer has wedged open the door for foreign cider imports in recent years, leading to a revival of domestic cider making as well. While the versions easiest to find are the bigger brands – Ace, Woodchuck, Crispin and recent entries like Boston Beer Co.’s Angry Orchard – we are lucky to live within the distribution area of at least two true standouts. McRitchie, a small winery in the Yadkin Valley, and Foggy Ridge, a Virginia cider maker about 50 miles north of North Carolina wine country. The small-batch care the makers take with both brings out the nuances of the local apples, offering a sense of terroir akin to that of estate wines.
If you’re interested in sipping cider, find one of these artisanals and get a taste of the true possibilities of the form. Having grown used to craft beers that have an alcohol content of at least 4 percent, cider’s 5 percent to 8 percent doesn’t take me by surprise anymore. These days, it’s the magic that skilled cider makers work with an apple that’s most likely to charm me.
Reach Amber Nimocks via amberwrites.com.