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Fishers, N.Y. – Move over, pumpkin spice, apple cider is trending. The retro beverage is enjoying a renaissance, and for good reason. The unfermented version is like drinking your favorite apples, and when fermented it is a refreshing alternative to beer or wine that makes food stand out.

Wait, what’s sweet? Hard?
According to New York Apple Association, which represents the state’s nearly 700 apple growers, “sweet” or unfermented cider is pressed from fresh apples that have been ground into chunks called pomace. This cider is typically flash pasteurized for food safety, like milk is; so, like milk, it has a finite shelf life and should be refrigerated. It is typically sold in the produce department.

“Sweet cider is 100 percent juice, sweetened only by Mother Nature’s own fruit sugars – it’s like drinking an apple,” says NYAA spokesperson Julia Stewart. “That gorgeous caramel color comes from the tiny bits of apple flesh and skin floating in the juice.”

One note: Cider’s cousin apple juice – the stuff that’s sold over in the grocery section of the store – has had all those bits of apple filtered out and has been subjected to a longer heating process so that it can be stored unrefrigerated. NYAA’s Stewart notes that most of the grocery aisle apple juice is made from imported fruit juice concentrate, not from U.S.-grown apples.

“Hard” cider is fresh pressed juice that has been fermented; it typically has an alcohol content of 4-10 percent. During fermentation, the sugars in the juice convert to alcohol, so hard cider is often completely “dry” (cider fanspeak for “not sweet”). Hard cider can be sparkling or still. Hard ciders range from easy and sessionable to complex and sophisticated, and offer alternatives to please both craft beer and fine wine drinkers.

Cider is trending
Check out what’s trending on social and online: cider.

We’ve known for, well, forever, that sweet cider is a quintessential fall beverage – whether you serve it iced before the weather turns, or heated and mulled to warm you after the mercury drops. It also makes a fabulous cooking ingredient, for poaching pork or fruit, glazing turkey, salad dressings, even hearty fall soups. Meanwhile, hard cider was a staple of European colonists’ diets before falling out of favor with the temperance movement.

Well, this fall, what’s old is new again, judging by what’s popping up on social channels and Google.

On the nonalcoholic side, apple cider is a trending recipe ingredient with chefs this year. Grubsteet.com reports that renowned New York chef Wylie Dufresne’s new Du’s Donuts shop is selling a new take on the old cider-glazed donut – his is a apple cider-glazed buckwheat donut that is decked out with apple chips and puffed buckwheat. Even other food groups are onto the trend: The National Pork Board’s2017 holiday recipes include an Apple Cider Ham with Molasses Glaze by Chef Adam Sappington. Meanwhile, apple cider vinegar is showing up everywhere, in everything.

But of course, you can still just sip your sweet cider. Trending this fall, for a foolproof fall wedding reception, Rye, N.Y.’s Westchester.com suggests serving guests seasonal foods including hot apple cider.

Hard cider is breaking the Internet
New York state’s hard cider industry itself is trending, says New York Cider Association’s Jennifer Smith; the number of cideries is up 275 percent since 2014. The vast majority of those are farm cideries, which must use 100 percent New York state apples. Just because they start on the farm doesn’t mean they have to stay there; two cideries – Wicklow Orchards’ Bad Seed and Twin Star Orchards’ Brooklyn Cider House have just opened tasting rooms in New York City.

“New York hard ciders are unique because our state has a long tradition of growing interesting older varieties, like Greenings and Russets, not just ‘dessert’ apples like McIntosh and Red Delicious,” says Smith. “Our ciders’ blends of apples yield a much more complex flavor.”

That uniqueness hasn’t gone unnoticed. Food & Wine magazine just named the nation’s 30 best hard ciders, and seven of them were from New York state – more than any other state.

Fans are drawn to New York’s hard ciders because of their complex aromatics, high acidity and lower alcohol content than wine, spirits and many craft beers, says Smith. Bonus points, cider is gluten-free.

“Consumers are finding their way to hard cider because it is great to drink, and it makes food sing,” says the hard cider association’s Smith. “Then they find out the farm backstory, the connection to our orchards and that it is made locally, and cider’s appeal is underlined.”

Hard cider is also trending in cocktails. The online food destination Delish’s caramel apple mimosa recipe video has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times. The wellness site Well+Good is featuring a smoky apple cider margarita cocktail whipped up by whole foods blogger Tieghan Gerard. The men’s digital lifestyle site Thrillist calls its Spiced Apple Toddy “the cure for winter”.

In the bricks-and-mortar world, Beacon, N.Y.’s go-to burger destination Meyer’s Old Dutch Food & Such is now serving an autumn punch made with apple cider blended with rum, apricot and allspice liquors and ginger beer.

“Sweet or hard cider, go ahead and drink up. Whether you want to be on trend or just like great foods and beverages, your taste buds will be glad you did,” says the apple association’s Stewart, who added with a grin, “We’ll make more – after all, we know where to find the country’s best apples.”

To learn more about New York state apple ciders of all types, and to find a cider maker near you, visit www.nycider.com.

About New York Apple Association, Inc.
A nonprofit agricultural trade association based in Fishers, N.Y., NYAA represents the state’s commercial apple growers. The association supports profitable growing and marketing of New York apples through increasing demand for apples and apple products, representing the industry at state and federal levels, and serving as the primary information source on New York apple-related matters. For more information, visit www.nyapplecountry.com.