I have a confession to make: I am a college student and I can’t stand beer. Sure, I spent the entirety of my freshman year faking a smile while choking down flat Keystone Lights, but by no means was I enjoying them.
Fast forward three years: as a newly 21-year-old college junior studying abroad in London, I couldn’t want to expand my alcoholic horizons beyond cheap beer and boxed table wine. However, London pub culture is associated with pints of beer, which did not appeal to me.
Fortunately, after my first night out, I was introduced to what became my drink of choice for the next five months: hard cider. Quickly I became an aficionado: whether it was Aspall, Magner’s, or Kopparberg, still, sparkling, or mulled, I couldn’t get enough of the sweet stuff. I hated the thought of returning as a senior to a cider-free Ithaca.
As luck would have it, whilst abroad, the Finger Lakes region was experiencing a revolution: a cider revolution.
An area once dominated by wineries, the Finger Lakes currently has six active cideries that are producing a variety of ciders for every palate. For example, Bellwether Hard Cider in Trumansburg, New York offers ciders ranging from extremely dry Champagne-style to semi-dry non-sparkling, which are available for sampling at their tasting room. After tasting ciders at their orchard, I took home bottles of their Original and Liberty Spy, which were reminiscent of the semi-sweet pints I enjoyed across the pond. You can also sample and purchase Bellwether’s ciders at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.
Eve’s Cidery in Van Etten, New York is also a major player in the cider movement. Boasting nine different types of cider, Eve’s Cidery prides itself on its small family-run orchard and artisanal approach to cider. I had the opportunity to sample their goods at the Ithaca’s Farmer’s Market, and was charmed by the welcoming nature of the employees at their stand. I was also impressed by their Essence Apple Wine: the decadently sweet dessert drink could convert any newbie into a cider lover.
Although local cideries have an extensive selection, cider production and demand is expanding both nationally and internationally. Cue The Cellar d’Or, a new shop in the Ithaca Commons specializing in small production estate-bottled wines and ciders. The shop, where the exposed brick and creative lighting is a work of art in itself, features some of the finest ciders around: four of their ciders are ranked in the top 10 in the world! After chatting with the knowledgable staff, I settled on J.K.’s Cuvée Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider, which is ranked at number five on RateBeer.com’s list. The rich cider has notes of maple, vanilla, and cinnamon, with the familiar sweetness of the incredible ciders I drank abroad. Needless to say, I’ve been returning almost weekly to stock up.
Cider’s presence in the Finger Lakes is only getting bigger: from October 4th to October 13th, the Second Annual Finger Lakes Cider Week will be underway. Beginning in concurrence with Ithaca’s famed Apple Festival, Cider Week will offer a variety of tastings, cider dinners, informative talks, and local orchard tours around the Finger Lakes region. Bellwether, Eve’s Cidery, and The Cellar d’Or will be involved with the events, as will other cideries and restaurants in the area. I am personally looking forward to the Pumpkin Hill Bistro Cider Pairing at The Cellar d’Or, which will feature international ciders and foods from the Aurora, New York-based bistro.
For the Finger Lakes-based student sick of cheap keg beer and painful wine hangovers, cider is fast becoming a deliciously accessible alternative. Plus, with an influx of cider imports, knowledgable experts, and cider-themed events about town, cider is bound to be a mainstay in the local alcohol culture. So grab a pint glass, open the tap, and drink up: you know what they say about an apple a day.