A Brief History
Give me yesterday’s bread, this day’s flesh, and last year’s cider. – Benjamin Franklin
My Grandmother was straight off the boat from Germany. She taught me many ways of the natural world as a child. Growing a garden, foraging for wild plants and mushrooms, picking up and petting honey bees were just a few of the traditional skills that she taught us. She also taught us about fermentation which included fermenting alcohol. She enjoyed a “Snort”, as she called it of a homemade alcoholic beverage now and then.
I found it fascinating that one thing could be transformed into something entirely different through the unseen hand of fermentation. It was as if it was magic. She instilled in us the love of craft and honoring tradition. My Grandfather was a very successful man in the steel industry. I remember as a teenager him saying to me, “Curt, always pursue quality in yourself and all things in life. People are never disappointed in quality people and things. These are values that I have carried with me throughout life.
As a result of these early teachings, I have always loved apples for the fact that each seed is a unique combination of its parents, just like humans. If you plant all 5 seeds of an apple, each will have its own traits and characteristics. This carries over into the realm of cider. Each year, depending on weather and other factors, the juice from a particular tree will have slight variances from other years. Blending juice from various apple cultivars and then fermenting with one of several hundred domesticated yeast strains produces nearly unlimited cider flavor varieties. Apple juice is transformed into something entirely different through the process of fermentation.
The history and tradition of hard cider is also fascinating to me. At one point in time in the United States, hard cider was the most consumed beverage, even more so than water. Many famous people in American history were aficionados of hard cider. George Washington bought his supporters 144 gallons of cider on the day before he was elected as the first President of the United States. William Henry Harrison campaigned for president as the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” candidate. He won handily. John Adams drank a tankard of cider every morning with breakfast. Thomas Jefferson planted an orchard at his home in Virginia and was one of the first commercial American cider producers. Benjamin Franklin was known to imbibe a bit. He was a fan of hard cider, so much so that he has many famous quotes referring to cider. For example:
- “He that drinks his cider alone, let him catch his horse alone.”
- “It’s indeed bad to eat apples, it’s better to turn them into cider.”
- “Give me yesterday’s bread, this day’s flesh, and last year’s cider.”
Even children drank a weak version of cider called “Ciderkin”.
Prohibition was the downfall of hard cider. Since the government knew the locations of all of the breweries and distilleries in the country, it was relatively easy to shut them down. At the time every farm had at least several apple trees within close proximity to the farmhouse or barn. The farmers would ferment the apples and sell the black market cider for extra income. The government stymied by this cut down the majority of apple trees in the US during Prohibition. The loss of heirloom cultivars, brought from immigrants from their home countries was staggering.
After Prohibition ended, people were thirsty for a legal alcoholic drink. Beer takes 2-3 weeks to produce and a standard apple tree takes 7-8 years to fruit. Beer won the race and became the nation’s new leading beverage.
Apple growers who got back into the industry started growing dessert apples rather than cider specific cultivars due to the higher margins of dessert apples. There was effectively no market for cider apples. This trend continued and is just now being reversed. Cider apples are now again in demand.
Hard cider is a very important part of American history. Through Highlander CiderWorks, I want to bring back and preserve the story of the apple and hard cider. I want to restore it to what it once was. I want people to know the delights of America’s first and most traditional beverage.