Baked into a pie, the apple is the uncontested benchmark of Americanism. Eating one a day alleges health and well-being. Yet the fruit we know today bears little resemblance to the apples that Johnny Appleseed sowed during the 18th century.
Under the National Prohibition Act of the early 1900s, law enforcement officials razed apple orchards across the nation to put a stop to clandestine cider production. What trees remained were domesticated to yield dessert apples (the fruit most Americans now recognize), and cider production came to a virtual halt.
But now, with curious palates roused by craft beer’s meteoric rise and an increase in gluten-related dietary restrictions (cider, made of little more than apples and yeast, is naturally gluten free), the seeds of an American cider revolution are sprouting.
In 2010, New York’s Aaron Burr Cidery released the first licensed cider to be made from uncultivated apples in the United States since Prohibition. In subsequent years, a handful of cider makers have followed suit, pressing apples collected from trees left untouched for decades. Some have acquired long-forgotten orchards; others graft old cultivars to sow new orchards; an even smaller category of brewers forage wild apples, trekking up mountains and into the woods in search of forgotten trees.
What results from the pressing and fermentation is a beverage with a complexity akin to wine, influenced by regional terroir — not the cloying sweetness of mass-market ciders. Below, we’ve gathered five ciders made from forgotten apples that are worth tracking down. After all, the hunt is half the fun.
Shacksbury 2015 Lost and Found
Lost and Found is Vermont-based Shacksbury’s flagship foraged cider, pressed from apples found in the Champlain Valley, with notes of apricot, salt and wood. With the goal of preserving unique wild apple varieties, Shacksbury created the Lost Apple Project in 2013, hunting for abandoned apple trees and grafting exceptional cultivars into its Lost Apple Orchard.
Lost and Found is far from Shacksbury’s only wild apple cider. Experimental, small-batch ciders — like Frost, made with apples collected near the historic Robert Frost Cabin — are made available, sometimes exclusively, to members of Shacksbury’s Cider Club.
Troy Cider MMXIV
One of the few West Coast cider producers, Troy Cider works with late-harvest heirloom apples collected from a long-abandoned orchard in Sonoma, California. Its MMXIV release, a blend of unknown, unnamed apples and pineapple quince, is unfiltered and wild fermented, aged in neutral Pinot Noir barrels for a full year. The result is a cider reminiscent of a farmhouse Chardonnay, marked by the Sonoma terroir of hay bales and sea salt.
Tory Kicker Wild Forage
Brewed entirely from apples collected in a burlap sack while wandering the Catskills, Tory Kicker’s annual Wild Forage release differs vastly from year to year. Flavor and barrel count are determined by the whim of Mother Nature, guaranteeing that, if nothing else, Wild Forage is a cider unlike any other.
South Hill 2015 Packbasket Still and Dry
Made from 100 percent wild seedling apples — victors in the game of natural selection — gathered by hand in the woods and fields of New York’s Finger Lakes region, with a crisp flavor reflective of local terroir.
Aaron Burr Callicoon Creeks
Aaron Burr is leading the new cider renaissance with its Homestead Locational bottles, pressed from wild apples foraged in specific regions across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in an effective demonstration of terroir in cider. Its Callicoon Creeks variety is made with apples found along the north and east branches of Callicoon Creek, at the New York-Pennsylvania border — what the cidery cites as “abandoned cider mill country.” Dry and unfiltered, it’s barnyard-like up front and finishes with a sweet-tart flavor, not unlike traditional French ciders.