The first time I ever had hard cider was in London. I went for a week’s vacation, alone, in 2001. It was one of the best trips of my life. I had no one else’s schedule to worry about, I had a great guide book, and I was ready to walk. I went in February, and while I expected the typical dreary, wet London weather, I was pleasantly surprised nearly the entire week–mostly it was brisk and cool, but sunny until Saturday night when it snowed! Then chilly and sunny again on Sunday, and finally on Monday, my last day, I got the standard, chilly, drizzly London weather. That day, I decided I wanted to take the walk to Hampstead Heath, so I took the tube from my hostel, and using my book, followed the roads and lanes there. I got almost where I wanted to be, but sadly, I was starting to feel a cold or something coming on, so decided I’d rather be in out of the weather, even though my windbreaker and layers kept me warm and dry. I didn’t want to go back to the hostel, though, and there was a pub near the tube station, so I stopped in to have a drink and write in my journal. It was a large place, and at just after mid day, not busy. I looked at the various things chalked up on the board behind the bar. I didn’t want beer, because I’m not much of a beer drinker, and then I saw the word “cider.” Suddenly, that sounded perfect. I got my pint and retreated to a table to sip and write. I was immediately enchanted. This wasn’t the hot cider that we have here, that kind of a glorified apple juice. This was a fermented beverage that was almost like wine, but with a crisp, clean apply taste. Not too sweet, no cloying aftertaste, it was just lovely. And perfect for how I was feeling that day. Years later, reading David McCullough’s fabulous biography of John Adams, I learned that he drank a mug of hard cider every morning. I realized I was in good drinking company.
Since then, I’ve been a real fan of cider and lately, with the help of our local liquor store, I’ve been trying different ones. Most of them are apple ciders, but Fox Barrell makes a wonderful pear cider that I really like. Woodchuck’s Granny Smith cider is clean, light, crisp, almost like white wine. In fact, the other day, I used some in a recipe that called for white wine and it worked great. I like Strongbow, too. In fact, I haven’t tried one yet that I really didn’t like in some way. However, according to blog friend e from PDX has told me several times that the cider to end all ciders is Scrumpy Jack. Sadly, or happily, if I can finagle a trip, I apparently can only get it in England, Ireland, Spain and Sweden.
I got my hopes up, though, when I asked my liquor lady (one of the friendliest, most accomodating folks I know) if she had ever heard of it. Oh, yes, she had. Could she get it for me? I had hopes of being able to tell e that I had succeeded in the great American Scrumpy Jack cider quest. But, no, this was JK Scrumpy, not “Scrumpy Jack”. Still, I didn’t want to pass it up, so I asked her to order me a bottle. I have to say, this has been my favorite of all so far. It comes in a big bottle, not quite as large as a wine bottle, and my only complaint was there’s no way to stopper it. I didn’t want to drink the whole thing in one sitting, so I just put a wad of Saran wrap in it and put it back in the fridge. Whatever works, right? Anyway, this cider is made in Michigan, all organic, and contains nothing but apples and yeast. It is a treat. Very rich and robust, with a complex flavor. I’ll definitely be going back to the liquor store for this one.
And I’m still on the quest. If you have a cider that you love or want to recommend, please pass the word along. I know there’s a ton of ciders out there just waiting to be tested. Who could have predicted that long ago pub stop would have resulted in an ongoing love interest?