If the growth of craft beer has been impressive to watch, it’s nothing compared to the meteoric rise of hard cider over the last few years, bringing with it an increased demand for more flavors and styles. Of course, the “rise” of craft cider in America is really more of a comeback—before Prohibition, hard cider was America’s drink of choice. In recent years, hard cider has become the fastest-growing beverage in the craft market and bears little resemblance to the sweet, fizzy kid’s drink that might spring to mind. Today’s grown-up libation is frequently dry, with no added sugars, and boasts an alcohol content similar to that of an IPA.
With Santa Cruz County’s long history of apple cultivation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are several local cideries who call Santa Cruz County home, including Soquel Cider, a part of Everett Family Farm; Tanuki Cider, made by a family that has been farming apples for five generations; Surf City Cider, a part of Hallcrest Vineyard; Rider Ranch Ciderworks, a husband and wife making small-batch fine ciders; and Santa Cruz Cider Co., whose family uses apples from an orchard in Pleasant Valley, planted in 1880.
According to sisters Nicole Todd and Natalie Henze of Santa Cruz Cider Co., the time is ripe to showcase this diverse product. They’ve organized the first Cider Week Santa Cruz, a seven-day celebration of cider. Fourteen cideries, including five from Santa Cruz County, will pour their cider at a series of unique events at multiple venues, kicking off with Cider City at the Hop ’N’ Barley Beer & BBQ Festival on Saturday, July 15 at Skypark in Scotts Valley.
Todd hopes to use the event to educate potential customers about what today’s hard cider is and isn’t. “We’ve seen how successful craft beer has become and how it’s changed people’s palates and idea of what craft beer is. We want that for cider. A lot of people have a misconception about what cider is, and we do a lot of education,” says Todd. “Most people think that cider is sweet, but actually no one is making a sweet cider locally. Also, a lot of people think cider is non-alcoholic. We encounter that a lot at the farmers markets where we pour—parents coming up and asking if their children can taste it.” And because it’s made from apples, cider is naturally gluten-free.
Tanuki Cider owner Robby Honda is excited to release bottles of his “Pick It Up” hard cider at a release party with chef Brad Briske to be held in the backyard garden at Home in Soquel on Sunday, July 16. Honda believes Briske’s whole, roasted pig should complement the 8.5-percent alcohol, unfiltered bottle-conditioned cider perfectly. “It’s cloudy, medium-bodied, tart, with a fruity nose and a dry finish,” says Honda. “It should pair really well with the pig.”
Meanwhile, Todd has been working with Equinox winemaker Barry Jackson to produce a bottled cider fermented and conditioned in the traditional Champagne style. Santa Cruz Cider Co. will release their méthode champenoise cider at the Equinox tasting room on Thursday, July 20, pairing it with special cider-washed cheeses made by Rebecca King of Garden Variety Cheese.
Henze is looking forward to the cider tap takeover at craft beer bar Lúpulo on Wednesday, July 19. “Lúpulo has become a hub for craft beer, and it will be a good opportunity to educate those drinkers. There are a lot of similarities between craft beer and cider, and it has a similar alcohol content,” says Henze. “Just because it’s cider doesn’t mean it’s sweet. It won’t give you a headache.”
The week also promises a cider social at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge, cider tasting at the Felton farmers market, and apple-themed music at the Poet & Patriot. For a full list of happenings, visit Cider Week Santa Cruz’s Facebook event page.