applesAlthough it’s not beer, fermented apple cider is closer to beer than to wine in terms of alcoholic content and effervescence. In Spain and France, two traditional wine-drinking nations, the northwest regions near the Atlantic are too cool to grow grapes, so the local “wine” is cider, which is bottled either still or lightly sparkling at about half the strength of table wine.England has a particularly rich tradition of hard cider, especially in the western counties, where locally brewed cider — crisp and dry, slightly tannic, and wonderful with seafood — is available on draft in every pub. Some of this tradition came to colonial New England, where hard cider (like ale) was brewed both in the home and commercially.

Somewhere along the line, cider fell out of favor in North America, and I include a section on cider in this book more as wishful thinking than as a real option, because I am disappointed in the state of hard cider brewing in the West. With all the apples grown here, and all the interest in traditional brewing styles, it would seem a natural fit to produce dry ciders in Old World styles. But if someone is doing it, it’s either the industry’s best-kept secret or its worst publicized product.

Whether it’s a matter of timidity on the part of the brewers or an actual response from drinkers, the assumption seems to be that Americans won’t buy a truly dry cider. Some nearly dry versions are made in New England, especially the Woodchuck brand from Vermont, but they still don’t come as close to the English model as I would like. The most widely available West Coast brands, Ace and Widmer Wildwood, are noticeably sweet, due to the addition after fermenting dry of up to 20 percent unfermented apple juice. (Ace also has a pear-flavored version.)

Despite the current record, I hold on to the hope that someone will take up the challenge of producing a world-class dry cider in the Northwest. For now, even the current sweet ciders have a good back-bone of acidity that especially complements seafood (and work well with Thanksgiving dinner and other holiday meals). I have included one recipe that uses cider as a cooking medium (see Cod Baked in Cider) and another that pairs it with Dungeness crab. Either would be better still with a truly dry cider.

Also from The Microbrew Lover's Cookbook

• From the Beer Belt

• Pizza and Beyond

• From the Spice Bazaar

• Malt and Hops, Meet Ginger and Soy

• From the Home of the Chile Pepper

• Beer in the Melting Pot

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The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook 

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

Photo: Ken From NY/Flickr