Thursday, March 23, 2023

There are at least a half dozen kosher hard (alcoholic) ciders available on the market, but it was only last summer that I was told by several kosher retailers that cider has two seasonal roles in the kosher marketplace. First, these typically low-alcohol beverages (about 5% or less) are refreshing and feel a bit more celebratory than, say, carbonated apple juice, so they sell very well in the summer. (In fact, FillerUp in Teaneck and other kosher wine stores often stock several varieties.) Also, Jews traveling around the country can also often find more than one certified kosher-certified variety on their travels, even if they can’t find kosher wine in general. In a pinch, when wine or kosher grape juice can’t be found to make Havdala, it’s popular to use beer, but I’m told that kosher apple cider is also a viable option. For those who like the “blue bottle” for wine, cider is a better and sweeter option than most beers.

Second, a new and growing subset of ciders are “hopped,” which means they contain hops, a common and recognizable flavoring ingredient for beer. The hops taste is more often smelled first—it’s the yeasty scent that makes beer smell like, well, beer. In the case of the two hopped ciders I tasted for this article, I’m told they are of special interest in April to the Jewish community’s beer lovers, who miss beer so much on Pesach that they are just inconsolable. Well, be consoled, beer drinkers! It may be a little sweet, but hopped beer *kind of* gives a sense of that beery, yeasty taste. It was too sweet for me to characterize as beer, but I see what they’re getting at, and it is indeed fun and definitely refreshing for a hot summer evening.

I tasted two ciders recently brought in by Larissa and Ami Nahari of The River Wine. Made at Rootstock Ciderworks in Williamson, New York, the Sir Isaac Newton cider is O-U and kosher for Passover. It is made from hand-picked apples grown on the fifth generation family-owned farm. All the ciders have only two ingredients: New York State apples and select cider-making yeasts. Sir Isaac Newton (or SIN) is sold in two varieties: hopped and rosé. The hopped variety is made from Crispin apples and whole cone cascade hops. “This heavily aromatic cider exhibits a bouquet of fresh lemon and pine paired perfectly with the taste of fresh picked apples. With its balanced sweetness and acidity, this unique cider is sure to please beer and cider drinkers alike,” according to its description. My friends Randi and Chaim enjoyed this and agreed it was refreshing when I brought it over for them to try on a warm evening.

The rosé cider delivers a “unique taste experience” resulting from the marriage of Gold Rush, Jonagold and Golden Delicious apples, and Italian kosher cabernet wine made by Contessa Annalisa. “Vibrant salmon color and bold tannin—hints of apricot fill the nose while flavors of ripe red gooseberry excite the palate,” said its description. Both the SIN ciders are sold in 750 ml bottles, similar to wine bottles, and retails for around $11.99. The charming effervescence and easy-drinking style is great for summer and the pink color feels celebratory. Also, since it does contain actual wine, it may be reasonable to use for kiddush, though please check with your local Orthodox rabbi on this; I am not sure of the percentage of wine it contains.

In contrast, I tasted another rosé cider, made by Austin Eastciders and certified by the O-K. While it was a reasonably tasting tipple, I was surprised (and a little shocked!) to see that this cider includes cane sugar, brown sugar, rose extract and hibiscus extract, and certainly no wine at all … So it seems the added sweetness and color are essentially man-made. When choosing between Austin Eastciders’ rosé or original dry cider, I would recommend the original, though it also includes added cane and brown sugar. These retail for $11.99 for a six-pack and are available nationwide, particularly at Total Wines and More. They also come in multiple flavors such as orange and raspberry. Check labeling to ensure certification.

I also enjoyed two other hard ciders: The Doc’s Cider Original Hard Apple Cider, which is certified kosher by the Star-K. This is a purer product than the Austin Eastciders, including only apples and champagne yeast in its ingredients. Doc’s Cider also comes in multiple flavors, like pear and raspberry. These come in 22-oz. bottles for about $4.99 or cans for about $12 for a six-pack. It was also a little drier and less sweet than Angry Orchard’s “hazy and less sweet” unfiltered cider, which was enjoyable and a little more beery, even though it doesn’t include hops as an ingredient.

Last time I checked, all of the many flavors of Angry Orchard ciders also are on the Star-K kosher list, as Angry Orchard is owned by Boston Beer Company, which makes Samuel Adams, which also carries that kosher symbol. These retail for about $10 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles. A benefit of this brand is that it is available virtually in every American city or suburb you might visit this summer.

Of course, as with all beverages you consume responsibly, check the packaging for a kosher symbol. And enjoy your favorite cooling beverages in the summer heat: It’s important to stay hydrated!

By Elizabeth Kratz

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