written by Alex Jones
It’s hard being a cider fan. Even the lists at Philly’s eclectic craft beer bars will usually stock just one or two cider options. And forget about finding a quality source if you’re out at a divey spot for some karaoke: if anything’s on tap, it’s a syrupy, processed-tasting brew like Angry Orchard, more like boozy soda than anything that may have at one point originated on a farm.
South Central Pennsylvania is home to thousands of acres of orchards growing tree fruit—cherries, peaches, plums, pears, apples. These crops will end up anywhere from farmers’ markets to cans of supermarket pie filling, or on draft at your favorite gastropub. Increasingly, orchards are collaborating with area breweries and wineries to bottle fruit-based beverages, or are making their own.
While mainstream ciders often seem like they’ve been conceived as a slightly earthier take on Smirnoff Ice, local breweries and cideries are experimenting with subtler flavors and traditional methods. Commonwealth Ciders, Philadelphia Brewing Co.’s apple-oriented arm, ferments a refreshing product without the use of added sugars, and Boyertown’s Frecon Farms uses their own apples to make several pleasantly dry, light-tasting varieties.
Wyndridge Farm, a brewery, cidery, and winery located southeast of York in Dallastown, PA, introduced Philadelphia to their line of craft beer, cider and non-alcoholic natural sodas last fall. Alongside a robust IPA, toasty amber ale, and a refreshing apple cider is Crafty Cranberry, a crisp, not-too-sweet cranberry-apple hard cider blend—perfect for brightening things up after a winter of creamy stouts and porters.
This pour is a pale, luminous rose gold color, with a fruity scent that recalls a champagne. Tartness hits the sides of the tongue, then a naturally sweet finish and an effervescent flood of bubbles, keeping the finish light and clean. It’s sweeter than another favorite cranberry-based local brew, Dock Street’s bracing, blood-red Cranberry Kölsch, but thanks to the tartness of the berries and the dryness of the cider, a little sweetness is welcomed. In fact, Crafty Cranberry is almost too easy to drink at 5.5% ABV, so be sure you’ve got a snack on hand while you sip.
The perfect accompaniment for this light, bright-tasting cider? Young goat cheeses, which come back into rotation as kidding season begins after a few dry months in midwinter. Lush without being heavy on the tongue and deeply flavorful with notes of citrus or mushroom, depending on the age, Yellow Springs Farm Cloud Nine partners well with a tart, yet effervescent cider like Crafty Cranberry.
Farmers Al and Catherine Renzi milk a herd of mixed heritage breed goats on their tiny farm nestled in a woodsy part of Chester County, and the little bloomy-rind buttons of Cloud Nine they make nearly year-round stand out in contrast to their line of hard-aged, natural-rind goat cheeses like savory Fieldstone. More complex than a chèvre but milkier than Yellow Springs’ aged cheeses, Cloud Nine’s combination of creamy texture and bright, yet rich flavor make a great partner for Crafty Cranberry.