The Cider Report

Throughout human history we have wrestled with the great mysteries. “Who shot J.R.?” No one ever found out. “Where’s the beef?” Exactly. Where was the beef? No one knew. But arguably the greatest mystery of human existence has always been, “How do we get alcohol to taste better?” It’s fun to drink, but the taste can be all very acquired. They make vodka taste like supermodel kisses. And yet still somehow underneath you can always taste the bitterness of the alcohol. The stiffness of the drink. The more dangerous the drink the tastier it is. And now Hard Cider is having a moment. With beer sales flat, why not try something that tastes like apples? Beer tastes like beer. And makes your kisses taste like beer. But will you drink cider? WIll your kisses taste like apples?

Our human relationship with the apple goes all the way back to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We imagine that fruit as an apple for some reason. Art depicts it as an apple. But I never felt any smarter after eating an apple, even if it kept the doctor away. I bet the fruit of the tree of the knowledge between good and evil was like a big juicy mango. That’s how God knew Adam and Eve ate it. Because it was so messy and sticky and the juice was all over the place. Or a pomegranate. “Did you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge between good and evil?” “No,” Adam would reply. “Then why am I sticking to the linoleum of Eden’s kitchen? And why are there sticky seeds everywhere?”

Alcohol undoes the effects of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you’re drunk, good and evil usually seem like the same thing. The line between fun and sin is never more blurry. “Who told you you were naked?” asked God. “The cops,” replied Adam and Eve. Booze gets us unwound and also simultaneously wound up. It’s a depressant and a euphoric. It makes life worth living and simultaneously ruins it. So it’s got a lot going on all at the same time. And there’s just something about a bottle of beer that just feels right. Like a hot dog. Or a really great vibrator. It’s designed for your hand but also to tickle your soul. Along with various other parts of you.

I haven’t had many of these alcoholic ciders, except for a few in some Irish bars, where it’s respectable. They were always the last thing left over in our fridge after the big house parties in our house in Allston, Mass. (Everyone who ever lives in Boston has to spend at least a year sleeping in a seven-bedroom half-house in the Allston-Brighton area, having bands rehearse in your basement and having strangers crash on one of your various couches. That was back in the day when you would just take couches out of the garbage and carry them home and let strangers sleep on them. Now there’s probably bed bugs on everything. And even if there weren’t visible bed bugs, there are bed bugs on a molecular level. And you’d have a refrigerator full of cider. And you’d be like, who the hell brought cider to our party?)

But the cider six-pack at the party might work like the grapefruit juice I used to buy and leave in the fridge. If you bought orange juice and had more than one roommate, that orange juice would be gone instantly. Forget about it. The refrigerator would drink it. Immediately drank. But grapefruit juice? That would pretty much be right where you left it. People might have grabbed it thinking it was orange juice and then been like, “Grapefruit juice? What the hell?” That’s what happens to ciders at parties. You bring a six pack of something cheap. You drink someone else’s Pretentious Hop Orgy Beers. And then at the end of the night there’s nothing but Modello and Natty Light in your fridge. And ciders. Whoever brought the cider, they drank two and left for a better party.

It was suggested to me that I delve into this cider craze and report back. Is this just some crazy trend for the kids, getting drunk on apple-tasting wackiness? Cider has a 10 percent market share in the U.K., where most beers taste like sadness and regret. And the growth of cider sales in America is remarkable. In Oregon, they are putting a bird on it. But would my local liquor stores even carry ciders? Enough ciders to do a credible job reviewing them? I got off the bookstore early on Friday and hit a few places. And ciders they did carry.

Cidre: I drank this one first because I was so sure it would be the best. It’s made by the same snobs who make Stella Artois, and who I guess are also the same snobs who make Budweiser now. And not even the Czech kind of Budweiser, which is awesome. The crappy American Budweiser. So why does Stella Artois have such allure? I really like Stella Artois. I am ashamed to admit it is maybe my favorite beer. It is the tastiest beer. I would drink it more if I had some kind of other bottle I could easily transfer them into. A book’s cover might sell you a book, for example, but after that the book’s cover is saying something about you. Try reading The Fountainhead on the F Train and then come back and talk to me. That’s the problem with those tablet reader things. You never know what anyone is reading. And can’t ask them if it’s any good. They’re all reading The Fault With Our Stars, probably. I used to take covers of books like The Sorrows Of Young Werther and The Street Of Crocodiles, tear their covers off and tape them over the covers of Games of Thrones books. I know I’m not smart or sophisticated or complicated, I just want strangers to think maybe I’m two out of three of those things.

Stella Artois is tasty and easy to drink and you don’t have to think about it. And they have these cool glass goblet chalice things to drink them out of. They use a knife to wipe away the excess foam on top of a Stella Artois. It’s all fairly ridiculous. I wish I could say that my favorite beer was named Unpretentious American Dude Beer, but all beers are either gross or are marketed grossly. Grossly enough that you shouldn’t want to drink them. That drinking them might be construed that you saw their ads and liked them or they somehow worked on you. You fell for their bullshit, and therefore Bullshit Beer is your beer and it represents your true soul. But Stella Artois tastes good to me for some reason; it has a certain level of class, for some reason. But I normally just buy a 30-pack of Schaefer’s Beer in cans every payday.

Cidre, made by these same insidious Stella Artois people, is not that great. I thought it would be the best. The packaging was all very fancy. There were fox-hunting horns and “The Year 1366” on it. Have the apples been waiting that long? Cidre is the Belgian word for “Fancy Cider” I believe, like Theatre is the word for “Fancy Theater.” But this fancy cider was a little pale. A little flat-tasting. The top label on the neck say it is made with “Hand-Picked Apples.” Does that mean that the apples were picked by human hands? As opposed to being picked by robot hydraulic suction cups? Or do these Stella Artois people mean that they’ve selected only the best apples to put in their pale, bland cider? What a disappointment. I poured it into one of those Stella Artois chalices. It tasted a little better. Maybe a little bettre. But not much. It lacked some essential, unspeakable quality. Too pale. Too flat-tasting. Too blah. They sell them in four-packs for like $8.50. I do not like them apples. Cidre is middle of the pack in taste and head of the pack in packaging. I will probably pour other, tastier ciders into its stately bottle.

Magner’s: I am pretty sure this was the brand I drank at whatever Irish bar I drank ciders at. I might have been drinking cider because the beer I was drinking, Harp or something, was tapped out and they had sent someone downstairs to screw around with the tap. Or maybe it was because the tap was at corner of the bar, by itself, regal in the dim light, keeping a respectful distance from its beery counterparts. Or maybe it was because some Irish bartender was like, “Try a cider, Jimmy.” People with English accents always seem smarter and more sophisticated than me. People with Irish accents always seem wiser than me, even though my people were not from Ireland originally. They were expelled Scottish kings and queens or whatever that took refuge in Northern Ireland before coming through Canada to places like Brockton, Mass. It’s a long way down from being a Scottish king to living in Brockton, Mass. But when you live in Boston for a while you become kind of Irish. Especially if you like hanging out in bars with actual Irish people. And who can resist them? They smoke and curse and drink and punch you in the head. And that’s just the ladies. I could never resist them, who would want to.

So if an Irish bartender suggested I eat half a Snickers bar that had fallen under the bar, I’d probably do that, too. I liked cider in bars as a departure from stouts or whiskeys. But maybe this tasted better in half-memory. It was served at closer to room temperature than cold, cold, cold as a cold, cold beer. It was definitely darker. It was definitely tastier. It was maybe after-tastier. Like I’d taken a few bites too close to the core and gotten a little brown apple. This is a design flaw with apples that will hopefully be cleared-up soon with a little unholy manipulation of its DNA. It won’t get brown from oxygen after five seconds anymore. And it will probably glow-in-the-dark. And they will make it taste like steak, too, hopefully.

Harpoon Craft Cider: I associate the word craft with Arts and Crafts. Which I like. But when it’s used as an adjective, I am against it. It’s basically the same word as “artisan” or “artisanal.” I think, this cider has been toiled over. But it feels like it’s better than me. Like I’m too dumb to choose my own cider? If they toiled over it, why doesn’t it taste better? Skanky Cider would have been a better name. I would probably drink it again if they renamed it Skanky Cider and just admitted to everyone that it’s skanky. Ride the Skanky Wave! Of Apples! Sleep in Your Bathtub! That would be a good ad campaign. It was the worst so far, but not ultimately the worst. On the advice of one of the guys at the liquor store, I added a little Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey to this cider and served it to Ben and myself in tiny wonderful glasses. It tasted much better. Maybe the Crafters at Harpoon should go buy some Fireball Whiskey and drop a little in each bottle of their Crafted Cider and pour it into a tiny glass. It could be Cinnamon Skanky Cider. I would drink those sour apples.

Angry Orchard Crisp Apples: OK, now we’re in business. Now we’re onto something. This cider thing might be a thing. OK, I get it. Because this one tastes sweetened. Possibly sugary. Ben called it “sinful.” He worried openly about the fate of humanity with such “soda poppy” alcoholic drinks. I do not openly worry about the fate of humanity. I am sure we will figure things out if we have enough time. I had to buy an entire six-pack of this. Because the guy at one of the liquor stores was ok with me poaching single cans from six packs, but not a bottle from a six-pack. No. There was a $10 minimum for credit card purchases. I figured, aw, what the hell. If they were super terrible I could always leave them in the back of the fridge and drink them only when I got super desperate.

Who even first thought, look at this thing, I think I will eat it. Presumably the snake in the garden of Eden, when snakes could talk. I always wonder that. Who ate this first? Who squeezed it and figured out it would make a tasty drink? Who left it around for long enough and figured out it would become boozy after a while and would make you feel like life was slightly less horrible for a little while? Snakes I guess. Just a bunch of snakes. Because somehow snakes knew, and they taught us all about it.

Anyway, this cider was hands-down the best one I drank. It was sweet, it was tasty. Possibly it was made of crisper apples than these other ones. My one complaint is the packaging. Well, and the name. I don’t like thinking of Orchards being Angry. I mean, angry all the time? What happened to this orchard to make it so angry? Perhaps having all its apples stolen and turned into booze for humans? That would piss me off, possibly forever. The crazy tree on the front has a Gandalf sleeping face. And reminds me of the cover of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising for some reason. It’s a lame label. It’s a lame name. I transferred the best cider into the better packaging of other, less tasty ciders. Cidre’s stately bottle, Smith & Forge’s cool brown can. The can was the only thing salvageable about Smith & Forge. Even Fireball Whiskey couldn’t save this cider, it was simply horrid. I dumped three-quarters of it down the drain. When I poured a tastier cider into the brown can, because I like cans and liked the packaging, it skanked that cider. Run like hell from that cider. It tastes like you’re sucking on the dirtiest key on your key chain. Metallic and foul.

I intended to leave some of the six pack of Angry Orchard in my fridge for emergencies, but I’ve already drank like four of them. After funneling them into different bottles. Maybe I am shallow for caring about what a bottle I am drinking from looks like. I think I’m shallow for so many other better reasons. But it does matter. My shoes are a representation of me, even if I am wearing pink crocs, which are funny to me and very comfortable. Angry Orchard is refreshing and tasty and the cider I regret buying the least. But it should be named something cooler. It doesn’t have to be named after trees or apples at all. Magner’s doesn’t have an apple on its label. It just looks like barrels. I get it. If it says Cider on the label it’s made of apples which comes from trees. I don’t even know what beer is made of. Some kind of grain and hops. You don’t have to remind me on the bottle what it’s made of.

Redd’s: This one came in second. It’s called an Apple Ale, so maybe it’s not a cider? It says it’s an ale with apple flavor. Tasted like cider to me. But what the hell do I know? I bought some kind of Strawberry flavored one, too, to get up to the $10 credit card minimum at some Jersey City liquor store. There’s a giant apple on the label of this one, and in their commercials, people get hit in the head by flying apples. It’s terrible. Like, I could have had a V8.

Redd’s should change their commercials, and provide more information on their label about why they’re not a cider. Maybe they are just made like an ale and then made to taste like an apple? Why would they do that if the ale tasted any good? People also like ale taste. After a while, after drinking a million of them. This was a tasty whatever-it-was. Not as tasty as Angry Orchard, which I would rename A. O. Cider. Lend it an air of mystery. Take the tree off the label, I have enough problems. I don’t want to wonder what’s made the tree angry. Or dead-looking. I have enough things to worry about. That’s why I drink.

Mike’s Smashed Apple Cider: When I think of Mike’s I think of their Hard Lemonades, which I have also drank when they were left in the refrigerator after parties. There is an exploding apple being split by an arrow on the label. Is that how they “Smash” the apples? It would be kind of cool if they did. Although it seems unfair to shoot arrows at things that can’t shoot back. That’s why I think bow-hunting is kind of weak. I do understand the allure of hunting deer and stuff. But it would be more sporting to construct some kind of antlers humans could wear and then have antler fights with them. Or even more fun and sporting would be to sneak up on deer and just try and touch them, tag-style. I think if deer smelled humans on other deer they would be completely made fun of by other deer. But at least they’d be alive! Unless we can figure out a way to teach deer how to shoot guns and arrows. Maybe they would shoot them at each other! And solve the whole deer overpopulation problem. The human overpopulation problem will probably work itself out eventually once sex robots are invented. Who would want to get married and have babies when you have a sex robot that never makes you pick up your socks and doesn’t care when your goddamned anniversary is? That will solve humanity’s most pressing issues. Sex robots. With the voice of Scarlett Johansson or Barry White. These should be coming around the corner any time now. “Who did you take to the prom?” “Stayed home with sex robot.” It’s a real cool world.

Mike’s kind of sucked, but not in any kind of remarkable way. I put Fireball Whiskey in it and it tasted better. It had kind of a bad aftertaste. At this point I was googling old girlfriends and I almost threw up a little. I can’t tell if that was the Mike’s or the thought that I would be alone forever, that I was unlovable. Or all the damned cider. Or the baseline sadness I always feel kind of bubbling up. I don’t blame the Mike’s. I’ve always liked guys named Mike. Michaels, I’ve only liked a few. But you can’t go wrong with a Mike or Dave. There have never been any serial killers named MIke or Dave that I know of. Now Ricks, I have never met a good Rick.

Johnny Appleseed’s: For some reason I always conflate Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, although one chopped down trees and the other one planted trees. And one was huge. Why did Johnny Appleseed plant all those trees? I mean, orchards, when you think about it, turn into horrible places, with all those fallen apples rotting underneath them. They stink like hell. So thanks a lot Johnny Appleseed. Thank God Paul Bunyan and his ox chopped all those goddamned trees down. So we could have highways and TGI Fridays or whatever.

Johnny Appleseed’s cider came in a tall boy can, which I liked, but it tasted kinda whatever. And I get it! You’re made of apples! Apples from apple trees probably planted by Johnny Appleseed. There is a weird little hobo handkerchief bindle with a J on it and a giant A, which to me looks like a logo for Jackass. But that just might be the cider bringing out the Angry Ocean in me.

If I was going to create the perfect packaging for a tasty boozy cider I would call it Charlie’s. I never met a bad Charlie. If a guy named Charlie gave me an alcoholic cider, I would definitely drink it. Maybe gold script on Navy Blue label. No apples or trees or sad sack crap. Just Charlie’s Cider. With a little story about how great it is on the label. I love reading labels while I am peeling them off, which is a sign of sexual frustration, I guess. Which is why I drink, because no one loves me and the tree on my favorite cider looks like it’s dying which means someday I might die which gets me drinking, too. I don’t want to think about death. I want to think of ladies named Charlie, which is a sexy name for a lady. I have never met a woman named Charlie that wasn’t sexy. Or maybe I have never met a lady named Charlie. But it’s a solid, fun name. And the cider she would make would be like her. Sweet and somehow also tart. Crisp and tasty. We’d make out somewhere near the jukebox after drinking too many ciders, our breath tasting like apples, knowledge, good, evil, and life! We’d both be alive! And that would be the end of it.

Previously: The Cheap Wine Report

Photo via djwtwo/flickr.

Jim Behrle recently wrote and recorded The Official Summer Jam of 2014.