Fall Spritz with Hard Cider and Amaro

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Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving. You’re wearing an unflatteringly large sweater and stretch pants. You’re with your family—the extended version, including that great-aunt with ”interesting“ politics and your cousin’s girlfriend whose name no one can remember. There’s a turkey in the oven (hopefully Andy Baraghani’s dry-brined glazey guy), a scary-looking centerpiece made of dead branches your sister foraged from the yard, and a whole mess of sides at varying levels of doneness vying for counter space. Your brother just brought up the Midterm results. What do you need most right now? You need a drink.

This is the mental image I’m conjuring in my office at 4 p.m. on the Friday before Thanksgiving. I’m practicing for the Big Day in the Test Kitchen with Molly Baz, inventor of Thanksgiving 2018’s official It-Drink: the Fall Spritz. It tastes complex, but making it is even simpler than last year’s Thanksgiving’s punch: Six ounces of Basque-style dry hard cider (I opted for Barrika, but Isastegi Sagardo is a good option too) plus 1.5 ounces of amaro (Averna if you have it, but just about anything will work), poured over ice and finished with a twist of orange peel. That’s it.

“See, I’m not trying to stop drinking Aperol spritzes just because summer is over,” says Molly. “This carries the spritz right on over into fall.”

Because it’s 4 p.m. on a Friday in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, several other staffers are milling about. I make the drink for all of them, portioning it into large white wine glasses filled to the top with ice cubes (the more the better; you want this baby frosty, and a slight watering down by the ice as it melts is a good thing).

The key here is the magic ratio: four parts cider to one part amaro. You could measure, or you could just eyeball it. Really, says Molly, it doesn’t even matter what type of amaro you use; just go for whatever you have on hand. Aiming for a “medium” option that balances bitter, sweet, and citrus will work particularly well against the dry tang of the cider—we tried Meletti and felt quite positive about the results. Remember, you’re using Basque-style cider here, which means there’s barely even a hint of sweetness coming from the apples. Just funky tartness, nice and cloudy and unfiltered. Combined with the amaro’s herbaceousness and the fragrance of the fresh orange peel, the result is a fresh, floral, light-bodied sipper that’s not too boozy to double (or triple, or quadruple) up on.

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Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott, food styling by Rebecca Jurkevich, prop styling by Kalen Kaminski

Don’t skip the orange peel!

“There’s funk for the millennials and bright clean flavor for the moms,” says associate social media manager Emily Schultz, sidling up to the table with glass in hand.

“Yeah, and you could drink it forever,” says digital restaurant editor Elyse Inamine between slugs. “I feel like this is perfect for when you’re stuck at the table because your uncle is telling a really long story.”

Associate editor Christina Chaey joins the party. “It’s nice to have a cocktail that feels composed without having to do much work,” she says, with gravitas. “In fact, this is a cocktail you could make without owning a single bar tool.”

She’s right: The easiness of this cocktail is hard to overstate. Which works just as well if you’re playing guest, and not host, this Thanksgiving. You could pop by the liquor store on your way to dinner, grab a bottle of amaro, a few bottles of cider, and an orange, and arrive looking not like the deadbeat who didn’t cook anything and never does (🙋🏻), but a hero with a very sophisticated palate. Just put the bottles on the table, bust out some glasses and an ice bucket, and let everyone fend for themselves. Because it’s spritz-o’clock, and that’s always something to be thankful for.

Get the recipe:

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Americans Have Been Doing Hard Cider Wrong Forever, and It’s Time to Change

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We’ve been wrong about hard cider for so, so long. For the past few decades, cider has been sold to us as a sweet, gluten-free alternative to beer. But from the process of growing and harvesting fruit to fermenting its juices, this is a drink that has much more in common with wine.

Now that American cider makers are embracing old-school, hands-off fermentation techniques and heirloom apple varieties, cider is getting a well deserved rebrand. It turns out that in this punk rock-ish era of natural wine, there’s just as much unconventional flavor to explore in naturally fermented and spontaneously fermented ciders. If you already have a thing for skin contact wines, you’ll feel right at home, and if you don’t, well, this is a beautiful new world to explore.

The epicenter of the naturally fermented cider movement is the Northeast, the Napa Valley of the American cider world. From New York’s Finger Lakes to southern Maine, heritage apples (native breeds that you probably won’t find at your grocery store) have been growing for more than 300 hundred years. It’s here that cider makers are embracing fermentation techniques that are just as old, turning blends of wild and orchard-grown apples into still and sparkling apple wines that contain tantalizing acidity, tannins, and whispers of the lands in which they were grown. (Yes, you can also call them apple wines. And no, we won’t judge you.)

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Photo by Alex Lau

A sparkling apple wine from Vermont’s Fable Farm.

Small-scale producers like Vermont’s Fable Farm Fermentory, use yeasts native to the area instead of controlled industrial blends for ciders that taste nothing like Mott’s. “The key is to step out of nature’s way by not filtering, heating, or manipulating the wine with ecology-destructing chemicals,” explains Fable co-founder Jon Piana. “The result is an electric symphony of flavor that, if we’ve succeeded, evolves even in the glass.”

So how do we find a naturally fermented cider that gets it right? Reading the bottle is a good place to start. Here’s what to look for:

“Wild” or “Naturally” Fermented
This distinction means that the yeast used to turn the apple sugars into alcohol was collected from the fruits’ environment (in the air or on their skins) rather than grown in a lab. The resulting fermentation reflects the terroir and provides deeper, funkier flavors like lemon pith, strawberries, sage, or bleu cheese (in a good way).

Sparkling/Still
Not all cider is bubbly! Like wine, there are still and sparkling varieties. For a smooth drinking experience, go still. For a livelier one, bubbly.

Unfiltered
You might see a little sediment at the bottom of your bottle. That’s totally cool! It’s the leftover bits of yeast and apple that usually get filtered out of the finished product. They help give the cider that wild flavor we’re after.

Raw
Pasteurization kills all of the living bacteria and yeast in a cider, making it more shelf stable. If a cider is “raw,” it was not pasteurized, giving it a tingling vibrancy in both body and flavor. Think fresh-squeezed orange juice versus the stuff that comes in the carton.

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Photo by Alex Lau

A line-up of some of our favorite ciders.

Apple Variety
Most ciders are made from a blend of apple varieties, but you want to see specific names, like Northern Spy, Golden Russet, or Newtown Pippin, listed. Avoid anything that just says just “apple juice.”

Concentrate
Definitely steer clear of the word concentrate. Large-scale apple juice is often shipped across countries and continents as a concentrate, because it’s less expensive, and then gets diluted before it makes its way into the final product. The process results in cider with a fraction of the flavor of fresh juice.

The Source
Good cider will tell you where the apples came from, most of the time down to the orchard or farm. We tend to prefer natural ciders from the Northeast, but California, Michigan, and the Northwest also produce high-quality stuff.

The Producer
Exploring new producers is half of what makes drinking these wild ciders exciting. But there are certain producers we trust to make ciders we’ll be returning to again and again. Here are six of our favorites:

Oyster River Wine Growers – Warren, ME
Blackduck Cidery – Ovid, NY
Rocky Ground Cider – Newburgh, ME
Redbyrd Orchard – Trumansburg, NY
Fable Farm Fermentory – Barnard, VT
Sundstrom Cider – Hudson Valley, NY

Want to learn more about spontaneous fermentation? This way, friends:

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