Despite the Disney story portraying Johnny Appleseed as an orchardist with a mission to ensure that pioneers were fed sweet, wholesome apples, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) was actually planting trees to bear fruit for hard cider. In the early days of American history, fermented cider was the safest and most popular drink, and was considered safer than even water, which could be easily contaminated. Apples grow widely and have been cultivated since ancient times. They also lend themselves quite well to alcoholic brews, so they have historically been the basis for a wide array of alcoholic beverages around the world.
Hard cider has followed beer and wine as a burgeoning artisan industry, growing 40 percent in 2016 and 30 percent in 2017. Traditional cider was made from varieties of apples less sweet than those used for snacking and desserts. Many contemporary cider makers continue to use these varieties. Others make sweeter ciders from crops such as Macintosh and Granny Smith. Some cider makers put exquisite care into crafting brews with subtle delicate flavors coaxed from the apples by leveraging nuances in the fermentation process. Others add flavors such as peach, hops, or huckleberries to complement the natural flavors of the apples. Many hard cider makers operate on a small scale, using local apples and selling directly to bars, restaurants and aficionados who buy bottles and cans at farmers markets. Others, such as Angry Orchard and Strongbow, are owned by large companies that also brew beer.
Hard cider may have some health benefits although, as with any type of alcohol, it's important to look at the big picture and weigh the down sides of alcohol consumption against the specific benefits. The fermentation process creates antioxidants and may lower cholesterol. But ciders also tend to be high in sugar, so moderation is advisable.
Calvados is a legendary apple brandy made in Normandy, France. You can also make apple brandy using apples from other locales. In fact, you can obtain seed stock from the same apples used in Normandy's Calvados. However, like Camembert cheese, Vidalia onions and Hatch chilies, you can't call your brandy Calvados unless it's actually from Normandy. Calvados is often aged in oak, in barrels that build layers of flavor as they are used over time. Apple types and distillation methods vary somewhat from one distillery to another, allowing some room for distinctness and variety across a sector known for its longstanding heritage.
Applejack is another apple-based alcohol that dates back to American colonial times. Like hard cider, it is made from fermenting apples. But, while the alcohol content of cider tends to be in the 10 to 12 percent range, applejack's alcohol content can run as high as 30 percent. Applejack makers raise its alcohol content by freezing the beverage and then scraping off the ice that forms on top. Scraping off the ice lowers the water content, raising the percentage of alcohol.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.