By Charles Passy
The bottles: Rootstock Ciderworks premium hard ciders , $16 (750 ml bottle)
The back story: Forget pumpkin spice. For us, the fall is about apples. Which means it’s also about hard cider, the boozy version of the beloved sip. As it happens, the drink that has seen a surge in popularity, with U.S. retail sales growing tenfold over the past decade, according to one industry report .
The cider business is dominated by a handful of big names, such as Angry Orchard and Strongbow. Even Belgian beer maker Stella Artois /zigman2/quotes/209225053/composite BUD -4.04% has its “cidre.” But smaller, craft-oriented producers are also gaining attention. Rootstock Ciderworks, based in upstate New York, is one such example. It’s a brand that evolved out of a family farm, DeFisher Fruit Farms, which has been growing apples for more than 80 years. The farm had already specialized in what are known as “processing variety” apples — that is, apples that are grown for the juice and applesauce market — so moving into hard cider production was not so much a stretch. By 2014, Rootstock was born.
The brand has distinguished itself with a line of what it calls “premium” ciders, which sell for slightly more than its standard releases, such as its original, hopped and dry varieties. The premium ones are made using special techniques — for example, barrel-aging — or with less-common apple varieties. The company says it sees a large demand for such products in specialty beer and wine stores.
What we think about them: We’re fans of hard cider in general, so we approached Rootstock’s offerings with enthusiasm. And we were not disappointed. In particular, the Legend cider, one of its premium offerings, appealed to us for its bone-dry character — almost like a green apple in a glass. The company doesn’t specify the varieties that go into the cider, simply noting they are “cider apples” rarely found in the U.S. right now, but it does point out that that Legend was aged in French and American oak barrels to “bring out notes of vanilla and enhanced tannic structure.” In any case, it’s worth seeking out.
How to enjoy them: The Rootstock team says its ciders generally pair well with white meats (think chicken or pork) or fish. But they also make a good complement to a cheese plate. We say they’re fine on their own as well, especially come autumn.