The biting taste of apples are a harbinger of the autumn season.
Cider, pies and orchard-fresh fruit deliver the flavors intimately attached to changing leaves, cool nights and clear, sunny days.
But in recent years, Indiana’s small wineries and craft brewers have found another way to enjoy the all-American fruit, even year-round.
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“Especially during the summer, people were loving the cider. Being out on the lawn, having that can to hold, really appealed to a lot of people,” said Sarah Shadday, marketing coordinator at Mallow Run.
Small-batch hard cider has become an increasingly popular alternative to beer and wine for consumers throughout central Indiana. Craft producers are creating versions of the historically popular beverage that range from dry and crisp to sweet and tangy.
Some local versions even cross over into craft beer territory by adding hops.
With a wide variety of apples and a flavor profile that begs for experimentation, the cider trend is only getting started.
“There’s such a huge experimentation that can be done with cider. People hear ‘cider,’ and they think a sweet, fizzy drink with alcohol in it. But the range is as vast as beer and wine, maybe even more vast, because it can be treated in either way,” said Andréa Homoya, co-founder of Ash & Elm Cider Co. in Indianapolis. “There’s so much education that be done about what cider is.”
Ash & Elm Cider Co. opened in June in the near-east side of Indianapolis, offering four mainstay house ciders in addition to a rotating seasonal.
Inside central Indiana’s only hard cider-specific craft brewer, chilled fermentation tanks slowly do the work of creating a new batch.
Drinkers can choose from a crisp cider with balanced sweetness and tartness aptly called Dry, or the quaffable Semi-Sweet.
Headlong has the aroma of hops without the bitterness, while the Sunset Tart Cherry uses whole cherries fermented with the apple juice to give it a tart taste and light pink color.
“Cider is such an interesting product,” Homoya said. “There’s the old-school method of making it where it’s all about the apples you get, then there’s this new school that’s making it like beer, starting with a base juice and throwing hot peppers in it or chocolate in it, these wacky things.”
Homoya and her husband Aaron founded the business to fill a niche with one of their interests. Aaron Homoya is a hobby brewer, making his own beer and wine. With the knowledge he had from those endeavors, he branched out into cider.
“We had never really been cider fans. We’d only had the macro-ciders that are on the market now. Then we went to Europe, and tried a cider at a farm-to-table restaurant in Ireland. And it was so good in a way we’d never known cider can be,” Andréa Homoya said. “That’s what started Aaron on making it.”
Just as a craft beer boom has helped diversify the public’s taste, small hard cider operations are finding an expanding base for its products.
Hard cider itself has been one of the fastest-growing beverage industries in the U.S. Since 2011, the consumption of cider has more than tripled, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million gallons, according to industry tracker the Beer Institute.
If cider were lumped into their own category as a craft beer, cider sales are second only to India pale ales, according to Carla Snyder, Penn State Extension educator specializing in hard cider.
From the market research the extension office has done, U.S. cider consumption is expected to match the United Kingdom — the highest cider consumption in the world — in the next five years, she said.
“There are a lot of reasons it has become so popular. A big one is folks are looking for something local. The local food movement is huge right now, and cider lends itself to be marketed that way because it’s a very on-the-farm kind of product,” she said.
Through the Penn State Extension, Snyder has worked with apple growers to meet the demand of the cider industry. She has also helped host workshops teaching people to make cider. In two years, she had worked with cider makers from 33 states, including Indiana.
Oregon and Washington — leaders in both the craft beer and apple production industries — are some of the busiest hard cider producers in the country.
But central Indiana has a robust group of cider-makers as well.
One of the standard-bearers in local craft cider has been New Day Craft. The Tipton-based honey wine operation has been making an eclectic mix of apple-based beverages for the past 10 years .
Patrons can pick up a growler of Johnny Chapman, featuring heirloom apples mixed with sorghum syrup, or a crisp, dry Gold Rush in its Fountain Square tasting room.
Ciders also are available on tap throughout central Indiana, and the company also offers its mainstay versions in bottles.
Over the past five years, a growing number of established wineries have added hard cider to their repertoire.
Mallow Run Winery unveiled its first cider, a crisp, dry version of the beverage, in the summer of 2015.
The hope was to give customers at the winery another option outside of a glass of wine that had the laid-back feel of a can of beer while lounging in the grass.
“Hard cider had been this building craze over the past few years, so people were turned on to hard ciders and seeking them out more,” Shadday said. “We have all of our concerts on the weekend, and legally people can’t bring other alcohol in. Not everyone is a wine drinker, so this was an attempt to reach beer drinkers and have some different offerings.”
The winery partnered with Adrian Orchard, a third-generation southside Indianapolis orchard. Using their sweet-tart fresh apples, they created the initial version of their cider.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and inspired Mallow Run to introduce two new versions this year — a dry cider with Citra and Centennial hops, and a sweet cider that came out over Labor Day weekend.
“If you go to England or Ireland, where ciders are huge, they’re going to be pretty dry. It’s a very traditional method of making ciders. But Indiana has a sweet palette, and a lot of people want something a little sweeter,” Shadday said.
Cider in Central Indiana
Mallow Run Winery
Where: 6964 W. Whiteland Road, Bargersville
- Hard Cider: Crisp and refreshing, like biting into a freshly picked apple.
- Sweet Hard Cider: A sweeter version of the more dry original hard cider.
- Hopped Hard Cider: Dry-hopped cider with Citra and Centennial hops, with similar aromas as an India pale ale.
Ash & Elm Cider Co.
Where: 2104 E. Washington St., Indianapolis
- Semi-Sweet: A drinkable semi-sweet cider with a fresh apple aroma and a balanced finish.
- Dry: A crisp, dry cider with a balance between subtle apple sweetness and tartness with a hint of oak.
- Sunset Tart Cherry: The semi-sweet cider fermented with whole cherries.
- Headlong: A dry-hopped cider has the aroma and fragrance of hops without the bitterness.
New Day Craft
Where: 1102 Prospect St., Indianapolis
- Gold Rush: A dry hard cider, crisp and clean, like apple-noted champagne
- South Cider: Heirloom apples infused with wildflower honey, with a fresh apple flavor and hint of floral sweetness
- Johnny Chapman: A rich cider mixed with sorghum syrup, for a moderately sweet cider with notes of caramel and malt
Gnarly Grove Hard Cider
Where: 8111 E. County Road 450N, Columbus
- Original Blend: The flagship cider with crisp bite and medium sweetness.
- Legendberry: Made using pressed Indiana apple cider, with a blend of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
- Emerald Elixir: Dry-hopped with five different hop blends, with the added taste of blackberries.
- Blazin Pineapple: Made with ripe northern Indiana apples, sweet pineapple juice and whole habanero.