Hard cider can often get a bit of a bad rap, especially among people who have strong opinions about what they drink. Ciders tend to have all the effervescent qualities and sugary undertones of a white wine, but pitch themselves as an offbeat alternative to beer. And while their popularity has certainly held strong in the United Kingdom, ciders in the United States are seen as odd remnants of an older time. But with a craft alcohol culture taking over the States, more and more folks are looking to expand their tastes using local ingredients from small-batch purveyors. Julian Hard Cider from San Diego County certainly fits that description.
The small town operation began in 2008 under owner Paul Thomas in the mountains of San Diego County, a region known for its vast supply of apples. The town of Julian was also a hotbed of gold mining activity for years, which is where the hard ciders originally proliferated. Rather than working extensive recipes with an array of hard-to-find ingredients, the Old West pioneers perfected the craft of fermenting apples. So, instead of a heavy afternoon lager or late night bottle of red, the light, crisp and sugary hard ciders could fortify the workers for hours. (Not that we recommend wielding a pickaxe while drinking some booze, even if it is locally-made.)
The crossed axes on the bottle, along with the none-too-subtle imagery of a bald eagle draped in stars holding a banner that reads "American Made," make for a formidable logo. Using locally-sourced apples from his 1.8 million-strong orchard, Thomas certainly has the right to brim with country pride. But producing a refreshing and balanced alcoholic drink, using only one ingredient, in a market that is at worst indignant and at best indifferent to your product? Well, that deserves a gold medal.
Thick, warm apple ciders are invading homes and holiday parties this time of year, and hard apple cider provides much of the same comfort without the heaviness. The 22-fluid-ounce bottles pour thin and pale, with the tight carbonation you might find in a chardonnay. The first sips are usually the strongest, as the carbonation is working at maximum capacity, giving off a sharp tartness that really sells the idea of crisp fall apples. Pretty soon, however, things mellow into a delicate balance of tart and sweet. And, at between 6.9% and 7.3% ABV, it's certainly no slouch in the "get you feeling fuzzy" department.
Since there are great things happening in the craft beer scene to the south of Los Angeles and the wine country a few hours north, it's easy to understand why craft hard ciders can be overlooked as a low-rent introduction device for novice drinkers. Yet Julian's Hard Cider is much more than a Mike's Hard Lemonade or four-pack of Bartles & Jaymes. There is a craft here, steeped in tradition and building upon the everyday ingredients that are native to a region.