Don’t just #PickCider for Thanksgiving, embrace Cider.
By my own admission, I am a fan of the cider category. More than that though, I have a very elaborate and specific vision for what I think the category can become. The US Association of Cider Makers (USACM) has created an entire marketing campaign around #PickCider in an effort to spread the idea of the full category and create consumer awareness above “ciderbeer”. They do an excellent job with it and I hope it becomes even more widespread.
I don’t have a problem with taking an idea and making it so detailed far beyond the level of “good enough”. If I’m being fair, I can even excel at reaching right past the “mundane” shelf and putting everything up on the “waste of time” shelf pretty quickly. However, once in a while, taking an idea above a normal level of detail can actually be beneficial. With all this in mind, here’s how I plan to #PickCider for Thanksgiving.
Cheese and Crackers - Ice Cider
One of my favorite comparisons I did earlier this year was ice cider vs. ice wine. Ice ciders typically have 12-16% ABV, so you only want a small pour here (unless you really don’t want to deal with your family). The tannic backbone in a cider-apple-blended ice cider can be a great complement to earthy cheeses. The sweetnesses will cut the salt and fat and it can stand up to the funk of the stinky cheeses. Even the density (“Lorraine, you’re my density. I mean, my destiny,”) of ice cider can hold its own with heavier cheeses. Speaking of Lorraine, if you’re a fan of the lighter, milder cheeses, certain ice ciders would probably end up sweeping them away. If that’s the case, go with a sweeter cider that has fine carbonation.
Vegetables/Bread/Crackers and Dip - Sweet Cider
This is where your local or regional dessert apple 4-pack or 6-pack cider comes in handy. Whether you’re dipping celery sticks in a ranch dip, pumpernickel rye chunks in a bread bowl spinach dip, or tortilla chips in a 7-layer dip, you need sugar from a sweet cider to balance out the salt that comes through in all of these. These also tend to be lower in ABV, so you can have one or two 12 or 16 oz servings and still be functional for dinner.
Typical Thanksgiving Dinner - Semi-Sweet Hopped Cider & Semi-Dry Cider
A number of bottles will get opened at the dinner table out of necessity. You can’t just grab some food and avoid the people anymore. They’re sitting right there with you, so everyone needs to drink something to take the edge off. The herbal and/or piney qualities of a hopped cider will work well with the turkey, stuffing and vegetables. For the mashed potatoes, corn and cranberries, you want a sparkling semi-dry cider. The carbonation will cut the fat while the drier cider will balance out the sweetness of these foods. After drinking sweeter ciders, the semi-dry will taste much drier as well.
Less-Than-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner - Dry Sparkling Cider
I’m always a fan of Thanksgiving dinners that go off the beaten path, especially if it’s my third or fourth dinner of the season. Whether you do a ham, pork shoulder, lamb or other meat/meat-substitute option, a dry sparkling cider will have a lot of versatility with the flavor of your foods. Carbonation is important for scrubbing your palate and keeping your ability to distinguish flavors intact. As an important note, sweeter ciders will bring out heat in foods, so if you’re having a particularly spicy dinner, go as dry as you can.
Apple Pie a la Mode - Heritage Dry Still Cider
This may seem like an odd pairing at first blush, but it works surprisingly well. An Apple pie, even one that isn’t particularly sweet, has a ton of texture. Traditional vanilla ice cream provides more sweetness, more texture, creaminess and even a bit of spice. Now picture all of that with the tannic structure and balanced acidity of a Heritage still cider. It adds a rustic depth to the dessert and mutes some of the sweetness. It’s really interesting.
Pumpkin Pie/Cheesecake - Sour Cider
There tends to be a plethora of dessert options at a Thanksgiving feast, most of which are sweet and decadent. Heavier pies like pumpkin pie and cheesecakes are at the forefront of that attack. A sour cider may be the best way to deal with them. You definitely want something carbonated (it helps with the heartburn later) and the sour acidity can balance out all that sugary sweetness nicely.
Digestif - Pommeau
If you've never had pommeau before, you're missing out. It's distilled cider blended with fresh apple juice, typically in a 1/3 to 2/3 proportion. They generally run anywhere from 30-45% ABV. You can certainly go back to ice cider here as well, but pommeau is higher in alcohol and might do a better job of helping you digest everything before coffee.
Please travel safe and have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.