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DFW drink to watch in 2014: Hard cider

Posted 6:25pm on Wednesday, Jan. 08, 2014

Editor’s note: As much as we wish there were a fully functioning crystal ball in the DFW.com offices, there is no such apparatus.

But that won’t keep us from casting our gaze forward and forecasting who and what will capture our imaginations this year: a wonderful and weird artist who is finally getting his due, a young pastry chef whose sweet creations could become the talk of the town, a fresh-faced newsman, an inspiring actor, a hip-hop queen in waiting, even a surprising drink that could propel the next craft craze (see below).

Those are a just few of the stars we’ve got our eyes on for 2014.

The drink:

Hard cider

What is it?: Fermented apple juice, though it can be made from other fruits as well, such as peaches.

What’s the local connection? Bishop Cider Co., the first North Texas bar devoted only to cider, is set to open in Oak Cliff’s buzzy Bishop Arts District at 509 N. Bishop Ave. within the next few weeks.

What’s the big deal? As retro goes mainstream, locally sourced beverages with pre-corporate roots — craft beer, mead (honey) wine, kombucha (fermented tea), moonshine and now cider — have made a big comeback. Cider was once this country’s most popular drink, but the market was extinguished during Prohibition and it didn’t recover — until now. Sales have grown by more than 50 percent in the U.S. and Australia in 2011-12, according to a recent report by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Texas already has a couple of cider success stories with Houston’s Leprechaun Cider Co., started by then 20-year-old Jake Schiffer in 2010, and Austin’s Argus Cidery. Leprechaun is now available statewide in such stores as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Central Market and Spec’s, while Argus is available throughout Texas, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Big business has taken notice. MillerCoors is spending more than $30 million to market Redd’s Apple Ale, an apple-flavored beer that’s being pitched to the cider market. MillerCoors also bought Crispin Cider for an undisclosed sum, but which the Wall Street Journal said was $40 million. One of the most popular cider brands, Woodchuck, was purchased by the Irish C&C Group for $305 million in 2012. Vermont Hard Cider Company’s Strongbow is now distributed by Heineken. Boston Beer Co., home of Sam Adams beer, now markets cider under the Angry Orchard label.

Why drink it?: Cider fans claim it’s more refreshing than beer or wine — and healthier, too, for gluten-free folks who can’t stomach the wheat in beer. “A really dry cider sets your tongue on fire,” Richard Knibbs, owner of a cider bar in Devon, England, told the BBC. “Beers don’t have the same lingering taste of a really nice cider.”

Where can you get it?: Cider is available on tap or in bottles at various bars and markets, with some of the popular brands being the aforementioned Woodchuck, Strongbow, Angry Orchard and Crispin, as well as Samuel Smith and Thistly Cross. And, of course, Bishop Cider Co. when it throws open its doors.

For that, you can thank Joel Malone, 26, who started out as a beer enthusiast who was turned on to cider by friends three years ago. Before he knew it, he was homebrewing the stuff and then decided to start a bar specializing in it.

“I wanted to introduce it to people,” says the Dallas native. “The beer market is pretty saturated and the ciders on the market vary little in flavors and offerings. I thought there was a lot more that could be done with it.”

Some of his ciders will include winter brews flavored with such spices as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, or summer brews boasting hints of peach and pecan. One even features hops. “It’s a great transition for people who’ve only had beer,” he says.

Bishop Cider, which will only be selling its cider on tap at first, won’t be selling food or any other alcoholic drinks. Yet Malone doesn’t seem worried that his market may be too narrow. He says he has been contacted by more than 60 area bars and restaurants who want to carry his product and that the success of the big-brewery ciders makes his job easier. “There’s still so much room for growth and so many people caring about [buying] local,” he says. “And the big brewers are growing the market for me.”

For now, he has the cider-bar market to himself. “Cideries are common in places like Washington and New York and they tend to be places that are apple orchards that also sell cider,” Malone says. “No one is close to us at all.”

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