John Chapman has been credited for the apple trees that popped up from the East to the Midwest, but what many don’t know is why.
To simplify history, the English colonists were big on cider. When first pressed, apples are simply a nice juice, but when left alone for a week to ferment, it becomes an adult beverage that was as common then as soda is today. During that time, cider was considered safer than water, and it was filled with natural healing properties (the colonists’ kombucha?). The 4- to 6-percent alcohol beverage was ubiquitous—until Prohibition.
Today the wave of craft hard ciders is rising quickly. For some partakers, it’s a health choice—cider is naturally gluten-free. For others it’s an alternative to beer (raising my hand) and wine. Yes, you can find highly processed, sweet versions at most stores that sell beer. And some local breweries include malted ciders crafted from their beer-making processes. But the process of creating hard cider is more akin to winemaking—and governed by state liquor laws as wineries. Two local cider makers are demonstrating that just as craft beer and fine wine can be as unique as the grain or grape, so too can fermented apple juice exhibit a wide range of terroir, flavor and style.
Ice Cave Cider House
“Cider has been around the Western United States longer than beer,” says Dave Troudt, owner of Ice Cave Cider House. “Hard cider isn’t new. Let’s call it a resurgence.”
Ice Cave is tucked away behind a downtown Monument storefront. Walk into the no-frills, dive bar-style establishment, and you’ll likely find co-owner Troudt filling a grumbler—think growler, only 32 ounces—for a couple who drove up from Falcon, serving a flight to visitors from Wisconsin, or pouring a frosty glass for a local. An enthusiastic home brewer for years, Troudt credits his love of traditional cider and the profile of his six signature varieties on tap to his English wife, Julie. His preference for British-style dry ciders is evident. “The Black Forest Black Currant was actually suggested by my mother-in-law,” Troudt says. “She’s a Londoner and is as English as you can get.”
But Ice Cave—aptly named after the caverns behind Palmer Lake—is all about Colorado, from the ingredients to the locally-based cider names. Henry’s Station, the area’s original train stop, is right up a beer drinker’s alley thanks to hops grown less than a mile away. The Crystal Creek classic dry hints at a crisp, sparkling wine. And fans of the sweet may lean toward the Raspberry Mountain with fruit from the local namesake. Plan a trip to Monument because these ciders are only available at Ice Cave.
By contrast, if you can’t make it to burgeoning Colorado Common’s east-side taproom, you can pick up their cider at 12 locations around town. “We want to be a tourist destination,” owner and cider maker Matthew Bonno says. “You visit Colorado to ski, see Pikes Peak and visit Manitou. And you drink Colorado Common Cider.”
Soon all of his cider will be sold in cans to fit the Colorado outdoor lifestyle. A hot day may call for the pre-Prohibition style New England Orchard with only 4.5 percent alcohol—most run closer to the legal cap of 6.9 percent. “It’s what we call our lawnmower cider,” Bonno says. Those new to cider should try the flagship Summit House; sweet on the tongue but not cloying, it’s a well-rounded introduction to hard cider and reminiscent of a moscato or riesling wine. The Ginger & Mountain Elderflower raises the bar with a sophisticated blend of hop and spice with a light yet subtly warm finish of ginger. Bonno sees beer drinkers, who may be reluctant to try cider, perk up when they taste the more traditional Elderberry Sour.
Standing room only on a Friday night, this industrial-style taproom has a nightclub vibe and food trucks on site each night for a bite to eat. Bonno says it’s not just any taproom. “Customers can drink and ask questions,” he says. “And I love that.”