As popular as ciders have become, it is somewhat remarkable that the fermented apple drink continues to be misunderstood, particularly among craft beer enthusiasts, who are quick to dismiss their cider-consuming counterparts. Wassail (162 Orchard Street; 646-918-6835), which opened earlier this year on the Lower East Side, is helping to set the record straight, as the city’s first official cider bar. Out of the thirteen liquids frequently rotating on their draft system, none claims “hard” as a modifier. Most of them offer a dry, sometimes tart complexity, which any craft beer aficionado should find pleasingly familiar. If you remain skeptical, make your way to Wassail and sip for yourself. The Hudson Valley Farmhouse Scrumpy, on tap now, is a great starting point. It’s our “beer” of the week.
Fermented at the Breezy Hill Orchard — about two hours up the Taconic from Wassail’s neighborhood — Scrumpy is a crisp and refreshing foray into the arena of proper cider drinks. It enters the mouth with an unexpected dryness, and goes down with a slight farmhouse funk. A pint of the 4.5% ABV drink is served quite cold at $8 a pour.
There is something in the complexity of Scrumpy’s finish that begs for a proper salty-food accompaniment. At Wassail, an intricate and elegant array of vegetarian plates provides ample opportunity to investigate the ideal suitor. Consider their corn entrée, prepared with chanterelle mushrooms and milkweed. And when you’re ready to delve deeper into the pairing possibilities of cider, order one of the bar’s bottled Spanish selections. Many cidras traditional to Asturias and the Basque region are bottled flat. Your server will pour it from high above his/her head into a tilted glass, so as to mechanically generate some fizz. As fun as the process is to watch, the ensuing beverage is even more of a joy to drink, tart and exceptionally food-friendly.
As opposed to an eatery designed for a vegetarian, the food here is accessible to all — it just happens not to involve any meat. In similar fashion, the bar is not designed for cider drinkers, per se, it just happens to avoid focusing on traditional beers. Ciders have a long and storied history, particularly in the Hudson Valley. Though they’ve been co-opted by too many sweetened alcoholic sodas, the authentic craft varieties refuse to be drowned out. Craft beer drinkers ought to take note. If Wassail is any indicator of where the drink is headed, the future of cider looks unmistakably bright.