No fresh, unfermented apples were available at Redlight Redlight during their recent Johnny Appleseed Day, which took place on Thursday, September 26, in correlation with the birthday of John Chapman, Appleseed’s birth name. Any horticulturist knows that edible or at least tasty apples almost never grow straight from seed. Grafting and other processes better left to experts are the only ways to grow your Pink Ladies, Galas, Granny Smiths, and the other sweet and tart varietals worthy of a big crunchy bite. If you were to take the seeds from these same delicious apples and plant them in your backyard, the subsequent fruit bearing trees that emerged would likely yield very different produce, and if you were to find yourself disappointed by the first
overly bitter or sour bite, you need fret not, for these apples are the building blocks of a very delightful substance, namely cider, which has a not so well hidden secret missing in even the freshest most mouth-watering apple. Yes, you can get drunk on it.
John Chapman, a religious ascetic, one of the first American animal right’s activists, and a strict naturalist, was adamantly opposed to grafting and splicing, processes which he believed ruined one of God’s greatest gifts the way it was intended. On the other hand, he had no problem with
alcohol, and while he, eccentric that he was, may have found the fruit of the trees he sold to pioneers during the 18th and 19th century delicious, his patrons fermented his product far more often than they ate it. For that reason, no one really felt they were doing Appleseed a disservice by drinking the fruit he helped to spread across the newly pioneered midwestern states instead of
chomping down on it. After all, filling nine of the twenty-six tap lines usually reserved for ales and lagers with cider was departure enough for Redlight Redlight, but a delightful way to not only honor one of our country’s favorite folk heroes, but also to unveil the truly awe-inspiring creativity and capabilities of the newly founded Cigar City Cider and Mead (you know, because Cigar City wasn’t awesome enough already.)
Any one who’s been in the middle of the craft beer renaissance as long as I have is used to describing beverages with adjectives that would certainly seem unappealing in other contexts. A bitter, hoppy double IPA may be described as tasting like pine sap, whereas the aroma of a sour geueze may be equated with an old, leather boot. I’ve also compared beers to grapefruit rinds,
diapers, barnyards, and wet dog hair, none of these descriptors intended in a negative manner. It is therefore a jarring juxtaposition enjoying Cigar City’s array of decadent ciders, which are simply delicious in that sweet, simple way candy is delicious. The colorful names written in bright pink, green, and yellow chalk further increased my illusion of being a kid in a candy store, but unlike
candy these ciders could get you drunk, and if that isn’t enough, most them were brewed exclusively for this singular event and will not be available ever again.
There was the Andale´ brewed with kiwi, strawberry, and caramel. There was Cowboy Dan’s Holiday Extravaganza brewed with whiskey salted caramel, chocolate, coconut, and pie crust (yes, actual pie crust) that tasted like a rich Christmas dessert. There was There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand that tasted like banana shaped Runts, yellow Laughy Taffy, and fluffy orange Circus Peanuts. There was the Crying Game brewed with two melons and a cucumber (get it) that had the cool, sweet flavor of a melon lollypop with a crisp, refreshing finish of cucumber. There was the delightfully floral Wise Prick brewed with elderflowers and prickly pear cactus, and while I can’t tell you what fresh prickly pear cactus tastes like, I can say with authority that it goes well in cider. There was the cinnamon-spiced Apple Pie that bore an uncanny resemblance to its namesake, and finally the delightfully understated Peach In Cider, which made a refreshing denouement after the delightfully over-the-top sampling, which felt like a tour of an orchard in Candy Land, tipsy and sugared-up as I was by that point.
As apples are not native to the United States, Redlight Redlight gave nod to their European roots with some imported ciders as well. England’s Hogans Draught Cider had a nice light tart and salty flavor and France’s Dupont, whose traditional Norman ciders are some of the most wonderful in the world, was represented by their incredibly effervescent Cidre Reserve, its flavor touched
by a hint of brandy having been aged in Calvados barrels, and a 2010 vintage cask of Cidre Triple, which clocks in at 11% abv and has a boozy, medicinal flavor combined with a rich, intense finish of over-ripe apples, delicious to be sure, but no doubt something for the connoisseurs who can’t enjoy their alcohol without describing it using adjectives that would seem unflattering in other
I first arrived at an unfortunately empty Redlight Redlight wondering why Orlando was missing out on such an exciting evening, but by the time I stumbled out the bar was packed with cider enthusiasts and beer geeks alike, almost everyone clutching a Cigar City snifter sparkling with the bubbly, crystalline cider or the smaller half pour for those who just wouldn’t leave without tasting each and every variety the bar had to offer.
My friends and I finished our evening by splitting a large bottle of Original Sin’s Newtown Pippin Cider. Brewed using only the heirloom varietal known affectionately as “The Prince of Apples,” Newtown Pippin was “first harvested in 1740 in Queens, NY. Coveted by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and planted in their personal estates. Benjamin Franklin had Newtown Pippins shipped to him in London in 1759. Credited with establishing the U.S. fruit export industry,” Original Sin claims. Light and crisp, unpretentious yet wonderfully refreshing, Newtown Pippin was a distinctly American and decidedly appropriate way to finish off the night. As we were enjoying it, my friend Beau told an interesting story. Beau is short for Rambeau, a family name that came
over from Sweden and was shortened to Rambo in customs. As it turns out he’s the descendent of the same people who developed the apple varietal Rambo, which legend has it provided a snack to writer David Morrell as he penned his novel First Blood and is the genus of the last living tree planet by John Chapman himself. So in an indirect, far-fetched, and bizarrely coincidental way, it is almost as if Johnny Appleseed blessed this cider celebration with his presence. Like the details of Chapman’s life, Beau’s story and my probable mistranslation of it are made more of family rumors and hearsay than documented history. The parts that may be accurate are now impossible to untangle from myth, but like all good legends, the stories speak for themselves. The culture they create and the awe they inspire are more exciting than the facts that may or may not have created them. Drinking cider with a guy who is in a weird way like a descendent of both John Rambo and John Chapman, I felt very glad to be an American indeed.
You can read more about John Chapman at Thedrunkenodyssey.com.
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