The apples of fall can be enjoyed raw or after they've been baked in turnovers, tarts, pies and the like. Cider is another option, including hard cider, fermented apple juice with the bite of alcohol. For most Americans, however, hard cider isn't the first apple treat that autumn evokes. No one ever called anything "as American as hard cider."
Yet, commercial hard cider is being made hereabouts. Under the brand Fox Barrel Cider Company, Sean Deorsey and Bruce Nissen have been making hard cider in Colfax for the past three years. Their ciders have won awards from the State Fair in California to the Great Lakes Olde World Syder Competition in Michigan, where Fox Barrel was the first cider house west of the Mississippi to win a gold medal, says Nissen.
They make three ciders - a light and refreshing hard cider with 6 percent alcohol; a richer, rounder and sweeter pear cider with 4.5 percent alcohol; and a coppery and fruity black currant cider with 5.5 percent alcohol. The hard cider is akin to beer in its weight and dryness, the pear is suggestive of a soft drink in its sweetness and carbonation, and the black currant evokes a rose wine in its delicate fruit and wiry structure.
Deorsey's professional background is in accounting, Nissen's is in sales and marketing. They've long been fond of hard cider, but initially looked into getting into the beverage trade by brewing beer or making wine. Their timing and finances were off, however, so they turned to hard cider. "The big question has been, Is there a market for hard cider? The answer is, Maybe," says Nissen.
They're up against the common misperception that all cider is sweet. Though their pear cider has some residual sugar, making it a bit sweet, the others are virtually dry, and none are sticky. "People think our ciders will be cloyingly sweet, but that's exactly what we are trying to not be. We want them clean and crisp, with some level of dryness. When you finish one of our ciders, you don't feel like you have consumed so much sugar you are afraid to open another," Nissen says.
When they started, they brought over cider consultant Peter Mitchell from England and have followed the process he set up. "We wanted to make our ciders in the English style. We weren't happy with the sweeter and simpler domestic styles," says Nissen.
Their customers tend to be people keen on English and Australian ciders, or who appreciate artisan beers and wines.
Their current ciders are "session ciders," light enough in alcohol that they can be consumed like beer. After the first of the year they are to introduce a more complex "toasting cider" with an anticipated alcohol level of about 8 percent. The apples to go into it will be from their own young orchard and will be traditional cider varieties - Kingston Black, Foxwhelp and Nehouh. (They also will be harvesting fruit for the toasting cider from a Dutch Flat orchard owned by Bill Newsom, father of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.)
In about two weeks, Deorsey and Nissen are to open a tasting room at their micro-cidery at 1213 S. Auburn St. in Colfax; (530) 346-9699. In the meantime, local outlets that carry Fox Barrel ciders include the Sacramento and Davis natural-food markets, Whole Foods Market, Nugget Markets, Corti Brothers, Raley's and Bevmo.