Cyser Size-Up

By Brooklynn Johnson

Listed as a wine in some places, and a cider in others, it can be difficult to nail down what exactly a cyser is, which by the way, is not a word I just made up. A drink too few of us ever encounter in the mainstream beverage scene, cyser takes much of its look and flavor from its slightly more popular big brother: mead, a beverage made by fermenting honey and water. But unlike mead, where honey serves as main source of sweetness, cyser gets much of its sweetness from a North American wonder: apples. Made in similar to wine, cyser is created by fermenting honey and apple juice or cider together.

Just think of it as honey wine’s and apple cider’s beautiful love child.

Apples. Honey. Yeast. The recipe in its most basic form is so simple that it comes to no surprise that it dates back centuries ago to the earliest hours of mankind. Because of the simplicity, there is a lot of room for flavor experimentation. It is up to the maker, or “mazer” (slang for mead maker), to create a harmonious relationship between the honey and the apple flavors; using a fruit or floral flavored honey could easily overpower the taste of the apple, but when done well, the two flavors enhance each other and coexist in the sweetest of ways. Depending on the amount of honey used, the drink could take the form of a lighter bodied white wine, or a dark, rich and robust mead.

If you ever find yourself near this ancient apple drink, make sure not to miss out! Take a look at some of the cider makers that keep this scrumptious melomel on hand, and see for yourself if this drink really is the bee’s knees.

Bee and Bramble || Fairview, North Carolina
Tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains hides a small winery dedicated to what they call “the nectar of the gods,” or mead. Wildflower honey straight from the mountain side is used in their honey wines, including their Carolina Cyser. This hard apple cider and honey wine combination is made from locally sources apples, making a dry yet balanced cyser that sticks true to its mountain origins.

Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery || Middleburg, Virginia
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Whoever said, “out with the old, in with the new,” had never been to the Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery, which proves that it is absolutely possible to have both a timeless classic hard apple cider, as well as insanely unique and innovate twists on the centuries-old beverage. The makers here offer seasonal flavors, including ginger and a five pepper cider, amongst the true to the core apple classic farmhouse styles. Their golden Honey Hard Cider utilizes local ingredients to create a semi-dry, slightly fruity cyser.

Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse || Saanichton, British Columbia
At the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia sits the 10-acre Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse. Open to the public since 2007, the farm boasts more than 50 varietals of heritage apples, and produces roughly 7,000 cases of cider per year. Their self-titled Cyser is made using organic clover honey and tart apples, producing a golden light bodied, semi-dry drink with citrus, lemongrass and smoky flavors.

Nashoba Valley Winery || Bolton, Massachusetts
The whopping 52-acre family-owned orchard, winery and restaurant in rustic Nashoba Valley has been in the winemaking business since 1978. The pros here offer an impressive 37 wine varietals, 22 of them forgoing grapes altogether. Their Cyser vaunts playful fruity flavors and a bold kick of zest as it first enters the palate, with sweet enduring pear and pineapple aromas.

Vander Mill || Spring Lake, Michigan
One of the founding members of Michigan Cider, Vander Mill began distributing cider products to the public in 2008, and serves home to the playfully-named Puff the Magic Cyser. At first mention, this honey wine is reminiscent of the tales of dragons in “Game of Thrones.” Created in collaboration with New Holland Brewing Co., this cyser is made by fermenting Michigan wildflower honey, followed by an eight month distilling process in New Holland Dragon’s Milk barrels. Vander Mill also offers their Cyser Van Doom, a drink not for the faint of heart. After the cider and honey have been fermented, the cyser is aged first in bourbon, and second in an Imperial IPA for six months, creating a dry, rich and boldly flavored super-cyser.

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