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Heard From the Bar

A conversation with cider maker Greg Hall of Virtue Cider.

Move over, microbrews. An increasing number of artisan ciders are reinventing the colonial quaff of choice. Though long popular abroad — especially in the apple-growing regions of England, Ireland, France, and Spain — the trend is just catching on stateside, where Bushwhacker Cider pub (bushwhackercider.com) in Portland, Oregon, brews, taps, and imports more than 130 varieties. Hall, former brewmaster at Chicago-based Goose Island Beer Company, recently launched Virtue (virtuecider.com) and sat down with Celebrated Living to talk about them apples.

Q: Why cider now?
A: A big piece of my heart and a bigger piece of my belly are devoted to beer. There’s a lot of good beer out there. But there is not a lot of great cider. Cider is the most American of beverages. It was the No. 1 drink in 1800. When everyone headed west, they had a hatchet, a rifle, and a bag of apple seeds to grow apples and make cider, because you couldn’t go out and get a six-pack. That’s the deep dark secret of Johnny Appleseed. He was bringing seeds to make cider, not to give apples to teachers.

Q: How do you describe hard cider?
A: To most Americans, there are two kinds of cider: the kind you get in the fall in big jugs that’s cold and sweet and delicious and doesn’t have alcohol. Then there’s the brand you can find in six-packs with an animal on the label.

Q: When would a drinker reach for a cider?
A: Cider, just as beer, can fit in on different occasions. Our ciders will be more culinary. Our first, Red Streak, is more of a session cider — the kind you would enjoy at the bar. It has a bright, fresh apple aroma. You can taste some barrel and a nice crisp tannin at the back end. It’s a nice match with oysters. The old wine saying is that it goes with what it grows with. Same thing here. Cheese is a very natural complement. It’s no coincidence that the great cheese areas, like Somerset in England where cheddar comes from, are also big cider producers.

Q: What’s ahead?
A: Cider will never be as big as craft beer or wine, but in five years you’ll have cider makers in every state using local apples. All brewers can’t make their product with local ingredients. All cider makers can.

Dream On

Some people dream of being rock stars. Many rock stars, apparently, yearn to be vintners, including this trio.

Who: Boz Scaggs
Day Job: Singer, songwriter
Side Gig: Scaggs Vineyard (scaggsvineyard.com), Napa Valley
Tasting Notes: Scaggs and wife Dominique embrace the less-is-more philosophy of French winemakers, producing terroir-expressive Rhone varietals.

Who: Dave Matthews
Day Job: Dave Matthews, Band leader
Side Gig: Blenheim Vineyards (blenheimvineyards.com), near Charlottesville, Virginia
Tasting Notes: Matthews himself designed the low-impact, A-frame winery, best known for chardonnay and viognier.

Who: Maynard James Keenan
Day Job: Lead singer of Tool
Side Gig: Caduceus Cellars
(caduceus.org) located in the Verde Valley in Arizona; and co-owner of Arizona Stronghold (azstronghold.com), near Sedona
Tasting Notes: Keenan’s triumph over the desert climate to make wine is documented in the 2010 film Blood Into Wine. Try the chardonnays.

Wine Country Check-Ins

For oenophiles who dream of living among the vines, Napa Valley’s Cliff Lede Vineyards now rents the newly built Farmhouse at Poetry Vineyard — a three-bedroom, four-bath house with a private pool, hot tub, kid’s treehouse, and cook-friendly features including a kitchen full of Viking appliances plus indoor and outdoor dining areas. Monthly rentals from $8,000.  poetryinn.com

In the wine-centric Colchagua Valley, 90 miles south of Santiago, Chile, the four-casita Lapostolle Residence near the Lapostolle Clos Apalta winery newly boasts its distinction as the country’s first Relais & Châteaux property. Guests gain access to the estate’s 1,600 acres of vineyards for hikes or horseback rides, in addition to the adjacent gravity-fed winery and restaurant turning out bold Chilean dishes like merlot-sauced salmon. Rooms from $500. lapostolle.com