Small-batch ciders are also taking off due to the popularity of all things local, especially artisanal products. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are flush with apple orchards, with Pennsylvania's apple production ranking fourth in the nation.
Just a short drive from Philadelphia, apple orchards abound. The Gradmans get their apples from Weaver's Orchard in Morgantown, 50 miles from Revolution's cidery.
Another pair of cider-producing brothers, Hank and Steve Frecon, don't have to go even that far. On their third-generation family farm in Boyertown, hundreds of apple trees dot the landscape. Picking is strictly a ladder-and-hand affair.
Around 2008, the brothers teamed up with longtime friend Jamie Bock, who had been brewing his own beer for a decade. With Bock's know-how, Frecon Farm's apples, and Hank's fond memory of ciders he had tasted in Britain, the three set to crafting cider in the New England style, which has brown-sugar and raisin flavors. They released their first batch in 2010.
Most mass-produced American ciders on the market are sweet, with up-your-nose carbonation, more like apple soda than wine or beer. The Gradmans' small-batch farmhouse cider - so called because farmers fermented their own for daily consumption - boasts a meatiness and dry finish with a subtle sparkle.
Made from nine apple varieties including Golden Delicious, York Imperial, Winesap, and Empire, Revolution Cider has "the complexity of a craft beer but with the aroma and taste of apples," says Jonathan Gradman. (With an alcohol content of 6.5 percent, it sells for $5 to $8 per 12-ounce bottle.)
When Revolution Cider debuted at Tria in March, it sold a record number of bottles, reports Michael McCaulley, Tria's wine director. Since then, other restaurants and pubs including Midatlantic Restaurant & Tap Room, Farmicia, Watkins Drinkery, and Coatesville's Whip Tavern have put it on their menus.
Frecon's Early Man contains a blend of early-maturing heirloom apples such as McIntosh and Gravenstein. Hogshead highlights the Winesap in a blend of classic and new cider apples. Hogshead is "balanced across sweetness, tannins, and acidity," according to Hank Frecon and Bock, while the whimsically named Crabby Granny is a traditional cyser (apple juice fermented with honey) and features Granny Smith and crabapples with notes of citrus and honey. (All contain 7.5 percent alcohol, and sell for $9 to $13 for a 22-ounce bottle, made for Kutztown's Blair Vineyards.)
You can buy Frecon ciders at the retail store, select farmer's markets, Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny in Boyertown, Union Jack's Olde Congo Hotel in Barto, and Durango's Saloon in Boyertown.
"When we had Crabby Granny on draft, it went like crazy," said Sandy Haberle, Durango's co-owner. "And it's selling great in bottles, too. It pairs well with apples, pork, and stuffing, and it can stand up to a steak."
Cider's versatility makes it attractive to chefs as well. Haberle braises onions in Crabby Granny and serves them over bratwurst. Hogshead stars in her apple stuffing and pork pan gravy.
At Watkins Drinkery, chef Will Rogers celebrated Revolution Cider with a tasting menu. Among his exotic offerings: cider-braised boar-belly tacos and fried calamari with cider aioli.
In Daniel Stern's kitchen at Midatlantic, sous chef Dan Furey likens cider's complexity to that of white wine. He incorporates Revolution Cider into a mustard glaze for salmon, and has shown off the beverage's sweet side in hard cider doughnuts tossed with cinnamon and sugar.
As cider makes inroads on Philadelphia menus, restaurants and bars may once again echo with Ben Franklin's words: "Give me yesterday's Bread, this Day's Flesh, and last Year's Cyder."
Glazed Hard Cider Doughnuts
Makes 15-18 doughnuts
For the doughnuts:
1 cup hard cider
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3½ cups flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
Vegetable oil for cooking
For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
½ cup hard cider
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1. To make the doughnuts, simmer hard cider and brown sugar over medium heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 20 minutes. Set aside. Dust two baking sheets with flour. Set aside. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream butter. Mix in sugar until well combined. Add eggs one at a time until completely incorporated. Add reduced cider and buttermilk and mix until just combined. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients. Stir until combined. Do not overmix.
3. Roll out dough to ½-inch thickness on one baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and freeze for 20-30 minutes. Use a doughnut cutter to cut doughnuts. Use the centers for doughnut holes or combine dough centers and scraps and roll them out again to make more doughnuts. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
4. To make the glaze, whisk all ingredients together. Add vegetable oil to deep fryer or deep pan to measure 2 inches deep. Heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry doughnuts one minute per side, until golden brown. Drain on brown paper bag or paper towels. As soon as you can handle doughnuts, dip them in glaze, being sure to cover the entire surface.
- Adapted from Smittenkitchen.com
Per serving: 269 calories, 3 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 28 milligrams cholesterol, 171 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Apple Bread Pudding With Hard Cider Sauce
Makes 12 servings
For the bread pudding:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup pecans
½ cup raisins
6 cups cubed stale challah or white bread
4 large eggs, room temperature
1½ cups light cream
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup sweet apple cider
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup hard cider
4 large egg yolks
1. To make the bread pudding, grease a 10-by-14-inch baking dish with butter. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Toss in apples and cook for 1 minute. Add pecans and cook for an additional minute. In a large bowl, combine apples, pecans, raisins, and bread. Set aside.
2. With an electric mixer, beat eggs. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour egg mixture into apple-bread mixture and toss to combine. Spoon into prepared baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for ½ hour, until bread has absorbed liquid. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread pudding uncovered for about 1 hour until set in the center and golden on top.
3. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a double boiler. Add sugar and whisk for 1 minute. Add hard cider, and whisk for 2 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, and add egg yolks, one at a time, whisking constantly until fully incorporated. Return to heat and whisk until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. To serve, cut bread pudding into squares and spoon sauce over top.
- Sauce adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Per serving: 378 calories, 6 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 195 milligrams cholesterol, 304 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Cabbage and Apple Slaw With Hard Cider Dressing
Makes 8 servings
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons hard cider
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded cabbage (mix of red and green)
1. For the dressing, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, cider, celery seed, salt, chives, and pepper, to taste. Pour over cabbage, and toss well. Cover and refrigerate.
2. Just before serving, cut apples into thin slices or julienne. Toss with cabbage mixture.
- Adapted from Real Simple magazine
Per serving: 109 calories, 1 gram protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 263 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Hard Cider Braised Pork Ribs
Makes 6-8 servings
3 to 4 pounds pork ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 small onions, quartered
4 cups hard cider
¼ cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub salt on all sides of ribs. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep-sided ovenproof skillet over high heat. Arrange ribs in a single layer. Brown ribs on all sides. Remove from heat. Add onions to pan.
2. Whisk together hard cider and honey. Pour over ribs and onions so that liquid comes halfway up side of skillet. Cover skillet and cook in oven for 2½ to 3 hours, until meat falls off the bone.
- From Laura Muzzi Brennan
Per serving: 595 calories, 46 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams sugar, 34 grams fat, 175 milligrams cholesterol, 104 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.