Apple Season


Here’s another in my ongoing series of “Drunken Botanist” cocktail articles for the North Coast Journal, loosely based on my forthcoming book of the same name. Forgive the Humboldt references, which are, of course, of interest only to people in Humboldt.

Etter bomb

Seems like everyone in these parts has an opinion about what Humboldt needs to make it truly great.  A railroad.  A trail around the bay.  A general plan.  A Wal-Mart. A Trader Joe’s.  One grand, vitally important addition or improvement that would change everything.

I agree that Humboldt is lacking in one critical area, but it doesn’t involve railroads or general plans.  What Humboldt is missing is locally-made hard cider.

Think about it.  We are blessed with an extraordinarily long apple season, with the earliest varieties ripening in August and the last flush of ripe fruit still clinging to branches in January.  We are the inheritors of the pomological legacy of Albert Etter, who started growing and breeding apples here before the turn of the twentieth century.  (We have him to thank for Waltana, a crisp, dark-skinned apple that keeps all winter, and Pink Pearl, the pink-fleshed apple that makes unforgettable pies.) And cider is the perfect value-added crop.  Apples that aren’t cosmetically flawless still make great cider. Apples that taste weird or are oddly-shaped make great cider. Locavores and organic orchardists, rejoice! Imperfect, non-corporate apples are no problem for the cider-maker.

And with its crisp, dry flavor and modest alcohol content, hard cider is a real crowd-pleaser.   Beer, I was surprised to learn when I read the Journal a few weeks ago, is only appreciated by men.  (Note to said men:  My upcoming beer and beer-distilled whiskey party may have to be a female-only affair. Serves you right.) Cider, on the other hand, appeals to every palate, and is the perfect alternative for non-beer drinkers at barbeques, baseball games, and other such beery gatherings.

So.  Why every brewpub in Humboldt County doesn’t offer a locally-made cider on tap remains a mystery. To enjoy this month’s recipe, you’re going to have to find a friend with a backyard cider house, or turn to a non-local cider. I’ve worked my way through most of the widely available versions so you don’t have to, and here’s the deal:  Hornsby’s is actually owned by Gallo and it tastes like it.  Strongbow is the British Budweiser of ciders, which is all you need to know. Opinions vary on Woodchuck and Ace—I dislike both, but other tasters in this household disagree.  Fox Barrel is California-made, light, and not too bad. Olympia’s Spire Mountain is a brilliant example of the kind of pure, well-crafted artisanal cider we should be making here. Aspall, a British cider, is so crisp and bright and perfect that it will turn you into a cider alcoholic.  Like our founding fathers, you will drink so much cider morning, noon, and night that you will go stark raving mad or overthrow the monarchy, whichever comes first.

Apple whiskeyYou’re also going to need some kind of apple brandy.  If you want something amazing, transformative, something that will give new meaning to your life, something that has the power to motivate you to get through a dreadful Monday, a Thanksgiving with the in-laws, or a long, miserable winter, you’re going to want a bottle of Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey. Made in Denver, this blend of New York State apple juice and fine whiskey is barrel-aged and bottled at 40% alcohol. It is sweet in the way that an apple is sweet, but it’s not weird.  It’s just perfect and amazing in ways I can hardly describe.  (If you’ve ever had pommeau, a French blend of unfermented apple juice and Calvados, it’s like that.)  If you can’t find it at a local liquor store, ask them to special-order a case and keep it in stock. It sells for about thirty-five bucks, and trust me, you won’t regret it.

Failing that, maybe you’ve got a bottle of calvados (French apple brandy) around the house, or Clear Creek Distillery’s apple brandy, made with Golden Delicious apples grown on Mt. Hood. Another good choice would be Laird’s Applejack, a mixture of 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits, or (even better) their straight apple brandy. I am deeply in love with Harvest Spirit’s Core Vodka and Cornelius Applejack from upstate New York, both of which are well worth seeking out, even though they are available only by mail order through (Note to potential local distillers:  Please go visit Harvest Spirits and set up a similar operation here. Thank you.)

You’ll also need some apple schnapps.  Berentzen Apple Korn is available locally. I confess that I don’t love this stuff on its own, but it mixes well. If you’d rather take this drink in another direction, you could experiment with tiny quantities of a spicy liqueur like St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Benedictine, or anything else warm and autumnal.

This drink is a shooter or a bomber, which means that you’re going to drop a shot glass into a larger glass and drink the two together.  It’s a bit of a novelty, and somewhat tricky to sip, but you’ll get the hang of it.  It’s inspired by a version I tasted at Lab, a wonderfully clever little bar in Montreal, where they take their apple cider seriously.  I’m naming it after Albert Etter in hopes that it will someday be made with local brews from his apples.


 The Etter Bomb

In a short, wide tumbler, pour:

3 oz hard cider

In a standard 1.5 oz shot glass, pour:

1/2  oz Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey

1/2  oz apple schnapps

Dash of Angostura bitters


Drop the shot glass into the tumbler.  The two liquids should be about level and will not mix until you start drinking.  If you’re going to make any of the substitutions I suggested, feel free to experiment with the ratio of apple brandy to other liqueurs.  Just make sure you end up with 1 ounce of liquid in the shot glass.



  1. I’m a big fan of ciders! To your list, I will add that at least one British citizen actually apologized to me for letting Blackthorn cider out of the country, calling it a “shocking oversight,” (it was truly awful) and Crispin makes a cider stout (the mind boggles) that drinks a bit like Guinness, only cider, if that makes any sense.

    Will definitely have to keep an eye out for some of those apple brandies…

  2. Those who wish they had a Wal-Mart in Humboldt should be forced to live in towns that got that “dream” and quickly realized the true nightmare. It’s very much like the teenager who needs to wear the same clothes as her peers to show her individuality. You become indistinguishable in the crowd.

    I agree that Humboldt (or any town) should capitalize on what makes it special, focus on what draws people there. A good apple cider or apple brandy would certainly help pave the way.

    Oh – and it baffles me that men actually think that women don’t like beer. Maybe not that lightweight mass-market swill, but a give me a well-crafted porter or stout and I’m a happy girl. Most of my six sisters will back me up on that, too.

  3. We make about 25-50 cases each of hard apple and hard pear cider in our tiny winery most years, and they are very popular. The apples we use are: Gravenstein, Cox Orange Pippin, Melrose, Mutsu, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Northern Spy, Spartan, and one unknown type, from a tree that accidentally came with a big order of other trees. Some ideas why hard ciders aren’t more prevalent: it’s a wine-making process, so breweries may not have the equipment or skillset; and even among wineries, processing the apples and making the ciders require different or modified equipment than grape winemaking does. Also, I think a winery license is required, which is another layer of bureaucracy that breweries may not want to get involved with.

    One of the things I’ve always loved about apple cider is the variation out there–there are so many different types of apples, each with their own personality! And each batch is different from the last.

  4. I’m not much of a cider drinker (beer, scotch, gin, and vodka for me, thanks) but for local-ish ciders in Northern California I’ve typically gone with Two Rivers. That might have as much to do with their presence at every brew festival I have attended, but hey, they are local!

  5. I want to know just who the Journal asked regarding “women not liking beer” . . . my sister and 2 nieces and I beg to differ!
    I think Humboldt Co needs to take advantage of the wonderful breweries in the area – how about “Brew Tours” for tourists like they have in the wine country.

  6. I agree with one of the comments above. Being a resident of California, I too am partial to the locally produced Two Rivers Cider. Unlike the same comment, however, cider is usually my beverage of choice rather than beer, scotch, etc.

    I’ve also attempted to make my own apple cider with an old family recipe but I don’t ever seem to get it quite right because it usually comes out much too tangy.

  7. Wow, this takes me back 40 years, to my farming days, when we gathered a few bushels of windfalls, pressed them, and put the results in a couple of milk cans. Which went down into the root cellar, and were forgotten in the frenzy of Fall harvest.
    Six weeks later we had a sparkling wine that slid down the gullet like velvet, and gave you a kick in the pants that I still remember. The month of November passed in blissful disarray!

    Celine, you’ll need a pot still, and a Google search will set you on the path, to either buy or make one of your own.

  8. My SIL has a cider press and put away (in the freezer). Perhaps experimentation my be in order.
    I just tried hard cider for the 1st time and bought a mixed case of Woodchuck though I liked the Granny smith the best. I do appreciate your advice and have found one (alas they do not sell out of state) in Virginia by Foggy Mountain(?) that sounded tasty. I’m trying to convince my sister who lives in VA to bring some of the VA ones to Wisconsin for Christmas.

  9. My friend is planting so many fruit trees he’ll never be able to eat all the fruit. I was encouraging him to plant fruit he can sun dry and eat all year, and nuts. Now I’ll encourage him to plant a few apples and make some cider 🙂

  10. Have you tried Julian Hard Cider from the apple area east of San Diego? – it’s pretty darn good – crisp and tangy. Let me know if you’d like me to send you a bottle for a taste off (I’m only a consumer, no affiliation)

  11. Amy – I’ve no idea how far you are on the book yet, but if you haven’t yet done so, check out Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. They are based in Philadelphia, and have come out with three liquors – Root, based on an old recipe for root beer; Snap – ginger-snap flavored; and Rhuby – Rhubarb flavored. Root in particular has lots of botanicals in it. All three are delish!

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