Interview: Back Forty’s Dani Weiner on Cider Week

Posted in Event Preview, Interviews on October 10, 2012

Cider Week 2012, a celebration of hard cider across NYC and the Hudson Valley, is upon us October 12-21. Restaurants, bars and retail shops will be hosting events, classes and tastings to showcase the complex world of the oft-maligned beverage. Cider week was launched by Glynwood, a non-profit agricultural organization in the Hudson Valley, as part of their larger Apple Project to enhance the viability of orchards by supporting the production of cider apples, hard cider, and apple spirits. We spoke to Dani Weiner, General Manager of farm-to-table favorite Back Forty and proud cider advocate, about the beverage.

What ciders do you currently have on the menu at Back Forty? We have three ciders at Back Forty. Autumn’s Gold from Eve’s Cidery here in New York, which is a dry cider with fruity nose, really lovely, Farnum Extra Dry from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire, which is a very dry cider, richly aromatic, super earthy and complex. Farnum Hill is sort of the granddad of current cider production. The owners are big cider advocates and come to the city a lot. The third is Isastegi- from the Basque region in Spain, which has a long history of cider production. It’s really minerally and dry.

What are the restaurant doing to celebrate Cider Week? Normally we serve them all by the bottle, and the Autumn’s Gold and Farnum Hill are in big bottles, while the Isastegi comes in a 12-ounce half bottle. For Cider week, we’re serving the Autum’s Gold and Farnum Hill by the glass (and the Isastegi still in the half-bottle). It’s great for those who are curious and unfamiliar with cider, but aren’t necessarily ready to commit to a big bottle for the table.

At Back Forty West, they’re also doing the Autumn’s Gold, as well as Serious Cider from Foggy Ridge in Virginia. It’s a really crisp, light, food-friendly, then they’ll also have a third by the bottle.

We’re also cooking with it– at Back Forty West, we’ll have cider steamed littleneck clams, served with potato croutons, Trinidad peppers, and grilled bread with parsley aioli. Here at Back Forty, we’ll also be doing some sort of cider steamed clams as well. And that’s a great way to pull people in who aren’t familiar with it.

Not every restaurant or bar offers cider. Why do you like to have it on the menu? Cider has a rich and long history. Cider is every bit as complex and various as wine, and I think you can even add beer to that list now. Cider used to be the beverage of choice in America, before Prohibition in the last century, and a lot has changed, and cider has fallen out of favor. Prohibition and immigration patterns in the midcentury and the Industrial Revolution have all made cider less popular than it used to be. But I think it’s a delicious beverage, and its fun, and different, and interesting. And it’s not the sweet beverage that everyone thinks it is. The term cider has been adopted to mean the dark brown juice, unfiltered apple juice, but its not. It’s a delicious, dry, sparkling beverage that’s great paired with food or on its own.

What has customer response been like? Are ciders gaining an audience? Oh yeah, people love it. Back Forty is a farm to table restaurant, so we’re eager to connect to people through the way we source we source our products. Tons of apples are grown in the Hudson Valley, and what better purpose than to make a great beverage for our customers? I have to warn them that its not the mass produced sweet drink, it’s something they’ve probably never tasted before, but invariably, they love it. They look at the Basque cider, which is a somewhat daring choice, and they’re like, whoa this is so different, but it’s good. It’s exciting to expose our guests to a new but old type of alcoholic beverage, with such a rich history.

How can other restaurants or bars start to incorporate more cider onto their menus? It pairs so well with food, and it’s really accessible. It might not be from the outside, but if you can get customers to taste it, it will sell. It’s an easy beverage to expose people to, and its easy to enjoy. Bring in couple bottles and talk it up, and people will love it. All you have to do is get it on to the table, and they’ll definitely order the second bottle.