Oedipus and Laius. Ken Griffy, Junior and Ken Griffy, Senior. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. And now, hard cider and apple.
Both have very good records. Hard cider, the boon of American pioneers, mainstay of farmers from New England to regular England, not quite as crazy as applejack, but just crazy enough to get the job done. Apples, the original temptation, Granny Smith to Honeycrisp, ward against doctors, the basis of some of our nation's most iconic pies. Who would win in a taste test? To find out I sat down with a classic food pairing - an apple and a glass of cider - and evaluated each.
Texture - Apple is the clear winner here. It starts with the thick, waxy skin, which is quickly followed by a burst of juice. The gentle ripping of a single bite from the whole is a visceral pleasure, and the fleshy insides, with their readily yielding contours, are divine. At the end of all of it is the skin, right where you started from, but this time providing a blander, chewy contrast to the whitish pulp. Cider is texturally insipid in comparison.
Aroma - Cider has this one in the bag. The heady, fruity intensity of cider's aroma is quite pleasing. You can almost sense the acidity and tannins. In contrast, apple's aroma is faint, and somehow more earthy than it tastes. If left exposed for just a few minutes, apple's aroma declines, while cider's stays strong.
Appearance - Apple is certainly the more complex of the two, but cider has an attractive simplicity that is subtly alluring. Apple really has much more range, with colors flashing and slowly turning over it's surface, a pleasantly white inside, and that cute little stem sticking out of the top. Cider, on the other hand, can look stunning with the light passing through it, and the CO2 rising like little helium balloons all along the sides of the glass. Tie.
Flavor - Apple has a great flavor, but it's just falling short compared to cider. The balance really tilts towards sweet with apple, and I think that is one of its main shortcomings. In cider you can have it all at once, the tannins, the acidity, and a slight sweetness in a single sip. And then there's the fruitiness of the yeast, the smooth searing of the alcohol, and the pleasant dryness in the finish. Apple just lacks that many dimensions.
So there you have it, cider wins by a narrow margin, just 2.5 to 1.5 over apple. Stay tuned for next time, when I'll be comparing drinking an Irish Stout to eating a pint of roasted barley.
Check out our Hard Cider 101: How to Make Hard Cider at Home class for in-depth info on making hard cider.