This article was published in the October 2015 issue of the Irish American News under the “Guilty Pleasures” column.
Bulmers or Magners cider is a common find in pubs across Ireland. Less so are more unique cider varieties. The same is true for the Midwest, particularly in Irish-style pubs. All of that is about to change though, with the opening of the Northman Cider Pub on Chicago’s north side.
“Cider is where beer was 25 years ago. I put it into perspective by saying in 1995 you would think I was crazy to feature a craft beer on tap. We think cider is next,” said Cleetus Friedman, executive chef at Fountainhead. “It’s crisp, it’s refreshing, and it’s gluten free. It’s not as heavy as beer.”
I wasn’t excited about the idea of a cider pub until I talked with Friedman who spent months doing research and putting together a menu of dishes that compliment the array of ciders that will be on tap and in the bottle at The Northman.
Two years ago when Friedman participated in CiderCON, an annual event for the commercial cider industry, he tasted many different ciders side-by-side. “Each one was so uniquely different. That was the day I got excited. This was going to be fun. You start to think, oh wow,” Friedman said.
What continues to surprise Friedman, beyond the many varieties, is cider’s quickly growing popularity.
My only experience with cider is drinking Magners over ice in Irish pubs and sipping Woodchuck (a national American brand) when I get tired of drinking beer. So when Friedman described the many cider flavor profiles, I began salivating.
“You have sweet. You have dry. You have funky. Much like grapes, you have food apples and you have cider apples,” said Friedman.
He described how the type of apple determines the end result as well as the introduction of yeast in the fermentation process. But, he says, you have to start with a good apple, “cider makers typically use the same apples and ferment them out in different ways.”
The Chapman blend, and lots of heirloom apples blended together, produce a dryer cider. A sweeter cider is produced by a shorter fermentation time.
As for dishes at The Northman, you will find a braised short rib with Yorkshire pudding, a rabbit roulade over grits and escargots in cider butter over a goat’s milk biscuit.
Friedman, ever conscious of people who have dietary restrictions, will include a few gluten free items on the menu. The perk of cider though is that it’s naturally gluten free – no special drinking menu necessary.