Recently, Hillary and I took our first trip together since our youngest son was born 8 months ago. We decided to go to a dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan where our friend Ryan Burk, the cidermaker for Angry Orchard's Hudson Valley project, was collaborating with chef James Rigato of Mabel Gray in Detroit for a 5-course pairing menu. It was also a chance to get our Brooklyn-based contributor, Cory Smith (he's a bit "meh" on cider) to try some exceptional stuff in a context that would bring it to life.
We drank a number of Burk's barrel-aged, naturally fermented ciders from the past year of his work. Highlights included Edu, a still cider aged in Cognac barrels, First Flora aged in Calvados barrels, and Maple Wood Sleeper aged in bourbon barrels with maple syrup. All in all, they exhibited a wide variety of results in terms of acid profile, texture, funk, and barrel quality. And the dishes from Rigato covered a range of comforts including a sweet and savory winter squash, herbaceous curry clams, and a Michigan staple of pork belly with cheese grits and kraut.
For Burk and Rigato, it was the culmination of so much work, and years of getting to know each other through their respective wares. But for those of us at the tables, it felt like context for an entire industry shifting ever so slightly—right in front of us.