Carl Sutton has been making wine since 1996 and vermouth since 2008, but his company's newest offering is its first to deviate from the grape. Unpasteurized, unfiltered, and made with fresh Sonoma County apples, Sutton Cellars' hard apple cider is a refreshing, acidic take on the holiday classic, perfect for pairing with rich holiday foods.
The hay-colored liquid is made from a mixture of Jonathan, Pink Lady, Red and Gold Delicious, and Gala apples, grown just up the road from Sutton's Sonoma vineyards. "I've always been a fan of all styles of hard cider," Sutton says of his brew, which he's made before but is selling commercially for the first time. "[The blend of apples] wasn't intentional, although it turned out quite well. I can't discern one variety of apple as dominant over the others."
If you're used to drinking Magner's or Woodchuck from the tap at your local pub, Sutton's cider might come as something of a surprise. It's cloudy, slightly sour, and highly acidic. "All of the sugar is fermented out, so there's a fair amount of acidity," says Sutton. "I wanted to emphasize that. I think acidity in a beverage helps it pair with food." As with most farmhouse-style cider, the drink is still (in other words, uncarbonated), but the acidic character and low alcohol content (6% ABV) keep it from being cloying.
The initial run of Sutton cider is limited, with only 1,000 cases available. You can buy it from the company's Dogpatch headquarters on weekends (see their Facebook page for more details), or pick it up in 22-ounce bottles at Rainbow Grocery, The Slanted Door, Paul Marcus Wines in Oakland, and K&L Wines in Redwood City. It's on draft at Alembic and AQ, and available in a special cask-conditioned version at Magnolia Pub and Brewery. Though his concoction tastes great on its own, Sutton also enjoys it mulled with spices ("Not too hot," he warns, or else the alcohol will burn off) or as a braising liquid for leafy winter greens.