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This year, Rosh Hashanah comes in a can

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a delicious Rosh Hashanah craft beverage?

Maybe something with some apple and honey in it, but without any bitter IPA aftertaste. And, though you can never tell with craft production, it would be good if it didn’t have any added sugar.

What would be even better would be to have a choice of 5 or 6 so that you wouldn’t be dependent on the whims of one single artisan. And what if such a concoction was not just the whim of the maker, but was actually a millennia-old recipe?

It’d be nice if it didn’t have the heaviness of beer or the desperately hip stylings of niche artisanal marketing too, right?

Welcome to cyser (pron. “sizer”), the Rosh Hashanah drink you didn’t know you needed, but checks every box. It’s not beer-based, it’s mead-based and it’s a staple of the meaderies that are flourishing around America. There’s now a meadery in every state plus the two that ought to be states — the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Five cysers

A Quintet of Mead: Cysers come in cans, bottles and bespoke shaped vessels. They range from just four ingredients in a dry pure cyser, to an “apple pie” mead — with fresh pressed apples, locally ground cinnamon and hand-shaved Madagascar vanilla beans. Courtesy of Dan Friedman

Honey wine has long been thought of as a treacly substance with notes of Viking, but there are a whole slew of new producers excited to bring us crisp, dry meads, many of them mixed with a variety of tart fruit for an additional dimension.

Monty Python asked, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Well, for one thing, they fermented honey and added apples to it as if they were waiting for North American Jews to crave a niche New Year beverage. Cyser — which the Romans drank and called sicera — now has to have more than 50% of its fermented sugar coming from honey. Would you laugh if I told you that the name is possibly even derived from the Hebrew shekar (שֵׁכָר‎)?

Like whisky, the required ingredients are extremely simple. Honey, apples, water and yeast. Different types of cyser mix apples and honey at different times in the process. Depending on the viscosity, the flavor and the strength of the cyser they are aiming for, producers ferment apples and honey separately or together (or in different amounts at different times) and use different apple, honey and yeast varieties.

I tried six cysers from five different meaderies. Five were courtesy of Mutiny Distribution, a company dedicated exclusively to the distribution of mead, and the other one was the kosher Honeymaker Apple Cyser from Maine Mead Works, one of the East Coast’s larger meaderies. The cysers came in cans, bottles and bespoke shaped vessels. They ranged from just four ingredients in a dry pure cyser, to an “apple pie” mead — with fresh pressed apples, locally ground cinnamon and hand-shaved Madagascar vanilla beans. And what I’ve tasted has barely scraped the selection — there are probably delicious cysers from a meadery near you, especially if you live in Michigan — which, it turns out, is the Mead State.

This Rosh Hashanah, grab yourself a cyser.

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