One of Austin’s top restaurants, Emmer & Rye, doesn’t just make its own pasta — as of last year, the Rainey Street eatery is also dabbling in cider.
There is only one place in town to order cans of the Shacksbury E&R Cider, and that’s at Emmer & Rye, which teamed up with Vermont farmhouse cidery Shacksbury to create the dry, funky drink using about 50 percent foraged apples.
Since releasing last fall, it has proved to Emmer & Rye customers that cider doesn’t have to be sweet. And it’s for a good cause: $1 of every can sold is donated to Unidos por Puerto Rico to help with hurricane relief.
The philanthropic collaboration came about in an unexpected way: as a result of Emmer & Rye assistant general manager Alicia Schmidt’s advanced sommelier course last spring, where she learned not only about wine but also about cider and its versatility.
When Shacksbury’s director of sales and marketing, Alex Consalvo, came to the restaurant not long after in the hopes of selling some cider, Schmidt was intrigued in particular by Shacksbury’s foraged cider program, the Lost Apple Project. It resurrects nearly vanished apple varieties by seeking them out at abandoned orchards and other places.
Such a program is particularly in line with Emmer & Rye’s focus on foraged and heirloom ingredients.
"I thought it was such a rad parallel with what we do here," Schmidt said. "We have Tom who is our on-site forager, and he maintains all the gardens. He goes out and gets yaupon and mushrooms and all sorts of stuff for us to use in the restaurant. I was like, ‘I want to forage cider as well.’ It just started this conversation."
Shacksbury offered to create a cider for Emmer & Rye using foraged apple varieties, and Schmidt and the rest of the restaurant staff, headed by chef-owner Kevin Fink, readily agreed. E&R Cider also features 40 percent cultivated Vermont apples and 10 percent Basque country apples, Schmidt said, because having a cider with all-foraged apples is hard to do.
These are often extreme in flavor — tannic, bitter or sour — and need the balance of the other, softer apples to make a good cider, Schmidt said. She is pleased with the result of the E&R Cider, especially because it gets Emmer & Rye customers talking.
"It’s a totally dry cider," she said. "I think there are two grams of residual sugar for the whole can, but as far as perception, you can’t really taste it. There’s a little bit of tannin from the bitter, funky cider apples, which I think goes really well with our food. It’s been cool. We’ve had a lot of good feedback from our guests."
E&R Cider (so named because of Texas’ private label laws, which prohibits Emmer & Rye’s full name from being on the cider can) was ready shortly after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, and it just made sense for Emmer & Rye to donate a portion of the proceeds to hurricane relief.
The collaboration cider was such a success, Schmidt said, that she hopes it will become an annual fall release with Shacksbury, featuring a different apple blend each time.
Sip it slowly while you make your way through Emmer & Rye’s seasonal food menu and dim sum dishes: E&R Cider opens up with time, awakening new flavors.
"It definitely changes, in just the same way that wine does when it warms up and gets exposed to oxygen," Schmidt said. "And that’s one reason we’re super nerdy and serve it in wine glasses, because it really doesn’t taste the same out of the can. I think it just makes people think about it a little more seriously. We can tell the story of E&R and get them excited."
Emmer & Rye is located at 51 Rainey St. For more information, visit emmerandrye.com.
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