Must Be 21

Cider Insider

By Mark Storer | September 16, 2016
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Apple cider. The name conjures images of sweet, amber soda. Allow it to turn “hard”—to develop alcohol—and it’s a temptingly tasty must-be-21 drink. While some keep their soda associations, the ciders that were a mainstay of American diets from the time of the country’s founding weren’t sweet. They were full of flavor, tart and refreshing.

Mark McTavish, founder and cider master of 101 Cider House in Westlake Village, wants to revive that tradition with their cider line, including Cactus Red. It’s a fusion of tradition blended with California flavors. Made with prickly pear from the Opuntia cactus and fresh Thai basil, “Cactus Red is entirely unique—a New Age cider for sure,” says McTavish.

In the bottle or the glass, the opaque pink beverage with natural carbonation is alluring and even a little fun.

The prickly pear’s citrus and watermelon flavors come alive, but don’t overwhelm. A mild salty taste is infused by the basil, and the combination is herbal and alluring. With alcohol levels at about 6.9%, it’s also quaffable.

“Cactus Red is food perfect,” says McTavish, meaning it pairs well with a variety of cheeses, meats, spicy dishes, salads, salty dishes and desserts. “With bursting acidity, it is a highly effective palate cleanser,” he adds.

Cactus Red is natural, raw, unfiltered and even probiotic, made from apples McTavish sources from orchards along the 101 Freeway from California to Oregon.

Called “spitters,” these cider apples are tart, sour, bitter and rock hard. So not what you’d want for eating, but great for cider. Their pulp and juice are brought to Westlake, where it ferments in its own natural yeast. A secondary malolactic fermentation happens because apples naturally contain malic acid.

The process takes three months with little manipulation. Only toward the end of production does he add Thai basil grown in Calabasas and prickly pear from Salinas.

McTavish describes this refreshing cider like L.A. rush hour: “End of a long day, as the sun is setting ... bright neon pink like the desert horizon, deceptively beautiful and inviting.”

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