Jennifer Lim & Ben Sandler, wife & husband team at The Queens Kickshaw
"Modern cider-making realizes that the quality of fruit is important," said Jennifer Lim of The Queens Kickshaw. "We like to be able to ask our cider makers what apples they use and not get a run around answer," added Ben Sandler, her business partner and husband. "For us, it's less about buying a sellable product, [and more about] something that expresses what the true nature of cider is." And with 35 ciders on their menu, from the U.S., to Basque Country, France, Spain and the UK, The Queens Kickshaw is pioneering cider in Queens to the whistle of Johnny Appleseed.
But, added Ben, "We're not the first ones to showcase it. Eleven Madison Park, Hearth and Gramercy Tavern have all known for a while how important cider should be to pair with or as an expression of local beverage. And during Cider Week, they amp it up."
Three years ago, when The Queens Kickshaw first opened primarily as a coffee shop, Jennifer and Ben had Dupont and Crispin on the menu. "We knew enough to know we didn't want Angry Orchard or Woodchuck," said Jennifer. And they also had Tia Keenan, NYC's own cheesemonger to consult on their grilled cheese menu. "She let us know about Cider Week that was sponsored by Glynwood in the Hudson Valley." With 18 cider makers present at the event, the couple tasted their way through French and American selections. "It was mind-blowing, how different they tasted," she added.
"European ciders have established norms and rules and AOCs and AOPs," said Ben. "In order to call yourself a Normandie cider [maker] you have to use certain apples," said Ben. "American cider makers can be more adventurous, but they can also create non-cider ciders. European ciders are a more accurate expression of terroir. Most cider makers we have conversations with in France and Spain, we talk about the fruit. In the U.S., you have very little cider fruit. It's [mostly] dessert fruit and not a lot of ciderists work in the orchards. There's a learning curve," he added. "There are people with experience in growing, tasting and fermenting, and people who follow trends."
At the same time, said Jennifer, "In the U.S. there's an openness. There's no overarching style. Foraged apples, natural yeast, U.S. cider makers don't feel forced by history."
Working a list that's heavily curated with what's available to them now, Ben said that two years ago their current list would have represented all the cider that they could get. "The list grew steadily. We started with three ciders and now we have 35. We see consumption of more complex ciders and [people] committing to more expensive bottles. People are ordering all over the list, not just the gateway ciders." In fact, cider sales at The Queens Kickshaw at this time have grown from 5% to 27-28%. And the restaurant draws "a range of people who didn't know they liked cider to people who know more than we do about cider."
And just as the cider list has grown, so has their vegetarian menu. Just last week, Chef Kenji Hurlburt released a new menu that best demonstrates the couple's philosophy of minimal intervention: "familiar dishes with a twist," said Ben. "Kenji's approach is letting the item speak for itself, not putting too many items into a dish."
In terms of selections, Ben said, "We look for things that are unique. That have a balance. That we can fit into the list without redundancy and that we can pair. I'm crazy about Basque ciders," he added. "The Isastegi...With Basque ciders compared to most Asturias ciders, there's a similar tartness but also a smoky/bacon quality that lends so much to the food that you're eating."
"Tilted Shed from the West Coast is pretty renown," said Jennifer. "People are excited to see it on our list."
"It's also the only California cider on our list and I've tasted through a number of them," said Ben, "and can say it's [Tilted Shed 'Graviva!' Semidry Cider] the best I've tasted. It has a meatiness to it. It's deeper in color and lingers--a long finish--compared to most other American ciders that are crisp on the end. It makes you want more."
For more on our ciders, read here: