What’s more American than warm apple pie? Turns out to be a big jug of hard cider. Apple trees introduced by English colonists grew especially well in the Northeast, and were spread across the country by farmers and Johnny Appleseed. Before refrigeration, fermenting juice from apples was the easiest way to retain most of their useful calories. The resulting alcoholic brew kept much longer and, much like its malty cousin beer, served the crucial need for safe hydrating beverages in the ages before advanced water treatment.

Almost all hard cider on the market today bears little relation to the complex nectar you can make at home. After you taste the (fermented) fruits of your labor, commercial cider will seem like weird apple candy dissolved in lighter fluid. After adjusting to the subtle and intriguing new flavors, chances are you’ll never go back.