Fire Cider: The Hot New Mixer for Warming Winter Drinks
Cold season is here; the wildly vacillating weather, with its regular dips into frigidity, drives the annual search for ways to ward off the inevitable onslaught of coughs, sneezes, and sore throats. There’s a relatively new addition – albeit steeped in tradition – to the all-natural anti-cold arsenal: Fire Cider from Pittsfield-based Shire City Herbals. Also known as “cyclone cider,” fire cider is a pungent potion of apple cider vinegar and honey, with hot peppers, garlic, onions, ginger, and horseradish. Some form of tonic made from varying combinations of these ingredients has long been used to combat colds or prevent them from ever occurring.
The potion’s purported powers are legion: proponents claim it can enhance immunity, aid digestion, break up congestion, soothe sore throats, increase circulation, mitigate migraines, and act as an expectorant, antibiotic, and antimicrobial agent. Now a trio of early-thirty-something Berkshirites are successfully peddling this old-fangled, new-age cure-all to cold-weary acolytes who swear by the stuff.
Shire City’s Fire Cider began as does many a folkloric remedy. “My grandmother was very German, and very old-school in her approach to health,” recounts Pittsfield native Dana St. Pierre (at left, in photo with his partners Brian and Amy Huebner). “She didn’t put much faith in pills and so forth to keep healthy; she favored lots of brisk outdoor exercise and food-based home remedies for anything short of broken bones. She recommended eating grated horseradish as an allergy remedy, mixed with vinegar and sometimes honey. It’s very effective, but also very difficult to choke down. She also would make a concoction of onions and garlic heated in wine for chest colds.”
Twelve years ago St. Pierre decided to try a similar approach to combat chronic bronchitis and seasonal allergies. “Using these remedies as a starting point, I tried various folk remedies for allergies and colds over the years, mixing and matching and sometimes gagging on the nasty results. I listened to friends and acquaintances, read a lot of books on herbal medicine, and tinkered with what I liked best. The end result has definitely helped me spend less time being sick.”
Satisfied with his concoction, which uses mostly local and organic ingredients plus citrus fruit for additional Vitamin C and sweetness, St. Pierre teamed up with his holistic-health-coach wife, Amy Huebner, to manufacture and market Fire Cider. Amy’s brother, comic artist Brian Huebner, joined the team, designing the appealingly eccentric Fire Cider labels.
Fire Cider made its public debut at the 2010 Handmade Holiday Festival in Pittsfield. The founders brought 80 bottles to the fair and sold out, doubling the money they had spent creating their wares. The experience convinced them they could make Fire Cider into a profitable venture. Amy and Brian’s father helped them draw up a business plan.
Today bottles of Fire Cider can be found in markets and cafés from Maine and Vermont to Ohio and Pennsylvania, with a solid presence in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as at local co-ops and natural grocers such as Chatham Real Food Market Co-op, The Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, Berkshire Organics in Dalton, and Wild Oats in Williamstown. It’s also available by the shot at several Berkshire cafés, such as Dottie’s Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield, Juice ‘N’ Java in Dalton, Haven in Lenox, and Lickety Split at MASS MoCA in North Adams. In addition, you can buy it online in eight-ounce and 16-ounce bottles; the latter comes with its own shot glass. That this pungent potion has caught fire is somewhat surprising, given the nearly universal response elicited by a bracing swig of the zesty elixir: a yelp of “whoah!” or “wow!” accompanied by raised eyebrows and a quick shake of the head. But the warm flush that follows — and even a bit of sweat — indicates that this could be good for what ails you. And, truth be told, Fire Cider is oddly addictive.
It’s said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In the case of Fire Cider, a jiggerful of alcohol (or two…) will do the trick. Artisan Warren Barber, a friend of the Fire Cider troika, developed the Fire Cider Hot Toddy while he was a bartender at the late Pittsfield wine bar Brix (recently reborn as Phineas Gage’s Moral High Ground, where his toddy remains on the menu). As it turns out, Fire Cider can spark up a range of cocktails, a few of which are detailed below.
The Fire Cider Hot Toddy
Recipe by Warren Barber
Preheat a 12-oz mug or a rocks glass that can handle a hot drink, then add:
6 oz hot water
1 oz Fire Cider
1 oz Barenjager Honey Liqueur; you can substitute with honey to taste.
2 oz Kentucky bourbon/whiskey: Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey and Clontarf 1014 are particularly smooth but use your favorite
1/2 a lemon - cut a thin slice for garnish then squeeze the rest into your mug or glass and stir.
Recipe by Brian Huebner
1 oz Fire Cider
2 oz Citron Vodka
Shake with ice and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice or strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or lemon wedge. Can also be made as a shooter.
Fire on the Mountain
Recipe by Brian Huebner
1 oz Fire Cider
2 oz Mount Gay Rum (or Ragged Mountain Rum from Berkshire Mountain Distillers)
Shake with ice and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Squeeze in a bit of lemon and garnish with a slice of lemon.
Brian Huebner has also created a flaming cocktail called the Volunteer Fire Department, in which Fire Cider is stacked with three layers of progressively stronger rum, topped with Bacardi 151, which burns off when lit with a match, but we can’t responsibly advocate drinking while playing with fire.
When you choose your poison from the bar cart, should you expect to reap any health benefits from a cocktail made with this tantalizing tonic? “Well, Fire Cider is healthful and medicinal no matter what you mix it with,” says Amy Heubner. “Alcohol will lower your immune system, no matter what you mix it with. OJ for breakfast is better than a screwdriver, but vodka straight, I would argue, is much less healthy than vodka with OJ or veggie juice… and a shot of Fire Cider. I do not recommend alcohol for breakfast, just to be clear!”
She does, however, recommend that you give Fire Cider a place at your table – not just in a glass, but also on the plate. Try it as an ingredient in salad dressing and marinade, or to add an additional spicy kick to hot wings or baked beans. With inspiration fired up by the recipes on her website, you could soon find yourself cooking with Fire Cider. – Bess Hochstein