Unlike wine and beer, cider is a little less limited by geography. There are good apples growing just about everywhere, meaning a glut of good cider for the masses, made fresh and with a collective cider-making IQ that continues to rise. If you’re still on the fence about the stuff, there has hardly been a better time to explore. Here are some of our favorites:
“Cider and fall go hand in hand,” says Ryan Burk, head Cider Maker at the Angry Orchard Cider Company. “The height of apple season is in the early fall [so] the brightness and complexity from the apples picked through October makes it the perfect time to imbibe.”
And imbibe Americans did even in the earliest days. “Cider can be traced back to the earliest colonial times,” explains Greg Hall, founder of Virtue Cider. “The Mayflower [arrived] carrying a cider press. By the mid-18th century, Americans were growing an immense variety of fruits, most unsuitable for eating, but ideal for cidermaking.”
So why is hard cider just now becoming popular again, if it is an American OG?
“Hard cider continued to evolve until the 20th century [when] urbanization and Prohibition hit,” says Hall. “[These factors] eliminated traditional cidermaking and the cider apple varieties from the United States for a number of years. Americans lost touch with the art of cidermaking.”
But don’t worry, this beverage is back, and getting bigger. “The 20s are going to be the decade for cider” Greg Hall says. “Cider has been on the rise for a few years now and is a growing industry, similar to how the craft beer industry was ten years ago. Over the last two years we have started to see regional cider makers taking share away from big cider makers and a growing level of diversity in the ciders being produced. Whether it’s tapping into flavor trends, sourcing rare fruits, or testing different cidermaking methods, it’s an industry with a lot to offer that consumers should be excited to explore.”
So. You have lots of choices, and cider season is here: Which hard cider to sip? Why, one of these, of course.
“The largest misconception about cider is the sugar,” says Greg Hall. “Most people think all cider is a sugar-packed drink, and while some are, a lot are not.” This one is most definitely the latter. It’s made primarily with juice aged in used bourbon barrels for an entire year after its pressing. At 6.8% ABV it packs a bit more punch than most ciders and has just enough alcohol content for there to be a slight ethanol profile. The stronger notes are of vanilla and caramel, and without that overbearing sweetness you likely associate with most ciders. There is a touch of tang created by an addition of some fresh pressed juice prior to bottling or legging, and overall it is a balanced, even cider.
The best way to describe this cider? Why, take it from the copy right there on the bottle: “Hazy & less sweet.” Made with a blend of nine bittersweet apples and with the pressed juice not filtered before bottling, the taste is dry without tartness, hinting at orange, spice, and of course apples, while the mouthfeel is akin to what you get with a hefeweizen. It’s a good choice for pairing with cheeses, a hearty soup, or a burger.
This cider is more akin to a sparkling wine than a beer, and we mean that as a positive. The cider is fermented in steel vats, so the flavoring is derived entirely from the blend of apples sourced both from the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic activated by wine yeast. There is a notable tannic profile to this dry cider that sips much like a prosecco or cava.
$48 for a 12-pack? Well, when it’s a dry red cider that you can savor like a fine red wine, sure. A lighter red, like a pinot, to be sure, but nonetheless this is a fine expression from a respected New York winery. Produced from a blend of six apples, there is a strong tannic and acidic presence and slight notes of citrus balanced by the apple tartness. It is about the deepest red cider you will see, and looks great in the glass.
A word of warning, as most people think of “Pub-Style” to refer to a low ABV brew you can crush by the pint: This is not that. (In this case it means still.) This stuff is 8.2% alcohol by volume and it’s sold in 500 ML bottles, so take ‘er slow. Of course, that’s what this rich, delicious cider deserves anyway. As noted this is a still cider, meaning not carbonated, that is best served moderately chilled and enjoyed over the course of a long meal. It is dry in character, unfiltered and rich in mouthfeel, and definitely a must-try, especially if you think only of, say, Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider when you think of hard cider.
Alright, so a bit of shade thrown on Woodchuck there, but in fact these guys make plenty of great ciders and have been since Nirvana released Nevermind, AKA as the year 1991. Lil’ Dry is, as you can guess, a dry cider that manages to be fruit flavor forward without being sweet. It is golden in color and modest in carbonation and while you’ll expect that cloying cider sweetness even from the aroma, it’s a well-balanced beverage that makes a great intro to the category.
This is a sweet cider, and that’s just fine; just because lots of ciders are too sweet does not mean there are not sweet ciders that are superb. And as this stuff is made with pears, the sweetness is no surprise, either. A blend of Asian and PNW pears produce a beverage with fruity notes including melon, and that clocks an 8% ABV. It comes in a 750ml bottle and can be served as an after dinner treat or with hors d’oeuvres.
How did the cider makers at Austin Eastciders coax such a rich orangey flavor out of apples? They didn’t — they added blood orange juice to their apple cider to create a tart, tangy, and sweet cider beverage that you will positively crush. Perfect for an autumn cookout or to chug at a tailgate party, this cider goes down much like a shandy, and at only 5% ABV, it’s not too risky, either.
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