Guide to Hard Cider
You already know hard cider is booming. It’s shoving its way onto shelves and seducing leagues of drinkers from both the beer and wine worlds. Face it, when it comes to ordering a drink, you now have four choices: wine, beer, liquor or cider.
This apple elixir is here to stay—and it’s just getting started. New producers are joining the cider rush in droves. From winemaking and brewing vets, to young guns with newly minted wine and viticulture degrees, these pomme prospectors are churning out complex pours as fast as they can harvest the apples. They’re not only raising the bar on quality, they’re building an entire world from scratch—free to try anything they dream up. Much like the early days of craft beer, there’s only one rule these cowboys follow: Make it taste good. Cider is the Wild West of the drinking world.
To help you wrap your head around this exhilarating and ever-changing landscape, we’ve created the ultimate guide to drinking down the best of this boom. But, before you turn the page to begin your cider pilgrimage, you may be wondering why we’re talking autumnal apples in July? This brings up lesson No. 1: Most apples are indeed picked in the fall, but ciders are often best enjoyed in the heat of summer.
—Mike Dawson and Alexander Peartree
Unlike wine and beer, there are no set-in-stone categories for cider. That’s because new variations are being released almost daily. Sure, this makes cider exciting to explore, but this relentless sea of options can incite forehead-smacking frustration when deciding which bottle to pull. Thankfully, there are several basic, overall styles that can help steer you toward a pour that will play to your discerning palate. Here’s what you need to know. >>>
Normandy and Brittany are too tempestuous for wine production, but the hearty apple seems right at home in this cool, coastal clime. Ranging from dry to sweet, French ciders tend to be rustic and earthy, with a slight barnyard tang that’s balanced by Champagne-like mousse.
Christian Drouin Cidre Pays d’Auge is a dry style with an intriguing balance of funk and generous fruit.
The English countryside is scattered with orchards that have been used in cider production for centuries. While the French say their terroir is cider’s true birthplace, England does consume the most cider per capita. Whether dry or sweet, sparkling or still, the characteristic bittersweet and bitter-sharp apples of the land shine in the best examples.
Henney’s Vintage Still Cider is representative of the best English ciders, showcasing ripe fruit, crisp acids and soft, mild tannins.
The northerly regions of Asturias and Basque are plush and green, with a cool and wet climate—a far cry from the arid south. Playfully called España Verde, these regions are perfectly suited for the tart, acidic apples used in the regional beverage of choice, sidra. Don’t let the slight funk from the native yeast fermentation turn you off—these ciders are bright and citric, with aromas of apple peel and orchard blossoms.
Sopeña Sidra de Asturias has an enticing nose of apple blossom and lemon curd that balances the sharp acidity of the citric palate.
Terroir-driven, these rustic ciders demonstrate the true potential of the almighty apple by blending French, English and American varieties, and the best are the most wine-like in style. They’re dry, with pronounced tannins, balanced acidity and often show complex fruit tones and hints of earth.
The Bottle: West County’s Pippin is crafted with several varieties of bittersharp apples found only in New England. Bone-dry and tannic, it has pure fruit notes that are balanced by a backbone of minerality.
With dry and sweet versions, this category is a true crowd-pleaser. By combining tart heirloom apples and their sweeter, better-known siblings, these ciders walk a fine line between racing acidity and luscious fruit.
The Bottle: Virginia-produced Albemarle CiderWorks Pomme Mary is a tropical-fruit-tinged cider is and the perfect pour on a hot summer day.
An ever-expanding category, producers both big and small are constantly pairing new flavors with the apple—from honey and maple syrup for a hint of sweetness, to elderflower for a dash of floral essence. The best examples show restraint, highlighting the fleshy fruit flavor of the apple.
The Bottle: Bellwether Hard Cider’s Cherry Street is a playful blend of sweet dessert apples and tart Montmorency cherries and will evoke memories of mom’s cherry pie.
In a country seduced by craft beer, it’s only natural for cider makers to borrow some brewing methods, like whiskey-barrel aging and using Belgian beer yeast. The latest craze from the Pacific Northwest includes adding hops, which creates a light and crisp libation with a floral, citrusy bite.
The Bottle: If you’re a beer fan, your best bet is Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider, which is infused with three varieties of hops: Cascade, Palisade and Fuggle.
As the cider craze continues to spread, big-name brewers are on board, including MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Blending your favorite grocery-store apples, these easy sippers are effervescent and straightforward, with pronounced sweetness and candied apple flavors.
Angry Orchard Green Apple is downright tasty. Masterfully crafted and easy to drink, its tart Granny Smith apple flavor makes it an excellent summer thirst-quencher.
The Northman, Chicago
Scheduled to open this summer, this all-cider bar will be a welcome addition to the eclectic Lincoln Square neighborhood. It’s sure to be akin, in both look and feel, to its older beer-bar brother, the Fountainhead.
Capitol Cider, Seattle
A recent addition to the Emerald City nightlife, this cider-dominant bar and restaurant boasts an extensive menu of domestic and international apple libations, as well as an entirely gluten-free kitchen. With shuffleboard, checkers tables and board games galore, it’s easy to get sucked into the laid-back vibe of this English-style pub.
Upcider, San Francisco
Right in the thick of the Polk Street scene sits a gastropub that fills the otherwise cider-less void in the Bay Area. The bulk of the drink menu is dominated by English and American ciders, while lesser-known producers from Germany, Chile and New Zealand round it out.
Queens Kickshaw, Queens, NY
Based in Astoria, this bar and bistro is owned by a husband-and-wife duo whose passion for sourcing quality local ingredients is rivaled only by their love for unique, small-production ciders.
While a few ciders blend in grocery-store eating apples (which creates a sweeter style), most ciders are made from varying strains of crabapple. These tiny fruits pack a powerful punch of acid and tannin—not an enjoyable bite, but perfect for cider.
Sweets (low acid, low tannin):
McIntosh, Golden Russet, Gala
Bittersweets (low acid, high tannin):
Dabinett, Yarlington Mill
Sharps (high acid, low tannin):
Esopus Spitzenburg, Crimson King, Winesap
Bittersharps (high acid, high tannin):
Kingston Black, Dolgo Crab
Bunches and Bushels
Leonard Oakes Estate Winery (Medina, NY)
The Cider: Steampunk
Scar of the Sea (Santa Margarita, CA)
The Cider: Hard Apple Cider
Vashon Winery (Vashon Island, WA)
The Cider: Irvine’s Vintage Cider
Wölffer Estate (Sagaponack, NY)
The Cider: Dry Rosé
Bonny Doon Vineyard (Santa Cruz, CA)
The Cider: Querry
Yes, Drink the Stuff from a Wine Glass
How do you sip something that sits so snugly between wine and beer? Unlike its grape and grain brethren, the current cider rage has yet to produce a prevailing opinion on how it should be quaffed. Still, we recommend pouring it in a white wine glass simply because the vessel’s tulip shape maximizes your ability to pick up aroma and flavor nuances.
- 2Hard Cider, Made Easy
- 3The European Styles
- 4The American Styles
- 5Cider Houses That Rule
- 6Know Your Cider Apples