When fall rolls around, there’s really only two appropriate (adult) drinks in our opinion: the right beer (meaning a porter, stout or Oktoberfest), and cider. Many people might think of cider as simply an alternative to beer – perhaps for the gluten-free among us -, but truth be told, it’s a unique drink worthy of being enjoyed in its own right – and there’s a whole world of fantastic hard ciders out there waiting to be discovered and enjoyed as the weather turns crisp. Here’s a bit of background on how to choose a good cider, and our takes on the best ciders for drinking for this year.
Simply put, Hard Cider is an alcoholic beverage fermented from apple juice (and sometimes pear juice). So, it’s kind of like wine (but made from apples, not grapes, and thus with a lot more sugar), with all the tannins and dry flavor, but sometimes with a texture, consistency and ABV that feels more like a light beer. This makes it an excellent alternative to either drink when you feel like drinking more than a glass of wine but don’t want the fullness of a beer (or just don’t like the flavor).
Like wine (and early beer) it’s been around for millennia, with little change is the way it is made. Unlike beer, it doesn’t require heat to produce, making it cheaper and less labor-intensive. In America’s early days, cider was the drink of choice – especially in the apple orchard-laden farms of New England and the Northeast.
Unlike regular apple cider, which is made from virtually any apple and contains a very high sugar amount, Hard Cider is usually made from specially-grown apples, which are far more bitter, acidic and higher in tannins than an apple you might snack on. These apples give hard cider that dry, slightly-less sweet and higher in alcohol than the regular apple cider you might pick up at the store – although many ciders you find at the store are likely much sweeter and contain more sugar than traditional dry hard cider.
And speaking of styles, there are a lot of different styles of hard cider out there. A very simple way to classify them might be sweet vs dry, or American vs European style (with American being sweeter and European being drier). There’s also sparkling vs still – with sparkling ciders feeling more like champagne and still ones feeling a bit like wine. But really, there are no hard definitions of cider styles out there; it’s simply not as popular and defined as beer and wine styles, and by using different styles of apples and fruits and experimenting with different fermenting methods, almost any style of cider – full of nuance and unique flavors – can be made.
And right now is a prime time for cidermakers, and a whole new age of cidermaking has arrived, taking advantage of the complete freedom that cidermaking offers. They’re free to come up with their own cider recipes, and they’re doing exactly that.
Ready to see for yourself? Whether you’re just hanging around the fire on a crisp Autumn night or are planning an elegant fireside dinner, here are 13 of the best ciders out there, ranging from the cheap and sweet to the dry and refined.
While a lot ciders are just arriving on the scene, Farnum Hill has been making classic New England hard ciders since the 1980’s. Famhouse is a beautiful golden cider with the perfect amount of tartness and crispness, offset by just a slight bit of sweetness. Farnum Hill themselves says it tastes a bit like a Magners, but with a lot less sugar. A good all-around choice for a farmhouse cider. 6.5% ABV
Another Farnum Hill. 7.5% ABV and very, very dry – hence the name. Farnum Hill Extra Dry contains even less sugar than their Farmhouse (aka, zero sugar. At all.), fermented from a specific selection of apples bred for exactly this purpose. It’s (obviously) got a lot of tannin and is very acidic, and thus pairs well with bolder, spicier, meatier dishes. If you like dry wine, this will probably be the cider you go for…it’s got a bit of bubbles, too.
Not to be confused with the Farnum Hill Farmhouse, Farmhaus Classic takes its cues from Germanic Farmhouse-style ciders – semi-sweet, with strong fruity notes and flavors. Farmhaus themselves say it goes well with pizza and creamy cheeses. In other words, it’s the classic American cider – hence the name. Enough sweetness for casual drinking, enough dry flavor to be considered a real drink. Made in Michigan (enough great place for growing apples) and 6.9% ABV. This will be your go-to cider for plain old relaxing, when you don’t need the elegant dryness of something more refined.
Nobody ever said ciders had boring names, either – or that they had to be sweet and dry. Wandering Aengus’s Wickson is brewed from crabapples grown in Portland, Oregon specifically for turning into a tart, unique, slightly dry and downright delicious cider. And when we say tart, we mean it; crabapples are the tartest of apples (which is why they are often used to add some acidity to otherwise weaker, more boring apples), and Wickson is one powerful cider with a punch (while only being 7.9%). It might end up being a little overpowered by the tart apple, but if you try hard enough, you might even be able to taste some citrus notes.
Wickson is a nice golden color and has some medium bubbles. If you’re a fan of sauvignon blanc, this would be the cider you reach for.
Bourbon and beer lovers, rejoice; there’s a cider for you, too. Michigan-based Virtue Cider’s The Mitten is aged in bourbon barrels for up to year, giving it that familiar oak and vanilla sweetness that is so familiar to bourbon drinkers. They use pressed apples from the year before for a bit more aged flavor, and after it’s aged for a year, back sweeten it with fresh pressed apple juice from the current harvest.
The result is a medium-bodied semi-dry cider that’s thicker and smoother than most other ciders on this list, feeling soft and buttery as opposed to dry and acidic. There’s vanilla and caramel notes, in addition to the apple, and it’s an excellent drink for enjoying on a crisp Autumn night or around the fire.
Hailing from Upstate New York, Workman Dry is an ultra-dry mix of floral and fruity notes, with Rose and Palo Santo on the nose, and Lemongrass, Ginger and Lemon Zest all on the palette. There’s Green Apple, too, of course; each year is a unique blend of apples, and this year’s leans heavily on Cox Orange Pippin, Goldrush, Margil and Newtown Pippin. We don’t know anything about apple types, to be honest, but we do know that that sounds really good.
We had to throw in something from good old Angry Orchard. They’re probably the only cidery you’ll find in the store around the corner, and for some of us, that’s the most important part. Stone Dry is their take on traditional English Ciders, combining acidic culinary apples with the traditional, dry, tannin-loaded apples usually used for making cider. The result? A perfectly-balanced cider with a medium body, just the right amount of dryness, and a tart, crisp finish. When you think cider, this is probably what you’re thinking of, and as we mentioned, you can probably find some at the local beverage store.
Crispin Cider, from California, is another classic American cidery, making some of the best ciders you’ll find out there. Crispin Brut takes the best, fresh-pressed green apples and adds a bit of traditional brewing yeast to create a bright, clear yellow beverage with a tart apple flavor and just a slight bit of yeast flavor. In other words, it’s another classic American cider; exactly what you were imagining when you clicked on this list, though perhaps more refined and reminiscent of Brut champagne. Slightly carbonated, as well, for a refreshing sip every time. 5.5% ABV.
Citizen Cider comes from Vermont, and makes a variety of ciders ranging from year-round staples to rose-inspired drinks and a rotating collection. Unified Press is their flagship cider, a classic, simple drink a bit off-dry but also crisp and refreshing. 5.2% ABV, it’s yet another American cider for just drinking and enjoying, and pairs well with just about everything.
Wolffer is a bit different from the other offerings on this list as they’re actually a winery; from New York, they make elegant reds, whites and rose that are both a bit fun and high quality. The No. 139 Dry Rose is no different – a rose-style cider made from Crispin, Golden Delicious and Gold Rush apples, among others. Fruity and with some bubbles, it’s a fun drink for relaxing or celebrating; the light pink color makes it more so. Goes well with virtually anything, but cheese, crackers and meats especially.
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