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Hard cider is made by fermenting fruit juice into an alcoholic drink. Most often made from apples, it’s easy to think that all hard ciders are equal, though it’s a surprisingly diverse category. While the hard ciders that appear in beer coolers are most common, there are many well-crafted bottles that rival wine. These small cider houses do it the traditional way from locally grown fruit in small batches. Averaging around 6 percent ABV, hard ciders are easy to drink and a few include fruits beyond apple, too. While some are a refreshing alternative to beer, others are great for dinner parties or as cocktail mixers. Read on to learn more about the best hard ciders available.
Named for an apple-loving goat, Molley Chomper is an orchard-to-bottle cidery in North Carolina. The heirloom apples come from small orchards and are pressed fresh at the cidery before making it into one of the impressive blends. Distribution is limited, but it is increasing. A perfect example of well-crafted cider, you can’t go wrong with any cider from the cider house.
Among their offerings, you'll find tannins and acidity reminiscent of wine. The Mountain Maelstrom cider is a little sweet, while Porch Swing is a balance of sweet and dry. Their semi-dry ciders include Bent Apple (aged in bourbon barrels) and School House Blend, which has delicious butterscotch notes. Like great wine, each vintage has a slightly different profile but they do sell out fast, so it’s good to get it shortly after it’s released.
Upstate New York is home to Eve's Cidery. Here, you will find an exploration of ciders as fascinating as any Finger Lakes winery has to offer. The fruit—both apple and pear—is organically grown in the orchards and the cidery provides an amazing production story behind each bottle.
A taste of terroir can be found in each vintage of these ciders. You’re sure to experience that in Autumn’s Gold. A blend of five estate-grown, organic apple varieties, it’s made in the traditional cider-making method. The sparkling dry cider is wonderfully complex with the inviting aroma of sweet apple blossoms foreshadowing the ripe apple, almost woody, taste. It’s both elegant and rustic, and best when served with grilled dishes and rich cheeses.
Oregon is the home of 2 Towns Ciderhouse, the state's largest craft cider maker. The collection of sassy ciders is the result of working with orchards in the Pacific Northwest. Within its core range of hard apple ciders, you’ll find OutCider. This unfiltered cider is made from pressed Jonagold apples—a hybrid of Jonathan and Golden Delicious—that thrive in the climate of the Northwest. Its hazy straw color holds an easy-drinking cider that’s perfectly semi-sweet and a nice change from the dry ciders that dominate this category. Ciderhouse's OutCider is delicious with blue cheese, a mild cheddar, or pork.
Don't let the cans deter you from Shacksbury's core ciders. They offer a well-crafted journey of cider making. You'll also find collaborations with California and Texas vineyards. The rosé cider is made in a similar way to pink wine. The New England apples are pressed and fermented as usual, but during aging, California syrah and zinfandel grape skins are introduced. This extra step gives the cider wine-like tannins and structure along with some delicious berry tones. It’s a natural process that’s quite fascinating and ensures the cider will appeal to anyone who enjoys a beautiful wine.
A lot of great ciders are coming out of the Pacific Northwest and Finnriver is one to check out. The Washington cidery produces both traditional ciders featuring blends of apple varieties and contemporary craft ciders that reimagine the drink in really fun ways.
The region is also known for outstanding craft beers and Finnriver Dry Hopped Cider has a sort of IPA twist. The off-dry cider is fermented on-site from organic Washington apple juice. It’s then steeped with organic Cascade hops for three days to give it that citrus twist that makes this particular variety of hops so popular in brewing. The cider is lightly carbonated and has intriguing notes of grapefruit and pine to ensure the taste buds never get bored. This gluten-free cider is versatile as well—it's fantastic with salty, savory, and spicy foods.
If you're a fan of the Belgian beer Stella Artois, then you'll want to taste Cidre. With a crisp, dry palate, and refreshing taste, the experience is very similar to drinking their famous lager. It’s a European-style cider that’s naturally gluten-free, and you don’t need to look too far to find it because it enjoys the brand’s widespread distribution.
The real beauty of this cider is that it's a lot like drinking a really good light lager, but with an apple twist. Unlike many other big-name ciders, it’s definitely not sweet. Instead, this one has a pleasant balance of sweet and dry, so it’s ideal for any food that’s on the menu. Show up to a casual dinner party or autumn barbecue with this cider and you're sure to win over beer and wine drinkers alike.
Among the biggest names in hard cider, it is difficult to compete with Strongbow. It's simply a great example of a well-rounded cider and it's everywhere. Strongbow's flagship bottle is Gold Apple, and it's a cider that will never let you down. This cider is a special blend of apple varieties that creates a multi-faceted taste. It has an acidic sour bite that’s delightfully sharp and melds into a softer sweetness that leaves the taste buds craving more. It's best served over ice and looks stunning in a stemmed tulip glass. Enjoy it with any food, from seafood to roasted white meats to grilled ribs, or have fun adding it to cocktails.
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books—“Rosé Made Me Do It” and “Tequila: Cocktails With a Kick.”