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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.
Best Overall: Molley Chomper Hard Cider
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.
Best Dry Cider: Eve’s Cidery Autumn Gold
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.
Best Unfiltered Cider: 2 Towns Ciderhouse OutCider
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.
Best for Wine Drinkers: Shacksbury Rosé Cider
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.
Best for Beer Drinkers: Finnriver Dry Hopped Cider
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.
Best for Dinner: Stella Artois Cidre
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 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.
Best Everyday: Strongbow Gold Apple Cider
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.
What to Look for in Hard Ciders
Just like with wine, hard ciders have different levels of sweetness. The "Brix scale" is what is used to measure the amount of residual sugar in cider. The higher the number, the sweeter the cider is. You have to decide how dry or sweet you want your cider to be. Check the labels, and talk with the bartender to get a clearer picture as to just how sweet that cider you're looking at really is.
The aroma of these ciders will traditionally be apple, but there will also be underlying smells that can be detected. Depending on the hard cider, you might smell pear, spices, herbs, and other fruits, such as grapes or berries.
Smell and taste are the main senses that get us to enjoy what we're drinking or eating. When you taste hard cider, see if you can taste the ingredients that you are smelling. Sweetness and sourness will come into play and help you to decide if you like or dislike a cider you've tasted. Take more than one sip, though, before making a decision.
The level of alcohol content in hard cider varies, with most being around 3 percent to 8 percent ABV. There are some, though, that are as high as 12 percent ABV, so check the labels or ask the bartender the ABV of the hard cider you're ordering.
What food goes well with hard cider?
Pretty much any type of food can accompany hard cider. From cheeses and salads or pork and chicken to butternut squash and other veggies, and even sweet desserts, this versatile drink pairs very well with just about anything.
How do you store hard cider?
Hard cider does not need to be kept refrigerated, although it does taste better cold. Keep it in the fridge or a beverage cooler at around 40 F for the best taste. These beverages have a shelf life of about a year, and sometimes as long as three years, so always check the expiration date on the label.
Is all hard cider made with alcohol?
Most of these popular beverages are made with alcohol in them, but there are a select few that are nonalcoholic, too. Review and check the labels to find one.
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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.”