Amid the conversations and endless choice surrounding craft beer, hard seltzer, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails and other emerging beverage alcohol categories, hard cider has been quietly plugging away.
Before Prohibition hard cider was a dominant force in the United States, but over the last 90 years it has become a smaller category. Still, even as a niche beverage, it has given farmers and cider makers a chance to home in on the craft and bring diverse flavors to market. But now, its popularity is certainly on the rise, with Michelle McGrath, executive director of the American Cider Association, describing hard cider as “everything everywhere at once.”
She goes on to explain, “The U.S. cider industry is going through an exciting second phase of growth. There are winners and losers in this phase, and some cideries that never recovered from the pandemic have unfortunately closed. But we are still seeing growth all over the place—in distribution—oriented regional cideries, in diverse-channel local cideries and in large format harvest-driven cideries.”
But as cider has risen in popularity, there has been some question as to what kind of beverage category it falls into.
“It’s not beer,” says McGrath. “I can’t say that enough. Cider is not beer. But it is a drink of moderation like beer, so beer drinkers enjoy that. Cider is light and refreshing, so it has that in common with seltzer. As far as RTDs, cider is easily adaptable to cocktail inspiration, so we have seen cocktail inspired ciders for a long time and cider has been aged in spirit barrels for hundreds of years.”
The beverage fits most easily into the wine category, she says, but offers a brighter flavor with lower alcohol content. There is also innovation in the category these days with many cider makers blending other fruits into the mix for delightful results. To explore this expanding category for yourself, we pulled together some of our favorite ciders below.
Our Favorite Hard Cider Right Now
For the Pool:
Austin Eastciders Imperial Tropical Punch
“Our new high alcohol-by-volume (abv) offering is an adults-only take on the childhood classic fruit punch,” says Erika Guin, head cider maker at Austin Eastciders. “We wanted to create a flavor that incorporates a feeling of nostalgia. Austin Eastciders Imperial Tropical Punch Cider will remind you of your happiest and carefree memories with its fresh and bold tropical fruit.”$10 (4-Pack 16-Ounce Cans) Bottle Republic
For a Picnic:
Angry Orchard Blueberry Rosé
This cider features “a curated blend of 10 traditional bittersweet and culinary apples that are balanced with real blueberry juice to create a bright, apple-forward cider with subtle blueberry notes and a ruby red hue,” according to a press release. Its wide flavor profile enables it to pair with a wide array of dishes—perfect for a picnic. You can find it in this variety pack.$25 (12-pack 12-ounce bottles) Fresh Direct
For the Garden:
Stem Ciders & Denver Botanic Gardens Lavender Apple cider
Floral and fruity and mostly dry, this collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens has a lemonade-esque quality to it, inviting relaxation among the flowers.$12 (4-Pack 12-ounce-cans) Shop Cider
For a Taste of the Orchard:
For the Traditional Seeking Something Strong:
For a Sense of Place:
For Moderation with Flavor:
For Back Patio Dinners:
For the Non-Traditionalists:
For the Fruit Lovers:
What Apples Are Best for Hard Cider?
Each apple variety is different in appearance, flavor, texture, and aroma. There are thousands of known apple cultivars in existence, but only a handful that are commonly used or mentioned. Here is a list of commonly found apple varieties:
Braeburn, Crispin, Empire, Fuji,Gala, Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Idared, Jonagold, McIntosh, Pink Lady (Cripps Pink), Red Delicious, and Rome.
Is Hard Cider Gluten Free?
Typically, yes. Traditional hard ciders are made from apples which do not include gluten. Some ciders or hybrids might use adjunct ingredients which could contain gluten. You should consult the label before consuming.
How Do You Make Hard Cider?
It’s a process that is similar to wine making, with fruit selection and processing followed by fermentation. Most cider makers are glad to offer tours and insights to the process when you visit.
What Food Pairs With Cider?
“My go-to recommendations are spicy foods, nuts, mushrooms, onions, tacos, grilled or roasted meats and vegetables, and pan-Asian cuisine,” says McGrath. “The acid lifts the palate and makes each bite feel new. A lower-tannin high-acid cider will do great with most food. Some classic sandwiches really shine when paired with cider–BLTs, grilled cheese, portobello, and Reubens, for example. Higher-ABV ciders will complement desserts. I love pairing a high-acid, high-tannin cider made with bittersweet or bittersharp apples with strong cheeses, especially if the cider is sparkling. The tannins stand up to strong cheeses or even steak, and the bubbles cleanse the palate. Cider is also perfect for brunch because it pairs well with brunch flavors and cider-mosas are a great lower ABV cocktail.”
Published: June 19, 2023