Hard cider doesn't always get the respect it deserves. For some, it too closely resembles apple juice with maybe a tinge of booze. And they can be right. Grocery store staples like Angry Orchards and Woodchuck Cider do lean towards the sweeter side, but with a category of booze that's been around since Julius Caesar was alive, you're bound to find some real winners.
"Cider suits so many occasions," Greg Hall, founder of Virtue Cider, says. "It can be as crisp and refreshing as a pilsner at a ballgame or a backyard barbecue. Traditional cider is tart and complex, and it pairs well with so many cuisines — I dare say — just as well as fine wine."
In the booze world, Hall's a bit of a legend. His father founded Goose Island Brewery, of which the younger Hall was a brewmaster for 20 years. During a tour of English Breweries, Hall tells us he happened upon a cider festival (yes, those cider festivals are a thing.)
"I was struck by all the different ciders that were being poured, all made with nothing but apples. Dry, sweet, crisp, funky, barrel-aged — many of the same flavor notes in our beers. I knew that night making cider was in my future," Hall says.
Cider takes a lot of good from a few alcohol categories. As Artifact Project Cider's co-founder and cidermaker Soham Bhatt says, "it's the perfect mix of lower alcohol, complexity of flavor and spritely acid to keep the mouth watering." All it takes are a few apples and coming at it with the idea of making something delicious. Sometimes apples aren't even the only thing that goes into cider. Cideries are willing to take liberties like adding other fruits or even hopping its brews like a beer.
"Just like grape wine, the various ways we treat and select the apples is how we achieve different outcomes," Bhatt says. "Beer is brewed, and it’s basically fermented wheat tea. Cider is like beer mostly in presentation. It’s a simple drink and like brewers, we’re generally a little more open-minded than winemakers when it comes to infusing different flavors in addition to apples."
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Greg Hall's move from beer to cider (and back) has been an interesting journey to watch, and the result is a lot of good drinking for the rest of us. Hall's Virtue Cider is inspired by old world cider-making traditions, using apples grown in Michigan. How old school is it? Cider's fermented in an underground cellar, "kept cool by the earth instead of refrigeration," Hall says. To give the ciders extra complexity, they're aged in used wine barrels and bourbon barrels. If you like it enough, which you will, you can sign up for Virtue's new cider subscription box, Cider Society.
Editor's Pick: Kriek
Artifact Cider Project's ciders range from dry to semi-sweet, and they're packed in very trendy 16-ounce tall boys, so you'd be forgiven if you thought someone was drinking a beer. The Massachusetts-based cidery uses apples from the northeast, though it's not afraid to pair other fruits with its apples like blueberries and cranberries.
Editor's Pick: Feels Like Home
Based out of Colorado, Fenceline uses apples from the same region. And they're not just any old apples. Fenceline uses wild apples that typically end up in the trash and not in excellent ciders. The ciders are cold fermented, with some getting some time to age in oak barrels. After you get done sampling all of its ciders, try out the wines — you won't be disappointed.
Editor's Pick: Seedling Cider
Son of Man specializes in Basque-style cider, which means it consists of little more than apples and time. The ciders are spontaneously fermented with wild yeast, which is whatever naturally occurs in the air. Basque-style cider is closer to wine than beer. The key to enjoying Son of Man is doing the "long pour," which will have you pouring the cider into a glass from as high up as possible. The height allows the cider to aerate and froth up, producing some of the best cider you'll ever drink.
Editor's Pick: Beti
Crack a can of Shacksbury's cider, and you'll quickly learn why the Vermont-based cidery has had the honor of working with collaborators like Momofuku, on a yuzu-and-passionfruit-infused cider, or Other Half Brewing, which finds Motueka and citra hops entering the party. Its limited-edition offerings are amazing, as are its Lost Apple Project Ciders, which use foraged wild apples to make unique ciders you won't find anywhere else.
Editor's Pick: Vermonter
If you love a hazy IPA, you'll be a big fan of Downeast Cider. The cidery makes a fuller bodied cider than some may be used to, but it gives its brews a thicker, juicier flavor. Its core collection is full of winners, but check our the limited releases for unique formulations like Deep Summer, which includes pineapple and guava, or Cider Donut.
Editor's Pick: Original Blend
Down in Austin, Texas, comes Austin Eastciders, though its roots are very much across the pond. Austin Eastciders' founder is Ed Gibson, an Englishman who used to own a cider bar, who now makes some excellent cider stateside. Austin Eastciders uses cider apple juice concentrate from Europe and pairs it with white wine yeast, for effervescence, as well as high-quality ingredients like hop flowers and Texas honey.
Editor's Pick: Original Dry Cider