Hard cider is having a renaissance: It’s now the fastest growing category of adult beverages sold in the U.S., increasing 66% in 2013, according to the Beverage Information Group. At the U. S. Association of Cider Makers’ 2015 CiderCon show, held in February in Chicago, sessions included topics such as cidery operations, orchard care, flavors and blending, alongside tastings and cider mixology demonstrations.
Ciders bring together fruity aroma, tannins and acidity, most of all malic acid in the bitter-sharp cider apples, as well as fermentation notes of yeast, spice and funk, plus flavors ranging from baked pie, berries, even hops and tropical fruit. Balance, body and finish play their parts, as ciders can range from bone dry to sugary in the extreme. Here are a few ciders to consider.
E.Z. Orchards Cidre (Salem, OR)
E.Z. Orchards’ Cidre, fermented from Willamette Valley, OR-cultivated varieties of traditional European cider apples, was a crowd favorite at the 2015 Cider Summit. The flagship Cidre pours pale gold, sprightly, with fresh apple skin and quenchingly tart aftertaste. Cider maker Kevin Zielinski uses mostly bittersweet apples to achieve that tart profile, including Domaines, Marie Menard and Yarlington Mill, as well as some medium-sharp apples, Champagne Reinette and Roxbury Russet (an early American variety). Its signature dryness extends on the palate, making it an excellent pair to sticky Korean barbecue. At 6% ABV, it is a balanced and drinkable cider on its own, as well. Available in 750-ml. bottles.
California Cider Co. (Sebastopol, CA)
Ace is one of the first American cider brands, founded 21 years ago by British-born Jeffrey House. Ciders are made from apple juices and concentrates sourced primarily from the Pacific Northwest. Ace produced a limited release for its anniversary, the Black Jack, a version of the flagship cider aged in chardonnay oak barrels for hints of vanilla and toasty aromatics. Flavored ciders include Ace Pumpkin cider and Pear, ranging from 6% to 7% ABV. These can stand alone as dessert or pair with aged cheeses. Available on draft and in 12-oz. bottles, with some seasonal releases in large-format 750-ml. bottles.
Crispin Cider Co. (Minneapolis, MN)
Crispin’s latest release in the unfiltered Artisanal Reserve series is the Bohemian, a cloudy hard cider that blends higher-proof apple wine with pure apple juice, without added sugar or colorants. The straw-colored cider is fermented with Pilsner lager yeast for aromatics that evoke a crisp lager while offering the smooth fruitiness of a cider. It has a fast-cresting band of foam that settles quickly into medium carbonation, fresh apple fermented flavors, and 5.8% ABV. Its silky body makes a good foil to roasted chicken and other roast meats. Presented in 22-oz. bottles.
Ciderboys Cider Co. (Stevens Point, WI)
Apples and pineapples blend in Ciderboys Hula, one of several seasonal flavors introduced in the past year by the Ciderboys Cider Co. As the cider brand of the Stevens Point Brewery, Ciderboys is expanding distribution into 23 states, with a plain hard cider and seven flavored ciders including raspberry, strawberry, orange, peach and cinnamon. Available on draft and in 12-oz. bottles.
Eden Sparkling Dry Cider
Eden Ice Cider Co. (West Charleston, VT)
Eden Sparkling Dry Cider is the first traditional hard cider released by Eden Ice Cider Co. The golden sparkling dry is fermented from a blend of sharp and bittersweet apples, including traditional varieties such as Kingston Black, a classic British cider apple. The cider is fermented and aged in French oak barrels for a year, then bottled with a dosage of fresh apple juice for secondary fermentation. The natural carbonation is fine yet brisk, and plays up the balanced bitter sharpness and acidity. Pairs well with rind-washed cheeses and grilled vegetables. The finished cider has 8.5% ABV and is presented in 750-ml bottles.
Solstice Saffron Cider
Finnriver Farm & Cidery (Chimacum, WA)
Using fresh, house-pressed apples, Finnriver Farm & Cidery won 2015 Good Food Awards for its black-currant sparkling cider, a fruity, truly tart and not sugary artisan cider. The Elijah K. Swan Botanical Cider series represents another line of cidermaking experimentation with herbal flavors including rosehips and saffron. The 2015 Solstice Saffron Cider is a dry cider infused with earthy, warming saffron, made with a blend of heirloom and organic dessert apples such as Kingston Black, Granny Smith and Pink Lady. Finnriver also offers assorted flavored craft ciders, including a dry hopped cider that is aged with organic Cascades for a juicy, resinous edge to complement the mellow 6.5% ABV. Available in 22-oz. bottles.
Galician apples are featured in this organic Spanish sidra, or cider. Maeloc cider is made entirely from organic Galician apples from 1,000 local farmers. The heirloom Raxó, Príncipe, Rabiosa and Verdeñ varieties are grown according to Organic Agriculture rules in Galicia. Maeloc Dry is one of the several flavors available, and moderate at 4.2% ABV. Imported in 12-oz. bottles.
Sietsema is a decades-old family orchard transformed into a modern cidery by fourth-generation orchardist and cider maker Andy Sietsema. Sold in 750-ml. bottles and limited cans, the ciders are packaged according to age and sweetness. The Red Label is the sweetest and youngest blend of house-grown and pressed apples. Its flavor is balanced with hints of citrus such as Meyer lemon zest in the finish; the Orange Label is aged in oak bourbon barrels, with more complexity and developed flavors for cider aficionados. Sietsema’s ciders have won awards in the Great Lakes Cider Competition, and feature heirloom apples such as Cortland, Spitzenberg and Essex Pippin. Moderate at 6% to 6.8% ABV.
Anthem/Wandering Aengus Cider
James Kohn of Wandering Aengus Ciderworks uses commercial apples grown in Oregon and Washington. He crafts Anthem Cider from table/dessert apples such as Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Anthem Cider, noted for its dry hopping, is available primarily on draft and made in four flavors, original, cherry, pear and Cascade hops. Apple availability fluctuates seasonally and lends variations to Anthem’s flavor profile from batch to batch; Anthem ciders average 6.5% alcohol by volume.
By contrast, the Wandering Aengus line emphasizes heirloom and traditional cider apple varieties with more complexity and cost in blending and aging. The Wandering Aengus Golden Russet 2011 is both dry and fruit-forward, with all the rich honeyed flavors of the classic English Golden Russet apple, and higher gravity at about 9% ABV. Wandering Aengus ciders are available in 12 seasonal styles, both on draft and in bottles.
Lucy Saunders is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, WI, and author of five cookbooks, including Dinner In The Beer Garden.