I’m about to impart a startling truth, a truth that will have some folks’ mouths agape and others shouting, “Amen!” You ready? Here it is: Not everyone likes beer.
I know, right? You thought you were the only one, sitting at the edge of the crowd, quietly sipping your alternative beverage and hoping no one notices. As a matter of fact, what are you drinking? Chances are, it’s hard cider.
A Few More Facts
Hard cider, in various forms, has been around since at least Medieval times; it was brought to England by the Norman Conquest in 1066. In Colonial America, it was often the preferred choice of beverage with meals. Hard cider is still wildly popular in England, Ireland, and Europe.
The beverage itself is more like wine than beer, though it is usually slightly carbonated. Color can range from almost clear to dark amber. Almost all hard cider is also perfect if you want to treat yourself when you are gluten-free.
And since we’re talking facts, it would be worth it to mention that not all hard cider is made from apples; some of my favorites are made from pears and are referred to as “perries.” There’s also cider’s kissing cousin, cyser, which is made of apples fermented with honey to create a beverage that’s at once both cider and mead.
Let’s Talk Taste
An apple’s an apple, right? And hard cider is made from apples. So they all taste the same, right? Yes and no. Just as different varieties of apples taste different from each other — some are sweet, some are tart, and others are crisp and refreshing — so do hard ciders. Variety in the brewing process and other ingredients used (spices, flavorings, other fruits) will also change the flavor, sweetness, and effervescence from cider to cider.
To illustrate this principle, I gathered a variety of hard ciders along with two other willing taste testers. We carefully considered each beverage and categorized it according to how and where we would drink it. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Below you’ll find our recommendations on what — and what not — to drink.
Good on a Summer Day
One of our favorite ciders was Fox Barrel Pacific Pear Cider. It’s light, dry, and refreshing and finishes like a sparkling wine. It would be perfect to sip while relaxing in your backyard hammock or while chatting up friends at a social event. It would even do well as a substitute for white wine in a fruity sangria at your next party.
Also recommended: ACE Premium Hard Ciders.
Not recommended: Harpoon. This was like the light beer of ciders and reminded us of apple-flavored seltzer water.
Best at a Cookout
Hornsby’s doesn’t have the greatest aroma, but it certainly packs on the taste. This fresh and flavorful cider is pleasant and sweet with hints of honey, and it was a surprise favorite of our tasting panel. Take it to your next barbecue or tailgater and enjoy it with some good ol’ American fare.
Best with Asian Food
Why, yes, you can pair hard cider with that chicken and broccoli dish. Angry Orchard Apple Ginger has a tart and tangy flavor that finishes with hints of ginger; one of my taste testers compared it to Chinese beer. Next time you dine at your favorite BYOB Asian restaurant, pack some of this in your bag.
Best Craft Brewed
One of our top picks — and hands-down my favorite — was Crispin Original. Dry and fizzy with the essence of green apple, this cider is light and flavorful and also has the best scent of all the beverages we sampled. I would happily drink this at the bar or any social event.
Also recommended: Original Sin Pear.
So next time you’re out in a crowd, stand proud and tall, fellow cider drinker. And raise your glass high.
Photo credits: expressiveDan0724, author, Phoebe Canakis, and Phoebe Canakis.