hard ciders photo by carmen troesser

12 hard ciders to try this fall

Hard cider isn’t just sugar-spiked party juice. It’s historical and as intentional as it is complex. And it might just give you the perfect pairing for your next adventure, food or otherwise.

“There are so many new options in the adult beverage category. I like to think that cider fits in as an elevated, easy-drinking offering,” said Judson Ball, co-founder of Columbia’s Waves Cider Co. Waves’ cider has similar flavors and nuances as a pinot grigio or chardonnay might have, according to Ball. “It is a perfect beverage for wine lovers that are looking for something a little lighter to have with a meal or while enjoying any outdoor activity.”

Here in the U.S., it is a steadfast misconception that hard cider lacks complexity and is often cloyingly sweet. A valid perspective, when you consider that until recently American cider producers showed less of a dedication to the delicate nature of the fruit, instead relying on sweet juice’s appeal to drive sales.

This, of course, has everything to do with the recent market domination of large-scale cider producers like Crispin and Angry Orchard. Not wrong, just not full picture.

American hard cider producers are fighting this tendency by reintegrating non-sugar laden, Old World cider character into their repertoire. Brands like Waves, as well as others such as Seattle Cider Co., Stem Ciders out of Denver and St. Louis’ Brick River Cider are showcasing that cider is just as tied to the land as wine with respect to terroir and apple varietal, while also showcasing cider as a vehicle for food-pairing experiences – something Spanish sidra long pourers, French orchardists and English dry cider imbibers have known for centuries.

European cider culture is often as tied to family as it is connected to land – much like wine – and as orchards are handed down from generation to generation, so are the recipes and production akin to the orchard. Regions like Suffolk, England, Normandy, France and Asturias, Spain not only grow superb apples but also excel in cider production and integrate their cider ingenuity with local drinking culture. English ciders are often dry, filtered and found in pubs all over the country. French cider tends to be a touch sweeter with tasting notes much more like the fruit used, while Spanish cider resembles the countryside orchards are a part.

In fact, Spanish cider is one of the finest examples of how place impacts flavor profile. Situated on Spain’s northern coast, Asturias (like Basque Country to the east) is a very wet apple-growing region that produces some of the world’s best, most complex adult apple juice. Asturian sidra is made from locally grown apples and is fermented for several months in large oak barrels with the apple’s natural yeast and sugar content. The finished product is served still like wine, is often briny like the sea air, funky and tart from the wild yeast, cloudy from apple sediment, and long poured a few ounces at a time to encourage a natural effervescence and full sensory experience with each swallow.

In the U.S., hard cider is less reliant on orchard-specific producers and is more the result of cideries and breweries sourcing out partnerships with local and regional apple growers. Of course, there are exceptions to this, specifically in high producing apple growing regions like New York, Michigan and Illinois. Eckert’s, which operates farms and orchards in Illinois as well as Kentucky, has recently launched Cider Works, their own hard cider line using apples and other fruit from their farms. While their production space is in development, they’re currently fermenting and packaging their product at Brick River Cider in St. Louis while they wait for their cidery to come online.

Cider creation is an art, and while any apple can be pressed into juice, high quality cider apples possess high levels of tannins (the same compounds found in grape skins and oak barrels), acid and or fermentable sugar content. And, while you would be hard-pressed (pun intended!) to find a Foxwhelp, Wickson Crab or Frequin Rouge on the grocery store shelf next to a Pink Lady or Honey Crisp, these apples’ astringency and bitterness provide a gorgeous template for hard cider flavor profiles to stand upon. Whether a cider maker is showcasing one apple or a blend of several, the goal is always to garner a balance between acid-driven tartness, tannin-produced astringency, and desired sweetness.

Cider may be an old beverage, but new trends and innovative products are hitting the market – see, for example, a reduced-calorie apple beverage with Pilsner-like characteristics. According to Seattle Cider Co.’s Maura Hardman and Scott Katsma, this highly carbonated, crushable hard cider style is meant to bridge workday and outdoor play in an equally reliable manner as the trustworthy American light lager. Stem Cider is also toying around with a reduced-calorie cider intended to entice hard seltzer drinkers, and while local cider producers have yet to jump on this new trend, it sure is fun to see how the cider segment has grown, and where it looks to be going, both locally and nationally.

Almost no remaining residual sugar and no perceived sweetness.

• ANXO District Dry
Slight barnyard, vibrant lemony acid, unfiltered

• Seattle Cider Co. Light Cider
Golden Delicious, Champagne-like effervescence, bright

• Stem Ciders A Salted Cucumber
Cucumber flesh, balancing acid, subtle briny underlay

Despite low levels of sweetness, cider is still perceived as dry.

• Waves Cider Co. Foeder Blend
Distinguished, oaky vanilla, underlying acid

• Trabanco Sidra Natural
Vibrantly tart and funky apple, salt water, still

• Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. Bushelhead
Alcohol warmth, baked apples, tannic

• Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie
Bleu cheese funk, wild honey, green apple skin.

Around 2-4% residual sugar in final product.

•Schlafly Classic Proper Cider
Ripe apple, crisp texture, balanced sweetness

• Original Sin Black Widow
Lush blackberry, Granny Smith apple tartness, thirst-quenching

• Aspall Perronelles Blush
Juicy apple, earthy raspberry, clean

Perceived sweetness is the primary standout characteristic.

• Eckert’s Cider Works Well Red
Delicate, strawberries and cream, soft effervescence

• Brick River Cider Co. Sweet Lou’s
Succulent apple, blueberry skin astringency, fragrant lavender

Get It
Brick River Cider Co. 2000 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.224.5046, brickrivercider.com

Eckert’s Farm & Cider Shed 951 Green Mountain Road, Belleville, 618.310.2759, eckerts.com

Schlafly various locations, schlafly.com

Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. 4465 Manchester Ave., St. Louis; 3229 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.222.0143, urbanchestnut.com

Waves Cider Co. 604 Nebraska Ave., Columbia, wavescider.com

Tags : Places, Beer