The Rise of Cider

Woodchuck Granny Smith, courtesy Kevin Gibson
Woodchuck Granny Smith, courtesy Kevin Gibson

I had my first taste of hard cider about 15 years ago when my friend Greg introduced me to it. We were at an Irish pub, and when Greg ordered two pints, the bartender – in his thick Irish accent – exclaimed, “This is like rocket fuel, mate. It’ll blow your [freaking] head off!”

I had three of them that night, and I’ll say this much: Never mix hard cider with tequila.

That aside, along with the craft beer movement that is sweeping the U.S., cider is also enjoying an uprising; cideries and meaderies are popping up alongside microbreweries, creating new versions of an old favorite. And now autumn is here, a time when cider is on the minds (and in the mouths) of many.

As such, I decided to try a few current versions of cider - stuff you can find at your local pub or your local liquor store – and give my mouth a tour. Here’s what I found:

New Day Meadery South Cider (7.0% ABV): This cider, made in Indianapolis, Ind., interacts with the palate like a white wine – a Riesling, perhaps. It has an interesting finish, leaving a creamy feeling even though the cider itself is crisp and sparkling. It offers hints of honey, but it’s semi-sweet. Recommended, if you’re in the Midwest and can find it.

New Day Cider, courtesy Kevin Gibson
New Day Cider, courtesy Kevin Gibson

Wyder’s Dry Pear Cider (4.0% ABV): This pear cider, from Canada’s own Wyder’s, is almost completely clear – in fact, it looks a bit like ginger ale. It’s crisp, moderately carbonated, and features a subtle fruit flavor. It leaves a clean, dry mouthfeel, and at just 4 percent alcohol by volume, you can have more than one. (Just don’t pair it with tequila.)

Angry Orchard Crisp Cider (5% ABV): Well, “crisp” is certainly the appropriate name for this, one of the Sam Adams brand’s forays into cider. This is a pretty middle-of-the-road specimen, with a pleasant, fruity finish and a bit of a sticky mouthfeel. Like apple pie. There is just a hint of dryness here.

Magners Irish Cider (4.5% ABV): I first had Magners while in Ireland a few years ago, and noted how much better it was (at least to my palate) than most of the sweeter ciders I’d come across in the U.S. Now, Magners is everywhere – especially if you frequent Irish pubs, like I do. It’s a pretty basic version of hard cider, with a brilliant orange color, a fruity nose and a lighter flavor than you’d expect. It’s neither too tart nor too sweet, and it seems to evaporate on the palate quickly. It’s crisp and sessionable so, hey, have another.

Cider Boys Cranberry Road (5.0% ABV): I expected a dessert cider out of this one from Wisconsin, but it wasn’t as sweet as I anticipated. The cranberry flavor bursts through nicely both on the nose and the palate, and it has a tart finish with just a bit of bite at the end. This was one of the more interesting ciders I tried.

Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider (5% ABV): This is another of those ciders that suddenly is everywhere, and it’s a great intro to the genre. It’s fruity, has plenty of apple flavor (they don’t all taste like apples), medium bodied and tart. Not exactly rocket fuel, but at 5%, it’ll get the job done.

Wyder's Cider, courtesy Kevin Gibson
Wyder's Cider, courtesy Kevin Gibson

Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider (5%): I had to test out a classic, and it was also one of the winners at the New York International Beer Competition this year. Made with a different type of apples than most ciders, obviously, it has a bit of a different character. It is sweet and tart on the nose, begins tart on the palate, and then the sweetness takes over. After a few drinks, you’ll swear you’re drinking liquid candy. My bitter-oriented palate couldn’t get through a whole one, but this would be great for those looking for something with a sweeter flavor profile.

Redd’s Apple Ale (5% ABV): This is what happens when cider makers prove there is profit to be made from alcohol that sort of tastes like apples. I actually included this one as a bit of a joke as, apparently, this is an attempt by MillerCoors at making a hybrid cider-meets-ale. It ends up tasting like one of those fruity malt beverages – or alcopops – college kids drink. (Oh, and when I checked the website to get the ABV, I learned that Redd’s is “5% alcohol by volume, and 100% awesome by volume.”) In short, serve this at your next frat party.