Beer's New Competition
How do you like them apples?
Hard cider has become the fastest growing alcoholic beverage in America. According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, production has nearly tripled since 2011. All over the country, cider-focused pubs are popping up, pouring golden-hued pints from New York City to Portland, Oregon. There's never been a better time to drink the stuff.
Of course, this fall-friendly brew is anything but new. The English have been guzzling it since before the Romans invaded. The Pilgrims brought it to America and planted orchards in order to make more. Benjamin Franklin happily chugged it, George Washington made his own from apples he grew and Abraham Lincoln undoubtedly poured plenty at the tavern he owned before he was president.
Then Prohibition hit. And after a disastrous frost in the 1930s, bittersweet cider apples became the stuff of abandoned orchards and beer eventually rose to prominence. Until recently, quality hard cider was hard to find, but these days, affordable and tasty bottles and cans are popping up wherever apples are grown. Like their craft beer brethren, many of today's best cider-makers are mixing old and new techniques—barrel-aging it in whiskey casks and playing with fermentation to add new textures—resulting in unique and richly layered brews. The options are almost endless, so we happily tasted as many as we could get our hands on. From the traditionally sweet sparklers you can find at the supermarket to barrel-aged bottles fit for a beer snob, here are ten worth trying.
Where to Drink It
Four coast-to-coast spots that are serving hard cider up right.
New York, NY
New York's first dedicated cider bar offers an extensive selection of apple-based cocktails as well as 90+ ciders on draught and by-the-bottle.
San Francisco, CA
This second-story gastropub offers a vast menu of ciders from eight countries, along with beer, wine and some rustic pub eats.
Portland's newest cider house has just opened in the city's Pearl District, and offers 24 taps of draft hard cider along with a wide-range of bottled options.
The crew behind the popular Windy City beer bar The Fountainhead had this cider pub in the works for years and are putting the finishing touches on the place now.
10 Worth Trying
Woodchuck Private Reserve
Part of the well-known craft cider's "Private Reserve" line, the Barrel Select is aged for six months in genuine white oak Kentucky Bourbon barrels. This imparts a long finish with gentle notes of smoke, vanilla and whiskey over a crisp apple backdrop.
$10.99 at Binny's
Introduced in 2012, this amber-hued cider from the makers of Samuel Adams has gone from newcomer to undisputed top dog, bagging 57 percent of the American cider market with its aromatic burst of sweetness and refreshing, thirst-quenching finish.
$10.99 at Mel & Rose
Crispin's effervescent "Browns Lane" is named for the original Jaguar car factory in England. Which makes sense since this is a traditional British-style dry cider. Made from specially-grown cider apples, it has an earthy tang and a woody, slightly bittersweet finish.
$7.99 at Binny's
Scrumpy is actually a slang term for a style of cider that's always been popular on the farms of southern England. Jim Koan makes his much the same way as his grandfather did in the 1850s—using apples he grows himself and fermenting the cider right on the farm.
$5.69 at Binny's
Perhaps the quintessential hard cider, this old fashioned semi-dry cider has just the right amount of effervescence and fresh fruit flavors to balance the acidity with the sweetness. A punch of juicy green apples is toned down with a subtle, spiced honey finish.
$4 at Warwick Valley
Fans of bitter or sour beers will appreciate this slightly funky sparkler. Made from a blend of scrappy Texas and Arkansas-grown apples and then barrel-aged in a mix of French and American oak, the bone-dry cider cuts the floral fruit flavors with a layered earthiness.
$20.99 at West Lakeview Liquors
This dry cider from one of America's most pioneering cider producers has a good balance of subtle honey sweetness and a complex earthiness that's accented with the sharp, tart acidity of biting into a fresh apple's skin.
$19.99 at Wine Wise
Labeled as a "Modern American Cider," this Massachusetts-made bottle combines sparkling wine yeast with New England apples to provide solid apple flavor with jabs of floral honey and caramel without being overly sweet.
$12.99 at Castle Wine & Spirits
This crowdpleaser works well for beer lovers who aren't into overly sweet ciders. Crafted from a blend of Washington apples mixed with raw Mexican brown sugar and a yeast used to make Saison-style beers, the result is a richly complex brew with a subtle sweetness beneath the crisp, semi-dry apple base.
$5.49 at More Wines
In the Normandy region of France, farmers traditionally pressed apples through straw, then fermented the juice with wild yeast in old wine barrels. Percheron is made in this old world French style, resulting in a cider that's earthy with a slight citrusy tartness and a fizzy, champagne-like finish.
$9.99 at K&L Wines