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When beer or wine just won’t do it, the delicious, fruit-based beverage that is hard cider makes a great alternative. From sipping with sweet brunch favorites to enjoying with fried snacks at happy hour, ciders are some of the most versatile drinks out there.
Contrary to popular belief, ciders don’t come in a one-size-fits-all model, either. Whether you prefer something bone dry, semi-sweet, or somewhere in between, there’s a cider for every palate. Here are the best hard ciders for year-round sipping. Grab a snack, pop a top and get ready for some lip-smacking hard ciders.
Best Overall: Woodchuck Amber
Region: Vermont | ABV: 5% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Crisp, Sweet
Vermont’s Woodchuck Hard Cider is one of the originators of the category here in the US, and is celebrating 30 years of making cider this year. The amber is the flagship cider from Woodchuck and the one that started it all.
“It’s crisp and fresh,” says Lonnie Sepe of Sunshine Day Bar in Florida. “It’s easy to drink and enjoy and mix other cocktails with. Definitely my favorite in the cider category!”
Adriane G. of Postino’s Annex in Tempe, Ariz., is also a fan, declaring it “a cider for everybody. Crisp, clean, and not too sweet."
Best Dry: Golden State Mighty Dry Cider
Region: California | ABV: 6.3% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, Tart, Crisp
This bone dry cider is produced from 100 percent fresh-pressed apples in the heart of Sonoma. Almost Champagne-like, this juice is perfect for drinking at any time of day. Golden State Cider adds apple juice to this cider, bringing weight and succulence to the beverage. Serve with weekend brunch favorites, salty tortilla chips or tempura-fried veggies for a unique pairing.
Related: The Best Beers
Best Sweet: Blake’s Triple Jam
Region: Michigan | ABV: 6.5% | Tasting Notes: Strawberry, Blackberry, Raspberry
Blake’s Triple Jam is a blend of three different berries grown on the Michigan farm where the cider is made—strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
It’s sweet but not overly so, and combines aromatic and fresh berry flavors. “I love the unique flavor selection,” says Sepe. “Triple Jam is super delicious!"
Best Rosé Cider: Wölffer No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider
Region: New York | ABV: 6.9% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Dry, Crisp
This iconic rosé cider is produced in New York’s South Fork region (Bridgehampton, specifically). The pink-hued version of Wölffer’s cider is slightly sweeter than the white bottling, as a small amount of red grape skin extract is added (fitting, as Wölffer is best known for its still wine production). Serve with fried appetizers or a hearty cheese board for a stunning happy hour at home.
Related: The Best Rosé Wines
Best Pear Cider: Rekorderlig Pear Cider
Region: Sweden | ABV: 4.5% | Tasting Notes: Pear, Sweet, Fruity
This tart and tasty pear cider is produced in Sweden from 100 percent European pears. The resulting drink is refreshing, palate-coating and downright delicious.
Sip with seasonal salads or slightly spicy takeout favorites. Note that Rekorderlig also produces other fruit-based ciders, including Strawberry Lime, Passionfruit and Mango Raspberry.
Best Craft: Schilling Excelsior Imperial Apple
Region: Washington | ABV: 8.5% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Crisp, Tannic
Schilling is a craft cidery located in Seattle, Washington. Excelsior is a higher-ABV cider clocking in at 8.5% ABV, which amplifies both the alcohol content and the flavor.
“This cider packs a punch with a higher ABV,” says G. ”I prefer Exelsior when I am in the mood for a big, bold cider flavor.” That flavor comes from the use of local apples and cider fruit from France and the UK.
Best Low-Sugar: Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider
Region: UK | ABV: 5% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Dry, Tart
This bright and balanced cider is produced in the U.K. and boasts just 9 grams of sugar. Refreshing, festive and certified organic, Samuel Smith’s Cider is perfect for sipping after a long day at work or at the park on a sunny weekend. Enjoy this bottle with a variety of snacks, from potato chips to popcorn to dried apple chips.
Related: The Best Nonalcoholic Beers
Most Accessible: Angry Orchard Hard Cider
Region: New York | ABV: 5% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Crisp, Bright
Whether at your local grocery store or corner bar, one thing’s for sure—a six-pack (or hefty pour) of Angry Orchard is most likely to be found. Produced in Walden, N.Y., this cider is like biting into a freshly picked apple: it’s crisp, vibrant, and it keeps your palate salivating for more.
“It’s a classic apple cider, and tastes great from the tap,” says Sepe. Sip with aged gouda, brie or sharp cheddar cheeses. "Cheese plates are great [with cider], especially the soft ones like brie," says Berrigan. "A curveball [pairing] would be a jalapeño popper plate."
Best Spiced Cider: Austin Eastciders Spiced Cider
Region: Texas | ABV: 5% | Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, Apple, Allspice
Nothing screams fall like a delicious hard spiced cider. Produced in the heart of Texas, Austin Eastciders' seasonal cider is made from European bittersweet apples, American dessert apples and a seven-spice mixture. Savory flavors of cinnamon, crisp apple and allspice dominate this delicious drink’s palate. Serve with Indian takeout favorites, roasted root veggies or carrot cake for a delectable pairing.
Best Basque Cider: Byhur Basque Sparkling Hard Cider
Region: Spain | ABV: NA | Tasting Notes: Floral, dry, apple
This Basque cider is made using traditional Champagne methods, which is relatively uncommon in the cider world. It is dry with a nice fizz and aged for 12 months in the ‘Cava Tolare’ cellar.
Definitely give this one a try if you’ve only explored the world of American cider to see how different it can be from this part of the world, which has a long history of cider production.
Related: The Best Sparkling Wines
Woodchuck Amber (view at Drizly) is the best cider to try, especially for those new to the category. It’s easy to find, inexpensive, and presents a good example of American hard cider. You can also use it to whip up some cider-based cocktails if you are so inclined.
What To Look For
One of the main things to decide when looking for a hard cider to drink is how sweet you like it. Different ciders run the gamut from extra dry to super-sweet, and this information can usually be found on the brand’s website. While ABV generally hovers around 5%, there are ciders that range higher than that, something else to be aware of. Finally, while traditional apple hard cider is great, you can also find berry and pear ciders that you might enjoy as well.
How is hard cider made?
Hard cider is made using methods that are similar to wine. Apples are pressed to release their juice, which is then combined with yeast and allowed to ferment creating alcohol. Sometimes the cider is barrel aged before bottling. For carbonation, sugar can be added to the bottle to kickstart the process, but frequently bubbles are added to the cider using a carbonation system.
Is it just alcoholic cider?
Essentially, yes, but the main difference is that hard cider has been fermented which creates alcohol. It’s also usually filtered, so it doesn’t have the same dark color and mouthfeel as regular cider.
Does it have the same alcohol content as beer?
Just like beer, the ABV of cider varies. But generally, cider will have a slightly lower ABV than beer—with exceptions to this rule, of course.
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).
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