Gone are the days of only being able to find Angry Orchard hard cider in some liquor stores across the country. Cider has become wildly popular in the last five years and for good reason. It somehow manages to appeal to both wine drinkers and beer lovers equally, which is no easy feat, and brings all the warm and cozy (yet crisp and bubbly) feels to any occasion. Plus, it’s gluten-free. But as cider becomes readily available, the beverage market has become saturated with options ranging from unfiltered to filtered, fruity blends like blackberry and pineapple, and cans that hail from upstate New York, Boston, Austin, and Washington State. We tapped into the Food52 staff—and a few beverage experts—to get their take on the best hard ciders.
1. Aval Cider
“Aval Cider is my go to—it is crisp and citrusy, not too sweet, and I love that they use a natural fermentation process. The bottles also look quite chic on a bar cart.” —Shannon Muldoon, Director of Studio52
2. The Cider Mill
“My answer is obnoxious, in the same way it’s obnoxious when someone asks you where your outfit is from and you say ‘oh this? Just a little boutique in Kyoto.’ Which is to say, it is wonderful and not as easy to get your hands on as meandering to your local grocery store. The best cider I have ever had is from The Cider Mill in the Boyne Valley in Ireland, where they believe in the traditional cidering practice known as keeving, essentially the art of making a cider with residual ciders. The Cider Mill’s cockagee cider is crisp, dry, and delicious, and I would gladly trade my glass of white wine for it any day. They also have an excellent pear cider, or Perry, so good that I devoted precious suitcase space to taking home two bottles the last time I was in Ireland.” —Margaret Eby, Editorial Lead
3. Albemarle Ciderworks
“Albemarle Ciderworks is known for working with our state universities to bring back heirloom apples from the time of Jefferson and Washington and then making cider that is reminiscent of the period.” —Jeremy Beker, Principal Software Engineer
4. Hudson Valley Traditional Farmhouse Cider
“Expect sparkling cider with a clean finish that comes in 750ml flip top bottles, providing a “pop” every time you open it to ring in good cheers! This semi-dry showcases local New York terroir as it dances in the mouth with a touch of tannin and Stone Ridge Farm apple love!” —Ria Windcaller, Host of Cider Chat podcast
5. Shacksbury Cider
“Their “Lost Apple Project” ciders are really unique, and with perfectly balanced flavors while they juggle fruit flavors that haven’t ever been seen on a commercial market! I can’t imagine the work that goes into developing those.” —Kaleigh Embree, Customer Care Specialist
6. Graft Cider
“As a big fan of Moscow Mules and ginger flavors, I particularly love Birds of Paradise. It’s incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and tasty!” —Nicole Cukingnan, Manager, Video Distribution
7. Stella Artois Cidre
“I’m going to go really basic and say I really like Stella Cidre. It’s a great blend of flavor and dryness that I enjoy in a cider. And it’s also really accessible.” —Brian Mahoney, Director of People Operations
8. Downeast Cider Original Blend
“This unfiltered cider is sweet and spicy, but in a way that makes you think of a really delicious apple pie and not an overly sweet box of apple juice for children. Unlike filtered ciders, this hazy one doesn’t have a crisp pale yellow color but it’s still super refreshing.” —Kelly Vaughan, Staff Writer
9. Okanagan Cider
“My first and greatest cider love will always be Okanagan cider. I’ve never had a cider I loved more than their ginger apple cider, and it’s the most refreshing in the autumn when all the spiced flavors are out and about!” —Kaleigh Embree, Customer Care Specialist
10. Atlanta Hard Cider
“Cider has gained some great popularity in Atlanta for over 10 years now and Atlanta Cider has been representing the city on multiple accounts. With name and energy on the can, it’s sharp, clean, and full of flavor.” —Tiffanie Barriere, mixologist
11. Cider Creek Winter’s Cinn
“If you’re like ‘give me a slice of apple pie, but with alllllll the spices,’ then this cider is for you. There’s definitely cinnamon and a secret blend of other fantastic warm spices that will give you all the cozy feels. Go crazy and drink it in a mug! Who am I to judge?” —Kelly Vaughan, Staff Writer
Michelle McGrath, Executive Director of American Cider Association, likes to pair vegetarian chili with a barrel-aged cider for cold nights. The cider gains smoky, toasty notes when aged in a barrel that was once used for everything from bourbon and whiskey to rum and tequila. “Cider with barrel character should bring enough oomph and mouthfeel to keep even a spicy rich chili in perfect balance,” she says.
Pair meaty, umami-rich mushrooms with tannic ciders. “The key is to choose a cider that matches the intensity of these golden beauties with its own delectable scent and a sturdy tannic backbone,” says McGrath.
“I can’t think of anything more mouthwateringly autumnal than roasted butternut squash, and it pairs ideally with a sharply acid-driven cider. You can use cider’s tartness as a refreshing counterbalance to butternut’s sweet richness,” McGrath explains. She recommends choosing a cider made with heirloom apples from the northeast region for the best flavor.
Cider experts agree that one of the best foods to pair with cider is barbecue. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and burnt ends are all fair game. “Cider brings out the smoky flavor of barbecue meats,” says Eric Young, Director of Operations for Citizen Cider.
There may be zero science behind this but I personally love to drink hard cider with Thai, Chinese, and Japanese dishes like Pad See Ew in a rich brown sauce, pork buns, pork ramen, soup dumplings…shall I go on? Whether you order takeout or make your own Chinese-American-style stir-fry at home, I find that a slightly tart, effervescent cider works so well with a variety of cuisines, and particularly with soy sauce.
What’s your favorite brand of hard cider? Let us know in the comments below!