Cider is the latest apple of the drinker’s eye
Shacksbury Dry and Semi-Dry Cider from Vermont
At the word “cider,” most people think of that sticky-sweet, headache-inducing stuff for the fashionably gluten-free person in your life. But quality ciders that drink more like wine than boozy apple juice are making a name for themselves. A recent influx of products into Oklahoma means you, too, can get on the apple wagon. The ciders below are standouts because they’re made from good quality fruit—not concentrate—and have far fewer or zero chemical and preservative additives than ciders like Angry Orchard, Strongbow, and Woodchuck. Most of these ciders benefit by being poured a few ounces at a time into a wine glass or something smaller than a pint glass.
Cider, like beer or wine, comes in many styles and is mostly designated by location of origin and apple variety.
The U.S. East Coast is the epicenter of the cider boom. Dozens of cideries have opened in the last decade and in the last two years, a couple of dedicated cider bars, like Wassail in NYC and ANXO in D.C. have opened. East Coast cider marks a return to heirloom apples with funny-sounding names like Ashmead’s Kernel, Belle de Boskoop, and Northern Spy. These ciders are more wine-like complexity because they’re made from apples that have more tannin and acidity than those you find in the grocery store.
Buy: Shacksbury Lost Apple
Lost Apple is the jewel of Shacksbury’s cider line and a perfect example of old-school East Coast cider. It’s made from foraged apples and fermented by yeast that occurs naturally on apple skins. Complex, earthy, and dry with a whisper of herbs.
Buy: Shacksbury Dry and Semi-Dry
These fun cans of dry and slightly sweet cider are made from a blend of tannic, tart, and sweet heirloom apples purchased from sustainably farmed orchards and fermented using a mixed house-cultured yeast (as opposed to a lab-synthesized yeast you can purchase from a catalog). These are a perfect introduction to the world of well-made cider, good for cocktails or sipping. Both are crisp and juicy and besides a very tiny amount of sulfites (all alcohol has naturally occurring sulfites!), nothing is added besides apples.
The cider boom is not as strong on the west coast, but that’s tied up in the history of industrial farming. Most apple farms in California, Oregon, and Washington grow sweet apples, which don’t make very good cider but sell well in supermarkets. A few producers, however, have set themselves apart.
Buy: Bonny Doon, Querry?
This mixed-fruit cider from Bonny Doon includes tannic quince fruit, floral pears, and then apples to fill out the blend. The addition of quince is a clever way to add texture and complexity to the cider, plus a hint of licorice. Querry? is a bit sweeter than other ciders.
Buy: Scar of the Sea, California Hard Cider
Like Bonny Doon, Scar of the Sea is both a winery and cidery in California. They use almost exclusively cider apples (high in texture-giving tannin and acidity) and ferment in oak barrels with naturally occurring yeasts. It’s clean, crisp, smooth, and super food-friendly. Pair this cider with a cheese plate or make like the French and drink it with crepes for breakfast.
Spanish cider sits squarely in the funk camp. It tastes more like kombucha or sour beer than it does other ciders. The cause for the refreshing, almost vinegary funk is twofold: first, native Spanish apples have less sugar and are more bitter and acidic than most other apples. Second, wild fermentation means no yeasts are added. Spanish cider is still, too, but it’s usually served in 3-4 ounce servings and poured from several feet above the glass. While this practice can be messy if you’re not a seasoned pro, it gives the cider a little shake and sparkle. If you’re curious about Spanish ciders go try a glass at Torero and maybe they’ll even do a traditional high pour if you ask nicely.
Buy: Shacksbury Basque Cider or Isastegi Sagardo Naturala Cider
There’s a non-traditional style of cider that toes the line between cider and beer. Some are fermented using saison yeasts, some are hopped, and some are can-conditioned. These ciders are almost exclusively made in climates that aren’t hospitable to high-quality cider apples, so techniques like adding hops or using different yeasts can add complexity where it might not have been otherwise.
Buy: Tin City Hopped Cider, Scar of the Sea Hopped Cider, or Austin Eastciders Texas Honey Cider