There was a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—when Woodchuck was the only “hard cider” you’d find in bars or grocery stores. That time is long gone. In just the last half decade, the market for hard cider has ballooned into a nearly billion-dollar business, and the number of offerings you’ll encounter on tap and in stores has exploded as brewers rush to get in on the cider craze.
While many are great, there are lots of bad apples in the bunch. So which ones are worth picking? Meredith Jones, a beer expert and manager of The Greeks Next Door in Narberth, Pa., which stocks more than 950 domestic and imported brews, weighs in on the best of the best.
SAMUEL SMITH ORGANIC CIDER
North Yorkshire, England
5% ABV, samuelsmithsbrewery.co.uk
The simple ingredients and traditional brewing process really shine through in this cider. “It’s not as dry as most English ciders, and it perfectly straddles the line between sweet and tart,” Jones says. “This is as crisp and refreshing as cider gets.”
ANGRY ORCHARD “HOP’N MAD”
5% ABV, angryorchard.com
Jones says Hop’n Mad is brewed using a mix of Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala, and Pink Lady apples, and is “dry hopped”—the brewing term for adding hops after fermentation to boost aroma. “The hops used in this cider do just that, melding beautifully with the fruity apple fragrance,” she says. This one is definitely on the sweet and fruity side.
SPIRE MOUNTAIN “DARK & DRY”
5% ABV, spiremountaincider.com
Without relying too heavily on spice, this cider carries hints of molasses and caramel, and an aroma reminiscent of a port wine, Jones says. “This cider is very unique in its depth and dark rich color.”
DUPONT CIDRE RESERVE
Pays d’Auge, France
7.5% ABV, calvados-dupont.com
Less fruit forward and sweet than most ciders, this brew is aged six months in oak casks that previously held calvados—a kind of apple brandy. If you’re a fan of dry white wines, you’ll dig this cider.
WYNDRIDGE “CRAFTY CRANBERRY” CIDER
5.5% ABV, wyndridge.com
Jones says Wyndridge creates ciders inspired by the French tradition, “so they are tart, dry, and have a bubbly champagne-like quality.” This brew is infused with fresh cranberry juice and a hint of natural sweetener for a puckering bite.
5.8% ABV, crispincider.com
While it’s widely available “original” cider is underwhelming, this brew is worth your time. Sweet and tart, but with some earthy complexity, the “bohemian” is a smooth, easy-drinking offering.
DOC’S DRAFT PUMPKIN HARD CIDER
5% ABV, wvwinery.com
Unlike many pumpkin-flavored brews, the spice in this cider is subtle and balanced, with just a whisper of pumpkin, Jones says. If you can’t track down this seasonal cider, Jones says all of Doc’s offerings are excellent.
MILLSTONE CELLARS “FARMGATE”
8% ABV, millstonecellars.com
Moderately carbonated and light, the brew is also tart and apple-forward. You probably won’t want to drink more than one or two in a sitting, but it’s a great sipper if you’re having cheese and cured meats.
VIRTUE “THE MITTEN”
6.9% ABV, virtuecider.com
An old school, “Colonial American-style” cider, this brew is crisp and semi-sweet, but not cloying. It’s good enough to sip on its own, but pairs well with ham and bacon dishes.