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The Hard Cider Story

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Hard cider comes in apple or pear, is sweet or tart, carbonated or still, filtered or unfiltered, and was the drink of choice for America's founding generations. Photo by Tracy Grant.

Refreshing fruit with beer-level alcohol “ta boot.”

In between the Anheuser-Busch and Coors taps, draft apple cider and pear cider started appearing at bars in the mid-‘90s.

These days, it’s normal to find one tap handle in most bars dedicated to some brand or another of hard cider, likely one of the two largest producers: the Vermont-made Woodchuck Draft Cider, or Wyder’s — originally of Canadian origin, which is prevalent on the west coast.

But sometimes the ciders between the Budweiser and Coors Light are made by local or regional cideries or wineries, and those are the small-batch artisan hard ciders you will find listed here on cherry wine dot com.

These are the hard-to-find ciders handcrafted by award-winning winemakers and by farmers using fresh apples from their own orchards.

This video, put together by the Virginia Farm Bureau, spells out exactly the kind of ciders you can find by searching our database:

Shop right here for boutique, handcrafted hard ciders and order them directly from the producers.

Who Drinks Cider?

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Fans of craft beer are giving boutique hard cider makers lots of business. Photo by Edible Grande Traverse.

Hard cider is not big and “corporate” enough to be “branded” like beers are. One craft cider or another is not “meant” for any particular type of drinker, lifestyle, ethnicity or gender. Apples are not controversial or niche. They are loved by just about everyone and so is autumn apple cider. Chances are, if you like apples and cider, you will probably like hard apple cider.

When the first pear and apple hard ciders first became commercially available in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, bar owners believed that they would be great beer alternatives for women who wanted to enjoy a pint or two, but who don’t care much for beer.

The hard ciders were classed with other so-called “malternatives” like wine coolers, Zima and more recently, Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Now, 20 years later, experienced barkeeps will tell you that as male and female bar-goers developed an appreciation for craft beers, more of these adventurous and demanding beer lovers acquired an equal appreciation for craft ciders made by professional-level winemakers and master brewers.

But the truest answer to this question is that anybody who likes apples and pears should try hard ciders.

There’s quite a range…and one style or another might turn out to be a great discovery for you.

What Are Hard Ciders Like?

Besides being generally delicious, thirst quenching and reminiscent of the fruit from which they’re made, ciders vary, and quite a bit.

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Hard cider made from pears is often called "perry," and is a revitalized American tradition inherited from French and English immigrants from back in the 1600s. Photo by Edible Grande Traverse.

For example…

Apples or Pears?

Some hard ciders are brewed from apples, others from pears — known as “perry.”

What kind of apples (or pears)?

Some hard apple ciders are made from one or several kinds of heirloom cider apples that are otherwise noncommercial, but the tough skins of which provide cider makers with great tannin and acid content. Other cideries use popular apples like Granny Smiths. And of course some ciders will always be unique blends within and between the two categories of apples.

Sweet vs. Tart

Some hard ciders are a touch sweet — like regular cider is. Others are dry versions that are less fruity, rather sharp and crisp. And lots of hard ciders, of course, fall in the middle, striking a balance between sweetness and acidity.

Fizzy or not fizzy?

Some are carbonated. Some are just lightly carbonated. And some are “still” or “farmhouse style” (non-carbonated).

Presentation

Some hard ciders are murky and the color of caramel just like fresh non-alcoholic apple cider we buy in gallon jugs in the fall. Other hard ciders are filtered of all pulp and sediment, making them almost a see-through hue of light beer.

Woodshed vs. Laboratory

Some hard cidersare yeasty, unfiltered farmhouse style that’s intentionally rustic (and might be a taste acquired over a few sips); others are more refined and processed for wider immediate appeal. (And arguments might exist over which is the more “sophisticated” drink.)

The Long & Short (of it)

A famous Napa Valley winemaker once said that there are no bad wines or great wines… there are only wines you like and wines you don’t. And if you like a wine that costs $5, then you have still found a good wine.

Similarly, the range of tastes, style, and approaches inside the world of hard apple and pear ciders is a blessing, not a curse. Maybe you will vastly prefer one style to others, or maybe you will appreciate different kinds of ciders for each of their unique offerings.

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Photo by Tracy Grant.

You never know until you pop the bottle, pour it into a glass and dive in.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it patriotic to drink hard cider?

The Pilgrims who founded the northeast colonies and our founding fathers who helped liberate and define our nation drank hard cider like nobody’s business.

Thomas Jefferson made hard cider from apples growing on the Monticello estate. Benjamin Franklin has a famous quote about hard cider: “He that drinks his cyder alone, let him catch his horse alone.” And John Adams downed a pitcher of it every morning, believing it was a health tonic.

Records show that folks in Colonial New England  drank hard cider like milk: three gallons a month per capita!

What happened to hard cider after Colonial times?

If hard cider was good enough for the colonists and our Founding Fathers, then why don’t more Americans drink it now?

Well, cider remained popular in the U.S. until the Civil War era, when America began a shift from a local-based economy to one of nationally distributed goods. Coinciding with the time of the Civil War, Middle America fully developed its “fruited plains,” which made stockpiles of grains like wheat and malt less expensive brewing ingredients than orchard apples. So, with help from German immigrants and the trans-continental railroad, our nation turned away from local hard cider toward Midwestern-brewed beer as the go-to, everyday alcoholic beverage of choice.

But hard cider is too good to stay down forever. With a renewed interest in local economies, local agriculture and craft beer, hard cider is being rediscovered by both producers and drinkers.

What’s the difference between apple cider and hard apple cider?

Apple cider you buy from cider mills in the fall is, simply, fresh juice pressed from apples. Cider makers crush the apples, collect the liquid and jug it. Just add fresh fried donut. Enjoy. [Then repeat.]

Hard cider has yeast added to change the apples’ natural sugars into alcohol and some hard ciders are filtered (clear) after fermentation is completed, and some have a light carbonation to them.

For that matter, what’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider? And why is apple cider so much better?

Cider and juice start as the same thing, but the apple juice sold in grocery stores has been filtered and pasteurized and most likely had sugar added, perhaps along with some preservatives.

Fresh cider sold at cider mills and roadside stands in the fall is unfiltered, never has sugar added to it and is way fresher.

Only roadside stands and producers with on-site sales are allowed by law to sell unpasteurized cider. The non-alcohol apple cider you find in stores in the fall probably comes from no farther than a hundred miles away.

Cider you have when you visit an apple orchard or a cider mill tastes so fantastic because it’s fresher and more pure — maybe not from a microbial standpoint, but definitely from a processing standpoint, and there lies the difference in taste between fresh cider (unpasteurized), seasonal store-bought cider (fresh, but pasteurized), and apple juice (not fresh, filtered, sugar and preservatives added).