Best Ciders

By Bob Barnes

Great-Tasting Hard Ciders

Although often inaccurately lumped with beer, cider is its own unique beverage. Currently enjoying an explosion in popularity, cider serves as a bridge between beer and wine, appealing to fans of both. Like wine, it’s made from fermented fruit juice; like beer, it’s most often poured on draft. But unlike most beers, cider is gluten-free.

While cider has been made for more than a thousand years, it has a special place in American history. The earliest known provisions for cider-making in the New World are believed to have been carried over on the Mayflower in 1620; the first apple trees were planted nine days after the storied ship’s arrival.

While apple is the most commonly used fruit, GAYOT’s List of the Best Ciders also includes options made with cherry, black currant, strawberry, lime and pear.

1. Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple

Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple

Origin: Walden, NY, U.S.A.
Price: $8 for six-pack 12 oz.
ABV: 5%
Brewed by: Angry Orchard Hard Cider

Cinnful was Angry Orchard’s first cider made from 100 percent American apples when it debuted in 2013.

Produced with Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala and Pink Lady apples grown in the Pacific Northwest, this cider has a pale straw color and a cinnamon spice aroma. The flavor balances sour green apple with a bright acidity and warm cinnamon. Not surprisingly, it makes an excellent accompaniment to vanilla ice cream or apple pie.

2. Aspall Demi-Sec Cider

Aspall Demi-Sec Cider

Origin: Debenham, U.K.
Price: $9 for 500 ml.
ABV: 6.8%
Brewed by: Aspall

Founded by Clement Chevallier in 1728, the family-owned and operated Aspall has been producing ciders in a tiny mid-Suffolk hamlet for eight generations, making it the oldest direct-lineage cidery in the United Kingdom.

There are 46 varieties of apples grown on the Aspall estate, and this version is a combination of eight cultivars: 65 percent sweet (Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Royal Gala), 25 percent sharp (Bramley’s Seedling, Howgate Wonder) and 15 percent bittersweet (Tremlett’s Bitter, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett). The result of this intricate mix is a complex, moderately sweet flavor profile with prominent notes of honey, sour green apple and citrus. Carbonation is low and the cider finishes with a clean, semi-dry aftertaste. The uniquely shaped bottle, with its tall, slender neck, is a throwback to the ones used by the cidery in the 1920s and 1930s.

3. Crispin 15 Men Cider

Crispin 15 Men Cider

Origin: Colfax, CA, U.S.A.
Price: $10 for 22 oz.
ABV: 6.9%
Brewed by: Crispin Cider

This small-batch cider is part of Crispin’s limited-release barrel-aged series, and is the cidery’s first-ever offering matured in rum casks.

Crispin 15 Men is made from a base of Colfax apple wine, wildflower honey and Belgian candi syrup. It pours a hazy, pale yellow with no carbonation and wafts aromas of vanilla and caramel. The tart apple flavor is balanced with some sweetness, and notes of oak and mild spiciness in the finish make for easy yet interesting drinking.

4. Possmann Pure Cider Rose

Possmann Pure Cider Rose

Origin: Frankfurt, Germany
Price: $9 for four-pack 11.9 oz.
ABV: 5%
Brewed by: Possman

The Possmann family has been producing cider in Germany since 1881.

The apples for this cider are harvested by more than 800 country farmers in the Hesse region of Germany. The rosé is lightly carbonated and pours a soft amber hue with a touch of pink and an aroma of berries. The mix of apple and black currant provides medium sweetness, but the taste is never cloying — this cider has a dry and crisp finish.

5. Rekorderlig Strawberry-Lime Cider

Rekorderlig Strawberry-Lime Cider

Origin: Vimmerby, Sweden
Price: $9 for four-pack 11.2 oz.
ABV: 4.5%
Brewed by: Rekorderlig

Combining fermented pear juice with fresh strawberry and lime, this fruit-forward offering was first released by Swedish cidery Åbro Bryggeri in 1997.

Made from pure spring water sourced from Vimmerby, Sweden, Rekorderlig Strawberry-Lime boasts a pretty pink hue and an inviting aroma. You won’t notice the alcohol at all in the flavor, which offers strawberry sweetness with a hint of citrus fruit. The makers of this cider recommend serving it over ice with a squeeze of lime and sprig of fresh mint.

6. Scandi Pear Cider

Scandi Pear Cider

Origin: Vohu, Estonia
Price: $5 for 750 ml.
ABV: 5.4%
Brewed by: Scandi Cider

This Scandinavian-style cider is made in the small Estonian village of Vohu Vein at a plant that has been producing the beverage since 1967.

Scandi uses a traditional Nordic recipe and is made from late-harvest apples and pears. Very effervescent, it pours forth with lively bubbles and an aroma of sweet pear. The flavor offers a rich sweetness suggestive of Moscato wine before resolving in a lingering dry finish with notes of lemon peel.

7. Square Mile Spur & Vine

Square Mile Spur & Vine

Origin: Portland, OR, U.S.A.
Price: $12.50 for six-pack 12 oz.
ABV: 6.7%
Brewed by: Square Mile Cider Co.

Oregon-based Square Mile Cider Company blurs the lines between beer and cider by adding hops into the mix in this unique offering.

Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious and Jonagold apples are picked and hand-pressed before a generous batch of Galaxy hops are introduced during cold-conditioning. Since no heat is applied to the hops, the cider takes on flavors and aromas of peach, melon and honeysuckle, with none of the traditional hop bitterness. Upon pouring Spur & Vine, you’ll encounter a brilliant gold hue and noticeable aroma of hops. To fully appreciate this creation, allow it to warm a bit, as the hops will become more evident. The hoppy citrus notes provide an interesting and enjoyable balance to the cider’s sweetness, making this an intriguing drink.

8. Tieton Cherry Cider

Tieton Cherry Cider

Origin: Yakima, WA, U.S.
Price: $11 for 500 ml.
ABV: 6.9%
Brewed by: Tieton Cider Works

Hailing from the rich and fertile apple-growing region of Yakima Valley, Washington, this cider is blended with farm-fresh black cherries and cinnamon.

It pours a beautiful red hue and delivers full-on cherry goodness balanced by tart apple acidity to round out the fruity sweetness. It has a very long finish with a bit of sourness and hints of cinnamon and clove, which make this an excellent beverage to pair with roasted pork, salmon or even cherry pie.

9. Woodchuck Gumption

Woodchuck Gumption

Origin: Middlebury, VT, U.S.A.
Beer type: Cider
Price: $9 for six-pack 12 oz.
ABV: 5.5%
Brewed by: Woodchuck Cider

Founded in a two-car garage in 1991, Vermont’s Woodchuck Hard Cider Company helped kickstart America’s cider resurgence with its boundary-pushing handcrafted beverages.

In the case of cider, simplicity is a beautiful thing. The only ingredients found in Woodchuck Gumption are sweet apple juice and dry European cider apples. The flavor is reminiscent of a caramel apple with a semi-dry finish. The name is a nod to circus legend P.T. Barnum, who once mentioned a particular type of American apple cider called “gumption.” We don’t know whether Woodchuck’s rendition resembles its namesake or not — all we know is that we love the fresh apple flavor, sweet aroma and lively effervescence.