Sometimes I have to give myself a gold star for accurately predicting the next big thing. When I originally published this story in 2011, I wrote:
Mark my words, it’s happening with dry cider.
Hey, guess what? Thanks to the gluten-free boom, cider is now big business. No doubt you’ve noticed the cans and 12-ounce bottles of hard cider carving out their own space among the floor-to-ceiling shelves of craft beer in the local supermarket, and watching the brewing behemoths stake claim to the market with their own offerings (Stella Cidre, Smith & Forge, Angry Orchard, Crispin).
However. Dry cider, as opposed to what most producers refer to as “hard cider” these days, connotes a slightly different palate. Unlike the generally sweet, apple-dominant flavor of most of these mass-market brands, the cider I’m talking about showcases a wide range of flavors comparable to wine’s complex and nuanced vocabulary.
Ranging from puckeringly tart to delicately fizzy to deep golden and full-bodied, these ciders have a lot going on. Many are produced using natural methods of fermentation, sometimes in-bottle using the Champagne method, or aged in barrels, meaning you’re going to get a lot more funkiness and additional flavor than the straight-off-the-line cider.
And like wine, these bottles (typically available in the large-format 750ml size) are unconventional yet on-point pairings for holiday meals. While your local selection will most certainly vary based on what part of the country you live, look for producers who are working with traditional fermentation methods and styles, and using heirloom apples or cider-specific apple varieties that are more tannic, acidic, and bittersweet. Some may even have their own tap rooms, like Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Cider House.
Here in the Northeast, I’m partial to Aaron Burr Cider, and not just because of the name. The cidery produces what it calls “locational ciders,” each small-batch variety made with both cultivated and wild apples from various locations in New York State.
Along similar lines (but slightly easier to find in stores), Shacksbury Ciders in Vermont makes a range of more experimental bottled ciders in addition to its canned offerings. Some are also made with foraged apples, some are barrel-aged, and others made in traditional European styles such as a Basque-inspired bottling.
Speaking of which—if you’re a fan of sour beers and wild-fermented ales, or if you love the slate and green apple notes in a crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll want to explore ciders from the Basque and Asturias regions of northern Spain. These are the true definition of funky, with notes ranging from lemon and pineapple to those distinctive “barnyard” aromas coming from Brettanomyces yeast (mmmm, my favorite—I should name my next cat “Brett”).
On the other side of the European coin, ciders from Normandy (aka the region that produces Calvados) are some of the most esteemed and traditional in the world, and will appeal to those who want more of the golden, malty fermented notes in their glass. French ciders tend to have a more full-bodied roundness than the American craft ciders on the market, with notes of earthy fruit and a refreshingly tannic backbone.
With this wide world of ciders, why not save the canned version until the post-turkey football game and pop one of these bottles for the big meal? Try a sampling of a few ciders or pick one to taste as a celebratory toast. You’ll be the apple of everyone’s eye.