Doesn’t it seem like every other day your Instagram feed is crammed with photos of friends frolicking in apple orchards? Their shirts are tartan flannel, they’re smiling, and the bag of apples in their arms makes you want to reach out, grab one, and take a crisp bite. Maybe I’m alone on this, but this time of year makes me want to cozy up to apple pie, apple cider donuts, or caramel apples every chance I get (I restrain myself).
Another way to get your apple fix, no oven needed, is by indulging in a glass of hard cider the next time you sit down for a cocktail at happy hour. Hard cider is simply fermented apple juice. Pears, peaches, and other fruits can also be used to make the drink, but apple is the most common base. Resembling sparkling wine, hard cider is certainly growing in popularity.
I first discovered cider when I studied abroad in Europe. After visiting England and Ireland I swore I would never drink it again. Bulmers, a traditional Irish cider, packs a sugar high punch. My head wasn’t happy the next day. The sweet sparkling wine-esque drink didn’t even resemble alcohol. This super delicious, easy to drink beverage not only resonated with me thanks to the negative effects it had on my body, but also sparked an intrigue in me about a beverage that isn’t beer or wine or liquor.
With a higher alcohol content than a standard beer, but less than wine, hard cider is a drink you can sip on all night. And most only have 125 calories in each 12oz serving, so it isn’t too terrible for you. Most are gluten free too, making them a great alternative for those with gluten sensitivities. Cider has the carbonation of a beer without that heavy, full feeling. Serving it over ice with a lime wedge makes it even more refreshing.
Hard cider appeared on the American scene over 250 years ago – it was probably what the Pilgrims were sipping on at their first Thanksgiving. It didn’t come in a can, and was most likely a replacement for the bad water. Today, cider is mass-produced across the country and local producers are popping up everywhere.
While I’m more of a local cider supporter (more below), Angry Orchard comes close to a cider that’s inexpensive yet still boats a great taste. Crisp Apple and Traditional are my favorites. They both offer a good old-fashioned cider taste, without the crazy sugar high. I love the cocktail listing on their site too. Since cider has a lower alcohol content, it’s a great way to add flavor to a boring cocktail. Hard cider mixed with a little vodka or bourbon, with a splash of lemon or lime is an easy, pleasing cocktail.
Bon Appétit even declared cider the official drink of Thanksgiving this year. “Serving some of the new all-American craft ciders at Thanksgiving is practically a patriotic duty,” said David Flaherty of Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bars. I couldn’t agree more. Your local liquor store or wine shop should be able to point you in the direction of a delicious local brand.
My favorite cider – and I swear I’m not biased – is from Millstone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland. Kyle and his dad work out of an old mill and use Old World methods, including oak barrels, to make their cider. They actually work with farmers to get the apples and fruits they want to use. Think local tart cherries and rhubarb. My favorite is a toss up between Ciderberry – a blend of raspberries, Rome Beauty apples, and Stayman Winesap apples – and Blossom – a blend of Jonathan apples, McIntosh apples, and wildflower honey. Blossom is a light, floral, and aromatic cider. Ciderberry is tart with a sweet twist. Both are delicious straight or mixed into a cocktail.
Millstone Cellars also has the best bottles. They use old-fashioned Parisian bistro water pitchers. I soak off the labels (sorry Kyle) and use them for water pitchers at dinner parties or vases for flowers.
I’m curious; do you have local hard cider producer near you? If so, have you tried it? Let me know in the comments section below!