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Forbidden Fruit: The 12 Best Hard Ciders

Photo: Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb

Cider gets a bad rap. Maybe that’s because most people grew up with the Martinelli’s non-alcoholic variety. Maybe it’s because people don’t know what a versatile beverage it is. It also doesn’t help that so many of the “grocery store” brands load up their low ABV (Alcohol By Volume) ciders with sugar in the hopes of making them more consumer-friendly – when in reality, they’re compromising the integrity of the beverage. It could also be that, unlike the current beer trend that hinges on big bold characteristics, good cider flavors function more like those in wine and range from subtle to tart. While not delicate, ciders don’t and shouldn’t conform to the same can-crushing, chest-pounding bombast associated with beer – as they are entirely distinct beverages.

To clarify, cider is “the expressed juice of fruit used as a beverage or for making other products,” according to Merriam-Webster. While apples are the most common ingredient used to make it, the only real requirement to a hard cider is that it must be made from fermented fruit juice. So, if you’re used to the idea that cider is exclusively an apple-based beverage, it’s time to open your mind a bit. And, although there are plenty of small scale cideries with tremendous offerings, their products are not always easy to get your hands on if you don’t live in the immediate area. So we have composed a list of the 12 best widely available alcoholic expressed juice beverages for your enjoyment.

Samuel Smith's Organic Cider

Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider

Located in North Yorkshire, England, Samuel Smith’s is a Brewery and, as such, is most well known for their catalog of beers. But they also produce this entry-level cider made from organically grown apples. While this 5% ABV beverage isn’t anything too far out of the ordinary, it’s certainly a good example of purity of both ingredients and flavor and beats out brands like Angry Orchard across the board in that regard. If you want a basic example of cider done right, this is the one to try.

Purchase: $3

Reverend Nat's Ginger Tonic

Reverend Nat’s Deliverance Ginger Tonic

A wild departure from the traditional idea of a cider, this interesting 6.1% ABV cider take the classic flavor combination apples and ginger and puts it through the ringer. Each batch is made with gallons of pure squeezed ginger juice, hundreds of hand-cut fresh lemongrass stalks, and fresh hand-squeezed juice and zest of thousands of limes. But it derives the “tonic” part of its name from the inclusion of quinine: a hand-extracted chemical from the bark of a Peruvian chinchona tree that has anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, analgesic, and antimalarial properties. While we wouldn’t encourage anyone to rely on it as medicine, it is a tremendously refreshing beverage.

Purchase: $7

Ace Space Bloody Orange Cider

Ace Space Bloody Orange

While Ace is indisputably one of the biggest brands in the cider-making business, that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad. In fact, the California-based brand still produces beverages without adding any extra sugar, instead relying only on the natural sweetness of the fruits they use. Their Space cider is unique in many ways and that’s what has earned it a spot on this list. For starters, it is made from blood oranges, giving it a distinct citrusy bite. It is also unfiltered – so if you prefer your orange juice pulp-free, you might want to look elsewhere. If you are, however, willing to embrace something a little on the stranger side, this cider will reward you.

Purchase: $7

2 Towns Bad Apple Cider

2 Towns Ciderhouse Bad Apple

If we are being completely honest, we could put together a killer cider list comprised entirely of offerings from 2 Towns. But if we are relegating ourselves to just one, it has to be the Bad Apple. This offering from the Oregon-based ciderhouse boasts a beefy 10.5% ABV, is aged with brandy-cured Oregon white oak, and has just a hint of honey sweetness and notes of vanilla. Just be careful, cause the drinkability makes it easy to forget how hard this cider hits.

Purchase: $8

Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb

Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb

Hailing from the city of the same name outside of San Diego, California, Julian Hard Cider is another brand with numerous worthwhile ciders from which to choose, but their stand-out is the Cherry Bomb. While this Montmorency sour cherry flavored cider, which has an ABV of 6.99%, is delicious enough to warrant drinking, it also comes loaded with vitamins and antioxidants – in case you needed any convincing or just a good excuse to have one.

Purchase: $9

101 Cider House Cactus Red

101 Cider House Cactus Red

From LA’s first local cider house – a brand that prides themselves on sourcing their ingredients from local growers along the US 101 Highway from which they derive their name – this crimson-hued cider boasts a very interesting and unique flavor palette. Made with a combination of California cactus pears and Thai basil, you can expect a fair amount of tartness from this elixir, but it is still very refreshing and drinkable. To top it off – it’s also probiotic, so you can write off any nay-sayers who try to convince you that it’s not good for you.

Purchase: $9

Wandering Aengus Wickson Hard Cider

Wandering Aengus Wickson

This very tart hard apple cider – which is made in Salem, Oregon – is a bit on the funky end of the spectrum without being loaded with any super bizarre ingredients. Its name comes from the apple varietal used to make it: Wickson Crab apples. These Newton-Spitzenberg hybrids are pressed into a juice and aged 6 months before the cider goes to market, resulting in an 8.2% ABV and just a hint of citrus on the tail end of the flavors. This one is good for any early fall backyard jaunt – especially if there’s pork or goat cheese involved.

Purchase: $10

Finnriver Sidra Spanish Dry Hard Cider

Finnriver Farm Cidery Sidra

Even if you have a base familiarity with cider, you might not realize that there is a style with Spanish origins. And it goes back centuries. What you might find from this one is that it is less like its sparkling counterparts and a has characteristics a little closer to a wine – although it is still made from apples. If you have more of a sommelier’s palette or you’re into things a little more off the beaten path, this is an excellent example of the versatility of cider.

Purchase: $10

Citizen Cider Unified Press

Citizen Cider Unified Press

For a traditional style hard cider done exactly right, turn to the Citizen Cider Unified Press. As the brand’s flagship beverage, one would expect it to hit all the drink’s main points without veering too far off the path. Well, that expectation would be both warranted and met. Still, this 5.2% ABV cider – which is made exclusively from apples grown in the brand’s home state of Vermont – might surprise you with its crisp clean drinkability. And it will likely have you coming back for more.

Purchase: $11

Anthem Hard Cider Hops

Anthem Hops

Made in Oregon, this cider is a love letter to something more commonly found in beer: hops. As it turns out, however, the citrusy piney bite of the little cones goes excellent with an apple-based cider, as well. If you’re one of the hold-outs who is afraid of breaking away from your go-to India Pale Ale, this 6% ABV brew is as good of a stepping stone as you’re going to get, as it is made with the very same Oregon-grown Cascade hops that are so popular amongst beer brewers.

Purchase: $11

Sonoma Cider The Anvil Bourbon

Sonoma Cider The Anvil

If you’re paying attention to the alcohol market, you’ve probably noticed an odd trend. Namely, a lot of bourbon brands have been incorporating apples into their products. That’s probably because apple and bourbon go really well together. And it turns out that the flavor profile works just as well when the script is flipped, too. This 6% ABV bourbon flavor-laced hard apple cider offers a crisp bite with a nice smokey finish and it isn’t bogged down by a lot of the sugars included in its bourbon-with-apple counterparts.

Purchase: $12

Seattle Cider Co Dry Hard Cider

Seattle Cider Company Dry Cider

In our opinion, the drier the cider, the better. That’s because dry ciders lack the off-putting sweetness that has given the beverage a bad name. This one from the Seattle Cider Company is one of the best, offering the flavor you’d expect to get biting into a fresh crisp apple rather than some kind of awful apple candy. The flavor profile is so clean and subtle, you might forget that this Washington apple-derived beverage has an ABV of 6.5%.

Purchase: $13