Hard cider—sweet and strong—is one of those things you think you know from your younger years. But as is true of its fellow collegiate staple, ramen, cider has undergone a major boom of late, and for good reason.
The Queens Kickshaw, a New York City bar, has hardly been able to keep up with demand for the drink since introducing Cider Week two years ago, when six ciders on tap met an enthusiastic response. Owner Ben Sandler tells us that sales of the drink have been steadily on the rise thanks to a dramatically different taste profile than the one most of us remember.
The world has four major cider-producing regions. In America and England, drier ciders have landed on the market to counter the cloying sweet varieties you may remember (and regret) from your youth. French ciders are renowned for having what some describe as a “barnyard funk”—an off-putting term to newbies, but one that makes aficionados’ ears perk up since it promises an earthy bouquet and serious depth of flavor. Spanish cider tends to be non-carbonated, and is designed to be poured from as great a height as possible in order to add natural bubbles. Drink it immediately. “Buy two bottles and expect to drink the equivalent of one, and to pour most on the floor,” laughs Sandler.
Sandler gave us his picks for an entry-level and an expert-level cider from each of these countries. Here are his tasting notes for each—and our favorites, per region.
Aspall Demi-Sec. “Easy-drinking, dry, but with a touch of sweetness. Very little funk.”
Gold Rush, Oliver’s Cider & Perry. “Funky, dry, lots of tannins, like a campfire up your nose.”
OUR PICK: Aspall. With its tiny bubbles and slight sweetness, this was a favorite among all the ciders; it’d be wonderful paired with a gooey cow’s milk cheese.
Villacubera Tradicional. Standard Spanish cider, slightly tart, mild and easy-drinking
Castanón. “Dry, tart, a bit smoky. You’re gonna feel like you’re breathing fire out of your nose. Many other Spanish ciders are nuanced [but] pouring this from above basically aerates it.”
OUR PICK: Villacubera. Castanón is very tart indeed—too tart for this bunch of tasters. A chilled glass of Villacubera, on the other hand, would be lovely on a hot summer’s day.
Wanderlust, Wandering Aengus, “Widely-available, dryer than some American ciders.
Farnum Hill, Extra Dry Cider. “Bone-dry but balanced. Stephen Wood and his team [at Farnum] are religious about the blending process, and take it very serious, keeping an eye on sweetness, tartness and tannins.”
OUR PICK: Farnum Hill. Wandering Aengus had loads of up-front fruit but a quick fade, whereas Farnum Hill was refreshingly dry and balanced.
Cidre du Rhuys. Sandler was very excited about this new-to-his-menu offering, which he promised was very easy-drinking for a hard-to-love French cider.
Apreval, Cidre Cuvée du Manoir. “Unfiltered, cloudy, with a rich, silky mouthfeel.”
OUR PICK: The Apreval proved too barnyardy for our tasters, trumped entirely by the golden, easy-drinking Cidre du Rhuys, an in-house favorite of all the ciders we tried.