The Best Hard Cider Houses in America
You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time at your favorite brewery, buying ale after ale, draft after draft. But when’s the last time you had a good hard cider -- and did you enjoy it at a cider house? If it’s been a while, or if you never have, now is the perfect time. Rid your mind of the notion that cider is a “fall” beverage and that it’s just a glorified, adult version of apple juice. Hard cider is an anytime beverage, especially when you get one from the right cider house.
Cidermaking is an art, as I learned from multiple cidery owners across the country. From Seattle to upstate New York to North Carolina, I searched far and wide to get the scoop on what makes a cidery stand out amongst the rest. Below you’ll find six of the best cider houses in the country, and how each one delivers a unique experience.
Staying true to their cider roots
Apple trees aren’t the only things that stay grounded through their roots. A good cider house should serve its local community both through its cider and even, as in Urban Tree Cidery’s case, its local sports fan base. As the maker of the official local cider for Atlanta United 2, the team at Urban Tree strives to incorporate Georgia pride in every aspect of their business.
“We’re very heavily Georgia-focused in the sense where it’s not only where our fruit is sourced from, but everything that’s in the tasting room that we carry comes from the state of Georgia,” said Maria Resuta, co-owner and CEO of Urban Tree.
The majority of Urban Tree’s apples come from North Georgia. And they have a partnership with the Cathey Family Orchard, where they are involved in the growing and managing of the apple trees.
Regardless of what type of cider your taste buds prefer, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find a beverage suitable for you. Urban Tree’s 11 draft ciders range from dry to sweet. Despite its intimidating name, Habanero Haze is their top seller, according to Jackie Annise, co-owner and cidermaker at Urban Tree.
“It’s not too hot at all,” Annise said. “There’s a lot of ginger in it that plays really well with the habanero and it creates a very well balanced cider that’s not heavy on the spice.”
But if you’re still not convinced that chilli peppers belong in ciders, then you can always go with flavor profiles like rosé, barrel-aged and....peach cobbler! Come on. Did you really think an Atlanta-based cidery would exist without at least one peach-flavored drink? The seasonal Peach Gobbler features apples, Georgia peach juice, and finishes with a hint of basil.
“The Peach Gobbler is not just a one dimensional peach flavor,” Resuta said. “It contains peaches from Georgia. But at the time of year when we created it, what really played well with peaches was brown sugar, cinnamon, clove and other similar spices.”
Going above and bee-yond in cider making
While apples are certainly the star of cider, sometimes an extra boost of a supporting flavor can really take it over the top, especially when bees are involved. The honey from bees, that is.
Honey is a special ingredient at Right Bee Cider, a small cidery located in northwest Chicago. “Queen Bee” Katie Morgan and ”Worker Bee” Charlie Davis are the husband and wife duo behind Right Bee Cider and the sentimental value of its double entendre name.
“The origin of our business’s name is that it sounds like ‘right beside her’,” Morgan said. “It’s the story of how my husband Charlie made me cider for my birthday as a surprise before we started dating, and then we ended up dating and getting married.”
Morgan said the business name was initially a play on words of their relationship story, but they always had plans for “bee” to have a literal meaning.
“We met fantastic beekeepers in Chicago called the Hive Supply and they helped us put 11 hives on the roof,” Morgan said, “They help us manage the hives. The honey’s not in every cider, but it’s in quite a few of them.”
The seasonal Kaiser Tiger blueberry cider collaboration at Right Bee Cidery is one of them, featuring blueberries from from Roedger Brother’s Farms and honey from the rooftop bees. If you’re looking for a year-round opportunity to taste the sweet honey, check out the semi-dry cider, which features fresh-pressed American-grown apples and a drop of honey from the beehives.
As the first cidery in Chicago, Right Bee Cider actually didn’t have a tasting room until May 2019. “It’s always been our dream to have people enjoy our cider on-site and create a really special welcoming place for people to come in and have a good time,” Morgan said. Although it took several years before their taproom opened, Morgan said it was important for it to be cozy, comfortable, and approachable. She also made it a priority to ensure that it’s baby and dog-friendly and allows for visitors to bring their own food, since they do not have a kitchen.
Morgan also said one thing that makes Right Bee Cidery unique is that either she or her husband is always behind the bar so they can make people feel comfortable when they walk in.
“I don’t know very many other businesses where you walk in and either one or both owners is there all the time, describing the process to you and telling you the story of the business,” Morgan said. “We are local people that started a local cidery.”
Serving delicious cider and the community
What if I told you that you could sip on a crisp, refreshing cider while helping a local nonprofit fight food insecurity? Seattle Cider Company has you covered through their partnership with City Fruit, a nonprofit in Seattle dedicated to addressing hunger across the area by donating harvested fruits to community programs for families in need.
City Fruit works by harvesting apples from the Seattle urban canopy, meaning the apples are from local planters who have grown more apples than they need. The nonprofit then sends out volunteers to harvest the apples and Seattle Cider Company takes the apples they can’t use, like bruised and crab apples, as a part of their partnership.
Maura Hardman, public relations and marketing manager for Seattle Cider Company, said this partnership results in a seasonal cider named “City Fruit.” The City Fruit apples are pressed in-house, processed into a cider, sold to customers, and the proceeds are then donated back to City Fruit’s numerous programs.
“It’s interesting because the cider is different every year because we don’t know what apple varieties we’re going to get,” Hardman said. “It’s usually a combination of more than 40 different kinds of apples, and it’s the truest Seattle cider that we make because all of the apples are sourced from Seattle.”
You can find Seattle Cider Company inside The Woods, a SoDo tasting room shared with Two Beers Brewing and Sound Craft Seltzer. There, you can taste ciders, beers, seltzers and try some of Bread and Circuses’ burgers, gnocchi tots and chicken wings with miso ranch.
Creating a cultural experience with intention
Brooklyn is New York City’s most populous borough and home to Bushwick’s Brooklyn Cider House; a place where many run to for brunch to snack on warm cider donuts and Spanish tortillas de papas (a kind of potato frittata). It’s also where the magic of cider making happens, thanks to co-founder, Peter Yi, who was a renowned wine buyer for 25 years before he opened the cider house.
Upon stepping into the large, dim warehouse with electric automated candles hanging from the ceiling, you might forget you’re in Brooklyn. As you walk further into the cider house, you’ll pass the dining room, a bar stocked with ciders of course, and run into multiple large barrels filled with raw cider. I had the honor of tasting some of the cider in these barrels through an activity called cider catching. Yi guided me through the process, instructing me to hold a glass about two or three feet away from the spout on the front of the chestnut barrels from Spain. Yi turned the spout and a stream of cider jetted out right into my glass.
The raw cider, which is named Juice Box, was crisp and clean, different from the sweet rosé cider I’d tasted at Brooklyn Cider House on a previous occasion. Others who visit the cidery can experience cider catching by joining in on a guided tasting.
With a drink so refreshing, having a restaurant located in-house seemed to be an act of genius. But Yi said including a restaurant in the cidery was part of a plan to create an experience as close as possible to what he experienced during a wine trip in the Basque region in Spain.
“When I was in Spain, I met 20 to 40 new people,” Yi said. “We were shaking hands, having a drink together and no one’s judging anyone else. You’re just having a good time and it’s that experience that I wanted to build.”
Rather than having visitors come in just to drink cider and leave or just eat food and leave, Yi emphasized the importance of creating an atmosphere where people can make new friends and feel comfortable. His plan to encourage others to be open to this experience is the reason why the cider house’s space is so large.
“You have to have a cidery, a place where you produce the beverage. But you also need a space where people can gather and catch cider together,” Yi said. “And you have to have a place where you can eat. We needed a big space because there’s a lot of moving parts here.”
“A great cider house is a place where people are happy,” Yi said. “They leave happy. We’re trying to create that experience.”
Making guests feel at home
The Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s resulted in widespread illegal production of liquor across America. Moonshiners, as they were called, were people who illegally produced and traded liquor. Fast forward to the 21st century and take a trip to Oakland, California to visit a cidery that was inspired by the Prohibition-era moonshiner great uncles of Dana Bushouse, founder of Crooked City Cider Taphouse.
“I knew one day that I wanted to start an alcohol-related business to pay homage to them,” Bushouse said. “I was drinking cider and realizing there’s so many different types out there. I realized there was no place that I could go to experience them all and so I decided that I really wanted to open a taphouse where folks could go and experience everything that cider has to offer and more.”
Most of Crooked City’s cider on tap is sourced from multiple orchards on the west coast, plus a few ciders from North Carolina and Michigan. But their house cider, Straight Up Oakland Dry, remains the most popular. It only has two ingredients: fermented apple juice and yeast.
Aside from the unique history behind the cidery, another distinguishing factor of Crooked City Cidery is the atmosphere. One of the first things you may notice when walking into the building is the variety of different types of furniture. Bushouse said she wanted the space to feel like guests are coming into a friend’s living room. There are metal folding chairs,fancy dining chairs, and old-fashioned wooden chairs -- bottom line is, there’s a cider and a chair for everyone here.
Along with tasty ciders and chairs full of personality, Crooked City also has dart boards, shuffleboards, pinball machines and over 120 board games, so the likelihood of you being bored is slim to none.
“You can come in and experience all different types of cider in a really casual environment, but there’s also stuff to do,” Bushouse said. “You can come hang out and watch a basketball game, or hang out and color in our adult coloring books.”
Adapting to environmental changes to produce quality cider
If you need to see the tangible effects of climate change, look to North Carolina cideries. Jay Bradish, co-founder and cidermaker at Red Clay Ciderworks, said when the company started in 2015 they were able to use exclusively North Carolina orchards, but as they’ve grown and as the climate has gotten warmer, they’ve faced seasonal challenges.
“We were pressing year round with North Carolina apples when we first started, but we’ve had to branch out and we’ve used Virginia-sourced apples,” Bradish said. “Currently we have an operation up in Michigan that we work closely with, and they’re able to get us through the summer months when the apples down here are gone.”
Despite these challenges, Red Clay has been able to persevere and produce a variety of ciders ranging from dry to semi-sweet. Still on the fence about super dry ciders? Take a swig of Red Clay’s Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls, a slightly sweet cider containing Michigan Montmorency cherry juice, which teeters between semi-dry and semi-sweet.
“While we’ve never made sweet ciders, our sweetness level is typically half or so of what some of the more national brands would have as far as the sugar content,” Bradish said. “We do have ciders that kind of bridge between a totally dry and a super sweet cider.”
Red Clay has 13 of their own ciders on tap and visitors can partake in food from Fūd On The Mūv, who operates the in-house kitchen. They’re known for their Wafflewiches, which of course are found on the menu at Red Clay. Also be sure to take advantage of their Sunday brunch, which starts at 12pm and lasts...well, until they run out of food.