Cider is seemingly everywhere these days, going well beyond its antiquated status as a tap option for the gluten-averse or people who say they don't like beer. Still, most people don’t think to order cider when out for a nice dinner, and that's a shame. Good ol’ fermented apple juice can be as complex (and expensive) as any craft beer or fine wine. The best stuff -- often “heritage cider,” made with cider-specific heirloom apple varieties and produced with traditional winemaking techniques -- is incredibly nuanced, with plenty of regional differences and unique flavors to go around.
Unfortunately, relatively few people have yet made this discovery because they’ve been turned off by the overly sweet concoctions masquerading as "hard" cider for years.
“Folks naturally assume all cider is similar,” says Annie Bystryn, founder and CEO of Cider In Love, an online retailer of high end, Old-World-style American cider. “It’s not. The world of fine heritage cider is delightfully diverse. There are many dry ciders -- some bone dry -- with a range of different notes to experience, from citrus, to funk, to smoke.”
But why bother with cider when there’s so much delicious wine out there to drink?
“Cider's low alcohol content [typically around 8% ABV] makes it infinitely more sessionable than wine, but it still has all the great acidity and tannin,” explains Dan Pucci, co-founder of Wallabout Hospitality and former beverage manager of Wassail, New York City’s first cider bar. “Cider pairs well with a ton of different cuisines and ingredients that usually pose problems for wine, like asparagus or Thai food,” he points out.
Meanwhile, if you’re a craft beer drinker, the craftsmanship and artisanal qualities of small-batch, heritage cider will appeal to you. “Heritage cider takes great care and a long time to make -- so there’s a lot of technique to get excited about,” Bystryn explains. “These apples aren’t easy to grow. It can take 5 years for a new tree to bear fruit…. You’re supporting makers who believe in sustainable farming and take a long, thoughtful view about how they make cider.”
Sounds great, right? But as with wine, complexity can translate into confusion. Even if you’re already aware of cider’s range and advantages over wine and beer, the many regions, producers, and flavors might be a little bit overwhelming at first. So let’s walk through the steps to better understanding -- and, of course, order -- cider.