It seems as though cider is seeing something of a hot commodity these days. Even Google Trends shows that hard cider is searched for now more than ever. What was formerly a staple of everyday drinking in the colonial times of this fine country has taken a back seat to wine, beer, and spirits in the past few decades. With the fall harvest you’re of course seeing regular apple cider everywhere, but let’s face it: we’re grown ups. We can take our cider with a dose of booze, too. With the New York Times mentioning it and the daily foodie newsletter Tasting Table pimping cider bars, now might be a fantastic time to look into your apple-y options. Keep in mind that Thanksgiving is also coming up. Perhaps you could ditch that impossible wine pairing and go with something a little more traditional? Let’s take a look at what’s available here in the valley.
Doc’s Draft Pumpkin Apple Cider – There’s not much info on this new seasonal from Doc’s other than it’s their apple cider infused with pumpkin. Doesn’t sound half bad. $7 for 22oz, available at Abe’s.
Doc’s Draft Hard Raspbery Cider – a respberry-infused version of Doc’s Hard Apple Cider, it uses fresh raspberry and no artificial nonsense. This is dry and refreshing. $7 for 22oz, available at Abe’s.
Aspall English Organic – Aspall’s regular organic draft offering, this is one of best ciders available for cheap. $7 for 500ml, available at Abe’s.
Aspall Cuvee Chevallier – This is tied with the last one on this list for best cider. It was only released in the US around the beginning of 2010 and uses a forgotten technique of cider-making to double ferment into a gorgeous 11% beverage. Abe’s has this for $7 for 750ml, which is far, far below what it should be selling for. Grab this while it lasts.
JK Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic – made in Michigan, this English-style cider is in the middle of the range here. Tasty, easy drinking, but enough layers of flavor to keep you mildly interested. $7 for 22oz, available at Abe’s.
Frecon Farms – If you’re going for the local option, Frecon Farms out of Boyertown has a few offerings from their orchard. I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to try their hard ciders yet, but if they’re anything like their non-alcoholic varieties, they’ll be fantastic. They’ve got a Crabby Granny which is made with crab apples and Granny Smith apples. It’s stronger, at 7.5%, and is made with honey. That doesn’t make it sweet, though…honey in a fermentation process delivers a crisp, dry finish which one can only imagine compliments the tartness of the crab and Granny apples. They’ve also got Early Man and Hogshead, two sparkling ciders. Early Man is straight heirloom apples and Hogshead is a more winter offering, made with brown sugar and raisins and aged in oak.
Woodchuck Winter, Pear, Granny Smith, Mixpack – The ciders are probably the easiest to get and the worst of the group. They’re overly sweet, mildly refreshing, and not particularly nuanced. The winter version is oaked, but does nothing for the complexity of the beverage. These might be a good starting point for someone usually into sweet drinks, but there’s much better out there. $9.99 for a 6 pack or $18.99 for a 12 pack mixed case. Available at Wegmans.
Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider – another middle-ground cider, this one is easy to find as well. Easy drinking and very comparable to the JK Scrumpy. $4.99 for 550ml at Wegmans.
Etienne Dupont Cidre Triple – The cream of the crop. This will cost you anywhere from $12-$20 depending on where you get it…I’ve only seen it for $20 in PA. You’ll have to hunt for it, probably in Philly or Jersey. But let me tell you, it’s definitely worth it. A musty, earthy, beautiful beverage, this strong (10%) French cider will take you to a quaint countryside outside of an orchard in Normandy. It’s a transfixing cider that begs for contemplation. I was lucky enough to have a 13 year old cask pour of this back in 2009 and it was simply exquisite. If you can seek this one out, it’s worth the reward.
Sarasola Sagardoa – fermented with wild yeast, this is a tart, funky, smooth quaff. There’s apparently a tradition in Spain, depicted on the label of the bottle, where you pour the cider from 3 feet in the air into the glass to “open it up”. Well, who am I to fuck with tradition? I did as told (over the sink, of course) and did a decent job of controlling the pour. Slow and steady is the key. This is a nice cider, especially at $10 for a 750ml. You can grab this on at Abe’s as well.