As the “funky” notes associated with farmhouse ales and natural wine inch ever closer to the mainstream, stylistically similar hard ciders remain in relative obscurity. Undoubtedly, the category’s image in the U.S. has been hampered by nationally known brands that offer a sweet and artificially carbonated style. But these ciders bear little resemblance to the true essence of hard cider.
Among the traditional styles of France (cidre) and Spain (sidra), as well as emerging examples from American producers, there’s much to entice drinks aficionados. Their crisp, clean fruit notes and bracing acidity blend wonderfully against a haze of funk that’s both aromatic and visual.
Wine and beer geeks can also immerse themselves in a list of regionally specific apple varieties and will be familiar with techniques like spontaneous fermentations using indigenous yeasts. The 750-milliliter bottles these beverages typically arrive in serve a helping hand when convincing dinner guests their contents provide a worthy food pairing (they absolutely do).
For those looking to dive into the hard cider category, the main stumbling block remains availability — a catch-22 of their lack of popularity. But some internet sleuthing goes a long way. Many wine retailers in major cities now offer curated selections online, with their shipping destinations ever-expanding. Alternatively, local stores with generous craft beer or natural wine selections present a good port of call.
From small-production domestic examples to established European brands, these six labels will seriously challenge your preconceptions about hard cider.
Shacksbury Dry Cider
One of its three “core” ciders, Shacksbury Dry is made using slow fermentation, no added sugar, and 100 percent fresh apples. It has a Champagne-like hue and a gentle effervescence that settles soon after pouring. Notes of baked apple pie jump out on the nose, followed by white flowers and stone fruits. On the palate, it’s lively and acidic, with a blend of citrus fruit and earthy flavors. Shacksbury Dry’s vibrant acidity offers a versatile range of food pairing possibilities. A rich goat cheese salad would be a great place to start.
Abandoned Hard Cider
Southern County, N.Y.
Produced using a blend of wild and heirloom apple varieties picked in four counties across New York State, this cider pours a cloudy, pale lemon color. The nose mixes fresh green, citrus fruits, and the barnyard notes you might expect from a farmhouse ale. The palate is light and refreshing, while the flavors are somewhat “cleaner” than the nose. There’s also a hint of beeswax that presents itself as both a flavor and, to a lesser extent, a texture, making it perfect for fans of high-quality New York Rieslings.
Tilted Shed Graviva! Semidry Cider
Sonoma County, Calif.
Blending four apple varieties from organic dry-farmed orchards in Sonoma County, this is a fruit-forward cider with a hint of musty complexity. Deep amber in color, with a cloudy opacity, its aromas include bruised apples, grape must, and white flowers. While advertised as semi-dry, this tart and tannic cider tastes no sweeter than most conventional dry table wines. Pair with grilled chicken or pork dishes.
TXO Basque Cider, Brut Nature
Basque Country, Spain
Made in a sparkling style using the same technique as Champagne (secondary fermentation takes place in-bottle), this golden cider tastes like a saison/pét-nat hybrid. The palate is bright and dominated by grassy, green apple notes. Pronounced tannins mingle with the cider’s fine mousse, providing textural complexity. This cider calls for a seafood pairing, such as pan-fried salmon.
Isastegi Sagardo Naturala Natural Cider
Basque Country, Spain
To fully appreciate this cider, serve as they do in Basque country: poured from a great height to stimulate the release of gentle fizz (spillage is a given). Notes of cooking apples and pear lead to a brett-y palate, which is tart, acidic, and tannic. The finish is lengthy and complex; by the time you’ve finished the bottle, you’ll have mastered the pouring technique and will be ready to open another.
Domaine Sicera ‘Florentin’ Cidre de Normandie IGP
While many of the ciders on this list are somewhat similar in style, this bottle is a complete outlier. It delivers the same dose of aromatic, flavor, and textural complexity, but it’s much more effervescent than the other bottles and has the deepest golden color, akin to a sweet wine. The nose is dusty, with a distinct note of brie rind and just the faintest hint of green apples. It’s semi-sweet on the palate, but balanced by refreshing acidity and well-incorporated tannins. This cider promises to pair well with salads, cheese boards, and fruit-based desserts, but because it’s so well balanced, it can easily be enjoyed on its own.