While high-end craft ciders haven’t quite reached craft beer popularity, quality apple-based alcoholic options have increased dramatically over the last decade or so. Ciders can provide enticing break from beer and wine, offering flavors that range from dry to semi-sweet and sweet. The carbonation and lower alcohol level can also make this beverage delightfully refreshing.
When you are entertaining, offer an ACE JOKER CIDER with hors d’oeuvres you might normally pair with something like a Brut champagne or other sparkling wine. The Joker is by far the driest option offered by the California Cider Company (and one of the driest commercially available ciders that I can think of), and will help keep your pre-entrée snack light and let your palate stay clean. While not quite as carbonated as champagne, this hard cider offers an extremely dry, sharp, and never overly sweet tasting experience. Notes of apple and tart white grape come through but never overpower.
A “sweeter” option (though not sugary sweet by any means) is the CRISPIN HONEY CRISP. Yes, this artisanal cider by the Crispin Hard Cider Company is made with those amazing Honey Crisp apples and finished with just a hint of honey. While still carbonated, this cider offers a smoother taste than other options and is a bit heavier on the tongue as it is unfiltered. Be aware that there will be some residual yeast and a minimal amount of pulp left in the bottle. This cider is big, juicy and full of flavor — just like biting into a super ripe Honey Crisp apple. Pro tip: gently swirl the bottle or even tip it back and forth before opening to rouse and blend the sediment and get an even amount with each pour.
Last, I’ll mention a highly quaffable “not too sweet” and “not too dry” selection. A store with substantial craft beer offerings should often have SAMUEL SMITH’S ORGANIC CIDER in bottles. There is a delicious — but not cloying — sweet juiciness to this offering from the Samuel Smith Brewery. It’s absolutely refreshing and not nearly as dry as the Ace Joker. This cider’s balanced nature allows it to work well with any number of foods at a party or barbecue. If you are planning to have more than one while enjoying a gathering with friends, this highly approachable cider is the one for you. Don’t be afraid to share it with beer or wine aficionados: you’re likely to make a convert or two out of them. In fact, this may prove to be the perfect “gateway” for someone stuck in a wine rut.