Apples to Apples


…A (not so) hard look at hard cider.
The holidays are approaching here already.
It’s a perfect time for apple cider, even better, for HARD cider.
We’re upstate NY…We’re all about the apples..
Every table in NYS should have some cider and/or hard cider on Thursday.

If you don’t yet share my cidery-love
Here are some cider facts:

  • Hard Cider makes a great pairing to the typical gluttonous holiday meal.
    Unless your having a beefy prime rib..then I would stick with a full wine (or heavy beer).
  • Cider has a low alcohol content so you can have a few (without getting into a fight with Uncle George over his endorsement of a certain presidential candidate.)
  • Cider is also gluten free (but don’t trust me… read the labels if gluten intake is important to you).
  • Cider was on the pilgrim’s table. – temporarily ignoring the whole genocide thing

Not too long ago it would have been difficult to find ANY locally available hard cider.
But over the past few years the state, and local, hard cider industry has exploded.
Now, any place you can buy beer, you can buy a few decent ciders (and some really bad ones too)
This sudden growth may be related to trends in taste, or good marketing..
But it might very well be related to tax code and the repeal of prohibition.
Along with the repeal of prohibition, states were given the authority to define their own laws relating to alcohol.
These state laws put alcohols into categories associated with state tax rates. Hard cider tended to fall somewhere between a wine and beer.
This ambiguity may have hindered the industry..
But over the last 5-6 years states have been rectifying that situation.
NY in particular (thanks Andy) passed laws that significantly help the industry.
In 2013 the “Farm Cidery License” was created.
This legislature makes it much easier for small farmers and start-up crafters to turn out good product, and profits.
Locally we’ve all heard the stories of Nine Pin, our local hero of the cider industry.

In just a short period of time, Nine Pin has made a positive impact.
They’ve helped raise awareness of cider, the industry, and our local resources.
But I think even more importantly, they’ve spotlighted POSSIBILITIES. They’re a powerful, inspirational example of a how passion can become reality.
AND, they make some darn good cider.

A few years ago I wanted to bring some hard cider to my NJ-family for Thanksgiving.
I wanted to show my NY pride and showcase a local treat.
This was at the very start of the cider boom so the process was fairly easy.
The beer outlet only had a few choices, they were produced fairly local, and were bottled nicely to make a good impression.
I think I got a bottle of Nine Pin and a bottle of Doc’s Draft. Worked perfectly.

But now a trip to the beer outlet, or even your supermarket you’ll see upwards of 10-15 different choices of hard cider.
How do you choose?
I would hate for you to skip it altogether, or even worse bring a bottle of a crappy cider to your party.
People could be turned off of cider forever with that first glass.
Or, even better, you could be the hero, showing up with the perfect bottle.

There is an overwhelming selection of ciders available.
Unfortunately much of it is crap.
If nothing else… ALWAYS buy cider that has been refrigerated.

Since “Hard Cider Sommeliers” are difficult to find, I thought it would be helpful to do some homework..

I bought some cider..

The Line-Up

I limited my purchases to readily available products, and to products I could buy as individual bottles.
PriceChopper has a pretty good selection available in their “pick-your-own six” area.
The only one one I wanted to try but couldn’t find as singles was Stella Artois-Cidre’, but lets try and stay local anyway.

If a producer had a few varieties I tended to pick the most basic or “original” blend.
This was most evident with Nine Pin.
Nine Pin has a few interesting varieties but for this experiment I stayed with the original.

I didn’t get hung up with ingredients, or label analysis.. you don’t read the label on the cranberry jelly, or your beer do you?
This is about a special holiday treat, and perhaps sharing with, or impressing, your guests.

There are a few larger (22 oz) bottles available for less than $10, and a large number of 12 oz. six packs.
I tend to lean towards the larger bottles for the holidays as they have a better presence, like showing up with a special wine, as opposed to showing up with a “six-of-bud”.
But you may want smaller bottles, you may even want to “pound-a-few”, or give the non-beer drinkers something to keep in their fist so they fit in.

I was looking for something that I felt my guests would enjoy.
Something simple, clean, and refreshing.

I’m admittedly not a tasting expert.  I know what I like and I’ve used words that I think describe what I taste.

I think of this as Kitchen-Table-Science”.

I found two winners.
One in the big bottle, “First Impression” category, and one in the six-pack category.
I also found a few you should AVOID…
Take a look.

Nine Pin – Signature
Tasting Notes:
dry, “bubbly”, not much flavor, very clean.
6-7% alcohol 100% apples and sugar.
Not my favorite (sorry guys) but still pretty darn good.
Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider
Tasting Notes:
Pleasantly flavorful (more flavor than NP) doesn’t hit you with “apples” but still very refreshing, clean
Very impressive presentation, love the gold cap wrapper.
Alcohol content low 5%
My pick in the “First Impressions” category.
Angry Orchard
Tasting Notes:
Not appealing to my nose (it stunk)
Maybe it had gone bad.
Their website said “like biting into a fresh apple” maybe they meant a rotten apple..
Alcohol content low 5%
No thanks… All marketing hype from the Sam Adams powerhouse.
Stick to beer Sam Adams.
Strongbow Gold Apple
Tasting Notes:
Nice sweetness, not too obnoxiously bubbly
Very nice, I could drink a few.
Alcohol content low 5%
My pick in the “six-pack” catagory
Magners Irish Cider
Tasting Notes:
Bright red..looks unhealthy

A smelly smell

Maybe it had gone bad.
weird taste..
Can you tell I don’t like this one?
No thanks…

Redd’s Green apple Ale
Technically not a cider but a “brewed” ale.
Tasting Notes:
Smells like apples!! In a good way.
Very flavorful – not bad but not what I’m looking for.
This is like an alcoholic apple soda.
Woodchuck – Fall Harvest (seasonal)
Tasting Notes:
Smells like apple-pie CANDLES!! In a bad way.
too much! Too much smell, too much flavor
As their website says…there’s allot of stuff in there.
“..a complex and elegant character full of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg balanced with a hint of American White Oak..”
Woodchuck – Amber
Tasting Notes:
Pleasant taste.
simple, not offensive – sweet.
Alcoholic apple soda, but a good apple soda.
Just not what I’m looking for today.”



Unfortunately our local sweetheart Nine Pin wasn’t my top pick.
But, if you’re intent on buying local, or want to showcase our local talent, it was a very close second, I’m sure you’ll love it.
For our Thanksgiving this year I may actually try the other varieties of Nine Pin (alongside the Doc’s).  Maybe a six of Strongbow too.

I hope this helps with your holiday cider selections, making you the Cider-Hero.

-Cin cin!


Additional Cider Resources:

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