One of the more curious line extensions in recent years comes from Stella Artois, which after decades of making pilsner decided to launch a cider. Cidre was introduced in 2011, and came to the U.S. in 2013. Today it is one of the more widely available ciders — thanks, likely, to its ownership by Anheuser-Busch as well as the fact that it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. The U.S. Cidre is made in Baldwinsville, New York, “using apples picked from wine-growing regions in North and South America.”
As cider goes, this is made in a fresh, fizzy, and quite sweet style. The body is loaded with fresh apple juice, with overtones of lemon and orange. Again, it’s sweetness from the get-go, with just a touch of sour citrus to add a bit of balance, particularly present on the gently herbal finish. Positioned as an alternative to white wine (or, more likely, a wine cooler), Cidre fits well the profile of a poolside sipper, uncomplicated to be sure, but hard not to at least enjoy in the moment.
B+ / $9 per six-pack / stellaartois.com
Woodchuck’s latest “Out on a Limb” cider is this true oddity — June & Juice — a juniper-based cider that takes the gin and tonic as its inspiration.
It’s a semi-sweet apple cider made by steeping fresh juniper berries, rose buds, and orange peel into the mix. The results are better than I expected, a light and refreshing cider which isn’t too sweet and which doesn’t overdo the botanical elements, either. Lightly junipery, the rose flowers make a distinct impression and give it a floral focus. With a little time in the glass, citrus makes a stronger showing. The finish lets the apple base shine — again, with just the right balance between dry and sweet.
While it’s loaded with uncharacteristic flavors, it’s one of the more worthwhile cider releases in recent months.
B+ / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com
Three new seasonals from nonstop cider-churner Woodchuck. Let’s dive in to three very different expressions!
Woodchuck Private Reserve Cherry Barrel Aged Hard Cider – Made from Michigan cherries and aged in Napa cabernet sauvignon barrels. Crisp and tart cherry from start to finish, with just a hint of nutty character and some malt for backbone. On the palate, more of the same, plus a modest vanilla note to give it some sweetness. Almost overpowering at first, this cider eventually settles into a groove that works quite well… provided you’re into cherries, that is. 6.9% abv. B+ / $11 per six-pack
Woodchuck Day Chaser Semi-Dry Hard Cider – A semi-dry style made from a mix of apple varieties, this is a harmless and only slightly sweet cider. The body evokes a pear flavor predominantly, with some minor floral elements. Mostly it comes across as a watery version of the sweeter stuff — Cider Lite, perhaps? 5.5% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack
Woodchuck Campfire Pancakes Smoked Maple Hard Cider – You can smell the reek of maple syrup from across the room the minute this is cracked open. While the body isn’t quite as sweet as that entry would telegraph, it is tough to get past much of anything else as one attempts to sip away at this Frankenstein of a cider (slight apple fizz on the finish notwithstanding). 5.5% abv. C- / $8 per six-pack
Not a lot of mystery in this one: Take apple cider, add some spicy peppers, and serve. Sweet-meets-spicy can often go horribly awry, but Woodchuck manages to keep both sides in check and turns in a capable, if unsurprising cider sipper. The up-front is a bit on the sugary side — more apple Jolly Ranchers than a crisp, fresh apple — but the zippy, lightly spicy conclusion is a good counterpoint to what’s come before. Worth a look.
B / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com
You won’t find his name anywhere on the bottle, but Wildcide (and Aurum Cider Co., which makes it) comes to us from Dan Gordon, founder of Gordon Biersch. His first cider, it is pressed from Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious varieties.
As ciders go, Wildcide is decidedly not wild and is instead rather restrained. Very dry, it keeps the fruit in check courtesy of lots of carbonation, some quinine notes, and a very slightly salty edge. While I certainly don’t taste four kinds of apples in the mix, it does have fresh and authentic — not candylike — apple character, avoiding the heavy sugars and gingerbread-house’s-kitchen-sink approach that so many modern ciders attempt to take. If I had to pick a variety that comes across the strongest, I’ll go with the Golden Delicious.
B+ / $10 per six-pack / thewildcide.com
Crispin’s latest limited edition cider is made from Colfax apple wine, aged in dark rum casks, and finished with wildflower honey and “dark candi syrup” — a fancy type of caramel that’s usually used in beermaking. What does the name mean? It comes from Treasure Island, meant to evoke pirates and buried treasure — and rum, of course.
Stories aside, this is cider the way you always hope it will taste — a bit like an apple pie fermented and poured into a glass. The tart apple is tempered with honey and spice notes, layering in vanilla and light chocolate notes. Dusky notes of cloves and some floral notes add complexity and balance to the long and lightly sweet finish. All told, it’s easily one of the best ciders I’ve ever had.
A / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / crispincider.com
Two limited edition ciders and one very limited reserve release from Sonoma Cider. These ones aren’t exactly my favorites, but maybe the descriptions will entice your palate…
Sonoma Cider The Crowbar – Dry cider, flavored with lime and habanero. Surprisingly spicy, with intense lime notes and quite a peppery punch behind it. It’s altogether a bit much for this otherwise simple beverage, but for the novelty factor it might be worth a look if you’re a heat-seeker. 6% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack
Sonoma Cider The Washboard – Dry, flavored with sarsaparilla and vanilla. This sounds — root beer cider!? — a lot better than it actually is. More sweetness would help to balance out the intense herbal character, and the vanilla is quite extracted. If you’ve ever tried to consume vanilla extract on its own, without some form of sugar to temper things, you can fathom where this cider is headed. 5.5% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack
Sonoma Cider Dry Zider – An organic, bone-dry cider that’s aged for three months in oak barrels that previously held Sonoma County zinfandel wine. A true oddity, with notes of dry red wine that pair with a crisp and clearly dry, tart apple character. Not a combination that I would have imagined — try blending your zinfandel and sauvignon blanc together and you’re on the right path — but it works better than expected. Again I can’t help but think stylistically it would be improved by some sweetness, but that’s just me. 6.9% abv B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle