Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

strongbow

Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Virtue Cider Lapinette Cidre Brut

lapinette

Virtue Cider’s Lapinette is a “Norman-style cidre brut fermented with French yeast and patiently aged for months in French oak.”

This Michigan-born cider is lightly sparkling but bone dry, which can be a bit surprising and even challenging at first but which eventually wins you over. On the tongue it offers an earthiness at first, mushroomy and yeasty, before stronger apple notes eventually emerge. It’s cut with balsamic notes, particularly on the high-test finish, which mercifully offers some acidity to cut that extremely dry character early on.

6.8% abv.

B / $10 (765ml) / virtuecider.com

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble

sonoma-cider-wimble

This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack / sonomacider.com

Review: Stella Artois Cidre

Stella Artois Cidre Bottle

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.

4.5% abv.

B+ / $9 per six-pack / stellaartois.com

Review: Woodchuck June & Juice Juniper Hard Cider

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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.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Woodchuck Cherry Barrel Aged, Day Chaser, and Campfire Pancakes Hard Cider

 

Campfire Pancakes

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

woodchuck.com

Review: Woodchuck Hot Cha Cha Cha! Hard Cider

vermont cider HotChaChaChaNot 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.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

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