It's late fall and one food synonymous with the season is the apple. Cider, sauce, caramelized, or even just fresh from the tree, apples are a delicious fall snack. Like pretty much everything else, humans have fermented apples into alcohol. Some make mead, and others... hard cider.
Cider seems to fall into a gray area. It's not quite beer, it's not wine, and it's certainly not strong enough to be a miniature cocktail. To say it's akin to the cheap malt beverages like Smirnoff Ice or Zima would be unfair to some of the delicious ciders out there. I don't know if most Untappd users remember to check in ciders, but there is a badge for cider so we can take a look at what we have. And in an attempt to be fair to the sugary malt beverages like Smirnoff Ice, you can check-in to those as well. Let he who has not enjoyed a sweet and ice cold malt beverage cast the first stone.
You might say Cider is the next hot beer style. Take a look at the header image and see just a small sample of what many beer stores have available.
Boston Beer Company's Angry Orchard branch of cider is actually their fastest growing product, and their Crisp Apple is the most checked-in cider in this sample. It's doing pretty well with a 4.21 BAR and a 3.78 rating. Ciders as a whole rate 3.58, just below the beer-wide average of 3.65.
Leading the pack is the J.K.s Cuvée Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider by Almar Orchards (J.K.'s Scrumpy) with a 4.38 rating and a 5.37 BAR. Almar Orchards actually has another beer at #3, J.K.’s Solstice Hard Cider, and another at 12 in the J.K.'s Northern Neighbor (Saskatoon Cuvée). A little research reveals that Almar Orchards is a cider mill in Michigan, and that they only produce three ciders. They are the hands-down winner for best cider, and the website even suggests you can enjoy their cider hot and spiced, which is only making me wonder why I didn't purchase a bottle the other day when I took that picture. Angry Orchard's Iceman comes in 17th at 3.91 with a 4.15 BAR.
Moving on to the sneaky macro brands, Crispin Cider Company's Bird On A Wire is rated 3.96 with a 4.19 BAR while their Natural Hard Apple Cider is a 3.02 and -1.71 BAR. Crispin was bought by Miller-Coors last year, and I'm not entirely sure what effect that is having besides the availability of Crispin roughly everywhere these days. Crispin had previously purchased Fox Barrel Cider, whose Blackberry Pear Cider is one I’ve had and enjoyed. Perhaps Crispin is the Goose Island of cider now.
Apples, and the cider made from them, have an intensely local feel to them, probably even more than beer does. Growing up in New York I always remember going upstate and picking our own apples in the fall, there are local cider mills (for the non-alcoholic stuff), and even most grocery stores have wide selections of locally picked produce. Why should the hard stuff be any different? Support your local cider mill.
I always enjoy looking at the bottom of these lists. I found 205 ciders with at least 30 check-ins, and coming in dead last with an astonishing 2.31 rating is Michelob Ultra Light Cider made by none other than Anheuser-Busch (ABInBev). That's good for a -7.9 BAR, which is the ninth worst beer on the entire leaderboard. Next is Magner's Berry and then a drink Heineken calls Jillz for some reason that I have absolutely zero interest in learning more about.
The weather is getting chilly, at least in the Northeast. Why not embrace a traditional fall beverage and enjoy a hard cider? There are some delicious options out there.