Traditional hard apple cider is the spirit world's safe zone, a Switzerland of sorts where wine, beer, and liquor enthusiasts can lay down their arms and split a killer lamb burger. The best, most authentic versions give a wide berth to their deeply sweet, non-alcoholic brethren (the sort best served fireside), and don't recall apple juice so much as apple orchards; hiding behind the brilliant, tangy acidity, you'll find soil and peels, pine crates and autumn air.
If you've steered clear of hard cider because you fear it's too sweet or simple, swap your usual bottle of choice with some of our favorite producers from around the world.
1.) Doc's Draft Hard Apple Cider
Hudson Valley, New York
A terrific introduction to the world of hard cider, this semi-dry and fully effervescent entry from Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery has tons of fresh red apple off the top, and makes as much sense in summer as it does in winter. Drinkers who want the same richness of aromatics without any sweetness can graduate to the Doc's Draft Hard Pear.
2.) Bereziartua Cider
Basque Country, Spain
A traditional Basque cider with a fierce cult following, Bereziatrua is lightly fizzed and shot through with a tart, green-apple tang.
3.) Cyril Zangs Sparkling Cider
This is 201-level: There's no sense here that cider is even a close cousin of apple juice. The dense, complex flavor profile showcases the tang and bitter-edge of apple peel, the damp, funky earth of orchard soil, and a nod to sweetness that shows up like a last minute suggestion. Brilliant with savory or salty dishes.
4.) Farnum Hill Sem-dry Sparkling Apple Cider
Lebanon, New Hampshire
Made with actual cider apples (as opposed to a blend of ciders and larger apple cultivars), Farnum Hill's semi-dry sparkling cider is gorgeously complex and aromatic, a true traditional cider with an purposeful hint of sweetness that makes it welcoming to hard cider newcomers.
5.) Trabanco Poma Aurea Sidra de Asturias
This perfectly dry, twice-fermented (once in chestnut, once in bottle) cider is made using the méthode champenoise; there's a tang and bite of peel here before a sense of striking, juicy flesh. The cider's mouth-watering, fat-slicing acidity that makes this an option to replace astringent sparkling white wines.
An easy sell to craft beer fanatics, Harpoon cider is made from a blend of apples (including McIntoshes), and gives off a gently yeasty, extraordinarily ripe and fruity character throughout.