I like a pint of beer as much as the next person, but when autumn arrives, I set my sights on hard cider. Not apple cider, not apple juice---hard apple cider, which has a huge following in England but is not as well known in the States. (My college days in England included plenty of hard cider!) Dry or semi-dry, a pint of hard cider is a lighter alternative to beer.

A quick lowdown on hard cider: Hard cider is made from apples that are pressed and then fermented with yeast. Some of the larger producers use apple juice concentrate while others use fresh juice, and some artisan producers use specialty yeasts and heirloom apples. (Pear cider is made the same way but with pears; it’s called Perry.) The alcohol content is between 5 and 6 percent; you’ll find it in aluminum cans, 350mL (12 ounce) bottles, 750mL bottles, and on draft. Most producers make a traditional cider as well as seasonal flavored ciders, such as pumpkin. Serve it straight up like the purists do, or add a few ice cubes in the summer, or use it as a mixer. (One of my favorite fall drinks is a Mimosa, replacing the Champagne with Pear hard cider. It’s divine, and very budget-friendly for a party.) It’s also a great option at the dinner table; it pairs really well with food, and would make a nice surprise for Thanksgiving dinner! It's an American tradition: the colonists drank hard cider like water, since it was easy to make and the water was usually contaminated. And that apple tree that Johnny Appleseed chopped down was a cider apple tree.

If you live in one of the top hard cider producing states (Washington State, Michigan, or New York State) look for a local cider in restaurants or liquor stores. But these days you can find good cider almost anywhere (and often order them online). Some of my favorite brands are Tieton Cider Works from Washington State, Original Sin from New York, JK's Scrumpy from Michigan, and Ace Premium Hard Ciders from California.