Here's what to look for
Unfortunately, when I think of cider, I think of the 6-packs that arrive at a party to cater to people who don’t drink beer. They’re often quite cloying and not really pleasurable for someone who prefers dryer drinks. Of course, that’s not what cider has to be—it’s simply what’s often the most available. However, as is the case with craft beer or organic wine, there’s a whole world of heritage cider just waiting to be discovered.
Annie Bystryn runs Cider in Love, an online curator of heritage ciders. I asked Bystryn about the main differences between heritage and commercial ciders, as well as what cider neophytes should be looking out for.
First things first, what is heritage cider?
“The best way to think of fine, heritage cider is like fine wine—but from apples,” Bystryn told me in an email. She explained that once the fruit is harvested, it’s pressed to release the juice and then fermented so the juice’s natural sugar converts to alcohol. Some heritage cider makers will add a bit of yeast to trigger the fermentation process, while others leave the cider to do it’s thing all by itself. As is the case with pétillant-naturel (or pét-nat) wines, Bystryn mentioned that many heritage ciders go through a secondary fermentation in order to create carbonation and to mature its flavor profile.
PSA: It doesn’t have to be sweet
When it comes to flavor, Bystryn says heritage cider offers “far more complexity” than commercial varieties. “Mass-produced cider is usually made with apples used for eating,” Bystryn said. She told me that these straightforward ciders are called “modern,” and have an apple aroma and flavor. Fine heritage cider, on the other hand, is made from rarer heirloom and cider-specific (Bystryn called them bittersweet or bittersharp) apples. “As a result, the aromas and flavors of heritage cider are complex and nuanced,” Bystryn said. “You could experience notes ranging from citrus to stone fruit to mineral to smoke.”
Pay attention to the packaging
Bystryn told me that most heritage ciders come in a traditional 750ml bottle, like a wine, while mass-produced cider comes in cans or 11-12-ounce bottles, like commercial beers. She also noted that heritage cider usually has a slightly higher ABV (around 7 to 8 percent), while a mass-produced ciders typically are about 4-6 percent ABV.
Pick cider based on what you already like to drink
You don’t have to be gluten free or a fan of sweet drinks to enjoy cider. In fact, many heritage ciders can be tart, sour, and funky, like natural wines and some craft beers. When I asked Bystryn to recommend a cider for an IPA drinker, she suggested the Night Pasture from Slyboro, a very dry cider with notes of “savory herbs, white pepper and a subtle oaky finish.” For a mimosa fan, Bystryn offers Tilted Shed’s Jonathan Methode Champenoise Cider. “Think of it as a sophisticated take on a mimosa, with no mixing required.” The juicy cider has a lemony zing, and is made in the traditional Champagne method, which makes it naturally carbonated. Finally, I wondered which cider Bystryn would give someone who’s into orange wine. She suggested the wild fermented Wild Apple Blend Cider by Carr’s Ciderhouse. Like many orange wines, the Wild Apple Blend is bold, but still tart and very dry.