Forget Wine—Drink Hard Cider this Thanksgiving
You have your Thanksgiving menu set, but what are you drinking? While wine is considered the ultimate match for hearty staples such as turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, there’s another crisp libation out there that’s just as worthy of a spot on your table—hard cider. Made from the fermented juice of apples, cider (which is sometimes called cider beer) is amazingly versatile and complex. But wait a second, isn’t cider super sweet? Not necessarily. Yes, there are sweet ciders, but there are also semi-sweet, off-dry, and dry ciders, all of which pair as beautifully with food as wine does.
Perhaps the biggest mental block we experience with cider is how we think about it. Cider is often bottled like beer and grouped with beer in grocery stores, plus it has similar alcohol content. However, it’s not really beer. Unlike beer brewing, cider making is controlled by terroir, or the soil condition, climate, and production techniques used from start to finish. If you think this sounds a bit like winemaking, well, you’re right. Grapes are to wine as apples are to cider—both are made through the fermentation of their fruits and both have acidity and tannins. If we can change the way we perceive cider, and start to think about it more like wine, we can better understand this crisp, tart, and totally delicious drink.
Related: The All-American Drink: Hard Cider
So, when planning your Thanksgiving menu this year, consider cider. Its lower alcohol content and crisp fruitiness make it the perfect drink to enjoy throughout the entire meal. Whether served as an aperitif with snacks beforehand, sipped with heavier dishes during the main course, or savored with sweets to finish, cider is an all-purpose, crowd pleasing libation that can appeal to wine-drinkers and beer-drinkers alike. Below are five reasons why you ought to consider putting cider on the table at your Thanksgiving feast this year.
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1. Cider is the perfect compromise between wine and beer.
With a tartness that’s familiar to wine lovers and crisp, fruity notes that will win over beer drinkers, cider appeals to aficionados from both worlds. Cider flavors and styles vary, so finding the right one for your flavor preferences is key. Those who flock to funky farmhouse ales, lemony saisons, or spiced Belgian brews will be right at home with a semi-dry or semi-sweet cider. If you crave dry riesling, brut Champagne, or Sauvignon Blanc, a dry cider should harmonize with your taste buds.
2. Fall is apple season, after all.
While Thanksgiving is about the gathering of family and friends, its origins lie in a celebration of the successful fall harvest. With the apple harvest typically taking place from September to late November, a glass of cider alongside your favorite Thanksgiving dishes is spot-on seasonal. Whether it’s apple picking, baking apple pies, or sipping hot apple cider (the non-boozy kind), apples really are truly emblematic of autumn.
3. Cider is tied to American history.
While you may not believe it today, cider was once the boozy beverage of choice in our country. Ben Watson, in his book, Cider, Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own, quotes cider as “America’s national drink” in the 1700s. Because apple trees were easy to grow, cider mills became a common sight on many New England farms. For early settlers who couldn’t rely on safe drinking water, they often turned to alcoholic beverages like cider.
4. Cider is typically lower in ABV than wine.
From football watching to turkey feasting to lingering dinner table discussions, Thanksgiving tends to encourage all-day sipping. That’s fine, but make your libation something that’s less likely to give you a headache the next morning, such as a drier, lightly-sweet cider. Wine typically runs between 10% and 15% alcohol by volume (ABV), while cider tends to be between 4% and 8% ABV. Another tip—pour your cider into a wine glass, not a pint glass. A wine glass helps you savor your cider slowly while also coaxing out its flavors and aromas.
5. There’s a perfect cider for every course.
Cider is incredibly complex and can range from sparkling and sweet to dry and still. From snacks and appetizers to turkey and sides, there’s an ideal cider that can enhance every part of your meal. The residual sugar, or amount of sugar leftover after fermentation, can determine a cider’s sweetness. Knowing this will help you pair your cider with the right food. Here’s a basic breakdown:
- Semi-Sweet or Semi-Dry Cider: This cider tends to have a pleasant balance of tart and sweet, packing more residual sugar than off-dry and dry. Expect an upfront, crisp apple flavor.
- Off-Dry or Dry Cider: These ciders contain the least amount of residual sugar, making them the driest varieties you’ll drink. A more subtle apple flavor and stronger acidity make many of these ciders reminiscent of dry white wine.
- Ice Cider: Typically served with dessert, this cider has more residual sugar than other varieties. You’ll find an ultra-concentrated apple flavor and a higher ABV than other cider varieties.
Best Thanksgiving Ciders
Now that we have you on board, the next—and often most difficult—step is choosing the perfect cider. While most grocery stores stock ciders, your local craft beer store, wine shop, or alcohol retailer such as Total Wine & More are more likely to stock artisanal varieties. Laws vary by state, but some cideries will also ship straight to you. If possible, stick to ciders made with fresh apples instead of apple juice or concentrate. Ciders made with fresh apples will pack the most flavor, whether it’s funk, tartness, or sweetness. Below are five ciders that we truly love—any would be a delicious addition to your gathering this year.
Shacksbury Craft Cider
- Producer: Shacksbury (Vergennes, VT)
- Tasting notes from producer: “Robust and fruity,” an excellent choice if you’re looking for a nicely balanced cider that’s not bone-dry or overly sweet.
- Food pairings: Appetizers and snacks such as spiced mixed nuts, bacon-wrapped dates, baked brie with cranberries, charcuterie and cheeses, and more.
Wölffer Estate Vineyard
- Producer: Wölffer Estate Vineyard (Sagaponack, NY)
- Tasting notes from producer: “Fantastic fresh floral notes,” “nice balance of sweet fruit, elegant acidity, and fine tannins”
- Food pairings: Appetizers with cheese or fruit, and nearly any Thanksgiving sweet—pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, chocolate mousse, and ice cream.
Foggy Ridge Cider
Famille Dupont Calvados & Ciders
- Producer: Famille Dupont Calvados & Ciders (Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France)
- Tasting notes from producer: “Full of fruit and freshness,” “aromas of apples and citrus”
- Food pairings: Cheese and charcuterie appetizers, oysters (think oyster dressing!), turkey, and virtually any side dish.
- Producer: Angry Orchard (Walden, NY)
- Tasting notes from producer: “Rich, complex, and unique,” clean apple notes and a lingered toffee finish,” inspired by ice ciders of Quebec.
- Food parings: Cheesecake, ice cream, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie.