When children learn about Johnny Appleseed, they hear of a pioneer planting orchards and staving off hunger with fruit. What they don’t hear is that most of that fruit was used to make cider, a fermented beverage favored by the colonists. So really, Appleseed wasn’t fighting hunger; he was fighting sobriety.
Cider’s popularity tanked in the mid-nineteenth century as people warmed up to beer and, later on, when the Protestant Church pushed the Prohibition-esque temperance movement. But today, cider is back, and unlike the unfiltered apple juice you buy in the fall, mull with spices, and pour for the kids, this gluten-free and fermented alcoholic beverage (up to 12 percent) drinks well with pork, oysters, and cheese. Below are a few of my favorite pours, most of which can be found at Hop City Craft Beer & Wine.
Cider newbies looking for entry-level producers should start with either Magners from Ireland or Angry Orchard Traditional Dry. Both are smooth, subtle, and hint of baked apples. Avoid national brands like Anheuser-Busch’s Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider, Woodchuck Hard Cider, and Crispin Cider, which lack the tart bite of apple all good ciders possess.
In the realm of domestic craft producers, Foggy Ridge Cider from Dugspur, Virginia, is king. Bartender-owner Andy Minchow of Ration and Dram keeps several ciders on hand but is especially fond of Foggy Ridge’s Handmade Cider, which is full of “citrus, good minerality, and hints of limestone.” For more fizz and honey, consider J.K.’s Scrumpy from Michigan.
Looking for the best cider in the world? Head to Empire State South, where wine director Steven Grubbs pours the Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché de Normandie. Bottled and corked like Champagne, it’s a biting, rustic—some call it funky—cider that captivates me every time. Another notable pour is the Isastegi Sagardo Basque Cider from Spain.
This article originally appeared in our November 2014 issue under the headline “Hard Pressed.”