Hard apple cider is a great summertime drink, especially if you’re gluten-free or just bored with beer. (Hey, it happens.) But if you’ve stuck exclusively to fermented-apple brews, you’re missing out on a whole world of fruity flavor.
While the apple is still the star of the cider show, more brewers are turning to other fruits—including pears, berries, and apricots—to create new cider flavors. It’s both a matter of taste and a way to deal with a shortage of cider-specific apples in the United States.
Ciders have become increasingly popular (between 2005 and 2012, domestic cider production jumped 264 percent, according to the Beer Institute), and brewers have had to deal with a dip in apple supply. But instead of approaching this shortage as a crisis, cider producers are using it as an opportunity—and a tasty one at that.
Want to ditch the apple entirely? See how your palate responds to these new fruit flavors:
Pears have a lot in common with apples, including texture and acidity. However, “perry” (the name for hard cider made from pears) tends to be less tart and more delicate than typical hard apple cider, thanks to the pear’s higher fruit sugar and lower malic acid content.
One of our favorites is the Spire Mountain Pear Cider (5 percent ABV) from the Fish Brewing Company. This 2010 North American Brewers’ Association gold-medal winner is brewed in Olympia, Washington, using a blend of Bartlett, Bosc, and Anjou pears. The result is slightly sweet and bubbly like a sparkling wine, which means you can sip it straight from the bottle or go high class and serve it in a stem glass.
Regions with a lot of apples often have choice cherries as well. Unsurprisingly, brewers take advantage of this crop, which is ripe with crisp cider flavor. While cherries have a short season that peaks in summer, cider producers can stretch this fruit’s bright notes into fall, making perfect pairings for heavy autumn meals.
In the meantime, beat the heat with Black Cherry Hard Cider (5 percent ABV) from McKenzie’s, located in West Seneca, New York. This refreshing, tangy cider has great summer appeal with a cherry soda–like quality and enough apple tartness to avoid being too sweet.
If you’re only familiar with grocery store apricots, which tend to be mealy, dry, and flavorless, then your palate is in for a treat with Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider (6.9 percent ABV).
Located in Yakima, Washington, Tieton got its start in the fermented beverage world growing apples at Harmony Orchards. All fruit grown on this third-generation family-owned farm is organic and freshly pressed. While this two-fruit blended cider contains some apples, apricots are the star, giving the drink a semisweet taste and a dry finish.
Seeking a cider with a bit of history? Try Original Sin’s Elderberry Cider (5 percent ABV), brewed in New York City. According to The American Orchardist, a book published in 1822 for professional and recreational fruit growers, adding elderberries gives cider “a fine colour as well as flavour.” Original Sin’s is a good example. Elderberries shine brightest when processed, turning from bland and bitter to sweet and juicy. This dark purple cider is subtle, dry, and not too sweet, offering just enough tartness to create a balanced taste.
Raspberry lovers, take note. Dry Raspberry (4 percent ABV) by Wyder’s Hard Cider is one of the best non-apple ciders out there. Wyder’s started in Vancouver, Canada, before moving to Vermont and was one of the first breweries, in the early 1990s, to offer ciders made from fruits other than apple. Today, Wyder’s has a strong fan base, thanks in part to Dry Raspberry. This cider has a clean, tart taste with a hint of sugary sweetness and a dry finish.