Still think of hard cider as the fruit-flavored lip gloss of alcoholic beverages? Newer, more complex ciders made in beer styles—such as oak-aged and hopped—court a wider range of tastes and might be the next thing you want to pair with your spicy takeout or stinky cheese. Some are an alternative of sorts to beer or Champagne, and the barrel-aged versions taste of stronger stuff.
The bad news is: You’ll rarely find them in bars and restaurants—you’ll need to make a shopping trip. When they do find their way into bars, they usually lurk in the shadow of the beer list. Bring on the separate cider list: Cider is fermented with yeast and similar in ABV to beer but has much in common with wine, being made from fruit (a varietal/blend, affected by terroir).
A number of more conventional craft ciders are on offer at pinch (known for 30 New York state brewers on tap) and Yard House (whose seasonal ciders include Captain Lawrence Seasonal). But at Half Time in Mamaroneck, you’ll be staring down a windfall of all types of cider across much of an aisle. Store manager John Green notes that current American ciders began as bastardizations of European brands like Magners, with Angry Orchard (from the makers of Samuel Adams) leading the way and Woodchuck and Warwick Valley branching out creatively. The craft, local, and gluten-free movements—even the uptick in US interest in the World Cup and the European cider-drinking “football” culture—have helped make hard cider the highest-growth niche in beer.
Whether you’re looking for alternatives or just exploring, start here:
• Bourbon aficionados: Bad Seed Bourbon Barrel Cider, aged up to six weeks in Kentucky bourbon barrels, is the one I keep coming back to, with its strong oak and vanilla flavors and bright acidity. But Thistly Cross Whisky Cask, aged six months in Glen Moray casks, is undeniably more subtle and sophisticated. Both pair well with salad.
• Champagne lovers: Domaine Dupont’s Cidre Triple is made with bitter Mettais apples and thrice fermented, resulting in a wonderfully dry, slightly bitter funk and wine-high 10 percent ABV. It pops like Champagne and pairs with stinky cheese and endive salad.
• Hopheads: Harvest Moon’s Heritage Hops, dry-hopped after fermentation and aged several months, comes closest to a brewski. The sours play it a little too safe, but Doc’s Draft Sour Cherry, made from pressed New York state apples and fresh cherries, is a delicious step up from straight cider.