Hard Cider Explained

Hard cider is a popular beverage and a refreshing alternative to the bitter, hop-heavy flavor profiles of many types of beer. By adding ciders to your beverage menu, you can cater to your customers who may not be beer drinkers. Find out everything you need to know about this crisp beverage, including the alcohol content, how to make hard cider, which hard ciders to try, and proper storage and serving methods.

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What Is Hard Apple Cider?

glasses of hard cider next to apples

Hard cider is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruit, usually apples. The addition of "hard" in its name is used to distinguish this drink from its non-alcoholic counterpart, apple cider, which is made by pressing apples to produce juice.

In many parts of Europe and America, hard cider is known as simply "cider." Until the 20th century, the term "cider" referred to the alcoholic drink. Juice companies began using "cider" to label freshly pressed apple juice, and as a result, the term "hard cider" was adopted by some to highlight the difference between the two beverages.

Is Hard Cider Alcoholic?

Hard cider is an alcoholic drink. However, it’s important to note that its alcohol content can vary depending on the brand, cider, and even the process by which it is made.

Hard Cider Alcohol Content

On average, most hard ciders are 4.5% - 7% alcohol by volume (ABV), while some ciders have an ABV as high as 10% or 12%. Drier ciders usually have a higher ABV because the yeast consumes a majority of the cider's natural sugars.

Is Hard Cider Beer?

Hard cider is not considered beer, even though it can usually be found on a beer list. The only quality the two drinks have in common is that they’re both fermented. Beer is defined as a fermented alcoholic beverage that's brewed from malt and flavored with hops. Cider, on the other hand, is defined as an alcoholic drink made from fermented fruit juice, typically from apples. The fact that cider contains no malt or hops makes these two beverages unique.

It's important to note that hopped ciders are becoming trendy in bars and on beer lists. These ciders do contain hop flavors and aromas usually found in beer, but they are still not brewed with malt, making them a great gluten-free substitute for beer. Like hard seltzer, hard ciders provide a lighter alternative to beer on a bar menu.

Different Types of Hard Cider

There are a few varieties of hard cider that appeal to individuals with diverse palettes. The different types of cider are defined by their level of sweetness, and most are available either still or carbonated.

Cider in a glass on a table
  • Dry Cider: Dry hard ciders have less than 0.5% residual sugar and are often more acidic than the other types. Because the yeast consumes most of the cider's natural sugars, this less-sweet drink also contains a higher alcohol content than other ciders. Most dry ciders are aged in oak barrels to complement their mineral qualities.
  • Off-Dry Cider: An off-dry cider has slightly more body than its dry counterpart and typically contains 1-2% residual sugar. These ciders tend to be smoother and have a richer flavor.
  • Semi-Dry and Semi-Sweet Cider: Semi-dry ciders contain above 2% residual sugar, while semi-sweet ciders can carry as much as 4%. These two cider types are similar in taste and have heartier bodies and more pronounced apple flavors.

Ciders are also differentiated by the fruit used in their recipes. There is no limit to what fruits you can use to make hard cider. While apples and pears are the most popular types of cider, you can use anything from plums and peaches to strawberries and pineapples.

How to Make Hard Cider

If you’re interested in making your own hard cider, you may not know where to start. Below, we’ve included a hard cider recipe to guide you through the process. Continue reading to learn how to make hard apple cider.

hard cider making process step by step

Hard Cider Recipe

  1. Acquire fresh juice: Whether you purchase fresh-pressed juice with no preservatives or you core and peel your own fruit is entirely up to you. If using fresh juice, you’ll need to test the liquid and treat it if it’s unpasteurized. If using fresh fruit, you’ll need to clean the apples (or desired fruit) and properly crush and press them using a fruit presser.
  2. Add yeast: Choose your preferred yeast and add it to the treated juice to start the fermentation process.
  3. Allow the cider to ferment to its desired dryness: If your cider smells like rotten eggs or burning matches, you may need to add more yeast. On average, cider takes about two weeks to complete the fermentation process, and then it should sit for another week to allow the yeasts to completely settle.
  4. Rack the cider into a sanitized vessel with no headspace: The cider should fill the whole container without room for additional oxygen. Allow the cider to age in the vessel until it achieves the flavor you desire.
  5. Add a wine fining agent (optional): A wine fining agent, such as gelatin or pectic enzyme, binds to and breaks down tannins and other undesired proteins in the beverage. After aging is complete, you may need to add a wine fining agent to help clarify the liquid.
  6. Bottle the cider: If you want a sparkling cider, add the proper amount of priming agent. If you prefer a still cider (non-carbonated cider), add a small amount of sulfite to ensure the yeast doesn’t come back to life.

Best Yeast for Cider

hard cider press with red detailing

White wine yeast or champagne yeast are often considered the best yeasts for cider. This is because of their vigorous nature, helping to preserve the apple flavor in your cider. You can experiment with other types, like Nottingham ale yeast and mead yeast. Yeast can be purchased online or from certain stores that carry brewing supplies.

Adding yeast to your juice is an important step, as it starts the fermentation process. As yeast is added, it consumes the sugars present in your liquid and transforms them into alcohol. So, the more sugar your brew has initially, the higher the alcohol content will be.

Best Hard Cider

While there are many hard ciders to try, below we take you through some fan-favorite hard cider brands:

  • Stella Artois Cidre (Baldwinsville, New York) 4.5% ABV
  • Downeast Cider Original Blend (Boston, MA) 5.1% ABV
  • Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider (Colfax, CA) 4.5% ABV
  • Wandering Aengus Oaked Dry Cider (Salem, Oregon) 7.5% ABV
  • Angry Orchard The Old Fashioned (Walden, NY) 6.5% ABV
  • Eve's Cidery Darling Creek (Van Etten, NY) 8% ABV

Best Hard Cider for Fall

If you're looking for some excellent beverages to try during fall, explore the below hard ciders:

  • Cigar City Cider & Meade Homemade Apple Pie (Tampa, Florida) 5.5% ABV
  • Wyndridge Farm Cranberry Cider (York, PA) 5.5% ABV
  • Harpoon Brewery Pumpkin Cider (Boston, MA) 4.8% ABV
  • Seattle Cider Pumpkin Spice Hard Cider (Seattle, WA) 6.9% ABV
  • Woodchuck Fall Harvest Hard Cider (Middlebury, VT) 5% ABV
  • Strongbow Cider Artisanal Blend (Herefordshire, UK) 6% ABV

How to Store Apple Cider

Since hard cider is fermented, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated once it’s bottled or canned, but it will taste better for a longer period of time if it is stored cold in a bottle cooler at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to allow your cider to freeze, as this will kill the yeast and alter the flavor of your beverage. Also, most bottles and cans of cider can be stored upright or on their sides without affecting their flavor.

How to Serve Hard Cider

hard cider in glass with three glasses of beer on a wooden paddle behind it

If serving hard cider, follow the below tips to ensure a fresh and flavorful beverage.

  • Serve at approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit: This serving temperature is similar to white wine. Additionally, if it’s too cold, it can be difficult for guests to taste the diverse flavors. Alternatively, a cider that is served too warm can be unappetizing for guests.
  • Thoroughly clean out the tap line: If putting hard cider on draft, it is essential to clean the tap because the delicate flavors can be altered if contaminated with another drink. Also, it’s crucial to dedicate a specific tap line to this beverage only. Since it’s naturally gluten free, it needs to have its own line separate from beer to prevent it from coming in contact with gluten, so customers with allergies can enjoy it.
  • Serve in proper hard cider glassware: While many different receptacles can be used to serve cider, the best glass is one with a large enough bowl to allow for swirling and proper aeration, such as a Bordeaux wine glass. The stem also prevents the drinker's hand from warming up the drink. However, in less formal settings, like sports bars and pubs, it’s commonly offered in a cider glass or pint glass.
  • Consider pairing hard cider with food: When pairing food and cider, ask yourself this one simple question: “When is apple a great ingredient while cooking?” This will help you pair your fruity cider more easily. Foods like pork, chicken, butternut squash, and salads all pair very well with this beverage. Some basic guidelines are as follows: if serving an entree, pair it with a dryer cider, and if serving a dessert, pair it with a sweeter cider.

No matter what, it's always best for guests to consume their drink soon after it’s served before it loses its carbonation.

Hard cider is an increasingly popular alcoholic beverage that is a great alternative to beer or for those following a gluten-free diet. Enjoy this drink year-round as a seasonal fall or winter alcoholic choice or as a cool refresher in the spring and summertime.

Posted in: Bars & Breweries|By Hannah Herrera
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