The Best Local Ciders This Fall (For When You’re Sick Of Pumpkin Everything)

Photo by Marcy Franklin.
Photo by Marcy Franklin.

Ok, here’s the deal: I am decidedly not excited about fall. I love summer–I love it in all its hot, sticky, disgusting glory. I love never needing sleeves, baseball on TV everyday and falling asleep on the beach, sneaking beers into outdoor movies and how it never gets dark before 8 p.m. Fall can keep its Pumpkin Spice everything, its foliage and its “sweater weather” (barf). All fall means is that (in the words of Game of Thrones) winter is coming, that three to four month period where we all creep into our dank apartment caves to shrivel up and die. No thank you, count me out.

However, since time is nothing but a flat circle, it does seem that the changing of the seasons is an inevitable situation and in order to have any chance at reaching next summer, we must survive the fall. Thus, I decided to call attention to one of fall’s least-worse offerings: the apple harvest, when those tasty little fruits hang heavy in their trees, just begging to be picked and pressed into delicious tanks of fine apple cider. And we’re not talking Martinelli’s here. Nope, this is the good stuff–effervescent, crisp and just a tinge sweet, well made hard apple cider is beer’s daintier little sister and can serve as a powerful antidote to a bout of seasonally-induced grumpiness.

If we have to do it, let’s do it right, with lots of quality liquor in hand. This unordered list of ten tasty ciders, many of which hail from the great state of New York, are sure to liven up this year’s transition into death winter. Enjoy.

Descendant Cider Dry (NYC)
As New York City’s only cidery, Descendant took the five boroughs by storm last year when they released their first batch of perfectly dry, Hudson Valley-sourced ciders. Their latest creation, a sparkling, medium-bodied 6.9 percent ABV cider called Dry, premiered last month at, fittingly, New York City’s only cider bar, Wassail, and has been spotted at taprooms around the city ever since. At a measly $16 for a 25-ounce bottle, Descendant’s soft, fruit-forward and easy-drinking Dry might be the best picnic-and-chill juice on the list.

Orchard Hill Red Label Hard Cider (New Hampton, N.Y.)
Orchard Hill’s Red Label is a blend of Crispin, Idared, Empire, Spartan and McIntosh apples, all picked fresh at the family-owned Soons Orchards in New Hampton. Bottle-fermented and unfiltered, this cider has a traditional, rustic feel and tastes like stepping into a brisk Autumn breeze (in a good way). But don’t be fooled by its Prosecco-like body and fruity aroma–at 7.25 percent ABV, this sucker is secretly more potent than most IPAs.

Millstone Hop Vine (Monkton, Md.)
Ok, so it’s not local, but anything from Millstone is well worth widening your carbon footprint. The Maryland farmhouse cidery that’s been turning beer geeks into apple freaks all over the North East this summer has a fairly diverse list of products, including my favorite, Hop Vine. This tart, earthy Oak barrel aged cider is dry-hopped on fresh, piney Cascade hops for a month before being bottle conditioned with a touch of wildflower honey. The result is a dry yet well-rounded cider that can compete with just about any fancy craft beer on the market.

Hudson Valley Farmhouse Scrumpy (Staatsburg, N.Y.)
The Scrumpy is a bit of a wild card. It’s unfiltered, unsulfered and served cold, an experience much more akin to sipping a glass of white wine than downing a pint of bubbly, force-carbonated suds. It starts dry and finishes with a surprisingly complex funkiness, making an excellent food-driven cider that, at just 4.5 percent ABV, is prime to last you through an entire meal.

Citizen Cider The Full Nelson (Burlington, Vt.)
Even though it’s far from a native New Yorker, I would be remiss if I didn’t include Citizen Cider, my late summer go-to. The Vermont craft cidery’s shiny silver tallboys are bursting with some of the freshest, most inventive cider styles in the game right now and the Full Nelson is my absolute favorite flavor. This is a beer drinker’s cider, loaded with tropical, melony Nelson Sauvin hops that mingle swimmingly with all that juicy, applely tartness. It’s a match made in orchard heaven.

Nine Pin Belgian Cider (Albany, N.Y.)
Nine Pin’s Belgian Cider is another oddball here, a sweeter, bolder, spicier take surrounded by a chorus of dry, refined sippers. For this one, the farm cidery blends a variety of locally grown upstate apples and then ferments the juice with Belgian Abbey yeast, inoculating it with all the fruity, herbal characteristics one might find in a traditional Abbey beer. The outcome is perpetually smooth, with a slightly creamy mouthfeel that lingers after each slug.

Bad Seed Cider Old Elmer Traditional Cider (Highland, N.Y.)
While the boys from Bad Seed have been hawking their large format bottles at farmers markets around the city for a few years now, they’ve only recently added a strong selection of cans to their fleet, including Old Elmer. Old Elmer, a dry cider aged on oak, is curiously complex and somehow both bone dry and very rich. As such, it pairs nicely with heavier, fatty dishes like barbecue and steak, which happen to be my favorite dishes.

1911 Raspberry Hard Cider (Lafayette, N.Y.)
1911’s Raspberry is the country song of New York ciders, so sweet and easy you’ll feel like you’re tossing back wine coolers at a tailgate party–albeit grown-up, hand-crafted wine coolers. It’s the least dry of the ciders listed, opening with a burst of bubbly Juicy Fruit and finishing with a punch of bright, tart raspberry. This one’s not for everyone, of course, but it makes for a nice introductory cider for those with sugar-seeking palates.

Aaron Burr Hemlock Cider (Wurtsboro, N.Y.)
Aaron Burr is well known for their long list of unique and meticulously crafted ciders and the Hemlock is one of their very finest. Using “homestead” apples grown in their centuries-old Wurstboro orchard, Aaron Burr then “dry-hops” the cider on Hemlock shoots and adds a bit of homemade maple syrup to the bottle for extended fermentation. It’s distinctly floral, dominated by a clean, piney note at the finish, and served practically still, which sets it apart from all the soda-like dry ciders currently flooding the market. This bottle is 100 percent guaranteed to impress the pants off everyone at your next gluten-free dinner party.

Mary Izett’s Speed Brewed Nelson Sauvin Dry-Hopped Cider (Your Kitchen)
For her new book, Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More, Brooklyn-based fermentation expert and author Mary Izett came up with this genius recipe for a super quick, super easy dry-hopped cider you can make right in your own home over a matter of days. No joke–I tried a batch of this stuff at BCTC last month and I swear, I basically saw through time. It’s extra light and dry, gorgeously flavored by an ample dose of citrusy, lychee-like Nelson Sauvin hops that really bring out the apple’s earthy sweetness. And what’s better than making your own alcohol? Literally nothing.


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