Flavor of Fall

Todd Coleman

During Prohibition, the practice of making hard cider—a drink with roughly the same alcohol content as beer and once the most common beverage in America—came screeching to a halt. Happily, the last decade has brought a renewed appreciation for the heirloom apples used to make the drink (see "Forgotten Fruits"), and cider makers are once again brewing a range of hard ciders, from aromatic champagne-style ciders modeled after European versions of the drink to dessert-like ciders that perfectly balance sweetness and acidity. As Ben Watson writes in his excellent primer on the subject, Cider: Hard and Sweet (The Countryman Press, 1999), hard cider is a uniquely accessible drink, "ridiculously easy" to make at home, and perhaps even more American than apple pie. Whether you're pairing it with tangy cheddar or just sipping a glass, we can't think of a drink that better captures the flavors of autumn while offering a toast to the past; here are some of our favorites.

Albemarle Cider Works, of North Garden, Virginia, uses little-known heirloom American apples for its ciders. Jupiter's Legacy ($18), a blend of Harrison, Yates Hyslop, Virginia Crab, and dessert apples, is complex, flavorful, and just a little bit citrusy.

AeppelTreow Winery, of Burlington, Wisconsin, makes a semidry French-inspired cider called Appely Doux ($15). It's brisk and sharp, with floral, chrysanthemum-like notes.

Bellweather Hard Cider, in Trumansburg, New York, makes a range of ciders. Its Heritage cider ($11.95), a non-sparkling drink made from traditional English and French apple varieties, has an intoxicating aroma and a blisteringly bitter, dry flavor. Spyglass ($10.95), another still cider, tastes like a dry chardonnay; Golden Russet ($13.95), a single-variety cider, has a ripe apple scent and a sharp flavor.

Eve's Cidery, in Ithaca, New York, makes the pleasantly crisp Bittersweet ($12), a bottle-fermented sparkling cider, and Essence ($22), a full-bodied ice cider (made from late-harvest apple juice that is concentrated through freezing) with a honeyed aroma.

Farnum Hill Ciders, of Lebanon, New Hampshire, turns out dry, snappy, sparkling, and still ciders. Its Summer Cider ($7.50) is a standout; it's subtle and refreshing, with a sweet apple aroma and a tannic finish.

Foggy Ridge Cider, of Dugspur, Virginia, cultivates more than 30 varieties of ugly and inedible cider apples, which are blended to yield beautifully balanced sparkling ciders. First Fruit ($15), made with early-season heirloom apples, is full-bodied and lingers on the palate; Serious Cider ($15) is slightly herbaceous and pairs well with cheese; and the riesling-like Sweet Stayman ($15) is sweet but complex.

Red Barn Cider, of Mount Vernon, Washington, makes single-variety Jonagold Skagit Valley ($11), characterized by a hint of tart sweetness owing to juice added back to the fermented cider at bottling time. Its Fire Barrel ($11) takes on smoky notes from aging in charred bourbon barrels.

Slyboro Cider House, of Granville, New York, ferments frozen cider to make its excellent Ice Harvest Cider Reserve ($24), a syrupy-sweet drink with a zesty aftertaste. The juicy Hidden Star ($11.99), made from a blend of Northern Spy and Liberty apples, is another popular choice.

Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, of Salem, Oregon, specializes in balanced ciders like the Heirloom Blend ($10), an effervescent, full-bodied cider that smells like a fresh Gala apple and tastes like tart apple pie. The semidry Wanderlust ($10) is redolent of fruit but has a pleasantly tannic edge, and the Dry Cider ($13), fermented and aged in white oak, has the lip-puckering bite of a crab apple and a crisp, clean finish.

West County Cider, of Colrain, Massachusetts, excels at single-variety ciders like the copper-colored Redfield ($10-$14), which has a nose of apple leather and hints of citrus flavor.