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Hard Truths About Hard Cider

May 25, 2012
Some people have a favorite drink. I don’t. I don’t even have a favorite wine varietal or beer type. I have no allegiance to any category of spirit or any particular brands. If you pushed me hard enough you could probably get me to say that my favorite cocktail is The Manhattan. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a great classic daiquiri when summer rolls around, or that I wouldn’t rather have a Tom Collins or a Pimm’s Cupto refresh me after some time in the sun.My friend S is quite the opposite. She loves cider. And she’s loved cider for the better part of two decades. When she would come to visit from LA I made sure to have some on hand.

Cider can be made from a variety of fruits. Not only am I a purist at heart, but the vast majority of cider is made with apples, and we’ve got some great regionally produced versions of this fermented beverage. Two of which were even mentioned in an article on Esquire.com.

But on a recent trip to a local beer store, I found something troubling.

It wasn’t the cider selection. There were plenty of ciders to choose from at Oliver’s Brew Crew. And the ciders came from all over the world. In fact, there were so many to choose from, I picked up one of the bottles to try and learn more about the cider inside.

I’m a sucker for things like copy on the neck of bottles, hang tags, shelf-talkers and the like. It’s one of the reasons I went into advertising and marketing.

Well, I happened to spy an ingredient list on one of the bottles, and I did not like what I saw.

There were added “Natural Flavors”, caramel color, preservatives, and a host of other unexpected and unwelcomed interlopers. And it wasn’t just one brand. Because I put down the bottle and picked up another, and there they were again.

Unfortunately, I was there with Little Miss Fussy and she didn’t have the patience to go through every last cider on the shelf to see which were adulterated and which were not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t provide you with some examples.

Consider for a moment the ingredient list for Wyder’s Pear Cider:
Cider Stock, Carbonated Water, Fructose, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color, (Potassium Sorbate & Sulfur Dioxide As Preservatives).

Or Honsby’s Hard Amber Draft Cider:
Cider, Natural Flavors, Less than One Percent of Caramel Color, Carbon Dioxide, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate to Protect Flavor, Sulfiting Agents.

I felt lucky because I finally found a cider that was just cider before Little Miss Fussy melted down and I completely gave up. Harpoon makes one with a gloriously simple ingredients statement:
Fermented apple juice.

That’s it. The resulting cider is both light in color and flavor. It weighs in at 4.8% ABV, but it’s a bubbly, buzzy and bright choice to drink with spicy foods or at the end of a meal when you feel like something a little fruity but aren’t in the mood for dessert. Especially if it’s a little warm out.

Sure, some may get hung up on the notion that apples are a fall and winter fruit. And I think for the darker, more full bodied, spicier and assertive styles of cider they may have a point. But this is all about summer. I’m glad I found it.

More importantly, I’m glad I finally noticed that there were nasty industrial ingredients in what is otherwise a lovely alternative to beer. Be vigilant. And don’t take things for granted. You would think I might have learned that once I discovered there were ingredients in most cartons of cream.

But I guess I’m a slow learner.

Looking forward to seeing some of you tomorrow on the Tour de Hard Ice Cream. If you haven’t sent me your RSVP it’s not too late. And if you want to surprise me, you can just show up unannounced. But if you don’t let me know you are coming, then you may not receive an official scoresheet. 11:59 p.m. tonight (Friday) is the cutoff. It’s going to be fun. Rain or shine.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink
    May 25, 2012 10:25 am

    I can’t really get past viewing hard cider as the “gateway” drink for little kids.

    • Bill permalink
      May 25, 2012 10:50 am

      If you’ve ever had good hard cider, you’d know it’s not the case.

  2. May 25, 2012 10:49 am

    I’m warming to you if only because you know the beauty of a Pimm’s Cup :)

    If you come help pick and press apples this fall, I’ll supply you with both plain ol’ cider and hard cider. Deal?

  3. May 25, 2012 10:55 am

    What you do is, find a place that will sell you unpasteurized cider and then let it ferment. THEN you put it into a blast freezer until the stuff turns into a nice icy mush. Eat it with a spoon. It’s the terrestrial equivalent of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster “Like having your brains knocked out with a slice of lemon, wrapped around a large gold brick”

  4. May 25, 2012 11:27 am

    That’s interesting (and discouraging) about the added caramel. I just did a cider vinegar taste test http://wp.me/p1S3Ig-ej and was gratified that even the “house brand” contained nothing but apples. Applejack’s also pretty pale. Maybe the hard cider marketers are trying to attract beer drinkers?

    Deanna, let me know if you need more apple pickers!

  5. PensiveEngineer permalink
    May 25, 2012 2:02 pm

    FYI potassium sorbate and sulfur dioxide (sulfites) are common ingredients in winemaking and hard cider is closer to wine than beer. Most wines at least have sulfites. I prefer not to use them when I make wine because I firmly believe they give headaches. Fructose, or sugar, can also be used to raise the abv of the final product, not necessarily a bad thing. As for the other crap I have no explanation and there’s no excuse for adding them other than to water down the juice to save money.

  6. May 25, 2012 9:38 pm

    I was hoping you said the cider you ended up with was Harpoon. That, Strongbow, and Magner’s (in that order) are what I look for on tap when I am in the mood for hard cider. And while apples are, for me, quintessential fall, hard cider is an exception. It is crisp, cold, sweet (yet tart) and refreshing when done right. Harpoon has it nailed.

    However, if I were to choose my favorite, it would be Bellwether in the Finger Lakes. They’ve started carrying it in Empire, and I could not be happier. Though, it does make my heart happy that the orchard that holds such find childhood memories for me (and, IMHO, has the best cider donuts in the region) has gotten national attention for their cider. :) (Which is also quite good, though I haven’t had it in some time.)

  7. May 29, 2012 12:51 pm

    Harpoon is indeed tasty. Light and flavorful. It doesn’t have the acidity of some Euro ciders which helps quite a bit for drinkability.

  8. Jennypolka permalink
    May 30, 2012 9:41 am

    Downeast Cider House. Check it out.

  9. Jenny permalink
    March 31, 2013 6:03 pm

    2 Towns Cider, the best!: http://www.2townsciderhouse.com/

  10. james thornton permalink
    July 28, 2014 2:09 pm

    Ive been finding it hard to find ingredients of ciders recently, as i was concerned about them containing artificial sweeteners, i had been drinking old mout cider quite a bit and i emailed them to find out they too contain them so i would advise to avoid this drink.

    Summer Berries

    Water, Apple juice (from concentrate)*, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup, multi-fruit base (apple juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, water, elderberry juice concentrate, strawberry juice concentrate, natural flavouring, lime juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, sour cherry juice concentrate, blackcurrant juice concentrate, raspberry juice concentrate, blueberry juice concentrate, blackberry juice concentrate), citric acid, preservative: potassium metabisulphite, natural flavourings, concentrated carrot juice.

    Passionfruit & Apple

    Water, apple juice (from concentrate)*, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup, passion fruit juice (from concentrate), citric acid, , preservative: potassium metabisulphite, natural flavourings.

    Kiwi & Lime

    Water, apple juice (from concentrate)*, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup, kiwi juice (from concentrate), lime juice (from concentrate), citric acid, natural flavourings, preservative: potassium metabisulphite.

  11. abc permalink
    February 26, 2017 4:47 pm

    These “ciders” are nasty and DANGEROUS products, don’t drink them!
    Ingredient lists speak for themselves, yes (“natural” flavor is nothing but a chemical of any toxicity, no different from artificial flavors, I did a research paper on them some time ago).
    I suffer from migraines but they were under control and hardly and issue, as soon as I maintain good lifestyle. Generally small amount of good quality wine or hard liquor, once a week, did not cause me any problems. And then I tried “Apple” hard cider, only a small quantity, like 1/3 of a can, several of times (not checking the label and not realizing it was fake and used “natural flavor” and hell knows what else in it undisclosed). I suffered debilitating migraines rendering my medications useless and nearly ended up in emergency room; migraines were non-stop, new one would start as soon as the 1st one added, etc. I stopped using any alcohol and migraines got back under control. Several months later, I tried “Ginger” hard cider, again not checking the label (it was fake); I had one of the scariest worst migraines in my life non-responsive to medication 2 days later, and after that some additional scary new type of migraines I never had. This stuff is hell toxic. I also believe this stuff likely contains high level of methyl alcohol. Stay away from it.

  12. abc permalink
    February 26, 2017 4:58 pm

    PS: sure, truly natural (without natural flavors and other industrial additives) hard cider is a lot safer then typical store fake cider laden with additives. One has to keep in mind though, that pectin (which is very high in apples) always results in methyl alcohol in the brewed beverage. This is the reason first output of brew is usually thrown out, if apples are used in the process, also only certain temperatures must be used to keep methanol low in had apple cider. No guarantee that producer of even truly natural cider followed these practices, so I personally will stay away from all hard ciders in the future, considering severe health problems they had caused me already.

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