Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
There was a time, not that long ago, when it seemed like hard cider was consigned either to Rip Van Winkle-like New Englanders, long of beard and weird of brain, or the English. Well, that’s changed. In just the past few years, cider has become bizarrely popular: sales were up 62.6% in 2012. Woodchuck, the most popular brand, sold over two and a half million cases last year, and others weren’t far behind.
But cider and America have a long association. In fact, cider was far more popular than beer in Colonial times, largely due to the fact that it was a lot easier to grow apples than barley in New England. In the 1700s, we glugged cider like nobody’s business - about 35 gallons per year per person, on average. As a comparison, per person wine consumption in the US today is about 2.5 gallons per person, and beer is about 28 gallons per person.
Cider consumption may be minimal now compared to what it once was, but as I mentioned, it’s on the upswing. And there are some mighty good ciders out there. Here are a few, some from the U.S. and some from overseas, and all of them ideal for drinking icy-cold at a July 4th picnic - or any time, really.
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I became a big fan of hard cider on a trip to England in 2000 with a group of brewers from Goose Island. We visited several breweries on the trip, but the highlight was visiting a pub called The Maltings in York.
They were hosting a cider festival with casks from small producers all around the English countryside. We were all blown away by the variety, complexity and just plain wonderfulness of those ciders.
Here are five of my favorites, in no particular order.
Five Hard Ciders to Try Right Now: Gregory Hall