American Hard Cider for Thanksgiving
Cider is so perfect for the hearty, rustic flavors of fall that it just feels right for Thanksgiving (and it's historically accurate, too.) But which cider should you choose? Here are a few general cider-choosing guidelines, plus some foolproof cider options that would be a welcome addition to any Turkey Day feast.
Tips for Choosing Thanksgiving Cider
When picking cider to serve alongside your turkey and stuffing, there are a few key characteristics to look for.
First, choose a carbonated cider, not a still one. Thanksgiving food is typically heavy and the cider's carbonation will help cleanse the palate and prepare it for the next course.
Next, look for a cider with medium to full body and a hint of sweetness. Dry ciders are fantastic as an aperitif or with delicate food, but a more versatile cider is needed when serving one bottle against many different sweet-savory dishes. The sweetness of yams and cranberry sauce will make dry cider feel out of balance. A a semi-dry (or semi-sweet) ciders will have enough body and more pronounced flavor to shine with these foods.
Finally, Thanksgiving calls for a cider with a bit of earthiness. The rustic nature of a full bodied, earthy cider made from heirloom apples will best complement the root vegetables and hearty flavors of gravy and stuffing. It also helps to if your cider has pronounced, round tannins to stand up to the richness of a full day of indulgence.
Our Top Picks in Semidry Cider
These semidry table ciders will be right at home with your holiday spread.
Foggy Ridge First Fruit (750ml, $14) is versatile and delicious, with a tart beginning and lingering finish. Walking the line between mineral and fruity, the cider's slate notes are balanced with green apple and preserved lemon flavors. If you are looking for a versatile cider to please even the toughest palate this Thanksgiving, First Fruit is a great choice.
If you are looking for more "fresh from the orchard" character, try Smackintosh (750ml, 5% ABV) from Michigan's Tandem Cider. Macintosh is my quintessential fall apple and this cider is just bursting with classic Mac flavor. But Macintosh alone does not make for a very structured cider, so Smackintosh is rounded out with Greenings and Northern Spy for a bit more body. The combination works.
What could be better on Thanksgiving than drinking the same cider as our founding fathers? Thankfully, due the the resurgence of heirloom apple growth in America, you can get pretty close. Originally grown in Long Island, NY, the Newtown Pippin is the most famous apple varietal from America's colonial period.
Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew Newtown Pippins for making cider and when Jefferson was abroad in Paris, he wrote, "They have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin."
Original Sin cider has celebrated this colonial apple in the first release of their new single varietal heirloom cider series. Original Sin Newtown Pippin (750ml, $12, 6.7% ABV) is bright and bursting with fresh-pressed apple flavor. Fair-skinned apple notes make up the bulk of the cider's flavor but there is also a soft earthiness and lingering hint of citrus peel that create enough body to support the cider's slight sweetness. Plus, it's a good conversation piece for history buffs.
Entry Level Cider for Beginners
If you are looking to add some variety to your Thanksgiving beverage offerings, but still only want to dip your toe into the world of cider, then start with Julian Hard Cider (22oz, $7, 6.99% ABV). Produced in California from Washington state apples, Julian is a great everyday cider that's almost too easy drinking.
It leads with real cider character, tart with a slight earthiness, and finishes dry with lingering tannins. There is a bit of drop-off in the middle (this isn't the most complex cider you could buy) but at half the price we are more than willing to look the other way (and have another mouthful of Mom's mashed potatoes. Julian Hard Cider is ideal for anyone serving a lot of guests this holiday season or just looking to add a bit of fun to their feast.
Will you serve cider this Thanksgiving? What bottles will you be opening?
About the author: Christopher Lehault is a Brooklyn based homebrewer, cider evangelist and craft beer documentarian. When not viewing the world through the bottom of his glass, he's looking at it through his lens at idrunkthat.com. Follow him on twitter at @idrunkthat.