Serious Eats: Drinks

6 American Ciders for Hop Heads

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[Photos: Christopher Lehault]

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Anthem Hops
Bad Seed IPC
Finn River Dry Hopped Hard Cider

Traditionalists may be appalled by the idea of dry-hopping a cider. For the purist, great cider is born from the art of fermenting good apples and little else. Hops first found favor amongst beer brewers as a preservative, with their bittering and aromatic qualities really just a pleasant side-effect. Since cider has a natural tannic quality, and since it is not "brewed" to release the bitter compounds in the hops, why would hops find a home in the cider house?

Because American beverage-makers love to break boundaries and thwart expectations. And since the Pacific Northwest is fertile for both cider apple and hop growing, dry-hopped cider was born.

There are a few reasons that hops and cider work well together. First, to most beer drinkers, hops are familiar territory and that's welcoming when you are first getting into cider and having trouble locking down unfamiliar flavors. Also, many American hop varieties such as Amarillo and Cascade can contribute lemony flavors similar to the tart flavors inherent in well-made ciders. These hops work to complement and elevate the cider's natural characteristics.

We sampled a selection of hopped ciders from around the country to find out if this intermingling of beer and cider culture was gimmicky or genius. From the refined to the outrageous, here are a few of our favorites.

Ciders for Hop Heads

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Created with the spirit of the American IPA, these ciders boast a big, hop-forward aroma and bright citrus flavors to match. Without the heavy malt character that you'd find in a beer, these ciders are your new best friend on a warm day.

Anthem Hops Salem, Oregon 5.5% ABV
When I drink hoppy beers, I want them to be easy going and not too fussy. I'll take a Bell's Two-Hearted Ale or Ithaca Flower Power any day over an abrasive triple IPA hop bomb. Anthem Hops reminds me of these easy-going IPA that I drink by the pint and not the 8 ounce pour. It's bright, with big citrus flavors and a strong, tart finish. There is not a lot of complexity here but that focus makes it one of the few ciders on this list we would drink by the pint and quickly return for a second.

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Tieton, Washington, 6.9% ABV
The classic, darker hue and lemony character of a Tieton cider is an obvious choice for dry-hopping. The hop character in their Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider is well integrated with the apple character, and robust body and bright acidity create a solid foundation.

Cider, with a Side of Hops

For more of a serious cider drinker, these are ciders with mineral or floral profiles and contrasting flavors from the hops. The result is earthy and complex; best savored over a meal. We'd quickly reach for any of these bottles to complement root vegetables and mushrooms.

Finn River Dry Hopped Hard Cider Chimacum, Washington 6.5% ABV
Finn River is well known for their floral, earthy ciders with layer upon layer of flavors. Their Dry Hopped variety does not stray far from that proven formula and adds an assertive lemony character to its otherwise floral palate. Be sure to serve well-chilled: at room temp, the floral notes take over and there is a bit of awkward contrast.

Bad Seed Cider Co. IPC (India Pale Cider) Reserve Highland, NY, 5.5% ABV
With a name like India Pale Cider, we expected something aggressive and biting from from Bad Seed's IPC. But instead, this Hudson Valley upstart cidery has managed to mingle floral and mineral notes with a citrus hit of cascade hops. The IPC is delicate and nuanced (one of our tasters referred to it as "summertime in a field") so approach slowly and at warmer temperatures to fully realize the flavor.

Something a Bit Different

We've already thrown the rules of traditional cidermaking out the window with the addition of hops, so let's take things one step further. Below are a two ciders infused with the spirit of American craft beer. They use non-traditional yeasts and adjuncts—in addition to a healthy dose of hops—for ciders truly unique to these shores.

Reverend Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot Hard Cider Portland, Oregon, 6.9% ABV
We've never seen a longer list of ingredients in a cider than the one for Reverand Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot. It starts with five yeasts (three Belgian ale yeasts and two white wine yeasts) and continues with a handful of spices that you might see in Belgian beers, such as star anise, ginger, grains of paradise, coriander, and bitter orange. After a long ferment, a huge dose of apricots and hops are added for a secondary fermentation. With all that work, the result could easily be muddled and confusing, but the final Hopricot cider is actually quite focused; full bodied and heavy on the apricots. Most of the nuance from the apples, the multiple yeast strains, and the spice additions is lost under a blanket of apricot and lemony hops, but that did not stop our bottle from being emptied faster than most.

Colorado Cider Company Grasshop-ah Denver, Colorado, 6.95% ABV
Another nod to craft beer's inventiveness, Grasshop-ah combines lemongrass and dry hops with Colorado Cider Company's flagship, Glider Cider, for the most flavor-packed cider we tasted. There is a lot of lemongrass here, which is a natural complement for hops, and it is quite evident on both the nose and the palate. While both the hops and the lemongrass overpower any apple subtlety, the final result is unique and enjoyable.

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

All bottles were press samples provided for review consideration.

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