The Best American Ciders in Cans

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[Photographs: Chris Lehault]

Simplicity is the cardinal rule of summer drinking. These warmer months are the time to trade complicated cocktails for simple highballs, and fill a bucket with ice and your favorite lawnmower beer. For cider lovers, it's time to set complex barrel-aged ciders aside and reach for something a bit more easy-going. And if you combine this tippling mentality with long days spent hiking a trail, barefoot on the beach, or just relaxing in the backyard, cider that comes in cans is the way to go.

Our last look at canned ciders on the American landscape (here) was downright disappointing. Most of the ciders were imported and full of additives, chemicals, and sugar. But more American cider makers have taken a note from the craft beer movement and caught the canning bug this year. The result is a wide array of American-made ciders in easy-to-tote cans. Here are our favorites.

Canned Ciders on the Sweet Side

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Sweet ciders tend to be a bit more "apple-y" than dry ones, with lower tannins for easy drinking. They're ideal for those just starting to explore cider. But watch out! If a cider is too sweet it can be cloying at warmer temperatures. Here are our favorites that strike the right balance:

Jack's Hard Cider Helen's Blend (Hauser Estate Winery, PA)

Hey East Coasters, if you're in search of a canned artisan cider, your best bet is Helen's Blend from Pennsylvania's Jack's Hard Cider. Helen's is the sweeter offering from this winery whose apple roots go back to their patriarch, John S. Musselman of Musselman's Apple Sauce. Helen's Blend is made from 100% fresh pressed apples (a rarer ingredient than you'd think.) It has big fruit flavors complemented by an almost caramel-like sweetness. A bit of earthiness in the aroma and hints of apricot in the finish keep things interesting.

The BrightCider (2 Towns Ciderhouse, OR)

The West Coast is amidst a cider explosion right now with new cideries—including some that sell ciders in cans—popping up almost every month. But 2 Towns Ciderhouse has been crafting their tasty cider for years, and their new cans should be rolling off the line any day now. This semi-sweet offering also uses only fresh pressed apples (sourced from the Northwest.) It's easy-drinking, full of green apple flavors with some tropical flourishes and a balanced acidity.

Angry Orchard Apple Ginger (Boston Beer Company, MA)
It's hard to miss Angry Orchard cider these days, as they grow their reach to supermarkets and liquor stores around the country. It's easily one of the best option for those living outside of America's Apple Belt. (That is, the band of historical apple growing regions spanning from the Hudson valley through Michigan and on into the Pacific Northwest.) While we find most of Angry Orchard's bottlings a bit too sweet, the Apple Ginger hits the balance of sweetness, acidity, and spicy character. The ginger flavor goes great with spicy food, especially Thai dishes.

Woodchuck Amber (Made in Vermont, owned by C&C Group, Ireland)
This widely available cider has been on the American scene since for about 20 years, and its flavor is straightforward and apple-y, with enough tartness to keep it from being cloying.

Canned Ciders on the Dry Side

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These canned ciders carry all of the complexity of their big-bottle counterparts with the added bonus of portability. While none of these offerings are completely bone-dry, they will fare better than sweet ciders at warmer temps and pack a bit more complexity beyond dominant apple notes. These ciders will find favor with saison or Champagne lovers, and complement simple preparations of summer produce.

Hard Apple (Vander Mill, MI)
Michigan is another state in the middle of a cider boom and Paul Vander Heide of Vander Mill Cider may be the man to watch. This young gun has recently expanded and is now canning three of his ciders. The flagship, Hard Apple, sits somewhere between the sweet ciders mentioned above and the drier ones below. It has a complex apple character and sweetness that's balanced by a tart quality. It was an easy favorite among our tasters.

Draft Hard Cider (Uncle John's Fruit House Winery, MI)
If Vander Mill is the up-and-comer of Michigan's cider scene then Mike Beck of Uncle John's Fruit House Winer is the old guard with over a decade of cider-making at his near-century-old family business. Draft Hard Cider is the driest cider on this list and is revered among cider fans for its earthy minerality, defined tannins, and notes of citrus. This is the best choice for wine drinkers or anyone looking for lots of complexity in their can.

Jack's Hard Cider Original (Hauser Estate Winery, PA)
The drier offering from Pennsylvania's Jack's Hard Cider is the East Coast counterpart to Uncle John's. Unlike Jack's Hard Helen's Blend, the Original offers more complex mineral flavors and hints of citrus peel. It's dangerously refreshing and easy to drink in large quantities.

Fruit Ciders in Cans

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These cider producers are working with fruit beyond just apples. In general, fruit ciders tend to be on the sweet side, but there's no rule that says they can't be dry. Each of these ciders is worth exploring on its own—but all of them pair well with a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Blue Gold (Vander Mill, MI)
Vander Mill's Blue Gold, blended with local blueberries, is the most refined fruit cider we tried. Everything here is balanced as fresh blueberry notes push through the tart apple base. There is even a bit of ginger spice in the background to keep things refreshing.

Ciderboys Magic Apple (Steven's Point Brewery, WI)
Ciderboys—the cider-making arm of Steven's Point Brewery—has been producing fruit ciders for years now, including peach and raspberry varieties. Their strawberry cider, Magic Apple, comes in a can and has luscious, strawberry jam flavors.

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.

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