What to Drink at Thanksgiving: American Artisanal Cider


[Photographs: Chris Lehault]

While cider may not have been served at the first Thanksgiving, it was the beverage of choice for the American colonists. It was difficult to grow hops for beer and grapes for wine in the inhospitable New England soil. But by 1623 the first European apple trees set up root in American soil and, by the turn of the century, the colonists were consuming cider daily as a safer alternative to their often-polluted water supply.

Sweet, non-alcoholic cider (which is really just unfiltered apple juice) is an autumn staple. That beverage, frequently served warm with mulling spices, makes a fine drink but is a far cry from the original, fermented cider of the colonies.

Thankfully, this is where America's new crop of artisan cider-makers come in. With a complexity on par with your favorite white wine, hard cider complements roast turkey perfectly. Cider's acidic backbone (from the presence of naturally occurring malic acid) helps cut through the richest gravies and the densest stuffings.

Here are a few great ciders to serve at your Thanksgiving celebration.

Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider

Poverty Lane Orchards, Lebanon NH
750ml, 7.5% alcohol, $15
http://www.povertylaneorchards.com/ With grassy mineral notes, tropical fruits on the nose and solid tannins, Farnum Hill's flagship cider will win over even the most die-hard wine drinkers. This deep-gold colored cider is dry without being champagne-like, and packed with flavors of nectarine, pineapple and honey. Farnum Hill's Semi-Dry will stand up to everything from baked potatoes to cranberry sauce, and it's wonderful with turkey.

Doc's Draft Apple Cider

Warwick Valley Winery, Warwick NY
22oz, 5% alcohol, $6
http://wvwinery.com/cider/ If your guests are looking for a classic "apple" flavor in their cider, Doc's Draft is an excellent choice in both taste and value. More effervescent and tart than the Farnum Hill, this fruit-forward, semi-dry cider has strong green apple flavors along with hints of tart cherries and lemon Italian ice. The full body and mild tannins cut through all the heavy foods on your Thanksgiving table.


Northern Spy

Eden Ice Cider, West Charleston, VT
187ml, 10% alcohol, $25
http://www.edenicecider.com If you are serving apple pie this Thanksgiving (and of course you are), then Eden's Northern Spy is the perfect accompaniment. A single-varietal ice cider aged in French oak barrels, Northern Spy packs an intense amount of flavor in every ounce. There are strong, caramelized, green apple notes up front, with underlying flavors of toffee and vanilla from the barrel aging. The cider comes together and is balanced perfectly with just a hint of spicy white pepper. Ice cider is made from juice that has been naturally concentrated by the cold weather, so it contains more residual sugar and packs a little more alcohol heat than the other table ciders. But it's this additional sweetness that makes Northern Spy a perfect finale to your cider-centric Thanksgiving meal.