A few years back, ordering a glass of cider was simple. All you needed to do was belly up to the bar and say "I'll have a cider." and the bartender would pour you a pint of whatever was available: Woodchuck, Hardcore, Ace, or even Original Sin. Back then, ordering cider by name wasn't necessary; there was never more than one on the list.
But the last few years have brought about some change in the cider scene. With the rise of the American cider pub, dozens of new cider makers every year, and a recent wave of European imports, today's cider drinker has more options than ever before. In Queens, New York, Queens Kickshaw offers over 30 ciders by the glass or bottle. And out in Seattle, Capitol Cider has 20 ciders on tap alone.
A long cider list can feel daunting at first, but it is also the gateway to your new favorite cider. And once you know the lay of the land—and a few good questions to ask—choosing the right glass for any occasion is easy.
Sweet or Dry?
Every beverage director and bar owner we asked said the first question they always ask a guest is about sweetness, and everything follows from there. If you're looking for something juicy, fruity, and sweet, don't be ashamed! If you're craving something dry and tannic, voice your preference right away. This simple choice reduces any cider list in half.
What Else Do You Drink?
Are you a fan of Champagne? Then you'll probably like a crisp, effervescent cider. Prefer a funky Belgian Lambic? Grab yourself a bottle of Spanish sidra. In fact, any experience with beer, wine, or even previous ciders makes for an excellent starting point when you're chatting with a server about which cider to order. David Flaherty, Beer & Cider Director at Terroir in New York City, tells us that "having a good sense of what someone likes will give a server a great sense of what journey to take them on."
You can help your server recommend something you'll like by mentioning a few of the characteristics of your favorite beverage. Perhaps you like when a Chardonnay has some rich oak character, but you also like the zingy acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc. Those are keys that can help a server recommend a cider you'll enjoy.
Trust the House
If you're in a gastropub and they have 5 English ciders and one French one, stick with what the house knows best. Ask what the bar or restaurant specializes in, and give them a chance to share the ciders they're proud of.
Ignore What You Can Buy Later
Why pay twice as much for a cider that you can easily buy at your local bottle shop? If you've opted for wait service instead of take-out, then choose a cider that matches the occasion. Any bar specializing in ciders could have options that are more interesting than what's at your local supermarket, and they may have ciders on tap that are never sold in bottles.
Seven Magic Words
At this point, you've probably narrowed the cider list down to a handful of choices. Now is the time to unleash your secret weapon on the server. Simply point to your remaining choices and ask: "What can you tell me about these?" Your server can probably tell you where the cider comes from, what apples are in it, and what makes each cider different and interesting.
That's it! Now, all you have to do is put the cider in your mouth. Take a picture of the bottle or tap handle and jot down a few notes on your phone. That way, you'll remember any winners, and have an extra piece of information when it's time to order the next round.
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