The leaves are changing color. Temperatures are much cooler. Folks are packing up their shorts and tank tops and breaking out their fall knits. There are many characteristics of fall in the Midwest, and one big change is the resurgence of hard ciders.
Aesthetically, there is something about whiskey barrels that just screams fall. They pair perfectly with a big pumpkin, corn stalks, and a pot of fall mums. They are also a fantastic vessel to create a favorite fall beverage: Hard cider. As the weather shifts, we move away from the bitter and hoppy summer beers into something sweeter and less aggressive.
Hard Cider Explained
Nowadays, we understand that cider typically refers to pressed apple juice (that may be served hot or cold) while hard cider is alcoholic. This change didn’t come about until the 20th century, however. Up until then, beverages labeled “cider” were almost always alcoholic.
Hard ciders and beer are very different drinks, as the fermentation process and ingredients involved are unique. Some brewers have experimented with combining the two, creating hopped ciders, combining fermented apples and hops, though these are still quite different from beer.
The Three Types of Hard Cider
Hard ciders can be broken down into three categories, based on the sweetness or carbonation of the drink.
As the name implies, dry ciders have the lowest sugar content (roughly 0.5% residual sugar) and a dry finish. This also makes them the category with the highest alcohol content.
Slightly sweeter than dry ciders, these varieties contain roughly 1-2% residual sugars and much richer, more complex flavor profiles.
The sweetest varieties of hard ciders contain between 2-4% residual sugars and hold the strongest apple flavors. Semi-sweet ciders might also include sparkling varieties.
How to Best Enjoy a Hard Cider
While ciders don’t necessarily need to be stored in a cold environment, they should be served chilled. This preserves their delicate flavor profiles and allows the drinker to fully appreciate them. You should also allow your cider room to breathe. Just like with some wines, you should allow a good hard cider to “open up”, allowing it to sit for a few minutes before enjoying it.
Most ciders are best enjoyed in round, bowl-like glass, preferably with a stem. Glasses with stems allow the drinker to keep their hands away from the drink, keeping to cool for a longer period of time. If choosing a sparkling cider, you might opt for a champagne glass or flute to accentuate the bubbles.
Whiskey and wine barrels are fantastic vessels for creating unique hard cider flavor profiles. In the last few years, hard ciders have gone far beyond the traditional apple flavors. Experiment with different toast levels, barrel sizes, and even flavor enhancers to make something new and delicious this fall. and delicious this fall.