What Is Hard Cider? Exploring the Taste, Process and Types

Published March 23, 2022
Glass of cider on outdoor table with apples

Hard cider can get a bad rap--you may think of it as being a sugary drink when really it has a range as diverse as any beer, wine, or spirit. From dry cider, to cider brimming with apples and cinnamon or gingery spice, to sweet cider, there's a whole spectrum from boozy to light. Isn't it time you got to know hard cider?

What Is Hard Cider?

At its base, hard cider is an alcohol made from fermented apples. Like traditional apple cider, most hard cider isn't filtered and often contains sediment, although a few styles or brands will filter their cider. Like beer or wine, different styles yield different flavors and different types. Hard cider isn't new; it's been fermenting since the dawn of time.

What Types of Hard Cider Can I Choose From?

Selection of cider in a row

There are three main styles of hard cider: dry cider, off-dry cider, and semi-sweet cider. Dry cider has the least amount of sugar, as most has been transformed into alcohol, meaning not only are they less sweet, but dry ciders tend to be a little boozier than their sweeter counterparts. Off-dry and semi-dry ciders are the middle children of ciders, with a little bit more sugar but often a bit more pronounced flavor without being too overpowering or sweet. Semi-sweet ciders are the sweetest of ciders and the ones people are quick to think of; these are perfect for those who want a liquid dessert or prefer their drinks to be on the sweeter side. Flavored ciders are also making a surge in popularity and can be any of the types mentioned above.

But How Much Alcohol Does Hard Cider Have?

Again, much like beer, how a cider is made will affect how much alcohol remains after the fermenting process. Often, sweet cider has a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) because the yeast hasn't consumed as much sugar. The more sugar the yeast consumes, the bigger the punch in the resulting cider. When it comes to abv, dry cider is around 10% to 12% alcohol, off-dry or semi-dry ciders will hover about 5% to 10%, and semi-sweet cider will be a little under 5%.

Flavored Hard Cider, You Say?

Flavored Hard Cider

Thanks to technology and living in the future, hard cider isn't limited to just apple flavors. Today, popular flavors include pineapple, blackberry, mango, strawberry, or even cider donut. Some cideries will even rotate in seasonal flavors or blends, such as Downeast. Cideries often pair their hard cider with complementary flavors, such as other summer fruits, tropical fruits, or savory flavors such as ginger.

Bringing Your Hard Cider Home

Everyone knows beer is best cared for when refrigerated, but can the same be said for hard cider? The simple answer is yes. You want to make sure the hard cider doesn't ferment further and avoid building up any other additional pressure inside the bottle. No one wants to clean up spilled cider. If you leave it out for a few hours, don't sweat it, but it's best to ensure that it's in a cool, dry location.

Hard cider doesn't have as long a shelf life as other alcohols. Most ciders will have a shelf life of approximately one to two years, but there's no reason to buy a six-pack or large bottle and wait to open it, as the flavors won't alter much, if at all, during that time on the shelf. If refrigerated, most hard cider will start to resemble apple cider vinegar if they're left too long or forgotten. Some will have a smaller window, as short as less than 12 months, so take note when you bring your hard cider home.

A Toast to Hard Cider

There's much more to hard cider than meets the eye. Similar to beer, there are so many choices when it comes to any cider craving or wants, from simple and sweet to complex and dry. So the next time you're presented with a cider, consider this your sign to try something new. Whether you sip it alone or mix it into hard cider-based cocktails such as Angry Orchard cocktails, make cider a go-to treat.

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What Is Hard Cider? Exploring the Taste, Process and Types