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Hittin' the Hard Cider

Photos by Dan Bishop

January 2015

Whatís the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category? Craft beer? Boutique wines? Artisan cocktails?

Answer: none of the above. The fastest growing is hard cider. From 2011 to 2013, itís tripled in production, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million gallons. Now, thatís still basically a drop in the bucket, as cider accounts for less than 1 percent of all alcoholic beverages consumed, but with this growth, thereís now a variety of exciting apple-icious offerings to try.

To pick through the plethora, we sat down with Kaleb Schwecke, who works as the beer marketing director for Rayís Wine and Spirits.

What to Try: 

Crispin Hard Apple Ciderís Steeltown Anniversary Cider: This limited release ages the apple cider in five different kinds of bourbon barrels, and the resulting blend offers flavors of bourbon, vanilla and a touch of honey.

Island Orchard Oak Aged Brut Cider: "The soft vanilla balances out the sweetness of the apples, and they use a really dry champagne yeast so itís effervescent and bubbly. Itís a good champagne alternative," says Schwecke. Schwecke also recommends visiting Island Orchardís tasting room to try the dry hop cider, which is only sold there.

Boonville Bite Hard Cider: This Sonoma County cider also uses a brut champagne yeast, and the resulting cider is clean, crisp and dry. Because it comes in a four-pack of cans, itís easy to take backpacking or picnicking, Schwecke says.

Beanblossom Hard Cider from Oliver Winery: This Indiana-based winemaker produces a delicately bubbled delicious hard cider, and at 9 percent alcohol, itís a bit more potent. The winemaker recently redesigned his packaging, and the new bottle is both humorous and irreverent. "This cider is crisp, clean and delicious," Schwecke says.

AeppelTreow Wineryís Barn Swallow Cider: "AeppelTreow makes some great ciders," says Schwecke. This Burlington winery makes a variety of apple ciders and apple wines ó according to owner and cidermaker Charles McGonagal, "thereís not a hard and clear distinction between apple wine and hard apple cider" ó but the most popular AeppelTreow cider youíll find in the Milwaukee area is its Barn Swallow hard cider made from green apples. Itís semi-dry, with just a hint of apple blossom flavor. Though Rayís doesnít sell this, youíll find Barn Swallow at Beans & Barley, Goodkind, Braise and many other places. When AppelTreow opens for the season in May, try their Appley Doux sparkling cider, made through the champagne method of aging. "It has soft, fine bubbles," says McGonagal.

This story ran in the January 2015 issue of: