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Hard Apple Cider

We tasted four nationally available hard ciders both plain and cooked in recipes.

Published Oct. 1, 2014. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 9: The Devil Made Me Do It

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What You Need To Know

Most of us associate cider with the unfiltered apple juice that appears in supermarkets every fall, but before Prohibition the word “cider” meant what we know today as “hard cider,” an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice. Hard cider was once the most popular beverage in America—in fact, colonial settlers (even children) drank cider in place of water because public wells were considered unsanitary. But cider’s popularity sharply declined as immigrants brought over beer from Europe, and by the early 1900s, hard cider had all but disappeared. But after this century-long dry spell, cider is having a revival—sales have been growing by more than 50 percent a year. Could we find a comeback-worthy hard cider?

To find out, we invited 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers to sample four nationally available ciders straight up and in cider-glazed root vegetables.

Right off the bat, tasters preferred sweet ciders to dry. Ciders perceived as sweeter were rated highly for being “fresher,” “fruitier,” and “more drinkable.” We examined nutritional labels and found that, while all the ciders contain the same 5 percent alcohol, our preferred ciders have more than twice the sugar of our bottom-ranked product. Tasters thought that ciders with more sugar had stronger apple flavor and a crisp, refreshing taste and found dry ciders more muted, with pear-like notes and a puckering tartness.

Sweetness was also important when we cooked with the cider. The cider with the least amount of sugar lent a “boozy,” “sour” bitterness to cider-glazed root vegetables, while ciders with more sugar pleasantly rounded out the dish with a “balanced” “apple-forward” juiciness.

While our preferred ciders have more sugar, we also noticed that they contain less sodium. But none of the ciders list salt as an ingredient and apple juice (the primary ingredient in cider) doesn’t contain salt either. So what’s the source of the sodium? According to our science editor, sodium in cider comes from chemical preservatives called sulfites that are added to protect the drink from spoiling. Ciders with higher levels of sodium usually have more sulfites, which can cause an unpleasant, bitter taste. While the amount of sodium in all the ciders wasn’t enough to make them taste salty, our bottom-ranked offering contained the most sodium, and tasters thought that it was too “bitter” and “medicinal.”

This effect could also be exacerbated by how the cider is packaged. Exposure to light, particularly if the cider contains sulfites, can cause chemical reactions that produce a skunky, sour taste. Unlike cans or tinted glass, clear glass bottles provide no protection from light, makin...

Everything We Tested

*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.

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