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What is apple cider?

While the apple varieties used to make them may be up for debate, the differences between 'apple cider' and 'hard cider' are clear. Some things can't ever actually be, as the saying goes, apple to apple. At the end of the day, apple cider is a beverage that is created from the pressed juice of apples. Hard cider is a version of cider that has gone through a fermentation process and contains alcohol.

The word 'hard' indicates that the cider was fermented and therefore contains, on average, 4-6% alcohol. For many, it's also a delicious distinction that has evolved across centuries of tradition and folklore. On the other hand, 'apple cider' (also referred to as 'soft cider,' 'sweet cider' or just 'cider') describes the unsweetened, unfiltered, non-alcoholic juice pressed from apples. Be forewarned: When traveling outside of the U.S. or Canada, 'cider' may likely mean the fermented kind.

Is hard apple cider alcoholic?

Yes, hard apple cider contains alcohol, which on average can be anywhere from 4-6% ABV.

Is hard apple cider a beer?

No, cider is not a beer. That’s because cider does not use fermented grain or hops to produce hard cider. Cider is produced from fermented apple juice, so it lacks the necessary ingredients and process to officially be called a beer.

What’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice?

There's also confusion in the U.S. between what defines 'apple juice' versus 'apple cider.' They are very similar, but there is a difference. While they both begin with getting the apples into a mash to press the juice from it, apple cider does not go through a filtration process and apple juice does. So cider is unfiltered, while apple juice is filtered. That’s the difference!

Raw apple cider is highly perishable. That's why you usually only spot it at farm stands and not at grocery stores. Hard cider has less alcohol by volume than most wines and keeps much longer. Unlike beer, it requires no hops or malt.

Where does apple cider come from?

Much of the hard cider you will find on our website is from the United States, and that’s primarily due to distribution and the three-tier system making those brands more accessible to ordering in our stores. However, the majority of cider made and consumed comes from Europe, with a big focus on the UK and Ireland.

But as a general history lesson, it is believed cider was one of the first alcoholic beverage consumed in the United States. Pilgrims packing for the journey on the Mayflower, which would last 66 days, had been urged to bring provisions including beer, cider and “aqua-vitae,” or distilled spirits. It’s hard to imagine those kegs and bottles weren’t drained by the long trip, the grueling winter and the busy spring and summer setting up the Plymouth Colony.

So it’s believed the first pilgrims got to work growing barley and other needs to replace the stock of beer that was depleted from the journey. However, crab apples were abundant around the Cape Cod settlement and the pilgrims would have known just what to do with those based on the popular cider drinks in Europe – press them and let them ferment! And let’s be honest – cider was needed after that long, long journey.

How is apple cider made?

In making cider, apple presses extract the juice, which is next boiled to concentrate it. At this point, the cider appears opaque since it's unfiltered, so you're noticing all the pulp and other sediment.

It's common before bottling for raw apple cider to be pasteurized to extend shelf life, so it mustn't be refrigerated until it's been uncapped. It's not hard to find untreated cider, though, too, should you ever wish to try some or make hard cider yourself.

Making hard cider is much more involved yet usually still more straightforward and faster than brewing beer or wine. It's often easier to make, though, which is why colonial Americans brewed it more than beer, not to mention its popularity in England where cider has a long tradition. Even Abe Lincoln sold hard cider as a bar owner before becoming a lawyer and president.

Certain cider apple varieties' spitters' are grown expressively to make hard cider. Regardless of the apples used, their juice is placed in fermentation tanks along with a champagne yeast. As the temperature rises, it only takes three to seven days for the apple cider to ferment into alcohol. The brewer then carefully cools the batch and filters it, removing yeast and other solids. No one wants to drink the latter.

Now comes the master's touch — blending. Each brewer has their own recipes and style that must be consistent with the previous batch. Often, they'll infuse the hard cider with natural ingredients like apricot, chocolate, cherry, honey, or whatever they imagine might whet the palates of their customers.

Does hard apple cider and contain sugar?

Here's also a little-known fact that may surprise you: Apples have less sugar than grapes! By the way, wine grapes can taste quite sour, if you haven't tried any. Sugar is often added with citric acids or fruits during the bottling process to carbonate the hard cider naturally. Lastly, it's bottled, pasteurized, and then exported to the world to savor like Strongbow Cider, Stella Artois Cidre, or Angry Orchard cider (just to name a few).

What are popular brands of hard apple cider?

There are many brands of hard cider out there to explore. Some of the most popular cider that we carry include:

What are popular apple cider cocktails?

Since apple harvest occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, cider's traditionally made then. Mother nature timed it perfectly for the holidays. By then, it's good and ready to be served cold or heated as mulled cider from Halloween through New Year's Day.

Several popular cocktails using hard cider include the apple cider sangria, apple cider mimosa, apple cider Moscow mule, and the hot buttered rum apple toddy for your next cabin or camping trip.

Browse our wide selection of apple ciders or all our Hard Cider options and start exploring all this category has to offer.