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What is cider?

How you define cider depends on which side of the Atlantic you're on. 'Apple cider' (also referred to as 'soft cider,' 'sweet cider,' or just 'cider') describes the unsweetened, unfiltered, non-alcoholic juice pressed from apples. But be forewarned: When traveling outside of the U.S. or Canada, 'cider' may likely mean the fermented kind.

The distinction between 'apple cider' and 'hard cider' differs in a big way. Hard ciders are fermented and contain anywhere from 4-6% alcohol by volume. Unlike plain old 'apple cider,' any 'hard cider' is only meant for those ages 21 and up.

Can cider go bad?

Raw apple cider is highly perishable, but hard cider has less alcohol by volume than most wines and keeps much longer. Unlike beer, it requires no hops or malt. That being said, the shelf life on hard cider is not indefinite and should be consumed within a reasonable amount of time from the "bottled on" (or born on) date. Angry Orchard recommends drinking their cider within 12 months of bottling.

How is cider made?

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

It's common before bottling for raw apple cider to be pasteurized to extend shelf life, so it needn't be refrigerated until it's been uncapped. Finding untreated cider is quite easy, though, should you ever wish to try some or make hard cider yourself from fresh-pressed cider.

Making hard cider is usually simpler and faster than brewing beer, which is very likely why colonial Americans brewed it more than beer, not to mention their love for it back in England. Another early American, Abe Lincoln sold hard cider as a bar owner before becoming a lawyer and president. So, Americans aren't just about beer and football!

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 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 prior 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.

What are the most popular brands of hard cider?

Some of the most popular brands of hard cider include:

The brands listed above make a wide variety of cider types. Angry Orchard, owned by the Boston Beer Company, is famous for offering a wide range of hard ciders. Crisp Apple, Apple Ginger, Traditional Dry, Rosé Cider, Pear Cider, and a wine-like cider are but a few examples. Check out Ace and Crispin Ciders, too, for unique flavors. Even Jack Daniels is on it, too, producing it's fall seasonal release Winter Jack Tennessee Cider to warm up hearts everywhere.

What are the different kinds of hard cider?

Commercially made cider is made from apples of all varieties which are picked and pressed to create raw cider, each with their distinct characteristics. Or, they become hard cider, and supplied to wholesalers, distributors, retailers, or head straight from the growers to roadside produce stands.

Are hard ciders gluten-free?

The world's hard cider craze is not just a trend. Much of the increased demand is because cider is both vegan-friendly, not to mention GMO and/or gluten-free, which is welcome news for drinkers with dietary restrictions or preferences.

Where does hard cider come from?

No discussion of hard cider is complete without mention of the United Kingdom. The hard cider traditions are deeply rooted in England. As the major producer of cider (a.k.a. 'scrumpy' in West England) in the E.U., the U.K. and has relished in its most significant hard cider renaissance in the 21st century with more diversity of cideries, products, and consumers than ever.

If curious, the word 'Scrumpy' refers to the unfiltered ciders traditionally made in the West Country, originated from 'scrump,' what its residents call a withered or small apple.

England, Wales, and Ireland all produce hard cider that is available in sweet, medium, and dry varieties. They tend to also differ in style regionally — and even the names may change. Bulmers Cider, as known by the Irish, is called Magners Cider outside of their country.

Strongbow, the leading producer of cider, makes a dry British Dry Cidre, but a more traditional British-style cider you may likely find to be malty and very sweet. Many of these U.K. styles have parlayed over to the United States, which in turn has put its spin on cider in a plethora of apple varieties and brewing methods.

Reverend Nat's Hard Cider in Portland, Oregon, is well-known for developing radically curious hard ciders such as Hallelujah Hopricot, a "beer, cider and wine all in one" and a Deliverance Ginger Tonic hard apple cider. If you sample his brews or ever meet him, you'll know why Nat's so revered — even though he isn't technically a reverend.

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