Fall is the truest season for hard cider. It's apple harvest season, for one, and it's also time to warm yourself up in advance of impending winter. But in recent years, the cider options have reached such a number and such a high level of quality that it can be hard to know what to buy. Here are some noteworthy picks to help you navigate your local shop's almost assuredly growing selection of craft ciders:
Aaron Burr Cidery - Ginger Apple
While the name Andy Brennan may register to fans of Twin Peaks as the sheriff's deputy who can't help but cry at murder scenes, to cider connoisseurs the name belongs to a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. This Mr. Brennan's natural apple wines from upstate New York are an effort to revive cider's former role as the American frontier's table beverage of choice. Brennan uses heirloom and unique seedling varietals offered by local old and neglected trees. One annual favorite is Ginger Apple, which his label Aaron Burr Cidery makes by fermenting apples in contact with grated ginger and carrot. It is immensely drinkable in just about any setting imaginable; spicy, freshly vegetal, and brightly vinous.
Christian Drouin - Poiré
In Normandy, brilliant rustic cider pours as ubiquitously as water, with a dizzying number of amazing producers in close proximity. Of the few to export to the States, Christian Drouin is one of the very best. Its low-alcohol Poiré (traditional pear cider) is perfectly executed, featuring Champagne-like gripping effervescence, addictive pear sweetness, and an acidic dry finish.
Domaine Dupont - Cidre Réserve
Another venerated Normandy cidre producer whose liquid thankfully gets exported stateside, Dupont is a reliably incredible family-run legacy institution. Since the brand is perhaps more famous in the world of spirits for its superlative calvados (the region's famed apple brandy), Dupont's Cidre Réserve is a unique, under-the-radar gem. A proprietary blend of apples (80 percent bittersweet + 20 percent acidic) is pressed and fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeast, then transferred to barrels recently emptied of calvados for a six-month maturation. The result is modestly sweet, sharp, and terrifically oaky.
Farnum Hill - Farmhouse Cider
Farnum Hill has been at the forefront of U.S. craft cider since the '80s; its brewers were early proponents of bringing back true cider apple varieties. Accessibly priced and unpretentiously packaged, a Farnum Hill bottle is a perfect entry into the explosion of retro apple fermentation. Try its clean, light Farmhouse Cider, which contains just enough barnyard notes at the periphery to be interesting, but not too odd to drink in high volume.
MillStone - Sidra Americana
Fans of sour beer-Belgian limbic, in particular-will find a lot to like in the ciders of Maryland's MillStone. Committed to mostly natural fermentations and historical flavor profiles with modern twists, the cider maker produces beverages that can be divisively acidic. For its Sidra Americana, the aim was to produce a traditional Basque-style cider -cloudy, naturally sour, and bottled flat (meant to be poured into glass from a higher elevation for last-minute aeration). It succeeded, and the result was big apple flavor layered beneath the tart yeastiness.
Shacksbury - Dry and Semi-Dry cans
Vermont's Shacksbury did beach-bum cider drinkers a favor by introducing cans of its Dry and Semi-Dry craft crushers this summer. A genuine artisanal producer, its portfolio runs the gamut of production methods and apple sourcing. These two approachable offerings - now in the even friendlier can format - allow drinkers to pick their poison to personal taste: Do you like your delicious fruit-strong cider with or without residual sweetness?
Crispin - the Saint
Since it is parented by MillerCoors, the impulse is strong to write off Crispin Cider snootily as a cynical, faux-artisanal effort. The truth is, the ciders produced at Crispin's well-monied facility in Colfax, Calif., are exceedingly well-executed. Take one of their Artisanal Reserve ciders, such as the Saint, an unfiltered, nontraditional oddity fermented with Belgian Trappist yeast and pure maple syrup. The result evokes freshly baked apple pie yet never veers too cloying.
West County - Redfield
West County is another one of U.S. craft cider's '80s godfathers, making a persuasive, several-decade case for New England as the de facto Napa Valley of apple wine. The label has remained small and family-operated, ensuring no waning of quality. One of its more unique offerings is fermented from the pressings of the heirloom Redfield varietal, which is red-fleshed. The cider it yields pours a scarlet hue more striking than rosé and packs a quenching balance of acidic character, bitterness, and fruitiness.