Ciders aren’t brewed like beers; they’re fermented like wine — only they’re made from apple juice instead of grape juice. The ones that go best with food are generally fermented bone-dry.
Shake up the Thanksgiving drinks table with craft cider.
Whatever your tradition for the holiday, the meal itself is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. Nuances can get lost under the onslaught of so many competing flavors. And the Thanksgiving table’s tart and sweet elements can do in all but the most forgiving reds. Think Beaujolais cru.
But consider a different scenario. What if you surprised family and friends this year and showed up with something new to drink? Something that’s low in alcohol. A beverage that’s light and refreshing and capable of cozying up to sweet, tart, rich and everything in between.
That something would be craft cider. Cider-heads already have that one dialed in, but for those who still think of cider as something fizzy and sweet, small-batch craft ciders can be a revelation. They’re closer to wine than to beer and come in a broad spectrum of styles. They can be still or sparkling. Some are made in California. Others hail from the Northwest or the Northeast — wherever apples are grown. But you can also find ciders from countries such as Spain or France that have long traditions of cider making.
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Ciders aren’t brewed like beers; they’re fermented like wine — only they’re made from apple juice instead of grape juice. The ones that go best with food are generally fermented bone-dry. Some are made not only with apples but with pear and/or quince, which gives a lovely perfume to the cider.
Cider makers are famous for tracking down abandoned orchards and searching out rare and heirloom varieties for raw material. A few push the boundaries by introducing other flavors, such as chile or agave or hops, after the first fermentation.
For Thanksgiving, though, let’s mostly stick with ciders that drink crisp and dry — the way Txacolina from northern Spain or a muscadet from France’s Loire Valley would. Something like the Troy MMXIV from Sonoma County and Millstone Farmhouse Cidery “Farmgate” from Maryland, among others.
If you want to turn Thanksgiving into a cider fest, lay in a selection of bottles. For the crowd hunkered down in front of the TV, nibbling on wings or salty snacks, pop open California 101 Cider House IPC (India Pale Cider), which can take anything spicy or salty.
For everyone not into sports, open a bottle or two of sparkling French cider, such as Eric Bordelet Sidre Brut “Tendre” or Sydre “Argelette” made from antique apples grown on his orchards just south of Normandy. Or try Cidrerie du Vulcain “Trois Pepins” or “Transparente” from Switzerland. With its creamy mousse and soft, voluptuous fruit, it could win a place as your house sparkling beverage.
To go with a cheese plate before or after the main event, try a cider from Asturias in Spain where they’ve been drinking cider with everything in sight since forever. All ciders go with cheese, but particularly the ones that are bone-dry, farmhouse-style ciders from Asturias, Normandy and West Country, England.
You can also pour a cider to savor after the meal. One of the ciders aged in old rum or bourbon barrels might be appropriate. Sea Cider Prohibition Screech Barrel Aged Cider from British Columbia is crazy good, something totally unique. And Sonoma Cider’s Anvil Bourbon offers plenty of complexity and spunk.
The added bonus? Cider aids digestion, so after everyone has pie you won’t be confronted with a table full of bloated, sleepy celebrants. You might actually get to play that game of cards or break out the Monopoly game this year.
TO START OFF THE CELEBRATION:
Eric Bordelet Brut “Tendre” Sidre (Normandy, France)
The French ciders from this former sommelier are made from heirloom varieties of apples and pears and are profound and delicate — mostly off-dry, y aromatic, slightly petillant, or bubbly, with a complexity and finish that some Champagnes could envy. In addition to the brut, there’s an off-dry “Tendre” Doux sparkling apple cider, round and fragrant. is outstanding Sydre “Argelette” is beautiful with cheese. About $11.
La Cidrerie du Vulcain “Trois Pepins” (Fribourg, Switzerland)
Made from antique varieties of apples, pears and quinces grown on high-branched, untreated trees, this complex sparkling cider is fermented on wild yeasts and only lightly filtered. Open it with ceremony, like a fine Champagne. About $20.
2013 Bonny Doon Querry (Santa Cruz Mountains)
Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm fell in love with French-style ciders and for the past few years has made his own. Querry is a fine-textured hard pear, apple and quince cider with a sweet perfume and the slight bitterness that quince brings. About $16. (Available online from shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/shop/cider.)
California 101 Cider House Scrumpy (Los Angeles)
Scrumpy means farmhouse cider, and this one is sourced from apples and quince grown up and down the 101. Its beautiful salinity is from the sea salt mist coming off the Pacific that drifts over the orchards. Absolutely dry, it is tart, with an appealing minerality. Fermented on native yeasts. About $9 for a 22-ounce bottle.
Sidra Acebal “El Carrascu” Sidra de Asturias (Asturias, Spain)
A crisp, tart Spanish cider from a family that’s been making it since the end of the 19th century. Made with a handful of native apple varieties, like most Asturian ciders, this one is fermented with wild yeasts, aged on the lees and bottled unfiltered. $12 for a 700-milliliter bottle.
Riestra Sidra Natural Cider (Asturias, Spain)
The bottle comes with a topper that pours the cider and oxygenates it at the same time, giving it a slight fizz. Pour from about 2 feet up into a straight-sided glass. This traditionally made Spanish cider really tastes like apples, dry and fragrant. $10 for a 700-milliliter bottle.
Troy MMXIV California Hard Cider (Sonoma County)
Made from late-harvest heirloom apples from orchards in Northern California blended with pineapple quince, which gives a wonderful fragrance. Fermented with native yeast and aged for close to a year in oak barrels, this exceptional California hard cider is bottled unfiltered, unpasteurized and without sulfites. About $10 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
Millstone Farmhouse Cidery “Farmgate” American Traditional Cider (Maryland)
It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to drink a traditional cider from the East Coast. Tart and earthy, it’s made with a blend of Winesap, Northern Spy, Jonathan and Cameo apples. About $20.
Sea Cider Prohibition Screech Barrel-Aged Cider (British Columbia)
An unusual organic apple cider made from aromatic apples that takes 12 months to make and then is aged a further six months in Screech (a high-proof rum) barrels from Newfoundland. It has notes of burnt caramel, toffee, molasses and sweet spices. . About $25.
Sonoma Cider the Anvil Bourbon (Sonoma County)
A bold cider that tastes of apples and smoke. That’s because this hard cider made from organic Pacific Northwest apples is spiked with a dose of the cider maker’s special alcohol-free bourbon flavor. Off-dry, with a smoky finish.Four-pack of 12-ounce bottles, $10.99.
California 101 Cider House IPC (India Pale Cider) (Los Angeles)
Made in Los Angeles from a blend of American cider apples and West Coast quince, this earthy, organic cider fermented with wild yeasts resembles a bone-dry Muscat. The citrus and floral notes on the nose come from hops, specifically one called Citra. About $10 for a 22-ounce bottle.