Unlike Traditional hard ciders, Adjunct hard ciders have fruits, herbs, vegetables, spices, and other ingredients like honey or oak called adjuncts that change the look, taste, or smell of a hard cider. For me, an Adjunct hard cider should be about the adjunct and less about the apple or the pear. Personally, I also want my adjuncts to be natural but many do add artificial flavors. Adjunct hard ciders are almost endless when you consider all the possible options and combinations. However, just like Traditional hard ciders, I’ve set out to sample as many of them as I can. They give me inspiration and help me develop my own adjunct based hard cider recipes.
The most difficult task in writing this post was trying to define the sub-categories for Adjunct hard ciders. I tried to use my own hard cider recipes as a guide. However, where should I put my Sting hard cider recipe. It is a cyser because it has honey but it also has a strong rhubarb component. In fact, where would I put rhubarb? It is a fruit or a vegetable? This is just one hard cider. What about my Bitter Orange hard Cider? That recipes uses orange juice, orange peel, and hops. Should it go into a hopped cider category or a citrus cider category? You didn’t believe me when I said the categorization was the hardest part. This article has languished for a couple months and this is my third attempt at the categorization.
The subcategories that I selected are Hopped, Berry, Barrel Aged, Spiced, and Citrus, but I taking liberties on what ciders I place in each. I might be missing your favorite like a habanero hard cider or passion fruit pineapple. Where does my favorite, prickly pear hard cider go? I told you it was the hardest part of this post. There are literally too many choices. For this post, I decided to stick with the most common adjuncts that I find in many hard ciders: hops, berries, wood, spices, and citrus. Everything else will have to wait for another post. Let’s start with one of the most controversial first, hopped.
There are a lot of really good hopped hard ciders out there. Many using hops that lean towards the citrus side. However, there are ways to incorporate the bitters and earthy aromas that some hops bring. Personally, I boil hops to add the bitters and dry hop to add the aromas. This can elevate even the plainest dessert apple base with complex aromas and flavors.
Most of the hard ciders I’ve found in this category are made in the US. However, that doesn’t help limit the selection much. About every cidery I’ve visited carries a hopped variety. However, the US isn’t the only place you can find hopped hard ciders. They are even showing up in England so if you haven’t tasted one or tried making one, I would strongly encourage you to explore it. Citra is a great hop if you like citrus aromas and flavors while I recommend Columbus as a hop for more earthly aromas. The reality is that just like apples, there a thousands of hops you could try.
My favorite so far is… Poly Dolly by Tin City located in California. I give this cider my top choice mostly because it’s not just a hopped hard cider but a rosé hopped hard cider. It uses cascade and citra hops and has a nice fruity citrus aroma and flavor. It’s acidic with some bitter notes.
My two honorable mention Hopped Adjunct hard ciders are… Grasshopper-ah by Colorado Cider Company and Centennial Hopped Cider by Hawkes Cidery in London. Hops are great adjuncts for beer and they are great adjuncts for cider. There are a lot of great choices out there. What I don’t see are an abundance of hopped hard cider mixed with other adjuncts. I make a Bitter Orange that combines orange and hops to reinforce the citrus. I think they could be the next new thing. If you find some hard ciders mixing hops and other adjuncts, let me know so I can try them too.
The next subcategory is Berry hard cider. I make a pretty good berry hard cider so I definitely have some biases on this category. While I want the berry to be forward, I am just not looking for something sweet. You should pick it up on the nose but not overwhelmingly. If something is going to overwhelm, it should be on the finish, but again, it shouldn’t be artificially sweet. It should balance with the acid from the cider. For example, blueberries are tart and astringent so a blueberry cider shouldn’t be sweet and sugary. Therefore, expect these berry hard ciders to be bold but not in sweetness. They should carry forward the characters and nuances of the fruit.
My top choice for this category is… Black Currant by Finnriver located in the state of Washington. It starts and finishes with the black currant and a good amount of carbonation. The apple supports the black currant throughout the taste, but allows it to shine. If you haven’t tried it, find some.
My two honorable mention for Berry Adjunct hard cider are… Dead & Buried by Hawkes located in London, England and Pure Cider Black Currant by Possmann in Germany. I had to get the Dead & Buried in London but you can find Pure Cider in Europe as well as throughout the U.S. If you go to London, I encourage you to search out Hawkes Cidery, they didn’t make my list just because I visited. They are making some great hard ciders and some excellent pizza.
I have read books that argue barrel aging is the true way to make cider. While cider continues to be made in barrels in many traditional hard cider markets, it’s still an adjunct if you are using a barrel to impart aromas, flavor, or color. Pottery sealed with pitch were the first vessels used to store wine, beer and therefore, cider. It is believed that the pitch often added to the flavor. For me wood is no different from hops or other fruit juices. What I am searching for in a hard cider age or fermented in wood is broadening of the Cider because of th3 wood. You should first perceive it on the nose and again at the finish. It should bring balance to the acids and fruit aroma. I tried not to look at the carbonation too closely except whether it seemed appropriate. I’ve had still barrel aged hard ciders and sparkling ones that both fit in this category and match the style of the hard cider.
My top choice for barrel aged hard cider is… Meditation by Stoic Cider in Prescott, AZ. It a cloudy cider with bourbon notes from the barrel. It has a light effervescence and a touch of tannins but a solid acid base. It’s quite tasty and very satisfying.
My two honorable mention choices are… Fire Barrel by Finnriver Cidery in Washington. There are different vintages. Mine was from 2019 and was superb. It’s not widely distributed so get some when you can. Cidre Cuvée Nectar by Domaine Julien Thurel in France, which is fermented in barrels. It is a really good cider that you should seek out.
There is a long history of using spices and herbs to flavor wine, beer, and hard cider. Wassail is a great example. Known as a celebration in the 12th century that evolved to be both an event that wards off spirits to ensure a good apple harvest as well as a drink made from hard cider and spices. In America, we mull “cider” and eat donuts in the fall. Its why I often refer to cider as hard cider. The US rebranded apple juice as cider during its prohibition era so to avoid confusion, we often call it hard cider. If you haven’t mulled hard cider or drank a spiced cider, you should be. It’s really just part of a ancient tradition. Therefore, search out these ciders to experience how spices can help balance and accentuate a hard cider. For me, I include ginger in the Spiced category, which is one of my favorite adjunct ciders.
My top Spiced hard cider is Operation Apple Pie by Cider Corps Cidery in Mesa, Arizona. Yes, it’s like an apple pie with cinnamon and cloves. However, it’s also dry and tart. Stop by their cidery in downtown Mesa, Arizona. They are making some great ciders and Operation Apple Pie is a really good one.
My two runner up Spiced hard ciders are Plum & Ginger by Garden Cider, which is based in London and Gingerberry by Botanist & Barrel located in North Carolina. Garden Cider inspired my to make my own Plum & Ginger Cider that you can find here. Botanist and Barrel enjoys wild ferments and often leans towards sours. They are great way to expand your concept of hard cider.
This last Adjunct hard cider is all about the citrus. I picked this adjunct category partially because I love citrus hard ciders. I should clarify, I love certain citrus hard ciders. For me, a citrus hard cider should have some bite to it, and not just tart and acidic. It needs to have some bitters. If it’s not bitter, it’s not citrus. I love when it include some of the oils from the peels. When I pour a Citrus hard cider, I better get a good strong hit of the citrus aroma. I also like them with more carbonation versus less. If this doesn’t sound like the citrus hard ciders you would like, go to Cider Expert and find all the ones I reviewed and didn’t like.
My top pick for citrus hard cider is… Guava by ACE. ACE also makes a pretty good blood orange hard cider but this one hits all the notes for me. It has a citrus, grapefruit, guava aroma, a little carbonation, nice tartness, and a little bitter. It also has a nice guava finish. It is very refreshing and I encourage you to try it. Better yet, get some guava fruit and make some!
My two honorable mentions for citrus hard cider are Defector Detector by Superstition Meadery in Prescott, Arizona. They are known for their meads but they also make some good hard ciders. It might be easier to count the fruit they didn’t use, but it definitely has citrus in it and it’s really good. The other is Sangria by Austin Eastciders out of Texas. I must admit, their other citrus varieties don’t have the bitters I enjoy but I really liked this Sangria option. If you are like me and enjoy some bitter in your hard cider, choose the Sangria.
Look for these at your local bottle shops, craft wine and beer stores, or even online. If you are in Europe, I recommend Scrattngs Craft Cider Shop. Here’s the link.
I realize that there are a lot of really good hard ciders and perries out there. Living in the Southwest, my cidery options are limited compared to Seattle, Portland, New York, Chicago, or similar hard cider hot spots. I have to embark on trips to experience cider at cideries. This is part of why I started making my own.
Personally, I focus on organic and no sulfites for my hard cider recipes but I’ll try any cider and love doing it. If you disagree with my choices or want to tell me how right I am, leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your favorite Adjunct hard ciders. If you have questions, or comments about hard cider, check out the other areas of my website or my book.
Also, if you want more hard cider ratings, check out the Cider Expert app that can be downloaded for Apple or Android devices. You’ll find my hard cider ratings under PricklyCider.
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