“It tastes like smashed-up apples, but not fresh apples,” Schwartz says.
Started in New York in 1997, Original Sin is now bottled in Oregon and Florida. It’s a dry brew, with only about 150 calories. $1.67; 6 percent ABV
Bottle design Hagen: Seductive, sexy. Schwartz: It’s dark, cool, a little mysterious.
Apple flavor Hagen: There’s a refined, hidden apple to it. Schwartz: The taste is light on apple. Hard cider should be more like this. Cioletti: It could be any fruit. It’s fruity but not necessarily apple.
Balance Hagen: This is my favorite; it feels balanced. Schwartz: It’s superdry. Cioletti: Kind of watery.
Food pairing Hagen: Bruschetta. Schwartz: Maybe Mexican. Cioletti: It could go with anything. A mixed green salad with goat cheese and walnuts.
Overall grade: A
“It smells like a gym sock. It’s funky, and I mean that in the best way possible,” says Hagen.
Michelob Ultra Light Cider
Anheuser-Busch (BUD) launched this light cider in 2012. Now the fourth-best-selling brand in the U.S., it’s sweetened with stevia. $1.08; 4 percent ABV
Bottle design Cioletti: It works. Conveys it’s light. Schwartz: Horrifying! No man would want to hold this.
Apple flavor Hagen: Any apple flavor tastes fake. This is the worst one. Cioletti: It’s not a natural apple. There’s stevia in it, and I’m getting some of that. Has a mild aftertaste. Schwartz: Like an artificial apple candy not even kids would want.
Balance Schwartz: One of the grossest things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Cioletti: It’s evenly balanced, tart and sweet, which almost cancel each other out.
Food pairing Schwartz: Any food would be ruined by this flavor.
Overall grade: D
“I generally don’t trust diet things, because they taste fake,” says Hagen.
Angry Orchard Crisp Apple
Boston Beer’s (SAM) Angry Orchard was introduced in 2011. America’s best-selling hard cider will make up 20 percent of Boston Beer’s sales by 2015, analysts say. $1.67; 5 percent ABV
Bottle design Hagen: It’s cool. Has the feel of a Brothers Grimm story. Cioletti: A more premium look. It conveys artisanal.
Apple flavor Hagen: Darker apple flavors that are more robust, richer, roastier. Schwartz: It lives up to the name, like the apples are excited.
Balance Schwartz: Just right. Just tart and apple-y enough. Cioletti: Has a tart finish. Medium dry to sweet. It has a bit of a bite.
Food pairing Schwartz: Tacos. Cioletti: Blue cheese.
Overall grade: B
“It has a bold acidity,” Hagen says.
Mike's Hard Smashed Apple Cider
In April, Chicago-based Mike’s Hard Lemonade introduced two hard ciders, Crisp Apple and Classic Dry. Sales are nearing $2 million. $1.79; 5 percent ABV
Bottle design Hagen: It’s silly-looking. There’s something immature about the brand.
Apple Flavor Schwartz: Almost like sweetened applesauce. It’s intense. Cioletti: The apple flavor is lost in the sweetness.
Balance Hagen: Awful. Too sweet. Schwartz: Maybe it could be a sweet drink after a meal.
Food Pairing Hagen: A hot dog.
Overall grade: C
“Pair this with pretzels, to cancel out some of the sweetness,” says Cioletti.
Stella Artois Cidre
Anheuser-Busch brought Stella Artois Cidre (pronounced cee-dra) to the U.S. in May, marketing it as a white wine alternative. $1.87; 4.5 percent ABV
Bottle design Schwartz: The bottle’s exquisite. It makes the other bottles look lame and boring.
Apple flavor Hagen: I just taste a lot of sugar. I can feel it on my teeth. Cioletti: A lot less tart—the apple is there, but it disappears quickly.
Balance Schwartz: Not subtle in any way, but it’s remarkably delicious.
Food pairing Schwartz: Thai. Or something with bacon. Cioletti: It reminds me of a carnival, so French fries.