Sales of hard apple cider in the U.S. have doubled in the past year, reaching $162 million. Is it any good?

Sales of hard apple cider in the U.S. have doubled in the past year, reaching $162 million. Is it any good?

Hard Apple Cider: A Taste Test

Drunken Fruit
Drunken Fruit

Sales of hard apple cider in the U.S. have doubled in the past year, reaching $162 million. Is it any good?

The Experts
The Experts

Three brew snobs weigh in on seven popular options.

Strongbow
Strongbow

Strongbow, the world’s largest cider brand, is the sixth-most-popular cider in the U.S. Heineken (HEIA:NA) acquired it in 2008. $1.67; 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)

Bottle design
Schwartz: It’s dude-friendly. The name sounds macho.

Apple flavor
Hagen: There’s a sourness, a musk to it.
Schwartz: Is it pears or something else? There’s almost no apple.
Cioletti: Not a whole lot of apple. It seems to have a flavor of its own.

Balance
Hagen: Very dry. Not much acidity. Tastes clean.
Cioletti: It’s well-balanced. Fairly dry, with a hint of sweetness and a bunch of tartness. It lingers, but not intensely.

Food pairing
Schwartz: Asian food.
Cioletti: Flatbread pizza with olives.

Overall grade: B

“The archer on the bottle makes it skew masculine,” Cioletti says.

Woodchuck Amber
Woodchuck Amber

Introduced in 1991 by Vermont Hard Cider, Woodchuck was the U.S. market leader for years. It fell to second this year as large beer manufacturers moved into the cider category. $1.50; 5 percent ABV

Bottle design
Hagen: Reminds me of something on my grandma’s wall.
Schwartz: It’s cutesy. I’d be embarrassed to hold it for too long.

Apple flavor
Hagen: Like candy apple, with a natural juice flavor.
Cioletti: Too sweet. I couldn’t drink more than one.

Balance
Hagen: It tastes like Juicy Juice. It’s sweet.

Food pairing
Schwartz: Nothing savory. Maybe chocolate cake.

Overall grade: C

“It tastes like smashed-up apples, but not fresh apples,” Schwartz says.

Original Sin
Original Sin

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
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
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
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
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.

Overall grade: C

“There are notes of cotton candy,” Cioletti says.