The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider

A variety of different cider apples // Photo by Tj Turner

Several varieties of apples grown and used by Minnesota cidermakers to make their products // Photo by Tj Turner

Cider seems like a straightforward drink. We’re all familiar with apple juice and the concept of fermentation, and, at its core, cider is just a combination of the two. But in practice, the beverage is far more complicated. Because what about pear cider? Or rhubarb cider? What are those drinks? And what about those ciders that have hops and grains in them? Are they beers, or what?

Cider’s popularity has exploded in recent years and it’s become a daunting category for consumers. Some ciders are dry and rustic, fermented by wild yeasts and conditioned like wine. Others are sweet and fizzy, packaged in tallboys and marketed like beer. Some are sour and taste nothing like apples. Others taste like a boozy Fuji fresh off the tree. It’s hard to know how any one cider on the shelf will taste.

We’ve seen bar owners resist adding more cider to their taps because they “already have one.” (Can you imagine that being said about beer?) We still hear the drink referred to as “cider beer.” (It’s not beer, legally speaking, but several breweries do make cider–beer hybrids for licensing reasons, so we get the confusion.) The simple fact that many brands and bartenders still have to qualify it as “hard cider” is proof enough of woeful uncertainty. So we’d like to set the record straight.

For our 2018 Harvest issue, we present this field guide into the world of cider. Here in the land of Haralson and Honeycrisp, our orchards and cidermakers are continuing the rich American legacy of producing apple-based alcohol—drinks that are as varied and unique as the people who make them. For a seemingly simple beverage, the history, science, and range of final products bearing the word “cider” on their labels are fascinating.


The Birthplace

Despite having a reputation for being as American as pie, apples are transplants from far away. From their beginnings millenia ago in China and present-day Kazakhstan, along the Silk Road to Mesopotamia, on to Europe and beyond, apples—and the various ciders made from them—have played a large role in societies around the world, including in the United States. Read more…




Europe’s varied approach to cidermaking

Many of the practices employed by American cidermakers today are the result of traditions that span hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Let’s take a trip to Europe and delve into the traditional techniques and distinct flavors that have shaped cider as we know it. Read more…





It’s all about the blend

Apple varieties number into the thousands. Taste your way through 40 or 50 of them, and you’ll understand what every cidermaker knows: apples vary wildly in size, shape, texture, flavor, and acidity. What’s more, the things that drive an apple’s popularity for eating don’t hold sway when thinking about cider. Read more…





The nitty gritty details of making cider

Fun fact: Planting a seed from a certain apple variety doesn’t guarantee that that type of apple will grow. To get a specific apple requires grafting—just one of many steps that must be considered by a cidermaker in order to grow the apples and, eventually, produce the cider they desire. Read more…





East Coast, West Coast, and everywhere in between

There are currently more than 800 cider operations in the U.S., including commercial cideries in 48 states and the District of Columbia. From its start here in the 1980s, to international beverage companies claiming cider brands of their own in the early 2010s, cider’s place in the U.S. craft beverage scene is still gaining strength. Read more…





Minnesota cidermakers’ approach to their craft

The cidermaking industry in Minnesota is just over six years old. While many cidermakers approach their craft like wine, consumers (and retailers) often treat it more like beer, causing an existential quandary for Minnesota’s cidermakers: Do they package and market their cider like wine, beer, or neither? Read more…





Six must-try Minnesota-made ciders

Want to know what we’re reaching for when we crave homegrown Minnesota cider? Look no further. Read more…

A Blind Tasting beer festival

Taste & Rate 48 Minnesota Oktoberfests

Sept. 20, 2019 | 5:30–9pm
Upper Landing Park
Tickets: GA $40 | DD $20