12 Top American Hard Ciders

As boxes overflowing with apples and jugs of freshly pressed cider take their place in the spotlight at local farmers markets, we're reminded of another drink fashioned from the bountiful fall fruit — hard cider. Indeed, the fermented alcoholic drink made from apples has been enjoying quite a renaissance as of late.

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As America's most popular alcoholic beverage throughout the colonial era and into the early days of the United States, cider's popularity began to wane in the 1840s as a wave of German immigrants brought beer-making techniques with them into the country. The great breweries of America's cities popularized German-style beers that would eventually become the watered-down, mass-marketed lagers of today. However, just as the craft beer movement has taken off with glorious abandon, reinventing the taste and identity of American beer, hard cider, too, is being given a new platform to shine as a craft product.

The current vogue for gluten-free products and low-carb diets has led many traditional craft breweries to unveil ciders in addition to their beers. Since cider is made out of a fruit rather than from a grain, it has been able to make inroads among customers who are normally restricted to drinking wine for their alcoholic enjoyment. For American breweries looking to attract new customers and to diversify their options in a sluggish economy, it's a godsend.

Depending on the brewery, the type of apple used, and the fermentation technique, the flavor profile of a pint or bottle will vary greatly. While some ciders are crisp and dry like the best lagers, many others — especially the pear and raspberry ciders that have hit the market recently to appeal to casual drinkers — are extremely sweet and almost fruit juice-like. Dry ciders dominate the American marketplace, but sweeter varieties also have their devoted partisans.

This article was originally published on November 11, 2011.