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The Hard Cider Buzz: Argus Cidery
Argus's superdry Texas ciders have such subtle apple and floral flavors that they could almost pass for sparkling wine. (It helps that Argus uses heavy glass bottles with Champagne-style stoppers.)
Founder Wes Mickel is only 27, but he's been working with cider for a decade. "The first cider I ever made was in high school, with Mott's apple juice and packaged yeast," he says. After attending culinary school and working as a recipe tester and assistant for star chef Tyler Florence, Mickel moved to Austin and set up his cider operation in 2010.
"We use mostly supersweet apples," Mickel says. "Many cider producers wouldn't recommend that. So we balance it out by using different oaks and long fermentation times, like a winemaker would do."
Mickel is now bottling his second hard cider, Cameo, made entirely from Cameo apples, which he chose for their sweet-tart balance. "This is the one apple that can stand on its own," he says. The refreshing, pale cider has mild citrus notes. $20 for 750 ml.
The Hard Cider Buzz: Farnum Hill Ciders
For purists: juice from batch-fermented cider apples. "You can't throw in Granny Smiths and call it cider," says owner Stephen Wood. "You have to use bitter apples."
Wood has worked at his family's New Hampshire orchard since 1965. After visiting England and becoming intrigued by its cider orchards, Wood tried making hard cider, planting dozens of forgotten cider-apple varieties.
The ongoing Dooryard series: experimental ciders, ranging from bittersweet to superfruity, that sell out quickly, never to be made again. "It's a veritable feast of the weird and the wild," Wood says. $13 for 500 ml.
The Hard Cider Buzz: Tandem Ciders
Sticking to old-fashioned methods, Tandem uses the physically taxing rack-and-cloth press (apple pulp is forced through a press cloth with a vise) to make small-batch hard ciders in Michigan's Leelanau County.
Dan Young was an out-of-work brewer; his wife, Nikki Rothwell, did horticultural research on an experimental farm that grew cider apples. "I wanted to stay local, and you can't always do that here in Michigan with beer ingredients," says Young. "Making cider is a great way to utilize the apple crop." The name Tandem comes from a bike trip the couple took across England on a two-seater, during which they cycled and drank cider. "British Airways let us check the bike, and we rode it straight out of Heathrow," says Young.
The Pretty Penny, a blend of 30 late-season apples from Christmas Cove Farm, which has zingy minerality and green apple notes ($12 for 750 ml). "The orchard's owner is a teetotaler who asked me why we would want to ferment apples," Young says.
The Hard Cider Buzz: Tieton Cider Works
Straightforward and food-friendly, from the slightly sweet Blossom Nectar to the superdry Tieton Blend. Wild Washington Apple strikes the best sweet-dry balance, with a bit of citrusy minerality. $8 for 500 ml.
Cofounder Craig Campbell is a third-generation Yakima Valley farmer whose grandfather homesteaded in the 1920s. Campbell turned the farm organic 25 years ago; cider maker Marcus Robert (left) joined the team last year.
A pear cider; Tieton just planted seven English pear varieties, which they will ferment in a few years. "We're trying to be forward-thinking and innovative with our ciders, like all the beermakers are with their beer here in the Pacific Northwest," says co-owner Sharon Campbell.
The Hard Cider Buzz: 2 Towns Ciderhouse
Reflecting a hard-core commitment to locavorism, 2 Towns ages ciders in Oregon oak and sometimes uses local blackberry honey as a sweetener. A future cider will be called the 50-Miler, with all ingredients coming from within that range.
Co-owner Aaron Sarnoff-Wood was considering opening a brewpub in Los Angeles but wanted a project he could finance himself. So he partnered with a friend (whom he used to babysit as a kid) and a former winemaker to launch the micro-cidery 2 Towns last year.
Serious Scrump, the company's first limited-release cider, is a blend of a few dozen apple varieties from the Hood River Valley. It has a crisp, fruity taste. "This is the one in my kegerator," says Sarnoff-Wood. $9 for 22 oz.
2 Towns partnered with Flat Tail Brewing to make a beer-cider hybrid for Corvallis Beer Week.
The Hard Cider Buzz: Three Dessert Ciders to Try
Eden Northern Spy Ice Cider ($22)
Eden follows the strict Quebecois standards for making ice cider, pressing apples and freezing juice outdoors. Its amber Northern Spy has a crisp tartness and honey notes.
Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold ($25)
A crop of Newtown Pippin apples led Foggy Ridge to make an "apple port" by mixing its cider with apple brandy; the result is spicy with a touch of citrus.
Slyboro Ice Harvest Special Reserve ($24)
Slyboro owner Dan Wilson makes this cider "only when the conditions are right and the vintage is really rich." His Ice Harvest Special Reserve has a tropical sweetness, along with nice acidity and depth.
The Hard Cider Buzz: Best New Cider Bars
Julian Hard Cider
Built with reclaimed wood, this cider saloon has a Gold Rushera look that befits its location in an old mining town east of San Diego. There's only one cider on tap: a clean and dry British style made on-site from a 1670 recipe.
This cider-centric bar has seven varieties on tap and 100-plus by the bottle, as well as "Meet the Maker" events with top Pacific Northwest producers like EZ Orchards and Wandering Aengus.
New York City
While working in Spain, chef Seamus Mullen (formerly of Boqueria) fell hard for the tiny, unfussy cider bars of Asturias. His ode to these places offers the Asturian cider Trabanco on tap, cider-steamed mussels and wood-fired steaks.