Low-Alcohol Ciders Are Designed for Easy Drinking

Two major brands have added low-ABV "session ciders" to their rosters.

shackbury new cider spritze
Photo: Courtesy of Shacksbury / Luke Schmuecker.

Ciders are often thought of as a lighter, refreshing, easy-drinking alternative to beer based solely on their flavor profile. But when it comes to ABV, ciders can actually pack quite a punch. Crisp Apple, the flagship product from America's best-selling cider brand, Angry Orchard, is 5 percent ABV—the same as a Budweiser. Meanwhile, Vermont's Shacksbury, a more artisanal cider brand, cans its craft ciders at 6.5 percent ABV, getting into IPA territory.

The reason ciders can be so strong makes sense: Alcohol comes from fermenting sugars, something apple juice can have plenty of. But it's also understandable that, similar to how light beer emerged in the late '70s and early '80s and, more recently, "session IPAs" became all the rage on the craft beer scene, cider drinkers might also be interested in options that won't leave them lying on the floor. So this summer, Angry Orchard, the country's biggest cider brand, and Shacksbury, one of the country's most interesting and quickly expanding cider brands, both released their takes on "session ciders."

Released nationwide in April, Easy Apple is Angry Orchard's take on a lower ABV cider. Probably not coincidentally, whereas their Crisp Apple cider comes in at the same ABV as a Budweiser, Easy Apple is 4.2 percent ABV, the same as a Bud Light. However, though lower alcohol is a big selling point, some cider drinkers may be more interested in this new product's other major claim: It's "less sweet." Grating sweetness has long been a potential turnoff for mainstream American ciders: For Easy Apple, which is made from a mix of culinary and French bittersweet apples, Angry Orchard promises that this cider finishes "refreshingly dry."

angry orchard apple cider
Courtesy of Angry Orchard

For those seeking a different kind of twist on a sessionable cider, Shacksbury decided to cut its alcohol levels the old-fashioned way, by mixing an alcoholic drink with non-alcoholic drink to create a spritz. Originally released back in May, these 3.8 percent ABV canned beverages came in two varieties: Cider Spirtz and Citrus Spritz. The former, "inspired by the classic Italian spritz tradition," mixed Vermont-produced cider with a natural elixir featuring rose petal and grapefruit made by Burlington's own Alice & the Magician. That latter version was similar, but with a more citrus-focused elixir and less sweetness. Unfortunately, the Cider Spritz has since sold out, but seeing as Shacksbury has continued to grow its can line over the past couple years, hopefully we'll see a similar incarnation again next summer.

Shacksbury and Angry Orchard certainly aren't the first two brands to create session ciders: A number of products, both in the U.S. and the U.K., label themselves as such. But since these two brands are at the forefront of the cider business, their interest in lower ABV ciders could signal that lighter ciders are set to gain more traction moving forward.

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