Remember when the only hard cider around here was Strongbow or Magner's on tap in an Irish pub, or perhaps a Woodchuck on draft as a novelty at a craft beer bar? Thankfully, that's changing.
Sales of hard cider climbed 84.5 percent in 2012, compared to 17 percent for craft beer. The biggest brewers are paying attention: Sam Adams and Anheuser-Busch have launched their own ciders, while MolsonCoors bought Crispin last spring. As with the craft beer industry, the attention is benefiting the smaller operations.
I wrote about Distillery Lane Ciderworks, the only operating hard cider distillery in Maryland. On Saturday, the Ciderworks will be open for classes that teach visitors how to make their own hard cider, and also for tours of the orchard and tastings of its line of strong, full-bodied ciders: They're dry, rich and sometimes funky – a far cry from most bland, fizzy draft ciders. You should be seeing Distillery Lane in D.C. beer bars soon.
If you can't make it up to Frederick County this weekend, you can still explore some great ciders at local bars. Here's are few of my favorites.
Bold Rock: From Nellysford, Virginia, west of Charlottesville, Bold Rock is becoming more common in Northern Virginia; recent sightings include Spacebar in Falls Church, World of Beer in Ballston, and Fire Works Pizza in Court House. It's a refreshing cider, not too sweet with a nice tartness. The premium Vat 1 cider, which is sold in 750mL wine bottles, is aged, with more tart and apple flavors. You can find it at specialty beer bars, such as Meridian Pint.
Jack's Hard Cider: Produced at the Hauser Estate Winery outside Gettysburg, Jack's tastes like biting into a crisp fall apple. It's dry and not too sweet. It's on tap at Meridian Pint, and in cans at a number of bars, including Smoke and Barrel, Boulevard Woodgrill and Pizzeria Paradiso.
Etienne Dupont Cidre: From northern France, this is everything a Normandy cider should be: funky, dry, tart with a champagne-like effervescence. It's not cheap: A half-bottle (375mL) at Pizzeria Paradiso costs $18, and it will cost around $13-$15 in beer stores.
Samuel Smith: An organic cider from the north of England, Samuel Smith is an excellent crisp, clean sparkling cider. It has more real apple flavor than other English/Irish imports, with a nice tartness and smooth finish. The Queen Vic keeps it in stock, as do many beer bars.