Welcome to Ask Kate About
Beer Cider, in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer (and cider too!) but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, I’ve recently come to a terrible conclusion that beer makes me feel like shit, which is very sad because I like beer. So I’ve been trying to get into ciders, but I find many to be too sweet for me. Do you have any recommendations for good, dryer/non-sweet ciders for someone who misses beer?
I liked your question so much that I totally screwed with the title of my column just so I could answer it. (For the record, beer is not cider and cider is not beer. Hard cider is made when yeast convert the sugar from fruits into alcohol; it’s actually wine-making, not brewing. ‘Cider beer’ is a terribly confusing misnomer and should be lit on fire.)
Back to the question at hand. Cider is delicious! And given the number of small, independent cidermakers starting to gain traction on shelves and taps, I’m confident we’ll be able to find you something you’ll like.
There are some terms you’ll want to look out for when you’re looking at a cider on a shelf or on a menu: dry or brut (a term borrowed from the wine world) are fairly common. Those can be a good starting point toward finding a less-sweet cider, but there’s a big catch—no one actually regulates or defines the use of those terms. That means a cidermaker can slap the word “dry” on a can of cider no matter how much residual sugar is actually in that product. Sadly, a cidermaker’s “dry” cider could still be sweeter than what you’re looking for.
Cidermakers know this is confusing. At the industry conference CiderCon two years ago, it was a major topic of discussion among attendees: How can the industry best convey to consumers how much sweetness is in their product, and help steer drinkers toward the cider style they’ll most enjoy? There aren’t any definitive answers yet, but know that cidermakers are asking themselves these questions, too.
The surefire way to know a cider’s level of sweetness is to know where it falls on the Brix scale. The Brix scale measures the sugar content in liquids; you can watch a nerdy video about it here. A Brix measurement of zero would mean that a liquid contained no sugar; the higher the number, the more sugar. Some cider companies list a Brix measurement on their packaging—shout out to Seattle Cider, one of the first major cidermakers to do this—but it’s fairly rare. Still, it’s worth flipping over a bottle or can to see if you can’t find this info on the label.
Other than knowing a cider’s Brix measurement or residual sugar level, there’s really no foolproof way to predict how sweet it will be. But you can steer yourself toward cider styles that traditionally tend toward the dry side: farmhouse ciders and Spanish-style or Basque ciders might especially appeal to you. These tend to have more rustic apple quality, and less sugary-sweetness. Some Basque- or Spanish-style ciders are tart, acidic, and funky; sort of like wild-fermented sour beers. If you like beer, you might also check out hopped ciders. I’ve had hopped ciders that I’ve really liked, usually when they impart a minty or herbal flavor to an already dry-leaning cider.
I wish I could lay out a perfect answer to your question, but alas, you’re going to have to do a little detective work when it comes to labels. It might even come down to a bit of trial and error until you find ciders you like, but at least they’ll be tasty trials.