If you’ve stood in the cider aisle lately, you’ll notice it looks a lot more pink. Rosé cider is the beverage of spring 2018, full stop. At least seven cidermakers—Angry Orchard, Strongbow, Crispin, Shacksbury, Original Sin, Virtue, and Bold Rock—have launched rosé ciders in just the past nine months, with most of those debuting within the last month. Let’s break down how each cidermaker achieves the pink color, and what that means for the way they taste.
But first, why the rosé-splosion? Thank rosé wine for cidermakers’ inspiration: Nielsen figures show volume sales of pink wine grew 53 percent from summer 2016 to summer 2017. Meanwhile, the rest of the wine category grew just 4 percent. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder cider wanted to get in on the #roséallday trend.
“There’s a certain time of day and a certain place that rosé wine fits,” says Luke Schmuecker, director of business development for Vermont-based Shacksbury Cider. “You picture people hanging out outside during the day, maybe in a brunch situation or out on a front porch somewhere. When we decided to make this cider, we were thinking about people just hanging out and just enjoying a rosé cider instead of a rosé wine.”
American cidermakers have generally been more apt to mix new flavors or colors into their ciders than more traditional European cidermakers. And because great quality cider apples are hard to grow or even purchase, some cider companies have sought to add complexity to their products through ingredients like fruit, hops, spices, etc.
“Hundreds of cider apple orchards are being planted every year now, but it’s years before those are ready. There’s a need for anything that adds dimension or complexity,” says Original Sin founder Gidon Coll, who planted an orchard on his family’s farm in New York’s Hudson Valley in 2012.
Rosé ciders generally have added ingredients that impart new flavors and a pink hue, but each cider company achieves this in its own way. Shacksbury mingles its cider with marquette grape skins leftover from a local winery and lets them undergo a secondary fermentation together. Original Sin adds a wine grape skin extract to the juice from its orchard’s pressed apples. Crispin’s version gets its color primarily from hibiscus, with an extra bit of color from rose petals. Bold Rock’s head cidermaker Ian Niblock tells me their rosé cider is colored with “a natural flavor that mimics the rosé profile, but does not come from grapes.” (He told me he can’t elaborate further, as that information is proprietary.) Virtue Cider begins with Michigan-grown apples, then adds citrus oil, sage, and hibiscus to the mix. Angry Orchard’s is colored with the juice of red-flesh apples, hibiscus, sweet potatoes and radishes. Strongbow’s rosé is made with the juice of red-flesh apples, as well as color from black carrots and red radishes.
When ingredients are included in the cider for color, they can also affect its flavor. Wine grape skins contain tannins, the organic compounds that give wine “structure.” In cider, they add flavor complexity, textural structure, and help balance sweetness in the cider. (Bold Rock says the ingredient added to its rosé cider for color also imparts an overripe berry note.) And hibiscus can also contribute flavors that act like floral tannins; if you’ve ever had strong hibiscus tea, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Knowing which ingredient is flavoring and coloring your cider can help you decide if you might want to pick it up: Do you want a tannic quality? Look for one that contains grape skins. Looking for something floral, fruity and springy? Maybe grab the hibiscus versions or a rosé cider that also contains additional fruit, like Citizen Cider’s blueberry-flavored bRosé cider.
Speaking of brosé—you know rose isn’t just for ladies, right? Rosé is definitely the choice for men who are self-assured enough to sip a peach-colored beverage.
“At a tasting event, we had a bunch of ciders lined up on the table and a lot of guys would go through everything before going to the rosé, and then they’d sheepishly be like ‘I’ll try the rosé.’ And then they’re like, ‘Oh, this is really good,’” says Shacksbury’s Luke Schmuecker. “There’s something to be said about guys with the confidence to order a pink drink.”