The Best Hard Ciders in New England
Four standout bottles, plus three local bars with a serious cider focus.
An ale alternative? Just another candy-coated chaser? Think again. In today’s hard-cider boom, the orchard is yielding earthy, elegant selections that are the main attraction. Borrowing from craft beers’ more-is-better mantra, cider makers are using hops, bourbon barrels, and even antediluvian winemaking practices to produce bottles that are worlds apart from the saccharine hooch of yore. Here are four of the best from around New England.
Artifact Cider Project
When he was diagnosed with celiac disease in college, Jake Mazar didn’t mourn his beerless fate for long. Instead, he went down a cidery rabbit hole, eventually opening this two-person operation in Springfield with childhood friend Soham Bhatt. There, they experiment with everything from local apple blossom honey to wild yeast—something that helps transform everyday Macs into this refreshing, Riesling-like elixir.
Pioneers in the movement to make cider from the feral, bittersweet apples found along the dirt roads of rural New England, Shacksbury’s Colin Davis and David Dolginow are spearheading another innovation: adopting the wine world’s practice of pétillant-naturel—affectionately known as pét-nat—a natural fermentation method that imparts a refreshing, gentle carbonation. Crafted from “lost” and English cider fruit, this unfiltered blend has tropical aromas of peach and mango.
On their small parcel of land near Barnard, Vermont, husband-and-wife team Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin grow the vegetables, wine grapes, and even cider apples for their Woodstock restaurant, Osteria Pane e Salute. Made in the solera style (most commonly seen in sherry production), the second vintage of their Bouleverser cider includes juice from five different vintages and 17 apple varieties, making for a complex, electric sparkler.
The Grand Banks
Shannon Edgar hopes to resurrect Sherborn’s pre-Prohibition status as a hard-cider heavyweight with this recently launched brand, named after the mythical, 30-foot-tall seaman Alfred Bulltop Stormalong. His latest release, a collaboration with Bully Boy Distillers, combines heirloom apples (Roxbury Russet and Northern Spy) that are aged in whiskey barrels for a year. The result: structured, coconut-y, and bone dry on the finish.
Three local bars with a serious cider focus.
Along with both domestic and European bottled selections, cider finds its way into several cocktails and small plates at Marc Sheehan’s New England–revival concept.
660 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-945-2576, loyalninecambridge.com.
Heritage of Sherborn
The bar at Josh and Jennifer Ziskin’s revamped 18th-century inn features flights of cider from fellow Sherborn outfit Stormalong—many of which are limited, small-batch runs.
33 N. Main St., Sherborn, 508-655-9521, heritageofsherborn.com.
Susan Welsh’s Athol pub has become synonymous with rare local ciders, with offerings from Headwater, West County, and Shacksbury dominating the draft lines.
98 Exchange St., Athol, 978-249-2795.