Here are just a few of the area establishments that offer a selection of hard cider:
† Barcito, 151 W. Erie.
† El’s Kitchen & Bar, 1450 W. Webster.
† The Bluebird, 1749 N. Damen.
† City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph.
† Fatpour Tap Works, 2005 W. Division.
† Fountainhead, 1970 W. Montrose.
† Lush Wine & Spirits, 1412 W. Chicago, 2232 W. Roscoe and 1257 S. Halsted.
† Luxbar, 18 E. Bellevue.
† Mindy’s HotChocolate, 1747 N. Damen.
† Standard Market, 444 W. Fullerton; 333 E. Ogden, Westmont.
† Timothy O’Toole’s Pub, 622 N. Fairbanks.
Upcoming cider events
† Virtue Cider Dinner, Dec. 4, City Winery: Virtue’s Greg Hall presents tastings of five ciders, accompanying a multi-course meal; $75.
† Cider Summit, Feb. 8, Navy Pier: Some 80 cider producers will offer samples. —Leah A. Zeldes
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM
‘Right now, cider is kind of having its moment,” says Mindy Trafman, general manager of Lush Wine & Spirits.
Jason Felsenthal, director of operations at Hubbard Inn, 110 W. Hubbard, calls hard cider the new craft beer. “We’re selling a lot more in the last couple of months,” he says.
Just a few years ago, “hard” might have meant “hard to find.” Now, cider lists are growing rapidly. At its three locations — 1412 W. Chicago, 2232 W. Roscoe and 1257 S. Halsted — Lush, for example, carries 14 varieties, hailing from everywhere from Long Grove to Spain.
That’s good, because cider has as varied flavors as beer or wine.
“Cider at its most elementary is more like wine than beer,” explains Greg Hall, the former Goose Island brewmaster who founded Virtue Cider in 2011. It starts with fermented apple juice, or sometimes pear (in which case it’s “perry”) or mixed fruits. Yeast type, fermentation method and aging influence cider’s sweetness, acidity and tannins — as do the varieties of apples, how they’re pressed and even their “terroir,” the place where they grow, says Hall, who makes several cider styles.
“We carry a brand called J.K.’s Skrumpy,” from Michigan, says Max Wolod, beer director at Standard Market Grill, 444 W. Fullerton and in Westmont. “It just tastes like carbonated apple juice.” In contrast, the barely carbonated, musty, astringent cider of Asturias, Spain, is “almost a completely different beverage,” says Wolod, who once lived there. “I thought it was gross.”
U.S. cider falls all over the map — tannic British-style; funky Spanish-style; complex, low-alcohol ciders fermented like Champagne and earthy farmhouse types a la France; beerlike varieties, sometimes even with added hops; light, sweet styles; strong ciders in colonial New England tradition, and completely different versions Trafman calls “New Age.”
This explosion of cider challenges drinkers in predicting brands to their taste, notes Rachel Driver-Speckan, beverage director of City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph. Former beer drinkers who’ve gone gluten-free — one trend driving cider sales — may be looking for beery-tasting cider. However, she says, “I think that’s one of the most difficult things to tell from the label — whether it tastes like beer.”
Spelling might provide flavor hints: “Sidra” for Spanish replicas; “sidre” for French, according to Driver-Speckan. But maybe not. “I think what American producers are starting to do is take those traditional styles and sort of play with them,” she says.
Lacking a cider taxonomy standard, what can drinkers do?
“Taste as many as you can,” advises Hall, who’ll showcase five Virtue ciders at a tasting dinner Dec. 4 at City Winery. “It’s important not to judge all ciders by one experience.”