December is a time filled with festive cheer. Get-togethers with friends and family — whether virtual or in person — extend throughout the month. Food is a focal point and libations flow freely.
For many this means lively, sparkling, white and pink wines or smooth, rich reds. Warming, malty beers, sometimes spiced, also make the cut. But cider, often overlooked, offers a great way to add some new pizazz to your holiday beverage lineup.
Cider bridges the gap between beer and wine. By nature cider is like wine — the fermented juice of pressed fresh fruit. By culture cider is more like beer — not at all fussy and drunk by the pint in lively pubs.
While most Americans associate cider with the soda-pop sweet and fizzy large commercial brands, the real world of cider offers far greater complexity. From the bruised-fruit sweetness of French cider to the dry, acidic funkiness of cider from Spain, there is a flavor profile to please everyone. Minnesota also has a vibrant, up-and-coming cider scene that encompasses a wide range of palate-pleasing tastes.
Here are 10 ciders to brighten your table this holiday season.
Voyage, Number 12 Cider: Voyage would be right at home in a Champagne flute. Crisp and effervescent, this local cider showcases red and green apple flavors brightened by tart, citrusy overtones. Background hints of grilled peach offer a suggestion of sweetness. It finishes dry, dry, dry with a lingering touch of apples and lemons. 614 N. 5th St., Mpls., number12cider.com.
Golden Russet Single Varietal, Milk & Honey Ciders: This still and super-dry cider is made solely from the juice of Golden Russet apples. Its high acidity and tannin demand food. It would be great with everything from turkey and stuffing to seared duck breast. Tart green apple leads the way, supported by notes of lime, melon and rich tropical fruit. Its light body belies its 9.5% alcohol punch. 11738 County Road 51, St. Joseph, Minn., milkandhoneyciders.com.
Yellowbelly Ginger, Sapsucker Farms: The spritzy, semisweet Yellowbelly Ginger brings a bit of holiday spice. Ginger is a key player here, but it's not what this cider is all about. There is a nice balance of apple and spice complemented by light touches of honey and orange zest. The off-dry finish lingers on red apple and ginger. 2752 215th Av., Mora, Minn., sapsuckerfarms.com.
Mango Habañero, Minneapolis Cider Co.: For those who want a more piquant spice, Mango Habañero is a good choice. But don't fear the habañero. This isn't a mouth-burning pepper bomb. The main player is apple. The mango is there, but as a secondary element — almost more aromatic than flavorful. These are joined by even subtler notes of lemon, cucumber and habañero flesh. The heat is just a lingering tingle in the finish. 701 SE. 9th St., Mpls., minneapoliscider.co.
Dry, Aspall Cyder: Located in the eastern English county of Suffolk, Aspall Cyder is infused with history and tradition. The Chevallier family started making cider at Aspall Hall in 1725, when Clement Chevallier planted the first trees. Aspall Dry is light and vinous, with fresh apple flavor. A sweet start gives way to a dry, gently tart finish. It is a spritzy, Champagne-like drink that would be a festive refresher to kick off an evening. aspall.co.uk
Sagarnoa, Cidrerie Txopinondo Sagarnotegia: Txopinondo is a Spanish-style cider from the Basque region of southern France. This cider explodes with fresh, crisp green apple in both flavor and aroma. Acidity is the star. It's quite tart with a moderately strong acetic presence. Background notes of fresh herbs, citrus fruits, cedar and funk make this an extraordinarily complex and extremely refreshing drink. txopinondo.com
Cidre Bouché Brut De Normandie, Etienne Dupont: The French ciders of Brittany and Normandy are truly special. And this cider may be one of the best beverage experiences you will ever have. Bruised or baked-apple sweetness forms the body of this complex cider, balanced by just a hint of lemon acidity. These are interwoven with layered notes of herbs, pepper, honey and a hint of barnyard rusticity. This is a cider worthy of even the fanciest holiday gatherings. calvados-dupont.com
Sec, Jaanihanso: Bottle-aging using the Méthode champenoise delivers a lively effervescence in this just-off-dry sparkling cider from Estonia. It leads with crisp green apple flavor and fairly high acidity. Suggestions of the bruised-apple/cooked-apple sweetness found in French cider stay just below the surface. Notes of hay, pears, citrus and a bit of barnyard round out this delicious cider. jaanihanso.ee
Borealis Winter Reserve, Sweetland Orchard: Ice cider is made by freezing apple juice to remove the water and then fermenting the concentrated juice. The result is a rich and warming cider with a winelike alcohol content that rivals sherry or Madeira as an after-dinner dessert drink. Borealis is full and sweet with flavors of stewed apple, brown sugar and bourbon-like caramel. But the Minnesota apples bring an offsetting lemony acidity, making this a sweet/tart delight. An oak barrel-aged version has additional notes of vanilla from Minnesota-grown oak. 26205 Fairlawn Av., Webster, Minn. sweetlandorchard.com
Alchemy, Milk & Honey Ciders: Alchemy is another Minnesota-made ice cider. It is sweet and fruity, bursting with red apple, bruised apple, raisinated grapes and low orange citrus notes. Bourbon barrel aging adds depth without taking over, imparting background notes of vanilla and caramel. Like Borealis, Alchemy is perfect for dessert. 11738 County Road 51, St. Joseph, Minn., milkandhoneyciders.com.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.