Finding the ideal wine for your Thanksgiving feast can be tricky because the rich meal features a mix of sweet and salty dishes. A great option, however, is hard cider, the most popular drink in Colonial America and still beloved throughout England, France, and Spain. Crisp, dry, and often bubbly, it nicely scrubs the palette clean between bites of savory roast turkey and sugary candied yams.
Made by fermenting apple juice, this clear, amber drink is low in alcohol (generally 3 to 7%) and tinged with the essence of apples. The most traditional hard ciders contain fresh-pressed apple juice instead of concentrate and get their bubbles through natural fermentation, instead of an infusion of carbon dioxide.
Over the past several years, myriad small craft hard cider makers have sprung up throughout New England. While there are too many to highlight here, below are several from the North Shore and beyond. (For a more extensive list of area hard cider producers, visit the Massachusetts Grown… and Fresher! website.)
Far From the Tree, Salem
In Salem, Far From the Tree owners Al and Denise Snape have been brewing hard cider from local apples since 2013. They produce three year-round hard ciders, including Macachusetts made from local McIntosh apples, a hopped version called Nova, and an unfiltered variety called Juicy Mix. The cidery releases numerous seasonal hard ciders that you can sample on draft. The tasting room also sells draft hard cider in glass growlers, a nice alternative to the cidery’s typical 16-ounce cans.
108 Jackson St., Salem, 978-224-2904, farfromthetreecider.com
Russell Orchards, Ipswich
Russell Orchards in Ipswich crafts several award-winning hard ciders, most of which are still. Their one bubbly offering, however, is called Sparkling Hard Cider. Made in the traditional methode champenoise, meaning the secondary fermentation is in the bottle, it has just the right balance of sweetness, acid, and spritz. It comes in a 750ml bottle with a champagne-style cork.
143 Argilla Rd., Ipswich, 978-356-5366, russellorchards.com
Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury
The Cook family has been making hard cider from their own apples at Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury since 2017. They make nearly a dozen still and sparkling hard cider varieties, including the bubbly, bone-dry Spring, which has a clean fruit flavor and soft tannic finish. Their biggest seller is the semi-sweet Summer, which has a fresh apple essence and gentle fizz. They also make a non-alcoholic sparkling sweet cider that’s being bottled just in time for Thanksgiving. All these offerings come in 750ml bottles with champagne-style corks.
45 Fern Ave., Amesbury, 978-388-5525, ciderhill.com
Pony Shack Cider, Boxborough
In 2015, Nate McKinley converted his two-car garage in Boxborough into Pony Shack Cider. While he’s in a bigger space now, he crafts four to five hard ciders a year fermented with cultured yeasts and aged in stainless steel tanks. Always available is his Bliss, a semi-sweet cider with a fresh apple bite and Dry, similar to Brut champagne. This fall, his seasonal offerings are Pumpkin and Cider Doughnut. All his hard ciders come in 16-ounce cans.
22 Littlefield Rd., Boxborough, ponyshackcider.com
Headwater Cider Company, Hawley
In 2005, Peter Mitchell founded Headwater Cider Company in the western Massachusetts town of Hawley. Each year he releases different hard ciders based on what flourished in his orchard the season before. Currently available from the 2019 harvest is Hay 19, which is super dry and almost tart. From his 2020 harvest, he produced Fife, a dry, crisp sipper with light tannins and a rich apple tang. Come Thanksgiving, he’ll release 21 from the 2021 harvest, which has a smooth, almost buttery taste due to secondary fermentation. He sells all his ciders in 750 ml bottles, like wine.
112 Forget Rd., Hawley, 413-695-6099, headwatercider.com
The 28th annual Franklin County CiderDays commemorates the apple in all its forms with three days of events November 4-6, 2022. In addition to apple-themed workshops, there will be cooking demos, cider-pressing exhibits and tastings (think cider soft serve snickerdoodle cookie sandwiches) at over a dozen orchards, cider mills and tasting rooms throughout Franklin County. For more details visit ciderdays.org.