Across the nation, the hard cider scene is coming into its own, and that includes in Texas. Whereas ten years ago, there was barely a local producer in sight, cideries are popping up in every major city across the state. So, if you have not yet sampled a sip from a can or tap, it is high time you did. Start with one of the state’s best-loved cideries to find your perfect cider for summer (or any time of year).
A QUICK LOOK AT CIDER IN TEXAS
Texas is not exactly known as an apple-producing epicenter. “I don’t think there are any apples within 1,000 miles of Houston,” Justin Engle said, co-owner and cider maker at Houston Cider Company.
That means that instead of the idyllic image of a family-owned cidery located on a vast orchard, most Texas cideries are urban production centers that have their cider juice delivered from other regions. Most cideries call on the juice from table or culinary apples (familiar varieties used for snacking, pies, and fruit salad that most would recognize from grocery stores or recipes), which are grown in abundance across the country. But a few cider makers, such as Austin Eastciders, go as far as importing juice from traditional cider apples in Europe where hard cider originated. Cider apples bring a more complex and authentic flavor to the alcoholic beverage due to high acidity and tannins, but they are also harder to obtain. Because while cider apple trees are abundant in the United Kingdom and Europe, they were essentially wiped out in the United States during Prohibition and have not yet been cultivated to their former level of glory. That is why American-grown culinary apples tend to be the fruit of choice for cideries like Bishop Cider Company and Houston Cider Company.
One thing these three producers all have in common, however, is their commitment to quality. “We take pride in our ingredients,” Brittnay Perlo said, master cidermaker at Austin Eastciders. Engle at Houston Cider Company and Joel Malone, co-founder of Bishop Cider Company in Dallas, both reiterate that sentiment. All prefer less sugar to more, using local ingredients like citrus and honey, and adding in nothing artificial. As a result, unique, inspired ciders are shining across Texas.
AUSTIN EASTCIDERS – Austin, Texas
As of 2019, Austin Eastciders makes the number one selling cider in Texas grocery stores, and for a good reason. Their commitment to quality and skillful use of European cider apples (occasionally mixed with table apples from the Pacific Northwest for the best of both worlds) produce ciders that are not overly sweet but rather flavorful and easy-to-drink.
The ciders are not dry, per se (though the word is far from a definitive term), but they do contain significantly less sugar than many other ciders you will find in the alcoholic beverage aisle at H-E-B. Flavor profiles run the gamut from Original Dry Cider to a Brut Super Dry, from a Rosé Dry to a Ruby Red Grapefruit, and from a Pineapple to a Texas Honey Cider.
They have been providing Austin, which is home to six cideries, and beyond with quality hard cider since 2013 and helped establish the city as one with a passion for apple-based hard beverages. “It’s really cool to see cider growing like this,” Perlo said. “It allows everyone to go and experience something different.”
HOUSTON CIDER COMPANY – Houston, Texas
Located near downtown in the Houston Heights neighborhood, Houston Cider Company is a true urban cidery. They are the first cider producer in the city to produce and distribute their own cider (Leprechaun and Permann’s were the first in town, but were packaging cider made elsewhere) and spent the first year-and-a-half of their three years in business making beer and cider. But when they decided to dedicate their efforts strictly to fermented apple-based beverages, they hung on to their roots. Instead of the overly sweet beverages that Americans often think of when they think of cider, Engle and his team focus on dry ciders with no sugar added.
“We’re trying to bridge the beer-cider gap,” Engle said. Doing so involves making a dry, more acidic cider that will not cause beer drinkers, at least those with a preference for sour gose-style beers, to turn up their noses.
Among the offerings are a gose-style cider, a hazy New England IPA cider, and ciders that feature ingredients local to Texas like kumquats and honey. And while their cider is not currently distributed beyond Houston, Engle hopes to have cans of Houston Cider Company brew in grocery stores across the state soon.
BISHOP CIDER COMPANY – Dallas, Texas
Peach tea cider with Fredericksburg peaches and pecan pie cider with Texas nuts are just a few of the 40-plus flavors visitors can expect to find at Bishop Cider Company in Dallas. The cidery opened its doors in 2014 and has two locations in Dallas and new locations in both Austin and Houston.
“Our goal was to make the best cider that Texas has ever seen,” Malone said. And that means using the best Pacific Northwest apples, local ingredients, and no added sugar to create flavors like Crackberry, The Dark Cide, Mango Habanero, and Tiger’s Blood.
He and his wife and fellow co-owner Laura are proving that even in a nonapple-producing state, cider can, and will, take on its own form. And they are proving it with a constantly rotating variety of flavors, up to 200 every year, most with zero added sugar.
You can find their concoctions in stores around the state, in Oklahoma, and even up in New York (as of early 2020) in addition to their tasting room and three Cidercades (arcades where the cider flows like honey) around the state.
FIND YOUR BREW
If you are not a cider connoisseur (or not yet), now is the perfect time to start sipping and sampling to find your favorite craft beverage. If you are a beer or wine drinker, do not let the reputation of ciders being too sweet for your palate dissuade you from branching out to try something new. After all, “Cider can take on many characteristics of other beverages,” Malone said. “It is so diverse. I think it’s one of the most diverse beverages out there.”
To find one (or four) that suits, start by checking the sweetness spectrum. If you know you prefer sweet to dry, opt for a cider with more sugar. If you are a beer drinker, try a cider with hops. If fruity cocktails are your thing, select a cider with plenty of vibrant fruit flavors. Then start sampling.
If you are at a taproom, try a little of everything, taking note of what flavor profiles appeal to you. At the store, opt for a mixed six-pack so you can sample different cideries and their offerings. Just do not give up after one taste, because, like wine, not all cider is created equal.
As Perlo said, “There’s a cider for everyone.” You just have to get out there and find it. And there is no better time than now because it is always cider season in Texas.