When you love hard cider and you have an impromptu reason to celebrate, you create a giant hard apple cider tasting experience….complete with air fryer soft pretzels as a palate cleanser.
You might be wondering how this space that typically showcases sparkling wine, sparkling wine cocktails and bubbly mocktails is sharing hard ciders and that’s because I also love a good hard cider, especially in the fall, especially when they’re pumpkin flavored.
In truth, I always wanted to be a beer lover, but I just hate beer. There is something about it thatI cannot get behind. But it’s always so easy when you’re at a bar. Well, my version of this is a hard cider. And there’s just enough bubbles to make me happy.
I had been purchasing fall themed, specifically pumpkin hard apple ciders every time I saw one and the next thing I knew, I had 6 different kinds chilling in my refrigerator and 4 chilling in my next door neighbor’s refrigerator.
And on a beautiful 80 degree October evening in the Chicago suburbs, we created an hard cider tasting to celebrate several moments in life.
Hard Cider Tasting
If you’ve never done a tasting with me or read about one (there are plenty of blog posts about different versions we’ve done), here’s the best part, they’re not super formal.
Yes, I have a “score sheet” and small taster glasses that I get from the Dollar Tree, but there is no right or wrong way to go through a tasting experience. It should be fun!
Now, because we had 10 different ciders to taste through, I knew we would need some kind of palate cleanser. I had been wandering through Costco a few weeks ago and saw these soft pretzel bites that I knew would come in handy for something and this was the perfect occasions.
And when I say this doesn’t have to be formal, it really doesn’t. It took me a total of maybe 30 minutes to set up the area, pop the pretzel bites in the air fryer, and pour the cider into the tasting glasses.
And this is why we love celebrating any reason whatsoever…because it doesn’t have to be super time consuming….just fun!
Hard Apple Cider Lineup
As I mentioned, over the last month, every time I saw a pumpkin themed hard apple cider I grabbed it. I think only one of them had I ever had in the past, so these were mostly all completely new to me.
I shopped at Trader Joe’s, Binny’s Beverage Depot, Woodman’s, and Aldi and the only qualifier was it had “pumpkin” on the label. At one point I almost started buying caramel apple ciders too, but it was getting to be a bit much…who knows, maybe we’ll do a part 2.
When I created our score sheet, I simply opened up the refrigerator and wrote down the ciders as I saw them, so that was the line up on the table. We did absolutely no research whatsoever. These opinions are based simply on taste alone.
McKenzie’s Pumpkin Jack
We started with this one and LOVED it. I will say though, it is on the sweeter side so for me personally, I could drink one and that’s it. But it’s so flavorful. We didn’t get a whole lot of pumpkin vibes from it, but definitely got the fall vibes from it. The aroma is amazing and it definitely tastes like apple pie in a glass. The cinnamon, vanilla and caramel flavors are oh so good.
Pumpkin Pie Cider
This was the second up and to say we were disappointed is an understatement. And here’s why. For a hard cider, this is good. It’s very drinkable and enjoyable. For a pumpkin pie cider, this lacked any pumpkin spice flavor whatsoever. This one was at the bottom of our list for sure.
And we both commented, had this not had a label that said Pumpkin Pie, we would have enjoyed this hard cider, but because of that, without any fun pumpkin flavoring, it was lackluster.
Seattle Cider Co Pumpkin Spice
Now having lived in Seattle for a bit, I thought I was going to be partial to this one for sure. And I will say, I do enjoy it. In fact, it was in my top 2 the entire night. It’s very easy to drink, has a good, subtle pumpkin spice flavoring. Very drinkable.
The Gourd Tree Pumpkin Cider
On both sets of notes, we wrote PUMPKIN! This probably had the most pumpkin flavoring but was still a dry cider that you could enjoy all night long.
Woodchuck Hard Cider Pumpkin
Here’s where our thoughts and opinions separated. When I smelled this one, I immediately smelled maple syrup (which I don’t like), so right away I was nervous. I will say it had so much flavor, but I couldn’t get past the maple syrup flavor.
And here’s what I love about palates, they’re all so different. Because while this moved to the bottom of my list, it was in the top 2 for my friend, Andrea. She loved all the flavors and even finished the can at the end of the night.
Apple Lantern Roasted Pumpkin Hard Cider
And this one was so interesting. We were very intrigued by the “roasted pumpkin” on the label and immediately on tasting it, you could tell something was different. Andrea said, “smokey” and I thought it had a deeper more intense pumpkin flavor.
The Best Hard Cider
For both of us, McKenzie’s Pumpkin Jack won for the best overall flavor. In fact, we already brainstormed how to use this in bubbly cocktails because the flavor is so amazing, but we both know that we could only drink one and then be done.
For me, my next two were: Seattle Cider Co. and The Gourd Tree. For Andrea, it was The Gourd Tree and Woodchuck Hard Cider.
Angry Orchard Hard Cider
After we tasted the pumpkin themed lineup, we dove into the Angry Orchard Fireside Variety Pack that consists of:
- Crisp Apple
- Green Apple
- Cinnful Apple
- Baked Apple Pie
We felt like we needed to judge these separately because the others were all pumpkin spice flavors and these were not. So we just these against each other.
Here’s what we did, we tasted them all, and then the Crisp Apple vs. The Green Apple and the Baked Apple Pie vs Cinnful Apple.
Classic Angry Orchard Hard Cider. Very drinkable and enjoyable. I prefer to add a shot of fireball to mine, but on its own, it’s quite good.
Both of us were shocked at how sweet this one was. With a name like Green Apple, I was fully expecting tart, Granny Smith apple flavors and that was not it at all. It was very sweet. So if you like a sweeter cider, grab this Green Apple over Crisp Apple.
Baked Apple Pie
The best way we can describe this is Thanksgiving. It was creamy and caramel-y and just delicious.
Just for fun, we tasted this against the McKenzie’s and here’s how we described the two: McKenzie’s you’re eating an apple pie and Angry Orchard, you’re drinking one.
The best way we can describe this is Christmas. The cinnamon flavor was so great and reminded us of the flavoring of a perfect mulled wine.
We absolutely love turning ordinary nights into extraordinary nights just by adding something fun like a tasting experience.
Honestly, they’re so easy to set up and are always so fun to do. And you certainly don’t need to have 10 of anything to taste. We have done bubbly tastings with just 4 or 5 different bottles. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just keep it simple and fun.
We also do offer to host tasting experiences both virtually and in person. And they truly are a lot of fun. Exploring different wines (or ciders in this case) together and sharing what you’re tasting is a fun way to not only learn what you like, but to learn about your friends as well.
We have created several of these over the years and some even involve the kids. Yes, they’re tasting sparkling juices, but they can participate and start learning what flavors go well together and which ones absolutely do not. Truly fun for the whole family.