The Great Comparison Tasting of America’s Best-Selling Hard Ciders

CommercialCiderLet me say this outset of this comparison of the large production, commercial ciders on the American market: They are loved by the vast majority of folks who drink hard cider in the United States. In fact, the vast majority of hard cider purchased, perhaps upwards of 90% or more, is represented in the seven brands ranked below.

In a recent article in Investors Business Daily it was noted that the Angry Orchard cider brand, owned by Boston Beer Company, sold $146 million in the 52 weeks ended May 18th. In that same 52 week period, Woodchuck Cider accounted for $41 million in sales, Stella Artois Cidre accounted for $9 million in sales, and Smith & Forge $3 million in sales. Consider that according to Nielsen, in 2013 U.S. hard cider sales amounted to $281 million. That’s four brands accounting for 70% of the U.S. Hard Cider market and we aren’t even factoring in Crispin, Hornsby, or Johnny Appleseed.

In other words, the ranking below of the just mentioned seven ciders should be of interest to the overwhelming majority of those who drink Hard Cider in the U.S.

However, to those who drink true, authentic, artisan hard cider, the products discussed below will seem very foreign. The gulf between character and quality offered by the artisan hard cider producers in the U.S. and these large, commercial cider producers is so great as to be unbridgeable.

That said, below are
A QUALITY RANKING OF AMERICA’S SEVEN MOST POPULAR, TOP SELLING HARD CIDERS
(Ordered by worst to best—Click on the name of the cider to see the full review)

#7: SMITH & FORGE
Remarkably fouled apple sauce aroma with a similar set of flavors. Problematic at best
$6.49 / Four pack of 16oz bottles

#6 (Tie): ANGRY ORCHARD CRISP APPLE CIDER
If you like Green Apple Jolly Rancher liquified, then this is your cider. Drink COLD!
$8.99/Six Pack of 12oz bottles

#6 (Tie): HORNSBY CRISP HARD CIDER
Another Jolly Rancher Green Apple knockoff. Extraordinarily sweet and one dimensional.
7..99 / Six-pack of 12oz bottles

#6 (Tie): STELLA ARTOIS CIDRE
Imagine burnt cotton candy combined with preserved apricot.
$8.99 / Four pack of 12oz bottle

#3: CRISPIN ORIGINAL CIDER
Aromas have a peculiar sweet herbal note, a brush of summer haystack and a hint of bitter. with somewhat one-dimensional sweet flavors.
$2.39 / 12oz bottle

#2: JOHNNY APPLESEED HARD APPLE CIDER
Pretty good balance of acid, tannins, though this is incredibly sweet. Yet, the apple flavors have a more authentic apple character than most. Chill this down and quaff.
$8.99 / Six-pack of 12oz bottles

woodchuckgranny#1: WOODCHUCK GRANNY SMITH HARD CIDER
The nose possesses a certain funk, a savory-ness. The body of this cider is fairly well-balanced, with a little tannin clinging to the edge of the mouth long into the finish. While sweet, it is hardly a dominating component. As for flavors, while the savory-ness noted in the nose remains in small amounts and is something of a distraction, this cider does sport underripe apple, a bit of citrus and a certain herbal character that is very nice.
$8.99 / Six-pack of 12oz bottles
While the quality of these ciders if far below what we normally review here at The Cider Journal, it must be said that for those seeking a simple, sugary, apple-like drink to quench at thirst, these bottlings will all do the trick nicely.

 

$8.99 / six pack of 12oz bottles

5 Responses to “The Great Comparison Tasting of America’s Best-Selling Hard Ciders”

  1. Eric West

    Way to take one for the team!

    For what it’s worth, Woodchuck Amber has done quite well at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP) over the years:

    2006 Bronze
    2008 Silver
    2009 Silver
    2011 Bronze
    2013 Gold
    2014 Silver

    It’s the original offering from Woodchuck and possibly a good place to start for those with a sweet tooth.

    Reply
  2. Tyler Hurst

    My mass market fave is Crispin’s English-style (black can). Agreed that Woodchuck tends to taste better than most other mass market offerings, though Johnny Appleseed would be at the bottom of my list here.

    Reply
  3. Kel

    I heard Redd’s is pretty terrible, but I haven’t bothered to try and and probably never will. Out of the kind you will find at the grocery store, I’ve found Woodchuck to be the best as well. It’s not cloyingly sweet like drinking apple syrup, but it doesn’t have the weird aftertaste either.

    Reply
    • Tim Hawley

      ^Redd’s is actually an apple ale not a cider, and yes it is awful. It is a gut rot Smirnoff type wine cooler tasting nastiness.

      But, in review of this article, I’m surprised at the rankings.

      Personally, I think Woodchuck’s Granny Smith is one of my least favorite in the Woodchuck line. Their 802, Winter Chill and Amber are favorites of mine, in that order.

      Crispin’s original still tops my list as my all time favorite.

      Although Johnny Appleseed is overly sweet like a Jolly Rancher, if I cannot find Crispin or one of the better Woodchuck brands, I will buy it. Not to mention, it’s made rather locally in the Finger Lakes.

      I have not tried Strongbow yet but have heard good things about it.

      The rest on this list are indeed crappy. It is rather obvious that the writer of this article prefers a bone dry, bitter, apfelwein-y, barnyard tasting, amateur homebrew cider over a decent semi-sweet to semi-dry, complex craft or experienced homebrew.

      I will finish by giving my top 5 of the mass-produced corporate ciders:

      5. Johnny Appleseed Original (Spiced did not impress me anywhere near as much as Woodchuck Fall Harvest, and the Caramel is in the fridge but haven’t tasted it yet as I’m not a huge fan of caramel anything)
      4. Woodchuck Amber (Nice, simple cider)
      3. Woodchuck Winter Chill (Seasonal; Nice, complex somewhat dry white oak aged cider)
      2. Woodchuck 802 (Excellent darker, drier cider. Great complexity from nose to finish)
      1. Crispin Original (Tops the list in complexity, nice and more dry than the others listed but still a hint of natural sweetness)

      Reply
  4. Alex

    I Just tried Johnny Appleseed for the first time and I have to say it leaves a lot on the table. The flavor is Honeycrisp apple and is sweet in the front, middle, and finish. The acid does come in to play a little but is drown out by the unmistakable sugar. If you like sweet than this one is for you. I also like to look at labels on cider because I find that the brands that do not add any sugar are generally the ones that I like best ie; Cidre, Crispin, and Woodchuck. When looking at this Johnny Appleseed’s label you see that it is made from apple juice concentrate and dextrose, they also add caramel color to it. I have to say, with the exception of the number one pick being Woodchuck, The Cider Journal was off the mark on this taste comparison. Cidre number 6 and tied Hornsby ouch.

    Reply

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