Let 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
#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.