Five Delicious Craft Ciders from the Bay Area

‘Tis the season for fancy ciders. Seriously. Craft ciders are now as popular as Malbec used to be a few years ago. I couldn’t be any happier. I love a good cider. I have Celiac Disease, so I particularly love cider because if gluten-free beer isn’t around, it’s nice to still be able to have a glass of a beer-like drink with my friends. (I know cider isn’t beer and doesn’t taste like beer. I just mean as far as alcohol content, mass and presentation they’re similar; it makes sense in my head.) I avoid ciders filled with added sugars or concentrates, so here's five of my favorite Northern California ciders that aren’t too sweet and don’t have extra junk in them.

Troy Cider is a sulfite-free cider with organic heirloom apples.
Troy Cider is a sulfite-free cider with organic heirloom apples. (Shuka Kalantari)

There are not enough words to describe how delicious Troy Cider is. It is my favorite cider in the world. No, they’re not paying me to say that. I have to pay the $9.99 per bottle just like you. Troy doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth it. This unfermented cider is aged for nine months in neutral oak barrels. It’s a super dry and tart blend of heirloom apple and pineapple quince. The 2014 variety is nine percent alcohol and the 2013 bottle is 7.7 percent. They are both sulfite-free, organic and amazing. The 2013 variety is becoming harder to find. I pray the 2015 variety will be as good as the last two batches. Or maybe I pray it won’t. Because they’re so good that I can’t stop buying them. Troy Cider was started by a guy named Troy Carter in Sonoma County. You can watch a video of him and his flowing blonde locks. Mark McTavish & Darek Trowbridge of Half Pint Ciders in Los Angeles got a taste of the cider and bought the company from Carter. It’s distributed in L.A. but produced in the Bay Area. So it’s ours.

Troy Cider
Sonoma, CA
Facebook: Craft Cider
Twitter: @HalfPintCiders
Price: $9.99 per bottle
Where to Find: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods Market

Jolie Devoto started Devoto Orchard’s Estate Cider on her parent’s heirloom apple farm in Sebastopol.
Jolie Devoto started Devoto Orchard’s Estate Cider on her parent’s heirloom apple farm in Sebastopol. (Shuka Kalantari)

The story of Devoto Orchard’s Estate Cider begins in 1976. A young couple leave Berkeley to start growing 55 varieties of heirloom apples on a farm in Sebastopol. They end up growing over 6,500 apple trees. Fast forward to 2012 and the couple’s daughter Jolie Devoto decides to start a craft cider company with her husband Hunter. Today Devoto Orchard’s Estate Cider comes in a bottle and in three varieties. The award-winning
"1976" is a semi-dry cider made with the heirloom ciders from their own farm. (And my personal favorite.) “It's the motherlode blend that we produce every year to pay homage to my parents,” Jolie Devoto tells me. “It will be different every year, but that's ok, as cider is an agricultural product and the apple blends will be different. We're currently sipping on the 2013 vintage, which is gorgeous right now -- super lush, full bodied, with notes of pear, ripe fruit, and lots of layers.” Then there’s the "Cidre Noir," made with Arkansas Black, Black Twig and Black Jonathan apples. Jolie recommends pairing these with Cowgirl Creamery’s "Mt. Tam" cheese (from Point Reyes) and Gypsy Cheese’s "Gypsy Rose" cheese (from Valley Ford). The "Gravenstein" is - you guessed it - made with Gravenstein apples. It’s the driest of the bunch. It touts having the aroma of “ginger, licorice, and crisp green apple.” I didn’t taste all that but my palate was really happy with the experience nonetheless. All three ciders are excellent.

Devoto Orchard’s Estate Cider
Sebastopol, CA
Facebook: Devote Orchards
Twitter: @devoto_orchards
Price: $12.99 per bottle
Where to Find: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods Market

Co-founder Jolie Devoto says she always wanted craft cider in a can, so she produced one.
Co-founder Jolie Devoto says she always wanted craft cider in a can, so she produced one. (Shuka Kalantari)

The story of Golden State Cider begins in 1976. A young couple leave Berkeley to start growing...sound familiar? Yup. Another product from the group at Devoto Orchards, but this time it's in a can. Soon after Jolie Devoto and her husband Hunter started Devoto Orchard’s Estate Ciders, their demand was larger than their supply. So they began searching the West Coast for more apples in California, Oregon and Washington states. In 2014, Golden State Cider was born. Jolie Devoto tells me this year they’ve produced just shy of 100,000 gallons at their cidery in Graton (10 miles north of their Sebastopol orchard) for their Golden State Cider, which comes in a four pack of cans. “Hunter and I had wanted to put cider in cans for years,” says Devoto. “We were able to produce a business model where that worked. [And] cans are very portable. We are big hikers and surfers, so the package made sense.” Golden State touts being 100 percent cold pressed apples with no added water, sugar or concentrates.

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Golden State Cider (owned by Devoto Orchards)
Sebastopol, CA
Facebook: Golden State Cider
Twitter: @DrinkGoldenSt8
Price: $11.99 per 4-pack
Where to Find: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s

Nana Mae's Wild Side Early Harvest Gravenstein Cider is produced with heirloom Gravenstein apples from Sonoma County.
Nana Mae's Wild Side Early Harvest Gravenstein Cider is produced with heirloom Gravenstein apples from Sonoma County. (Shuka Kalantari)

Sonoma County apple man Paul Kolling of Nana Mae's Wild Side Cider created its Early Harvest Gravenstein Cider in 2013. Kolling, who sells Gravenstein heirloom apples, apple cider vinegar, applesauce and more, partnered with Specific Gravity Cider Company to make the craft cider. Nana Mae’s Wild Side has a clean apple flavor and an earthy bite after each sip. The brewing company recommends you have it with salmon or chicken and grilled vegetables. I tend to have all my ciders with dry salami and sliced cucumbers, but I just really like dry salami and sliced cucumbers -- so you may want to listen to the pros. The cider is a limited edition from their 2013 harvest; it was a Silver Medal Winner at the California Cider Competition.

Nana Mae's Wild Side Cider
Healdsburg, CA
Facebook: Nana Mae's Organics
Price: $12.99 per bottle
Where to Find: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s

Father and son David and Robert Cordtz started Sonoma Cider in 2013. “As the first commercial cidermaker in California back in the 1990s, I have had a keen interest in the category ever since,” says David Cordtz. “When I saw the category sales finally starting to rise in 2012 after years of single digit growth, I knew that the consumer in the U.S. was finally ready for craft cider.”

The Hatchet is pure apples, The Pitchfork has pears infused in them and The Anvil is a strong bourbon essence.
The Hatchet is pure apples, The Pitchfork has pears infused in them and The Anvil is a strong bourbon essence. (Shuka Kalantari)

"The Hatchet" is my personal favorite of the varieties of ciders they offer. It's 100 percent organic apples and not much more. It has a crisp, dry tart flavor and is a bit on the sweeter side. "The Anvil" is made with the same organic apples but has a strong bourbon flavor. “We remove the alcohol from the bourbon and add it back to the apple cider base,” says Cordtz. "The Pitchfork" cider includes pears. Occasionally father and son create of crazy mixtures of limited edition ciders, like "The Crowbar," a blend of organic apples, habanero peppers and limes. Their "Reserve Dry Zider" is aged for seven months in American oak barrels that were formerly used for Zinfandel wine. I haven’t gotten my hands on that one yet, but David says the "Dry Zider" is his favorite.

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Sonoma Cider
Healdsburg, CA
Facebook: Sonoma Cider
Twitter: @SonomaCider
Price: $8.99 per 4-pack
Where to Find: Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods Market

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