Pretty big claim huh? A definitive ranking. I'm going to stand by it.
I'm sure your first question then, if you ignored my ego and choose to read on (and thanks by the way), is: how much do you know about cider? I guess I'd have to answer that I only know as much as I drink. So a lot.
I started to love hard cider when I was in Oxford for a summer. In betwixt (I'm sorry momma I had to do it to 'em [Drake]) classes and high table dinners, my friends and I would try not to trip on the cobblestones as we dragged ourselves in pub after pub. Here I learned the true joy of real cider. All I'd tried in the past were the (to me) overly sugary ciders we had in the US, like Angry Orchard and Woodchuck. Now, don't get me wrong, these are pretty good. But only as standalones, never to be compared to the real cider I've had in Europe. That cider has a real taste to it; instead of relying on sugar it brings out light sweetness or fruity flavors that make you want to substitute it for your typical drink of choice, instead of only drinking it because everything else you wanted is gone.
I'm going off of that list of cider - but keeping myself within the restraints of cider you can currently buy in the US. This is a great range to try out, or look out for if you don't have any available locally right now.
Alrighty, here we go!
5. Magners - In England and Ireland, Magners and Bulmers are two distinct brands, but here in the US you'll just see Magners. We're limited to two US brands - original and pear, and while both are pretty standardly delicious ciders, I would really bump them up on my list if their Bulmer's Strawberry and Lime or Berry Berry popped up around here. I would buy boxes of that stuff. Until then, US Magners should definitely be added to your list - go Original!
4. Crispin - Crispin is an easy go-to when you're craving a classic cider. When I first tried Crispin ciders back in the US I was a bit surprised because they didn't taste at all like I remembered in the UK. It took me a little while to realize that was because I was trying their US ciders, and once I found their Browns Lane, which is advertised as their Classic English Style cider. This had all the basic tastes of English cider I was missing - it's dry and bubbly with a little bit of a lingering sweetness that makes you want another sip. You'll feel refreshed, but not overwhelmed. The larger can also makes you feel like you're getting more of a pint glass serving in a pub instead of the smaller cans or bottles a lot of ciders are served in in the US. This is not a drink so sweet you'll chug it, and not something so dry you need to add anything to it.
3. Strongbow - So this is a tough placement. A lot of the time I'd argue that Strongbow is near the bottom of this list. In England when you order it you should 100% ask for some blackcurrant juice on top. In my experience it's readily available and just ups the ante here. In England though I'd usually forgo this at the pub to get something on tap with a nice high ABV, or go for my Swedish pal below on this list. At the local Tesco or Waitrose if I was feeling cheap (aka always) I'd buy the 2 liter of Strongbow or the store's equivalent and mix it with something else (pretty much always Sprite). Because it was pretty dry and bland - but cheap! - I never really ordered it at home, especially since we don't have blackcurrant juice really. But I ordered it on tap a few nights ago on a whim instead of my usual bottle of Magners, and this new version (online it says the Gold Apple is a new recipe, but a few people have told me it's the same old version rebranded) was insanely good. Just the perfect amounts of sweet and dry with moderate carbonation and reminders of everything I missed in England. I've yet to try it in bottle form here, but after that first (and okay second; the things I do for you!) glass I had to move it up on our list.
2. Downeast - For a non-English cider Downeast is at the top of my list. In terms of overall ciders though I don't go out of my way to buy this at liquor stores ("packies" where I'm from), but if it's available at a restaurant with dinner it's usually on my list. Their Original blend is a fun surprise **spoiler alert** - if you order it in a bar you'll receive a can and a glass, and along with the cider you'll probably get a whole lot of unfiltered cider, making a big cloudy mess that looks and tastes more like non-alcoholic apple cider than any other cider on this list. Downeast falls right in the happy center of my cider spectrum - more sweet than traditional English ciders but not flavored like some others on this list (or like typical American ciders). Their Unoriginal blend is great too, and if you ever make it to Boston for a tour you're in for a treat. The cidery itself is pretty small, but there are loads of free delicious samples from the helpful team, and after you can grab a drink at a bar-during-the-weekends/long-desk-during-the-workweek and play baggo/cornhole on the loading dock.
1. Rekorderlig - Rekorderlig is an absolute powerhouse in my book. Everything they do is right for me. I've dabbled in their Wild Berries, Strawberry & Lime, and Peach-Apricot in the UK and was psyched that I could have the first two and a few more here. I mentioned this Swedish company a few weeks ago when I tried out their Spiced Apple Hard Cider, which it looks like is branded as a Premium Winter Cider in the UK. Rekorderlig doesn't follow the traditional English method of dry cider, but since I drank it there it falls into the same category in my mind. Their ciders are flavored and sweet, with surprising combinations and beautiful colors when poured into glasses that make you feel like you're on a summer vacation. When you need a little bit of fruity, saccharine goodness there's nothing better than a nice cold glass of one of Rekorderlig's signature flavors.
Ciders I Miss:
Tesco Cider - Although it doesn't win prizes for the best taste, there are fewer things more fun than buying a super cheap 2 Liter of alcohol at a supermarket and adding a little Sprite. Saves money on going to the pub and allows you to invite as many people over as you'd like without spending a ton of money on drinks. Honestly this is a nostalgia factor vote, but if you go to a Tesco with friends and don't leave with a 2L of their cider and a lemon-lime soda to flavor it up a little you have failed me entirely.
Kopparberg - How is this sweet classy brand available in 30 countries and the US isn't one of them?!?! Baffling. Mixed Fruit and Elderflower & Lime absolutely slay here. They still come in second in my world to Rekorderling, but that doesn't mean I don't want the option!
Bulmers - I said this above, but please come home to me! Home being a pretty general term referring to anywhere I am. Please.
Ciders I've Yet To Try:
Citizen's Cider - This guy is next up on my list! While there are a whole bunch of flavors, I'm super intrigued by the fact that The Full Nelson is a pretty high-test cider that's dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops. Citizen's Cider advertises this as a cider for beer drinkers, and I'm hoping it'll be a good transition for the Celiacs in my family who really enjoyed a high-test hoppy beer on the weekends and are on the hunt for a similar experience. I'll keep you posted!
What else is my list missing? Prepared to fight me on my placement? Any other cider companies want me to check them out? I'm always ready to taste test :)