Hard or Sweet, Cider Is an Autumn Treat

Only a decade or two ago, cider – as in hard apple cider - was a rarity at restaurants and autumn gatherings. But these days, the colonial and 19th-century favorite is very likely to be found on menus that feature craft beer and as a comforting flavor to add to cold weather festivities at home. Like wine, cider has a long and popular history, and, depending on its flavor, a mug of it can add a perfect note to either entrées or desserts. Here are some books that explore cider’s past and present and others that will teach you how to make your own at home.

If you're looking for something festive to warm you and your guests up, check out Winter Cocktails. The author includes cocktail bites to go with all those memorable cold-weather drinks and has complete instructions for party prep and techniques that will make for a smooth and bubbly evening - including mulled cider. She's a food stylist, so these drinks are going to look good as well as taste good.

Perhaps you are intrigued by cider but would prefer to lift a glass rather than pour one. Try Tasting Cider

An editor at Cidercraft magazine gives you a taste of the beverage's storied history as well as an examination of the flavor profiles of more than 100 commercially available ciders. Perplexed as to cider pairings? Erin James includes 30 recipes, ranging from salads to game birds to tarts with suggested ciders to accompany them. There are also 30 recipes for creative cocktails, all featuring cider.

Rather not go with alcoholic cider? The non-alcoholic variety - sometimes termed "sweet" or "soft" - is, of course, a family favorite, and books have found ways to celebrate it as well.

Ciderhouse Cookbook finds delicious ways to incorporate "fresh" (non-alcoholic) cider's flavors in 127 recipes. Not all are sweet, and some use other apple-derived products, such as syrups, vinegars, and preserves. The authors, owners of a cider house in the New England countryside, are enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge of apples' many savory and sweet uses.

If you'd like to try your hand at crafting your own cider, we have guides for that, too!

Cider will give you direction on this fruitful enterprise. Considered a classic, its authors will guide you on everything from choosing the right apples to setting up your equipment - with instructions for both hard and sweet cider. This one is also available as an eBook.

Apples to Cider also covers both sweet and hard cider, and it, too, is geared for beginners and has recipes on using your home-pressed cider, as well as tasting notes.

Speaking of tasting, Virginia is very much apple country, and cider works are located throughout the state. Here are several that are within an easy drive of our area and would be perfect for something to do over a long holiday weekend. All of them have tasting rooms. Check their sites for current hours:

Albemarle Ciderworks (North Garden near Charlottesville)

Blue Bee Cider (historic Scott's Addition district of Richmond, VA)

Castle Hill Cider (Keswick, Albemarle County)

Cobbler Mountain Cellars (Delaplane/Fauquier County)

Coyote Hole Ciderworks (Mineral/Louisa County)

Monroe Bay Vineyard (Colonial Beach/Westmoreland County)

Mount Defiance Cidery & Distillery (Middleburg)

Old Hill Hard Cider (Shenandoah Valley)

Potter's Craft Cider (Free Union near Charlottesville)

Interested in a beverage with less zip? You will find a number of sweet cider sellers at local farmers' markets. Plus, these days, both sweet and hard ciders - often local - can be found in most grocery stores.