Drinking Your Way to an All-Natural Hard Cider

I have a special place in my heart for hard (alcoholic) cider. It was the stepping stone that brought my taste buds closer to beer. Now that they’ve arrived, cider gets less attention. But sometimes – especially in the summer – I’m in the mood for something a little bit sweeter than an IPA.

It hurt my heart (and my palate) that cider seemed to finally come into its own last summer, when I was pregnant, and I couldn’t try any of the exciting new flavours or brands. This summer I plan to make up for missed time, so last weekend my minimal tolerance and I pranced into the local liquor store armed with a debit card and a quenchable thirst.

Cider aisle at the liquor store

I stopped in front of the massive wall of canned and bottled ciders and paused. After reading a few labels, I realized that some listed ingredients and some don’t (alcoholic beverages aren’t required to list ingredients or nutrition facts). And those that do don’t generally have positive information to share.

Alcoholic cider, in its natural form, is fermented apple juice. (The ingredients, if listed, would be: Apple juice.)

But most labels I read listed additives, including sweeteners (from regular sugar to glucose syrup), preservatives, colours, sulphites, and flavours. In fact, there’s quite a list of additives permitted by the Canadian government. In my opinion, if you can make something simply and naturally, why would you bother adding all that junk? (Possible beverage company answers: to enhance/improve the taste, cover up bitter flavours, make products more quickly/cheaply, extend shelf life. Not good reasons for a luxury product, in my books.)

Okanagan cider ingredients cider, natural flavour

The ingredients list on Okanagan pear cider: Apple cider, natural flavour.

I’m not quite ready to start making cider at home in my bathtub, so I did what any scientist would do and bought up one of every brand of cider the store had. After carefully scrutinizing each can (and each company’s website), I have come to the happy conclusion that there are a few brands of cider I can still feel good about drinking. And there are some I will most certainly avoid (Strongbow, my I’m making my disappointed face at YOU). However, nearly every brand has one of added sugar, flavours, or preservatives. So pick your poison.

Somersby hard cider ingredient label

Ingredients on Somersby cider: Water, fermented apple juice, sugar, apple juice concentrate, citric acid (acidity regulator), flavour (apple), potassium sorbate (as a preservative), caramel colour, contains sulphites.

I also offer this disclaimer: these ciders are not the fancy, bubbly, champagne-type ciders you’ll find in the Vintages section. They are the everyday ciders I like to drink on the back deck after working outside on a hot Saturday afternoon. Apparently some cider makers take this niche to mean they can make products that taste like coolers (with sugar content to match).

I’ve compiled a list of natural ciders for you so you can spend less time shopping and more time drinking / responsibly enjoying. My very scientific research also indicates that, unlike many premium-priced natural foods, the most natural cider brands are not necessarily the most expensive. Hooray!

Jill drinking cider

You can avoid weird preservatives and added sugar and still enjoy a refreshing cider on your back deck. Here’s a picture of me doing the same: Ahhhh!

Easy Shopping List: Top Three Most Natural Ciders

(List compiled in Ontario. Please comment below if I’m missing your favourite brand!)

  • Okanagan Dry Pear Cider (contains added natural flavour to make this apple cider pear-flavoured)
  • Seagram (free of preservatives)
  • Thornbury (contains sulphites)

Detailed Cider Ingredient List

If you find yourself staring a can or bottle down and are unsure of its composition, read the fine print for red-flag phrases like “Cider beverage” and “X flavoured cider”.

Brand (alphabetical) and Price at the LCBO (Ontario liquor store)All Natural?Ingredients (Source)Origin
Alexander Keith’s Original Cider
$2.95 for a tallboy (500 ml can)
NoThe can says “Apple flavoured cider”. Flavoured? I want real apples please!USA
Blackthorn
$3 for a tallboy (500 ml)
NoThe can says: Fermented apple juice, glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, ascorbic acid. Contains sulphites.UK
Dukes Dry Apple Cider
$2.75 for a tallboy (500 ml)
??Canada
Growers Premium Cider
$11.45 / four bottles
NoFrom the Honeycrisp Apple can: Carbonated water, cider, glucose-fructose, natural flavour, citric acid, ascorbic acid, potassium sorbate, caramel.Canada
Magners
$3.10 for a tallboy (500 ml)
NoThe can says “Cider, sugar, citric acid, colour, sulphites”
Molson Canadian Cider
$2.95 for a tallboy (500 ml)
NoUnavailable, but can says “Made with Canadian apples.” With certainly implies something else is in there besides apples. Stone fruit “flavoured cider” can lists “Cider, natural flavour. Contains sulphites.”Canada
Okanagan Dry Pear Cider
$2.75 for a tallboy (500 ml)
AlmostFrom the can:
Apple cider, natural flavour.

Natural flavours may sounds innocuous but generally I believe they train your taste buds to expect more when a food’s inherent tastes would otherwise suffice.
Canada
Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider
$12.55 for four ($3.13 per 355 ml bottle)
NoFrom the can: Water, organic apple juice, organic cane sugar, malic acid, yeast, carbon dioxide.UK
Seagram
$2.50 for a tallboy (500 ml)
Maybe?Unclear if any sugars are added. Website says it’s all-natural and preservative-free.Canada
Sir Isaac’s Premium Pear Cider
$2.95 for a tallboy (500 ml)
NoFrom the can: Fermented Canadian pear juice (not from concentrate), sugar, sulphites.Canada
Strongbow
$3 for a tallboy (500 ml)
No, not even closeFrom a Globe and Mail article:
Fermented apple juice and glucose syrup, water, sugar, carbon dioxide, lactic acid, citric acid, sulphites.
UK
Somersby “Apple Flavoured Cider”
$3.05 for a tallboy (500 ml)
NoFrom the can: Water, fermented apple juice, sugar, apple juice concentrate, citric acid (acidity regulator), flavour (apple), potassium sorbate (as a preservative), caramel colour, contains sulphites.
Thornbury
$2.95 for a tallboy (500 ml)
Maybe?Apples. Contains sulphites. Can says “All natural, gluten free”. I have contacted Thornbury to clarify the source of the sulphites. Canada

Am I missing your favourite brand? I’m always looking for excuses to sleuth out more ciders. Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Thanks for doing this! I’m on the same adventure. The cider selection at the LCBO is huge these days, but it’s still difficult to find one that lists it’s ingredients as just apples. So far, I’ve only found one: Brickworks Batch 1904. Why are there so many beers that say proudly on their label that they are preservative free, but no ciders doing the same?

    • Hi Nick,

      Thank you so much for bringing this cider to my attention! I don’t think I’ve seen it before, but it might be time for a special trip to the liqour store 🙂

      I agree with your comment re: preservative free. Or, I’ve noticed, some companies may say this (on their cans or websites) but those that do still have added sugar. It seems to be one or the other (or both).

      Jill

  2. Hi Nick,

    Thank you so much for bringing this cider to my attention! I don’t think I’ve seen it before, but it might be time for a special trip to the liqour store 🙂

    I agree with your comment re: preservative free. Or, I’ve noticed, some companies may say this (on their cans or websites) but those that do still have added sugar. It seems to be one or the other (or both).

    Jill

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