The Howling Fern Favorites: Craft Cider Edition

Grace and I became friends for a lot of reasons: I was obsessed with her dog (Nala was a regular sculpture studio attendee), she had a straight-up jungle in her space (and I wanted to learn all of her green thumb wisdom), and we spent hours working next to one another in our studios - like we saw each other for hours and hours all day long. The actual cementing glue of our friendship, though, was hard cider (and margaritas, but that’s a different story).

For the record, we are not bonafide craft cider connoisseurs, but what we lack in expertise we make up for with experience. We’ve tried a lot of cider - the good, the bad, the ugly. I think hard cider is wildly overlooked. For one, it tastes like apple juice should taste (I was never a fan as a kid - way too sweet without any kind of kick). Also, it’s versatile. Fruity cider? Spicy cider? Dry cider? Sweet cider? Rose cider? It all goes down easy. Cider is one of those drinks that pairs with every season - like beer or wine, but just a smidge better.

The best part? Cideries are inherently more sustainable than breweries and distillers. Why?

Because they don't require heat and therefore consume less energy. We're all about improved sustainability.

So, please enjoy the fruits of our labor below. We’ll keep adding to the list as we find more to share. In the name of sustainability, our love for lcal Boston-based brews, and the ciders stocked in my local liquor store, there are a disproportionate number of Massachusetts/New England cider companies on the list. And, I feel like it goes without saying, but The Howling Fern isn’t affiliated with any of these cider companies (though a girl can dream - I’m looking at you, Downeast).

1. Downeast Original

Downeast is a Boston cider staple, so it feels a bit like I’m stating the obvious here, but it warrants a top spot. Downeast produces unfiltered cider, so you get fresh apples in each can. I prefer unfiltered cider, so Downeast is a go-to here at Howling. And don’t even get me started on their seasonal ciders - their Winter Blend (oak, cinnamon, and nutmeg spices) and Pumpkin (unfiltered blend of pumpkin and chai spices) editions are incredible.

2. Stormalong Cider

Located in Sherborn, MA, Stormalong echoes with the rich cider history of New England. Each can is crafted in what was the largest refined cider mill in the world through the late 1800s - owned by Jonathan Holbrook. Though Holbrook and his family stopped operating the cider mill by 1909, Stormalong reignited Sherborn’s cider tradition. The brand launched in 2014 and offers 12 different kinds of craft ciders. We’re partial to their Legendary Dry.

3. Moonlight Mead's Thirteen 5

Okay, this is technically not a cider, but it has the same cidery spirit. Mead, sometimes called mazers, are made by fermenting water with honey. Moonlight Mead’s Thirteen 5 is a canned mead that’s packed with honey and apples. It’s the perfect New England winter drink - warm, rich, and flavorful even as the bitter winter windchill gets down to 11. I originally found Thirteen 5 at a local Connecticut liquor store while visiting my parents. I hadn’t seen Moonlight Mead products anywhere, but it turns out the operation is fairly local - you can find

their brick-and-mortar location in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

4. Shacksbury

Shacksbury is a fixture in the New England cider scene with the same kind of popularity as something like Downeast - at least here in Boston. Made and canned in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, Shacksbury creates nature-based ciders inspired by the Vermont landscape. They’ve got load of staples and seasonal ciders to choose from. We’ve tried (and loved) their Vermonter, Arlo, and Rose ciders but we’re stoked to try their Lover Boi - a collaboration with Butch Judy’s that celebrates LGBTQ+ people - and Deer Snacks IV - a product of their Lost Apple Project.

5. Graft Farm Flor

Graft Farm Flor creates and operates out of New York in the Hudson Valley area. Grace and I tried their ciders originally for the packaging alone (it is amazing - shout out to their illustrationist Caleb Luke Lin), but we’ve stayed loyal customers because of their cider’s distinct flavors. They craft sour ciders, which means they use wild yeast (found everywhere, but often on fruit skins) in their fermentation process. Their method of cider-making results in a drier finish with loads of different complex complimentary flavors. We’ve loved their Farm Flor and Field Day ciders from Graft Farm Flor’s core lineup, but get a kick out of their unique Book of Nomad series and Cloud City blends. The narrative quality of their ciders and website celebrates imagination.

6. Woodchuck Cider

Operating out of Vermont since 1991, Woodchuck is one of the oldest craft cideries we’ve come across. The Amber blend is one of the first ciders we tried, and it’s a bit of a classic for us. We love that they support and donate to local community causes. Since we initially found Woodchuck, Grace and I have enjoyed their Sangria cider and Pear cider.

7. Stowe

Stowe cider is another one of the cideries that make Vermont’s massive craft brewery scene so great. We lean into their High & Dry cider, but love their Jam For The Land cider and Brainwaves line. Like Woodchuck, Stowe has built social good into their business model. Their Good Neighbor and scholarship programs invest money back into their local community while practicing and encouraging environmental stewardship, community engagement, and a strong local economy.

8. Rhinegeist’s Cidergeist

Rhinegeist originated as a brewery in 2013, but the Cinncinati-based company crafts some delicious cider, too. It’s a bit of a departure from our New England-focused list, but their seasonal ciders are fantastic. Their Cidergeist Bubbles limited edition was one of our spring go-tos while we were in undergrad.

We'll keep you posted on new additions to the list.

~ DeeDee and Grace

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