Holy-moly – Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider is a dang good cider. I certainly love a good apple, whether straight off the tree or freeze-dried. Apples are, as far as I’m concerned the perfect fruit. Apples have it all – nutrition, sweetness, crispness, juiciness, an easy to store, easy to carry package, a pleasant shape and an appealing aroma. It’s entirely possible that apples are my favorite fruit of all time. Sure, I like me some mango, but that’s more of a tragic obsession than love. When it comes to the fruit you’d want to be married to, that’s an apple, no question.
As much as I love apples, what I love even more is apple cider, that most delicious of all apple-based beverages. Why they even bother to make apple juice when cider is so clearly superior I’ll never understand. I’m sure some of you out there might be saying “Isn’t the line between apple cider and apple juice hazy at best, with no one authority having definitively establish the criteria for what separates apple cider from juice?” Well, that may be so, anonymous educated cider guy, but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewarts‘ ruling on obscenity, I know it when I taste it.
A better question might be, why should I buy this apple cider when Trader Joe’s standard Spiced Apple Cider (and, to a lesser extent, pear cider) have always done me just fine? Well, friend, that’s what I used to say too. TJ’s spiced apple cider is delicious, could this cider really be that much better? Yes – yes it absolutely is. In fact, this is the best grocery-store available apple cider I’ve ever had. It may not beat a fresh pressed cup of cider straight from the orchard, but it’s close.
The secret of the deliciousness is in its simplicity. Take a look at the side of your jug of TJ’s spiced apple cider – you’ll notice that it’s adulterated with a variety of other fruit juices in addition to the eponymous spices. Now look at the side of Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. One ingredient – just one. Honey crisp apple juice. That, my friends, is a dedication to purity that you can taste in the finished product. Each cup of Trader Joe’s Honey Crisp Apple Cider is an explosion of deep, complex mellow sweetness, cut through with bright, tart notes. Any given mouthful is a flavorful journey into a country where the forces of sweetness and tartness war with each other. At any given moment one side winning out, in the next moment the other. It’s a hard fought war, but the victor is always deliciousness.
If you ask me, this should be your go to cider for the rest of the season. I haven’t found a cider on the market that competes with the richness and intensity of fresh flavor that Trader Joe’s delivers here. If Autumn just hasn’t felt like Autumn to you yet, pick up a bottle of this today, and let the seasonal feeling seep into your soul.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is some excellent cider.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes – and I hope it will be coming back next year as well.
Final Synopsis: A 100% pure apple cider with tart notes that does cider right.
Every now and then I feel compelled to review a product at Trader Joe’s that isn’t on the actual Trader Joe’s brand. I’ve done it once or twice before, and only if I’m sufficiently intrigued by the weird nature of the product. When I saw ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider in the store the the other day, I simply couldn’t contain my curiosity. I’ve heard of apple ciders before, obviously, and even pear ciders. But pumpkin? That’s just crazy enough to get you on this blog.
A good hard cider isn’t an easy thing to come by in the states. They have a rather more robust history in the old UK and across the continent, but never took off in a big way in America – this despite a strong start in the nation’s infancy. In fact, for a non-trivial portion of America’s history hard cider was drunk like water, literally. In the colonial era, the notion of practical sanitation was a far off dream. As a result of water-borne illnesses, the populous quickly started looking for alternatives to keep them healthy, hydrated and maybe get them a little drunk to boot. The common solution was hard apple cider, which became the most common beverage to drink with meals.
As time went on, of course, public sanitation came into vogue. Water lost its stigma of being unhealthy, and beer rose to the position of most patriotic beverage. Nevertheless, the way was paved for pumpkin cider which, despite my high hopes, is not actually squeezed out of pumpkins in a giant pumpkin press, but made by adding natural flavorings to ordinary hard cider.
How does it taste? Well, a bit like pumpkin, really. The apple juice that makes up the base of this cider is still the primary and unmistakable component of the drink, but ACE doesn’t skimp on the natural pumpkin flavoring either. Crack open the bottle and you’ll get not only a bouquet of pumpkin up your nose right off the bat, but a rich blend of spices that embodies all of late fall. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I bought this drink was because, standing there on the supermarket floor, I couldn’t really conceptualize what pumpkin smelled like and I hungered for the experience. (The other reason, of course, was to give me an excuse to get drunk). The pumpkin you find in this bottle is similar to the pumpkin you find in a good pumpkin pie, not overly sweet but a more basic, essential pumpkin mixed with allspice, cinnamon and cloves. If you can drink this and not be transported back to a childhood memory of crunching leaves underfoot then you are probably dead inside (or grew up in a tropical -to-semi-tropical climate, one of the two).
Speaking of deadening yourself, the cider packs a reasonably strong punch – 5% alcohol by volume. That puts it toe to toe with most beers on the market. The over-sized 22 oz bottle, on the other hand, ensure that once you open this thing up you won’t be going out for the evening.
I’m going to stay out of the cider vs. beer controversy on the grounds that it is stupid. Cider and beer can and should exist happily side by side, although if we’re keeping score ACE’s pumpkin cider is gluten-free and has lower calorie than beers with the same alcohol content.
I haven’t had a hard cider that I’ve ever really liked before, everything I’ve ever tried has seemed too sweet or too cheap, but I liked this cider and I’d go back to it again. That said, pumpkin cider is ultimately a seasonal drink and a novelty. It’s never going to replace beer, or even a hypothetical, good, hard apple cider, but it could absolutely find a place on the counter next to the egg nog.
Would I Recommend It: If you’re into novel seasonal drinks, absolutely.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, next fall.
Final Synopsis: A quality cider, with or without the pumpkin gimmick.
For me, nothing says it’s the holiday season like a little spiced apple cider. I live in Los Angeles now, a place as inimical to the change of seasons as you are likely to find, where the only difference between summer and winter is that it rains sometimes, but a single sip of mulled apple cider makes me feel like I can smell the first snow flakes on a lonely north wind.
I know that’s a tall order to ask of a simple juice, but I’ve never had an apple cider that fails to deliver that chilly, first sensation. So it was with great interest that I picked up a jug of cinnamon spiced pear cider from Joe’s today. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were ciders other than the apple kind, but just as ketchup is in no way bound only to tomatoes so too is cider as much a method as it is a product.
So what exactly is the difference between a cider and a juice? The internet abounds with non-answers on the subject. Both are made from the same apples in the same way, with their being some contention over whether or not cider has to be made from young apples, or if it has to be unpasteurized. Effectively, the only difference between the two lies in how it’s marketed to you. For my two cents, I always consider it cider if it’s a bit opaque, comes in a big jug and, most important of all, is spiced. With such easy prerequisites its a surprise that I’ve never seen the juices of other fruit sold as cider.
Now that said, I obviously have high expectations for my cider, and I’m happy to say that pear cider fills apple cider’s ample shoes perfectly. From the very first sip I felt myself transported to a chilly hillside strewn with colorful leaves, an overcast sky just about to bring snow down from the mountains. I could go on about the delicious taste of cinnamon and other spices, etc.., but for me it’s already fulfilled the all important “autumness” criteria. That said, spiced pear cider doesn’t really offer me anything all that different from spiced apple cider. The degree of pearness that comes through is heavily masked by the bouquet of spices. It’s a fun item, and well executed, but not much different than anything you’ve had before.
Would I Recommend It: Yeah, give it a shot.
Would I Buy it Again: Over regular spiced apple cider, probably not.
Final Synopsis: A good spiced cider, but it doesn’t offer anything new.