Try to recall the events toward the middle-end of 2000’s Castaway, when Tom Hanks is making his triumphant return to U.S. soil. Rather than that weird company party in the airport broom closet or whatever it was, imagine instead that he was treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to the grocery store after his inadvertent and tragic banishment from civilization. It sounds a little silly at first, but a scene where a barely showered and jubilant Hanks is racing through the aisles of a Piggly Wiggly slamming salsa and Pop-Tarts seems like it should’ve been in the movie all along, doesn’t it?
Of course it does. Now, if our hero opened his eyes in, say, the beer aisle and looked around, could he tell how long he had been gone? Would he be able to correctly judge, based only on the amounts and types of beer available, which season it was now?
You see, back at the beginning of the millennium, audiences would expect a beer aisle in winter to look more or less the same as it did in the summer. In those days, you’d see Bud and Bud Light, plus maybe a case of Coors Banquet. Zima would be just out of frame. Now that craft beer companies have begun to emulate the Silicon Valley model, though, the offerings in your average refrigerated section are turning over on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. The monolithic corporations (or corporation, if our trusty regulators do their thing) behind these frequent shifts and refreshes need your hard-earned dollars like Hanks needed Wilson; consequently, they’re being forced to innovate.
Well, they’re forced to enact their feeble idea of innovating, anyway, which is generally to grab hold of the most “now” concept, gimmick, or flavor, and body-slam it past the point of recognition. There can be no culinary hallmark or cultural touchstone left unturned in this cutthroat industry; no market inefficiency shall remain beyond the grasp of our corporate brewlords. Whether the masses demand it—or ABSABCoorsInMiller simply think that we do—is beside the point. We are getting it regardless. Boy, are we ever getting it.
To that end, hard cider is everywhere at this time of year, including the damn pharmacy, for fuck’s sake, where you can build your own six-pack and load up on laxatives without walking more than 20 feet total. Or, hell, skip the six pack and get blitzed on fake poop meds if you want. None for me, though, I’m trying to quit.
All things considered, the illusion of choice that we enjoy as modern drunks would be the envy of boozehounds from any past era—and they would rightfully chide us if they knew how much angst went into our every alcoholic purchase. “Oh, but which Organic Plum LagerFizz has the least gluten?” we mewl, pacing the aisle like expectant fathers. Disgusting. Pathetic. Our drumstick fingers are no longer badges of honor, but participation ribbons. It’s truly sad to see how far we’ve fallen.
But it’s not unbelievable. It’s hard as hell to develop a “go-to” non-beer when every joint in town has a walk-in full of the stuff. So, to make our lives a little simpler, I sat down with six of the most prominent ciders out right now and, uh, drank them.
Woodchuck Refreshing Red Apple. A strong cinnamon flavor distressingly reminiscent of Bud Light’s Firewalker MixxTail, which you may remember was once described in this space as “approximat[ing] decency” and a “winner.” At least, I hope you remember that, because I emphatically do not, and hereby retroactively renounce any sentiment approaching approval of that ghastly concoction. Whereas Woodchuck’s attempt at refreshment clangs off the rim as overly sweet and lacking bite.
Woodchuck Hopsation Hop Forward Cider: Decently complex, but not especially hoppy in the IPA sense of the word. Takes on a sparkling white grape flavor and, in that vein, would make a nice champagne substitute. Very obviously not what I expected (which was a Honeycrisp dunked in pine tar); probably the best of the bunch.
Woodchuck Crisp Ripe Pear. A very light and clean flavor, bordering on silly. Just 4-percent ABV, though, which seems like all the pear could handle. Simplistic. Tastes like Clearly Canadian. Like all Canadians, it is largely inoffensive.
Angry Orchard Traditional Dry: Could use a little more “pop,” in the soft-drink sense of the word. It feels like this batch lacked in effervescence, which is not something I remember detecting in previous tastings. Dry and flat is not a great combination—just ask my ex-wife! Finishes pretty malty.
Angry Orchard Hop’N Mad Apple: Dreadful name ... just horrendous. Notes of fruit punch and Minute Maid. Godawful branding on this one. Inexcusable. Not “Hoppy” about it at all.
The Sixth One, Whatever It Was: I got three Woodchucks and three Angry Orchards. I know this for certain, because I did the custom six-pack-builder thing, and it was even on both sides. The picture I took, based on the color of the labels, suggests that the mystery sixth flavor could have been Green Apple. Well, I guess the dogs got into my stash or something, because I don’t remember drinking it. It was probably fine.
This is one of the main, non-liver-related problems with drinking as a career path: Sometimes you forget stuff or lose things or alienate your closest friends during an argument about the rules of Scattergories. Pros and cons, I guess.
RateBeer users are inclined to agree that Hopsation is the reigning champ of widely available macro-ciders, but I’m not convinced you won’t look like a fuckin’ doofus trying to order “you know, the, uhhhhhh, Hop Forward one” at a bar. To avoid this fate, I suggest repeating the phrase “Woodchuck, please” firmly and with conviction, until you get something reasonably close to a decent cider. But you wouldn’t take any of this stuff to a deserted island.
The Beer Idiot is a wildly sporadic Drunkspin complement; previous installments are available here and here, not to mention here and here and most notably here. You can watch Jesse Farrar tell jokes on his Youtube Channel and tell him what sort of drinks really put hair on your chest on Twitter @Bronzehammer.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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