Both hard cider and beer share a long history. Although hard cider's popularity is relatively new, people have been fermenting cider since the world started turning, and people have been brewing beer even longer than cider. But the beer and cider as you know it would come a little later in human history. Despite this shared long history, beer and cider diverge at the very start of their journeys to a bottle. Dive into the world of cider vs. beer.
Gloves Off: Cider vs. Beer
Take a quick glance at the differences between cider and beer to get things started. Hard cider is usually on the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum, although dry and semi-dry ciders steer away from sweetness. While beer does have some sugar, it's really only used when brewers need to balance out sour flavors and, in the scheme of things, doesn't add a sizable or influential amount to the final product's sweetness. Beer will have hoppier flavors, whereas cider will have apple-forward flavors. Both will be influenced by any added flavoring during the brewing and fermenting process.
Ingredients and Creation Process
Cideries follow a fermenting process to create hard cider, similar but not the same as apple cider or apple juice production. The fermenting process takes yeast, sugar, and apples and turns them into hard cider, with the yeast consuming the sugar, which in turn becomes alcohol. The more sugar the yeast consumes, the drier the cider. Beer has a longer, more involved process. Beer is yeast, hops, and water before adding barley and other grains used to create different styles of beers. This can be done by adding either extra or fewer hops and grains or by including other ingredients in the brewing process. An important note is that virtually all cider is gluten-free, unlike most beers unless specified otherwise.
You may come across an apple beer in the fall or spring, but these aren't to be confused as being hard cider. The apple flavoring and ingredients are still brewed into the beer the same way as any other beer or flavored beer. With hard cider, flavors can be added to the fermenting process to create flavored cider, including pineapple, pear, strawberry, and even seasonal blends. The available flavors will also vary based on whether those ciders skew towards the drier cider side or semi-sweet cider side of things. But generally, cider will always be sweeter than beer, even the drier ciders.
A Pale Ale and Hard Cider Walk Into a Bar...
What do a pale ale and dark hard cider have in common? You might not be able to tell them apart visually! Beers come in a full range of colors, from the lightest pale ales to dark brown stouts and porters. Sour beers can be pink, purple, or even red. Cider doesn't quite come in the same range as beer, but it does have its own colorful spread. Some ciders are unfiltered, so in addition to ranging from a pale, almost see-through color, they can even be a deep yellow or orange, with any gradient of haze along the way. This hazy look can apply to beer as well!
Cider and beer have a broad range of abv or alcohol by volume. Beers can run around 3-4% on the lighter side, as do ciders. You can even enjoy a nonalcoholic beer, and nonalcoholic not-hard ciders are slowly creeping their way into the market these days, too. Some beers can run at 8%-12%, some even as high as 16% on the boozier side. Ciders don't usually go that high but do hover between 10% and 12% for drier ones. As mentioned before, the drier the cider, the more sugar that's been converted into alcohol.
Apples Are Good for My Health, so Cider Must Be Too!
Well, yes and no, this is something that can be true in moderation and very much so on a case-by-case basis. It is essential that you take medical advice from a medical professional, including your doctor. However, it's fun to look at the whimsical health benefits of a cider or beer. Some studies have shown that cider and beer can help lower your risk of heart disease. With cider being a result of fermenting fruit, it does carry a dose of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in addition to antioxidants, but that doesn't mean you should swap that in for your daily vitamin. Drinking either in excess or too often will have adverse effects, so moderation is key! Keep in mind that ciders will naturally contain more carbs due to sugars, and can be higher in calories than beer. The average beer has around 150 calories but the average, sweet cider will run closer to 200. Some drier ciders, such as Magners, will run closer to 125-150.
A Tale of Two Choices: Cider and Beer
While cider and beer make for an excellent pair, they're pretty different. Beer offers savory flavors, from hoppy to accessible, dark to pale ales, and cider offers bright and bold apple flavors, regardless of whether that cider is dry or very sweet. Hard cider-based cocktails are a welcome addition to bar menus, and beer features in a few cocktails as well. The next time you see an unusual cider or two on the shelf, grab some! There's no better way to learn than with some sampling. So round up some friends for a flight of beer and cider and teach them what you've learned.