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Your ultimate guide to apple cider

What's not to love about crushed, fermented apples?

Cider might have been the drink this nation was built on, but post-Prohibition it became something of a no-man's drink, occupying space somewhere between fizzy beer and supermarket wine and becoming synonymous with drunk sorority girls.

Now restaurateurs, sommeliers, and bartenders are acknowledging its unique merits once again, stacking their drink lists with at least a few dry, respectable bottles that are giving wine and craft beer a run for their money.

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Need help navigating the drink's newly established territory? We're here to help you get started.

What is cider? Simply put, it's crushed, fermented apples. Some are made from sweet Golden Russets or other snacking varieties, but most good cider comes from gnarly, fibrous little apples like bittersweet Michelins, sharp Winesaps, and bitter-sharp Kingston Blacks.

It's made pretty much anywhere apples are grown. In the U.S., that means New York State, Virginia, Michigan, California, Oregon, and Washington, among others. In Europe, it includes the British Isles, Northern France, parts of Germany, Spain, and Poland.

What kinds of cider are out there? In the States, they range from sparkling "six-pack" ciders — some of the better ones are Original Sin, Angry Orchard and Harpoon — to still (non carbonated), dry farmstead ciders made from single-variety heirloom apples by producers like Farnum Hill, Aaron Burr, Foggy Ridge, and Virtue.

In England — the world's largest consumer per capita — traditional cider is known as "scrumpy" and tends to be balanced and approachable (try Sandford's Devon Red). Another popular English version, perry, is fermented from pears.

In France, cidre is a centuries-old farmhouse drink that's effervescent, dry, and complex. Expect a funky barnyard nose and a crisp finish. One of the most well-known producers is Normandy's Domaine Dupont, known for its textbook-dry Cidre Bouché.

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In Spain, there are two important kinds of sidra. The Asturias region makes tart, lemony styles like Trabanco Cosecha Propia, while the nearby Basque Country offers some of the world's funkiest naturally fermented ciders (try Isastegi).

How do I pair cider with food? "Cider can pair with a range of flavors and textures," John Holl, author of the forthcoming Tasting Cider (Storey Publishing), says. "Sweet or slightly dry ciders go well with spicy foods, because the lower alcohol content can tamp down the hot pepper flavor. Ciders with strong tannins match with red meat the same way a robust red wine or malty porter does."

Claire Paparazzo, the former wine director at Blue Hill in Manhattan, also loves pairing cider with food. "The focus is the acidity and the earthy animal undertones," she says. "I love pairing dry ciders with triple-cream cheeses from Normandy or with prosciutto." She recommends matching robust, bitter-sharp ciders with heartier fare like potpie made with root vegetables.

Okay, I'm ready. How and where do I drink it? If you're pouring one at home, put it in a nice glass — tapered or tulip-shaped stemware will concentrate cider's expressive aromas and delicate flavors. (Shaker pints and mugs are a no-go; they'll weaken these qualities.)

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Also, warm your cider up a little. In the States, most are served way too cold, straight from the fridge. While that's okay for some sparkling varieties, Rowan Jacobsen, the food writer and author of Apples of Uncommon Character (Bloomsbury, $35), says that most ciders should be served warmer than you'd think. "Still [non-carbonated] ciders are more like red wines than white wines," he says. "They should be at room or cellar temperature."

Ready to really geek out? Check out a serious cider bar like Bushwhacker Cider in Portland, Oregon; Capitol Cider in Seattle; or Upcider in San Francisco. This winter, New York City and Chicago will both get their first cider pubs with the openings of Wassail and The Northman, respectively.

Tasting Table is a culinary lifestyle brand that obsesses over what to eat and drink so you don't have to. It's like having a foodie best friend to distill the culinary world into must-do, must-eat, and must-know recommendations, on everything from the best Thai in the Village to the top tequila pours in Outer Mission. Hungry yet?

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