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Skip the wine: Turn your Thanksgiving feast into a hard cider fest

Skip the wine: Turn your Thanksgiving feast into a hard cider fest
Hard ciderfor Thanksgiving. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Shake up the Thanksgiving drinks table with craft cider.

Whatever your tradition for the holiday, the meal itself is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. Nuances can get lost under the onslaught of so many competing flavors. And the Thanksgiving table's tart and sweet elements can do in all but the most forgiving reds. Think Beaujolais cru.

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But consider a different scenario. What if you surprised family and friends this year and showed up with something new to drink? Something that's low in alcohol — and, if you like, local. A beverage that's light and refreshing and capable of cozying up to sweet, tart, rich and everything in between.

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That something would be craft cider. Cider-heads already have that one dialed in, but for those who still think of cider as something fizzy and sweet, small-batch craft ciders can be a revelation. They're closer to wine than to beer and come in a broad spectrum of styles. They can be still or sparkling. Some are made here in California. Others hail from the Northwest or the Northeast — wherever apples are grown. But you can also find ciders from countries such as Spain or France that have long traditions of cider making.

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Ciders aren't brewed like beers; they're fermented like wine — only they're made from apple juice instead of grape juice. The ones that go best with food are generally fermented bone-dry. Some are made not only with apples but with pear and/or quince, which gives a lovely perfume to the cider.

Cider makers are famous for tracking down abandoned orchards and searching out rare and heirloom varieties for raw material. A few push the boundaries by introducing other flavors, such as chile or agave or hops, after the first fermentation.

For Thanksgiving, though, let's mostly stick with ciders that drink crisp and dry — the way Txacolina from northern Spain or a Muscadet from France's Loire Valley would. Something like the Troy MMXIV from Sonoma County and Millstone Farmhouse Cidery "Farmgate" from Maryland, among others.

If you want to turn Thanksgiving into a cider fest — and why not — lay in a selection of bottles. For the crowd hunkered down in front of the TV, nibbling on wings or salty snacks, pop open California 101 Cider House IPC (India Pale Cider), which can take anything spicy or salty.

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For everyone not into sports, open a bottle or two of sparkling French cider, such as Eric Bordelet Sidre Brut "Tendre" or Sydre "Argelette" made from antique apples grown on his orchards just south of Normandy. Or try Cidrerie du Vulcain "Trois Pépins" or "Transparente" from Switzerland. With their creamy mousse and soft, voluptuous fruit, they could win a place as your house sparkling beverage.

To go with a cheese plate before or after the main event, try a cider from Asturias in Spain where they've been drinking cider with everything in sight since forever. All ciders go with cheese, but particularly the ones that are bone-dry, farmhouse-style ciders from Asturias, Normandy and England's West Country.

You can also pour a cider to savor after the meal. One of the ciders aged in old rum or bourbon barrels might be appropriate. Sea Cider Prohibition Screech Barrel Aged Cider from British Columbia is crazy good, something totally unique. And Sonoma Cider's Anvil Bourbon offers plenty of complexity and spunk.

The added bonus? Cider aids digestion, so after everyone has pie you won't be confronted with a table full of bloated, sleepy celebrants. You might actually get to play that game of cards or break out the Monopoly game this year.

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A selection of ciders for Thanksgiving:

Though many cider aficionados recommend a Belgian-style beer glass — something like a brandy snifter, but smaller — for drinking cider, not to worry. You don't have to run out and buy a whole set of glasses for the crowd. Serve sparkling ciders in a Champagne flute or white wine glass. The rest will drink nicely in any tulip-shaped glass or white wine glass. To appreciate ciders best, don't serve them too cold. If you pull them from the fridge, let them warm a few minutes before serving. You want them close to a cool red wine temperature. Prices are for 750-milliliter bottles, unless otherwise noted.

To start off the celebration, a sparkling French cider from Normandy or Brittany

Eric Bordelet Brut "Tendre" Sidre (Normandy, France)

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The French ciders from this former sommelier are made from heirloom varieties of apples and pears and are profound and delicate — mostly off-dry, wonderfully aromatic, slightly pétillant, or bubbly, with a complexity and finish that some Champagnes could envy. In addition to the brut, there's also an off-dry "Tendre" Doux sparkling apple cider. Beautifully round and fragrant, it's a treat as an aperitif. And if you can track down his outstanding Sydre "Argelette", snap it up. It's beautiful with cheese. About $11.

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La Cidrerie du Vulcain "Trois Pepins" (Fribourg, Switzerland)

Made from antique varieties of apples, pears and quinces grown on high-branched, untreated trees, this complex sparkling cider is fermented on wild yeasts and only lightly filtered. Open it with ceremony, like a fine Champagne — a wonderful surprise for guests. About $20.

2013 Bonny Doon Querry (Santa Cruz Mountains)

Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm fell in love with French-style ciders and for the past few years has tried his hand at making his own. Querry is a fine-textured hard pear, apple and quince cider with a warm sweet perfume and the slight bitterness that quince brings. About $16. (Available online from shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/shop/cider.)

With oysters or a seafood platter

California 101 Cider House Scrumpy (Los Angeles)

Scrumpy means farmhouse cider, and this one is sourced from apples and quince grown up and down the 101. Its beautiful salinity is from the sea salt mist coming off the Pacific that drifts over the orchards. Absolutely dry, it is tart, with that wonderful salinity and an appealing minerality. Fermented on native yeasts. About $9 for a 22-ounce bottle.

With the cheese plate

Sidra Acebal "El Carrascu" Sidra de Asturias (Asturias, Spain)

A crisp, tart Spanish cider from a family that's been making it since the end of the 19th century. Made with a handful of native apple varieties, like most Asturian ciders, this one is fermented with wild yeasts, aged on the lees and bottled unfiltered. $12 for a 700-milliliter bottle.

Riestra Sidra Natural Cider (Asturias, Spain)

The bottle comes with a topper that pours the cider and oxygenates it at the same time, giving it a slight fizz. Pour from about 2 feet up into a straight-sided glass. This traditionally made Spanish cider really tastes like apples, dry and fragrant. Brilliant with cheese. $10 for a 700-milliliter bottle.

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With the turkey and all the fixings

Troy MMXIV California Hard Cider (Sonoma County)

Made from late-harvest heirloom apples from wild orchards in Northern California blended with pineapple quince, which gives a wonderful fragrance. Fermented with native yeast and aged for close to a year in oak barrels, this exceptional California hard cider is bottled unfiltered, unpasteurized and without sulfites. About $10 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Millstone Farmhouse Cidery "Farmgate" American Traditional Cider (Maryland)

It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to drink a traditional cider from the East Coast. Tart and earthy, it's made with a blend of Winesap, Northern Spy, Jonathan and Cameo apples and should stand up to all the varied dishes in the meal. About $20.

After dinner

Sea Cider Prohibition Screech Barrel-Aged Cider (British Columbia)

An unusual organic apple cider made from aromatic apples that takes 12 months to make and then is aged a further six months in Screech (a high-proof rum) barrels from Newfoundland. It has notes of burnt caramel, toffee, molasses and sweet spices. It would be great accompaniment to pumpkin pie and ideal for savoring after dinner as you try to untangle all the flavors in this weirdly appealing cider. About $25.

Sonoma Cider the Anvil Bourbon (Sonoma County)

A bold cider that tastes of apples and smoke. That's because this hard cider made from organic Pacific Northwest apples is spiked with a dose of the cider maker's special alcohol-free bourbon flavor. Off-dry, with a smoky finish, this is another cider you'll want to savor after dinner. Four-pack of 12-ounce bottles, $10.99.

With snacks while watching the game

California 101 Cider House IPC (India Pale Cider) (Los Angeles)

Made right here in Los Angeles from a blend of American cider apples and West Coast quince, this earthy, organic cider fermented with wild yeasts resembles a bone-dry Muscat. The citrus and floral notes on the nose come from hops, specifically one called Citra. Bright and refreshing, it's great with spicy chicken wings or anything spicy and salty, including curries of every ilk. About $10 for a 22-ounce bottle.

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Where to find craft ciders:

Andrew's Cheese Shop: Andrew Steiner carries a sparkling brut called AEppelTreow from Wisconsin and a still, dry cider from Asturius, Spain, called El Carrascu.

728 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-3308, andrewscheese.com

Bar & Garden: Usually carries half a dozen, including Snowdrift Red Cider from Washington State, Henney's Frome Valley dry cider from England and Cyril Zangs cider from Normandy, France. The shop hosts occasional cider tastings: Find out when by signing up for their email newsletter.

6142 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 876-0759, www.barandgarden.com

Buzz Wine Beer Shop: Carries up to 15 ciders. Current favorites: Eric Bordelet Sydre from France and local 101 Cider's Cactus Red.

460 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 622-2222, www.buzzwinebeershop.com

domaineLA: Carries half a dozen craft ciders, including Shacksbury Classic Cider from England; Cyril Zangs Cidre Brut "Easy Cider" from Normandy, France; Eric Bordelet Sydre Argelette from France; and La Cidrerie du Vulcain "Transparente" from Switzerland.

6801 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 932-0280, domainela.com

Everson Royce: Usually carries about eight ciders, including 101 Cider House Black Dog, Finn River Cider Fresh Hopped out of Washington and a Spanish Basque super-dry cider from Irigoien-Herrero.

155 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena (626) 765-9334, www.eversonroyce.com

Green Jug Fine Wine & Spirits: Big cider-heads here with more than three dozen, including shop favorites Art + Science West Valley Cider from Oregon, Millstone Cellars Cobbler Cider from Maryland and Shacksbury Basque.

6307 Platt Ave., Woodland Hills, (818) 887-9463, www.greenjug.com

Milkfarm: Carries a handful of ciders, including a traditional Basque example, ciders from Troy and Sea Cider, and Riestra, a sparkling cider from Spain.

2106 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles (Eagle Rock), (323) 892-1068, milkfarmla.com

K&L Wine Merchants: They've got about 18 ciders at the store, but 50 available online or shipped from their San Francisco store. Picks include ciders from Julian,Tin City Cider (in collaboration with the folks behind Field Recordings wines) and Troy Cider "MMXIV."

1400 Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 464-9463, www.klwines.com

Silverlake Wine: These wine shops carry a handful of ciders, including Cidre de Kerveguen from Brittany, France; Foggy Ridge First Fruit Cider from Virginia; and El Carrascu Cider from Asturias, Spain.

2395 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9024, and 1948 E. 7th St., Los Angeles,(213) 335-6235, www.silverlakewine.com

Sunset Beer Company: An entire case is devoted to craft cider, with 25 to 30 labels, including ciders from 101 Cider House and Millstone Cellars.

1498 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Echo Park), (213) 481-2337, www.sunsetbeerco.com

Urban Radish: A handful of labels, including ACE Joker Cider from Sonoma, Millstone Cellars "Farmgate" from Maryland and Kervéguen Brut Cidre a l'Ancienne from Brittany.

661 Imperial St, Los Angeles (Arts District), (213) 892-1570, www.urban-radish.com

Whole Foods: The new Whole Foods Market in downtown Los Angeles is heavily invested in cider, with more than 50examples in a special section next to the beers.

788 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 873-4745, www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/downtownlosangeles

The Wine Country: Owner Randy Kemner is a big fan of Eric Bordelet's ciders from just south of Normandy, so you'll find those here, along with eight to 10 other ciders, including ACE Blackjack Twenty One Premium Craft Cider and Bonny Doon Querry Cider.

2301 Redondo Ave., Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, www.thewinecountry.com

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Wine Exchange: A well-chosen handful of ciders, including Bonny Doon Querry Sparkling Hard Cider from California, Kervéguen Brut Cidre A L'Ancienne from Brittany and Cidrerie du Vulcain "Transparente" and "Trois Pepins" from Switzerland.

1544 E. Warner Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 979-1509, www.winex.com

Wine House: A dozen ciders, including El Carrascu Cider from Spain, Washington Heritage Hard Cider, 101 Cider House Cactus Red Cider from Los Angeles and Scar of the Sea ciders from California.

2311 Cotner Ave., Los Angeles (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com

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