There was a time in American history when hard apple cider was a ubiquitous staple in taverns and homes across the country. With a water supply of questionable quality, cider was often the beverage of choice for people of all ages. Leveraging bumper crops of tart apples, cideries proliferated until Prohibition upended their production. Since beer was the favored drink of new American immigrants and was easier to obtain in growing cities, cider never experienced the post-Prohibition recovery enjoyed by its malty counterpart.
But, riding the wave of the craft beer boom and bolstered by a recent interest in recovering lost strands of heirloom apples, hard cider is making a strong comeback. As small cideries begin to pop up and establish themselves alongside the proliferation of microbreweries, the light, refreshing beverage is no longer a backup plan for that one friend who doesn’t like beer.
From big-city cideries to tasting rooms tucked in the foothills, central Carolina is an amazing place to experience this boozy rebirth. Here, five cideries that pair well with outdoor adventure but are worthy destinations unto themselves—just in time for the summer, when warmer weather virtually begs for the crisp, refreshing beverage.
1. GoodRoad Ciderworks
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The second cidery on the Charlotte scene, GoodRoad Ciderworks couldn’t have picked a better location, with neighbors like craft beer stalwarts Sugar Creek Brewing and Olde Mecklenburg as well as one of the best distillers in the state, Doc Porter’s.
But GoodRoad has made the right moves to stand out, in even this high-class neighborhood of potent all stars. Their open, friendly tasting room is the right mix of modern and wood-covered charm. The ciders generally lean toward the dry end of the spectrum and often drink more like a medium white wine than the sweeter drink often associated with apple-based cocktails. The cidery also handcrafts a selection of meads, making it a unique stop on any tour of Charlotte’s craft beverage producers.
2. Red Clay Ciderworks
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Even though it’s only a couple years old, Red Clay Ciderworks holds the distinction as the oldest cidery in Charlotte. Inside the rectangular brick building on Clanton Road, long picnic tables foster a friendly, community feel to the tasting room.
Red Clay’s ciders span the range of sweet to tart, with the aptly named South End Sweet a classic version of the former. The not-quite lip puckering Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls might make a cider convert of sour beer lovers. Look to their calendar for regular events like trivia and live music.
Both Good Road and Red Clay are perfect stops after a run on Charlotte’s Trolley Trail.
3. Bull City Ciderworks
Lexington, N.C. has long been known as a mecca for eastern barbeque, and the small town an hour northeast of Charlotte now has a unique hometown beverage to wash it down. Bull City Ciderworks moved its headquarters to an underused furniture factory district in Lexington and continues to grow into its new space.
Bull City produces one of the broadest selections of ciders in the state. Their creative, seasonal offerings include bourbon barrel aged ciders, summer strawberry concoctions, and even a bold batch that tops out at 16% ABV.
Pair the eclectic list of beverages with a day fishing or paddling on nearby High Rock Lake.
4. McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the east more focused on the history and traditions of making hard apple cider than the crew at the McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks. They use heirloom apples grown in-state to craft a small selection of classic semi-sweet to dry ciders.
Located among the rolling foothills along the western edge of the Yadkin Valley, McRitchie is a destination worth spending some time exploring. A cozy tasting room is flanked by two outdoor porches with views of the vineyards and hills that define this part of the state.
The trails and granite dome of Stone Mountain State Park are a short drive away and an ideal way to earn your beverages before visiting McRitchie.
5. Windy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill
A successful visit to Windy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill is all about apples and good timing. The orchard is open seasonally through fall and, more recently, several weekends in spring. For those who want to pick their own apples from the idyllic orchard, the season is much shorter (keep an eye on the venue’s events page for updates). And if you hope to have a sample of their several hard cider varieties, plan on arriving early: The queue starts forming shortly after they open each day.
But if you time it right, the experience at Windy Hill is worth the effort. The ciders often lean toward the sweeter end of the spectrum but they exhibit a good range. The Rusty Gold, for example, is full of seasonal spices and one of the most popular at the orchard. Of course, you can’t leave without a tasting a few (dozen?) of their regionally famous apple cider doughnuts.
Earn your apple treats on the rolling trails that wind through and around Kings Mountain State and National Military Parks.