You don't need to throw cold water on the booming big-brand ciders to enjoy craft cider—although I'm told that's exactly what some of the bigger brands do: add water to apple concentrate, plus sugar, malic acid and flavorings.
And you don't need to call it "cidre," or "sidra," and worry whether it's Normandy- or Basque-style. Johnny Appleseed's got a long CV in the former colonies, so we can reclaim farmhouse-style cider as our own.
2014 Devoto Orchards Cider Cidre Noir ($13) There's a big difference between this dry cider and Devoto's Save the Gravenstein bottling: the Gravs were picked in mid-August, while this blend of mostly Arkansas black, Black Twig and Black Jonathan was picked in early October. Similar to winegrapes, the Devotos say, apples hanging on the tree that much longer develop intense flavors. Like Devoto's Save the Gravenstein cider, this one is actually the lightest and the brightest of the lineup. The aroma is fresh-cut apple, distinctive but not overripe. My tongue preps for sweet, recalling the effervescent but alcohol-free Martinelli's sparkling cider, but finds it dry and tangy. Would be good with brunch instead of sparkling wine, or step up to this if you like Ace's Joker dry cider. (6.9 percent alcohol by volume)
2014 Tilted Shed's January Barbecue Smoked Cider ($15) You won't find the vintage date on the front of the bottle. Because of funky beverage laws, cider cannot be vintage dated if it's over 7 percent abv. Look for the batch number on the side of the bottle. Made with a portion of apples smoked over oak, pear and applewood, this bottling is less evocatively smoky than the previous release, but it still reminds me of the smell of a wool sweater after a campfire on the beach. It's rich, a little tannic and lightly effervescent, with flavors of fresh apple and apricot. It's got less of that good craft-cider funk than Tilted Shed's flagship Graviva! bottling, but I like it. (8 percent abv)
2013 Tilted Shed's Barred Rock Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cider ($18) This is a little sweetly smoky too, from spending three months in charred oak barrels that were used to age bourbon. Showing Champagne-level bubbles when poured, it's an appealing amber-gold color, shows characteristic notes of SweeTart and Frangelico, and the pleasant aroma of fallen apples fermenting on the ground in autumn. And bourbon, natch. Nutty, vanilla flavors and plush effervescence contrast with a finish that goes from dry to pretty solidly tannic. Stock up on this for Thanksgiving and related autumnal food pairings. (9 percent abv)