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The Original Thanksgiving Drink? Hard Cider

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Many of us are familiar with the seasonal dishes that define Thanksgiving. But what was the harvest holiday’s original drink? The answer: hard cider. Here’s why.

The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, via the Mayflower in 1621 in the middle of a frigid winter. Though sickness had raged throughout the ship, there was a more pressing issue at hand: They were almost out of beer.

In the colonial mind, alcohol was essential for good health. “It was an age that considered alcohol safer than water,” shares Mark Lender and James Martin in Drinking in America: A History. “A stiff drink warmed a person on cold nights and kept off chills and fevers; a few glasses made hard work easier to bear, aided digestion, and in general helped sustain the constitution.”

With all this in mind, you can bet that booze was a part of the first Thanksgiving. But because of the beer crisis, colonists resorted to other drinks to get their fix. Hard liquor, despite its rising popularity, was less suitable for communal dinners due to its high alcohol content. Cider emerged as the next best choice.

“It was something they were used to drinking back in England,” drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce shared with Tribune Media Wire in 2016. “Cider was very, very popular in Europe and they were lucky—several varieties of apples are native to America.”

Hard cider became the most common beverage in colonial America. Although its popularity has fluctuated in the intervening centuries, cider is back on the upswing. It’s particularly excellent news for those planning their Thanksgiving menus.

Cider “shares all the requisite sensory qualities of wine,” states Gabe Cook in Ciderology. According to Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw in World’s Best Ciders, it’s also hugely flexible. “The lack of recorded ‘rules’ around cider, either as an ingredient or an accompaniment, means you have total freedom to experiment.” And at a large gathering like Thanksgiving, versatility is key.

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that cider deserves a spot on your Thanksgiving table. Here’s everything you need to know about hard cider’s past, present and future—plus our can’t-miss hard cider picks and tempting hard cider-spiked cocktails and dishes.

1. The History of American Cider

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Cider has deep American roots, but part of appreciating it is acknowledging all facets of its origins and evolution. Learn more about cidermaking and its importance throughout American history, past and present.

Read more: Cultural Collaboration, Willful Erasure and the Story of American Cider

2. A Guide to American Cider Regions

Castle Hill Cider / Photo by Kristen Finn

It might be surprising to learn that many of America’s best winegrowing regions, such as Sonoma and Columbia Valley, are also home to exceptional cideries.

Read more: Five Wine Regions Producing America’s Finest Ciders

3. The Women Making Waves in American Cider

Kimberly Kae of Metal House Cider / Photo by Eva Deitch

Craft cider has grown exponentially over the past decade, and women are at the forefront of its evolution. Here are seven cidermakers to know.

Read more: The Women Leading American Cider Forward

4. 6 Fantastic Hard Ciders to Try

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With a fermentation process akin to wine, hard apple ciders deserve to be treated as such. Here’s a look at this burgeoning sector and what bottles to try.

Read more: Cider, Wine’s Overlooked Category

5. Why Wine-Cider Hybrids Should Be on Your Radar

Photo by Matt Wilson

While they’re distinct beverages, cider and wine have enough in common that some American producers are blending the two to create hybrid bottles.

Read more: Four Wine-Cider Hybrids Worth Seeking Out

6. Cider Certifications to Explore

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Looking to deepen your beer and cider knowledge? These programs could help advance your career.

Read more: Advance Your Beer and Cider Knowledge with These Certifications

7. Hard Cider-Spiked Cocktail Recipes

The Stone Fence Riff #1

Photo by Aaron Graubart / Styling by Hadas Smirnoff

Make hard cider the apple of your eye with this Colonial-era cocktail. A healthy dose of rum only enhances this delightful tipple.

Recipe: A Colonial Quencher: The Stone Fence Riff #1

Spiced Cranberry Orange Wassail

Photo by Tom Arena

This mix of cider, fruit and spices dates to medieval England, and has warmed winter revelers for centuries. Swap the apple juice with hard cider to fully embrace the season.

Recipe: A Whiskey-Spiked Mulled Cider Recipe For the Ages

8. Hard Cider-Infused Food Recipes


Photo by Chelsea Kyle /
Food Styling by Jamie Kimm / Prop Styling by Megumi Emoto

Lean, quick-cooking pork tenderloin is the perfect roast for weekends and weekdays alike. This recipe ensures the meat will stay moist and be packed with flavor, thanks to a brine in hard apple cider.

Recipe: Châteauneuf-du-Pork: A Simple, Cider-Marinated Tenderloin Recipe

Oysters Two Ways

Photo by Sarah Anne Ward / Food styling by
Barrett Washburne

This duo of oyster preparations shouldn’t be missed. The first calls for broiling oysters under a blanket of miso butter, while the second sees raw bivalves dressed in homemade nuóc châm, a Vietnamese condiment that’s here made with hard cider. Both go perfectly with American hard cider; we provide several great options.

Recipe: American Cider with Oysters Two Ways