Do you find yourself out with friends, at a party or a bar, wondering about gluten free drink options? If you're living with celiac disease, finding gluten free cider can be a game-changer in your quest for a safe and enjoyable beverage.
My relationship with gluten free cider started one evening in an Irish Pub in Bordeaux. I was lamenting the absence of beer in my life. The bartender in his captivating Irish lilt recommended a Magners. I didn't know what that was, but said I was game. He drew the amber beverage from a tap at the bar and placed the glass on the table in front of me. It was slightly dry and a tad bitter with a yeasty snap similar to beer. I was hooked. Since returning home I've made a hobby out of trying gluten free ciders and they have become my go-to drink when I'm looking for something refreshing and not too sweet.
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With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to gluten free cider.
On this page we’ll talk about naturally gluten free cider: what it is and is not, where to find it and how to make it a safe part of your gluten free diet.
Cider is an alcoholic beverage that is traditionally made from fermented apples. Depending on where you live, you may hear different terminology:
In Europe, Britain and Canada, cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from apples.
In the U.S., cider usually refers to unfiltered apple juice. The term “hard cider” is used for the alcoholic drink. In Canada, the non-alcoholic beverage is referred to as “apple cider” but we are also familiar with the term “hard cider”.1
Although cider is usually made with apples, there are some specialty ciders made with pears or stone fruit like peaches.
I’ve seen the term “cider beer” on the internet but can't find the origin. It could be that some ciders have a flavor profile like beer or that they often appear in the beer section of the menu in pubs and restaurants.
Gluten free cider is a good alternative to beer. Some contain hops and some have a yeasty taste which give them a beery flavor profile.
Yet cider is not beer. Beer is brewed, which means the ingredients are boiled and then fermented to create an alcoholic beverage. Beer is made from grain, usually barley while cider is made from fruit. There are gluten free beers that are made from gluten free grains. 2
Cider is more like wine. It’s fermented like wine and like wine there is no brewing involved. Cider is naturally fizzy because it is fermented a second time. Much like sparkling wine, that second fermentation creates carbon dioxide which releases bubbles.3
Cider is almost always a safe, naturally gluten free choice when you’re looking for a refreshing alcoholic drink. But there is a catch you need to be aware of. Some ciders have flavoring added that is not gluten free. Somersby’s Watermelon flavor is an example.
A few ciders use a gluten-based yeast which makes them not gluten free. Two examples are Hornsby and Harpoon, although both of these test at below 20ppm which is considered safe for celiac.4
Even though most ciders are gluten free, it’s essential to check just to be sure.
Don't hesitate to ask your server when you're in a pub; they're usually knowledgeable and happy to help. If he or she doesn’t seem sure, ask to see the can or bottle before you order. Some will say gluten free right on the label, this makes it easy. If you don’t see a gluten free claim then look at the ingredients. If wheat, rye, or barley malt are listed then you should avoid this cider. In the U.S. the source of "malt" may not be listed on the label, so if you see malt then choose another drink.
You can also pull out your phone and do a quick google search.
The best gluten free cider depends on where you are and your personal preferences. Some ciders are sweet, some are tart and some are more “beery”. There are national brands that are tried and true, and many local craft ciders that are delicious and give the quality of small batch production.
There are a few gluten free cider brands that you’ll come across time and again on restaurants and pub menus. They are the “go-tos” that you can trust will be good and safely gluten free.
Strongbow – A dry cider, originally made in Hereford England later acquired by Heineken. It’s widely available across Europe and North America.
Somersby – A very sweet cider, owned by Carlsberg and originally made in Denmark. Somersby is also available worldwide.
Angry Orchard – The top selling hard cider in America. It’s made in Walden, New York and has a crisp, slightly sweet flavor.
Magner’s – An Irish cider made in County Tipperary, Ireland. It is a good choice if you’re looking for an alternative to beer as it has that yeasty ale flavor. Magner’s is available worldwide.
Grower’s – Canada’s top selling cider. It’s light and sweet and pleasant over ice. The fruity tones really come through. They have a traditional apple cider along with a variety of other flavors. My favorite is the rose cider which has a splash of wine.
Do you enjoy exploring diverse flavors and regional delicacies while traveling?
You may have noticed that local craft beers have become popular in recent years. That’s one thing I missed when I went gluten free, the ability to try out these unique local brews.
Then I found that local cideries are a thing. Often, I find myself in a restaurant or pub with a selection of local craft ciders on the menu.
Brickworks – Made in Toronto and my current favorite. The flavor is dry and refreshing and the ingredient list is short. Just cider.
Rice Lake – A local artisanal cider made in Baltimore, Ontario. I came across this one at the Ganaraska Brewing Company in Port Hope, Ontario. It's light tasting and low in sugar.
No Boats on Sunday – Found on a trip to the east coast of Canada. No Boats was Originally made in Nova Scotia and is now made in Ontario as well. It's a little on the sweet side but not syrupy. Quite pleasant over ice.
Other Ciders I've Discovered on My Travels
Ace – I first tasted Ace cider on a trip to Florida. It’s a little tart but quite refreshing. A good choice if you don’t like your drinks too sweet. Available across the U.S.
Woodchuck – I also came across Woodchuck cider in Florida, although it’s made in Vermont. It was decent but didn’t leave a lasting impression.
Diskin – I found Diskin cider on a trip to Nashville. It is a local gluten free cider with a range of flavors for every palate. It’s available across the state of Tennessee, but sadly, it’s not available here in Canada.
I previously mentioned Somersby Watermelon, but it's worth highlighting once more. Even though most ciders are naturally gluten free it’s important to check, especially if you’re trying a new flavor. And don’t assume that because a brand has gluten free choices, that all their products will be safe. Somersby states on their website that their ciders are gluten free, yet there it is. Wheat is listed right there on the label.
You can buy gluten free cider wherever you buy alcoholic drinks. In Ontario they are available at the LCBO. You’ll find them on the menu at your local pub or restaurant. Or if you like an adventure, look for a local cidery and go for a tasting. You're sure to have a great time and might even stumble upon a new favorite.
Gluten free ciders are also available online. Many are sold through the company’s website or your local liquor purveyor.
1. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, October 10). Cider. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider#:~:text=The%20fermenting%20of%20the%20remaining,added%20specifically%20for%20this%20purpose.
2. Hurt, J. (2019, January 6). Cider lovers bristle at the term “cider beer.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanettehurt/2019/01/06/cider-lovers-bristle-at-the-term-cider-beer/?sh=3990c4ed7477
3. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023a, October 10). Cider. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider#:~:text=The%20fermenting%20of%20the%20remaining,added%20specifically%20for%20this%20purpose.
4. Paul Founder & Managing Editor of Cider Core. (2014, February 5). Are all hard ciders gluten free?: Cider Core. Cidercore. http://cidercore.com/cider-blog/are-all-ciders-gluten-free#:~:text=Hard%20ciders%20are%20almost%20always,contain%20trace%20amounts%20of%20gluten.