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It's summertime, and drinkin' hard cider is easy

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Jack's Hard Cider at its production facility in Biglerville, Adams County.
Jack's Hard Cider at its production facility in Biglerville, Adams County. - (Photo / )

It seems that hard cider is the biggest thing since sliced bread in the craft beverage world. What gives?

While hard cider makes up less than 1 percent of the U.S. beer market, its popularity is definitely on the rise. According to CNN's Eatocracy blog, sales of ciders were up nearly 63 percent in 2012. Here's a bonus: Many hard ciders are friendly to those following gluten-free diets.

In reality, cider is not so new. In Colonial America, cider was the drink of choice, especially for Ben Franklin. And do you remember the tales of Johnny Appleseed? He literally helped plant the seeds for cider production.

With more than 120 registered apple orchards, Pennsylvania is home to 14 cider and apple wine producers. Two of these cideries are right here in Central PA — Adams County to be exact. And you know what grows plentifully in Adams County? Apples!

Jack's Hard Cider, produced by Hauser Estate Winery in Biglerville, is my go-to cider. I think what impresses me most it is that it's made from local apples that are pressed on site, rather than from concentrate like some of the bigger brands do. The result is a clean, crisp cider that doesn't have a funny aftertaste.

Jack's is available throughout Pennsylvania, as well as in Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia and Washington, D.C. This week I was at my local Giant Food Store in Susquehanna Township and I was pleased to see that Jack's was available there as part of the make-your-own six-packs.

Also made in Adams County, Good Intent Cider is a bit newer to me. This semi-dry cider is also made from a blend of local apples and touts itself as a "full-juice" cider that has no added water. Made in small batches, Good Intent is bottled by hand and available at the Gettysburg Farmers Market and at select restaurants in the Gettysburg and State College areas.

When local cider isn't an option, you can always fall back on the equally delicious national and international brands. Market-leader Woodchuck seems to be the most commonly found, but Angry Orchard has been quickly gaining ground since it was introduced two years ago. Both offer many flavors, which is part of their appeal. Woodchuck sells limited-release seasonal editions as well as core varieties like its 802, which is darker and drier because it's made with caramelized sugar. Angry Orchard is currently offering an elderflower variety, infusing tropical floral notes with the fruitiness.

In May, Stella Artois joined the club by introducing its "Cidre" apple brew. And, of course, there are always the traditional Irish Magners and English Strongbow ciders.

Recently, I've discovered New York-based Doc's Draft, which is frequently on tap at the Federal Taphouse in Harrisburg and Lancaster. Its classic apple hard cider is fruit-forward and incredibly refreshing. For the adventurous types, Doc's also makes pear, raspberry, pumpkin and cassis hard ciders.

I could go on and on naming ciders to try. What's your favorite hard cider?

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