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An Unexpected Wild Game Pairing: Hard Cider

Hard cider can bring out the best in some wild game dishes.

Cider is not new to America. It was a favored beverage of our colonial ancestors, and traveled across the country with the pioneers of the old west. In fact, it's part of our American folklore. Johnny Appleseed's famous orchards weren't just used to bake pies.

In recent years, however, the popularity has waned. More and more, cider has become a non-alcoholic beverage for the autumn and winter months, intended more for children than for adults. In spite of this, it remains a rich drink that pairs well with most game or fish.

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Teasingly known as the 'student's drink' in some parts of the UK, its popularity is on the rise again and, as such, is definitely worth a try. Though it is still less common as a fine food pairing than beer or wine, cider offers as many delicious pairings as its counterparts.

On pairing ciders

Stronger than beer and less delicate than wine, cider is a crisp, flavorful drink not unlike apple juice (or pear, should you wish to try pear cider). Because it is less common in fine dining, and fewer brands are likely to be found in the typical American grocery store, cider can be tricky to pair. In the end, the most important thing is to pay close attention to the flavors and intensity.

While all cider will be inherently sweet, it does have variations. You have sweet and dry ciders, weak and intense ciders. Moreover, cider isn't going to be quite as versatile as some other drinks, limiting the sort of wild game and fish it can pair with.

To get the most out of your meal, try to match the strength and flavor of your food. The following are just a few examples.

Sweet cider

Though you should never try to drink something excessively sweet when pairing it with food, most sweet ciders will bring out the naturally sweet flavors of your dish. Recommended sweet ciders include Woodchuck, Hornsby's, Strongbow, Samuel Smith, Fox Barrel, or Aspal Peronelle.


Wild boar meat is naturally sweet and fairly fruity, making it an excellent dish for a sweet cider.


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Because of its lighter flavor, turkey is well complemented by sweet cider, particularly one lighter in strength.

Any dish using bacon or fruit

Whether you've prepared dove with bacon or paired fresh fruit with a venison steak, sweet cider will naturally latch on to the sweeter flavors and enrich them.

Dry cider

Dry cider, while still sweet, goes well with stronger flavors, particularly fish and fried dishes. Recommended dry ciders include Ace, Crispin, Angry Orchard, Etrienne Dupont, or Thistly Cross.

Smoked fish

Whether salmon or tuna, smoked fish has a powerful flavor that doesn't lend well to sweet drinks. Dry cider will complement it without overpowering.

Oily fish

Like smoked fish, oily fish (such as mackerel or carp) need something that can match their potency and flavor.

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Fried dishes

Just about any good meat, be it game or fish, can be fried. But fried food has a powerful flavor all its own. Not only does it need a dry cider, it needs something powerful enough to match it. Look to aggressive ciders for these dishes.

Rule of thumb

Obviously pairing cider is not as common as wine or beer, and there's room for uncertainty, especially because its particular flavor makes it a little more difficult to pair.

If you're ever in doubt, or just want to try a cider pairing for the sake of trying it, follow this rule of thumb: if it pairs well with a white wine, it pairs well with a cider.

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An Unexpected Wild Game Pairing: Hard Cider