Grocery Store Apple Ciders, Ranked Worst To Best

Pumpkin spice is great and all, but it shouldn't get all the fall flavor love. When apple season comes around and cider starts hitting the store shelves, we know it is truly sweater time. Sure, it is great to get apple cider from a local farm that tends to its own apples and presses them into delicious juice, but not everyone has access to such things. We went to the major grocery retailers to see what cider they had to offer and whose was ultimately the best.

Apple cider is similar to apple juice, but there are some differences greater than the fact that you can generally only get cider during autumn. The main difference between the two is that apple juice has been filtered to remove any pulp and residual fruit matter, whereas apple cider is simply pressed apples. That makes cider darker and cloudier in color than apple juice. However, there is no legal definition of cider outside of Massachusetts, so it is open to interpretation. Apple cider should not be confused with its alcoholic cousin, hard cider, which has been fermented.

Apple cider can be consumed hot or cold and often has additional spices thrown in. We tested the spectrum of cider styles from major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Aldi to find out which grocery store cider is the one to beat.

13. Instant Alpine Spiced Apple Cider

The fact that Alpine Spiced instant cider is even on the market is an insult to apple cider everywhere. The only way we can see someone purposefully seeking out this product is if they are a survivalist stocking up for the end of the world.

We should have known we were into trouble when the first ingredient was sugar rather than apple. Apple doesn't even appear until the fourth ingredient, right above the caramel color. Each container comes with 10 packets of powder, which are mixed with hot water to make an apple cider. The drink is very sweet and is only somewhat apple-flavored. There are no apple solids in this, as everything just dissolves into the drink. We are not sure what spices are supposed to be in here, but we certainly didn't taste any.

The little packet was also weirdly difficult to open. It would not tear, and we had to take scissors to it. This is not the biggest problem of the drink, but it certainly didn't help. You can buy this product at Target, which also sells legitimately good apple cider. Do yourself a favor and buy literally anything else.

12. Good & Gather Spiced Apple Cider Pods

We debated on where to put this one. Arguably, it more readily meets the definition of cider than the sparkling options listed higher on this list. At the end of the day, we decided to rank based on quality and not a strict definition of cider.

Like the Alpine, this is an instant spiced cider, this time brewed through in a convenient, Keurig-style pod. Good & Gather spiced apple cider is better in just about every way. First of all, the packaging is easier to use. You just pop it into the Keurig and out pops cider. We didn't even need to stir it. Additionally, the cider is actually cloudy with apple. It both looks and tastes more like a cider. Finally, we do get a hint of spice and a brown sugar flavor.

The problem is that while it is a marked improvement over Alpine, it still is not very good. The sediment settles quickly, which leaves the drinker with a grainy last few sips. The first ingredient of the pods is brown sugar, which is better than Alpine's white sugar in terms of flavor but still makes the drink overly sweet. None of the other ciders on this list use added sugar, and we think that is very telling.

11. Trader Joe's Sparkling Apple Cider

Trader Joe's sparkling apple cider is fine but is really nothing to write home about. It is made with, as the label puts it, "100% juice with other added ingredients." This is just an odd way of saying that they added carbon dioxide for carbonation and ascorbic acid to maintain the color. We assume what they meant was no added sugar.

The best thing about this product is the packaging. It has a twist-off lid, which allows the bottle to be opened and closed as needed and just makes opening simpler than a bottle top. But, it is pretty sad that the lid was our favorite part. The carbonation was fine but the cider itself was a fairly boring apple flavor that felt more like juice than cider. There was no sediment at the bottom, so we really aren't sure why this is considered a cider instead of sparkling apple juice. It is fine if you want something bubbly, but that's about it.

10. Nature Nectar Honeycrisp Apple Cider

Nature's Nectar Honeycrisp apple cider had the potential to be good. Honeycrisp apples are among the most popular and are noted for their sweet taste and snappy bite. The apple should, in theory, transfer easily to a cider. Yet, the Nature Nectar Honeycrisp apple cider felt like it was lacking that distinct Honeycrisp flavor.

The bottle was noticeably cloudy with an almost milky color. It was completely different from any of the other apple ciders on this list, including another Honeycrisp apple cider. After trying it, the cider tasted almost musky, which is completely different from the typical bright flavor of a Honeycrisp apple. According to the ingredients, Honeycrisp was the only apple used. It is possible that while the apple makes delicious snacks and pies, it just doesn't transfer well to cider, but that could just be generous thinking on our part. At the end of the day, though, we will not be returning to Aldi for this one.

9. Martinelli's Organic Sparkling Cider

Martinelli's makes a whole line of non-alcoholic sparkling juices with several cider varieties. We chose this one because it was what was available at the stores we were at. The company has been around since 1868, so we expected good things, and we were not disappointed. The apple flavor was far more cider-like than the Trader Joe's sparkling cider. It had a distinct, rounded palate that felt like more than just a standard juice. The bubbles were nice and lasted a surprisingly long time. Overall, it is a nice pick when you want something a little fancy without alcohol.

That being said, we couldn't rate this one higher because, once again, it seemed to fit the categorization of apple juice, not cider. There was no sediment, and the product has a very clear, refined color to it. It's lovely, but not a cider. Additionally, the packaging is a little annoying. The top is wrapped in foil, and once you get inside, there is a bottle cap top. This means you have excess waste, require a bottle opener to open, and have no way to save for the future. We get that they are trying to come off as with more elegant packaging, but it is really just frustrating and a bit wasteful.

8. Nature's Nectar Spiced Apple Cider

The first thing we noticed about this cider was its deeper color as compared to some of the others. This was only intensified when the bottle was shaken, per instructions, and the sediment and spices were further mixed into the drink.

Initially, when we opened it, we were hit with the smell of spices. We could actually see flecks of spices floating around in the drink. The aroma was heavenly. The spice blend includes allspice, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, and orange peel. There is additional lemon juice concentrate in the drink.

The flavor just seems to have gotten muddled a bit with the spices and citrus. No one spice is overpowering, which is nice, but at the same time, the apple does not show through in the way we would have hoped. The citrus notes definitely come forward. It was a bit of a letdown after the delightful aroma. We just were not blown away. We also don't love that the juice is from concentrate and includes the addition of gum Arabic. It seems unnecessary and just makes the ingredient list longer.

7. Good & Gather Honeycrisp Style Apple Cider

It is the return of the Honeycrisp apple with Target's store brand Good & Gather coming at us with its version of the single apple cider. Right off the bat, we could see that the Good & Gather cider was not nearly as milky as the Nature's Nectar version. Another major difference is that, in addition to Honeycrisp apple juice from concentrate, there is added natural flavor. We are not sure what the natural flavor is or why it is there, but we will say that this cider had a noticeably crisper flavor and offered the honey-sweet taste we expected from the apple.

While this may not be our favorite cider on the list, we appreciate the noticeable improvement over the other Honeycrisp flavor. What we do not love, though, is the use of juice from concentrate. Based on our testing, the juices from the concentrate had a slightly thinner taste, which ultimately negatively affected the final outcome. It would be nice to see a non-concentrated version of a Honeycrisp cider, especially if it could be done without the use of additional flavors.

6. Country Acres Apple Cider

Country Acres makes fresh pressed apple cider out of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Being a fresh pressed cider and not from concentrate gives this cider a clear leg up over most of the competition. The apple taste is pure and unadulterated by other flavors. If you look at the ingredients list, it simply reads "apple," which we can get behind.

That being said, it is not our favorite fresh cider and even gets beaten by a couple of shelf-stable offerings. When we tried this cider, we noticed the consistency was a little thin. This was emphasized by the lack of sediment at the bottom. That alone struck us as odd. The taste was also incredibly mild. Once again, it just feels like the whole thing was watered down, even though it is 100% apple cider.

As one of the smaller producers on this list, we suspect that they are at the mercy of crop conditions and there is likely more variation in their bottles than from a larger company. Country Acres makes its cider in small batches, but for us, this cider, while fine, just did not make the flavor impact we were hoping for.

5. Good & Gather Old-fashioned Apple Cider

Once again, we have an apple cider that seems to trend more to apple juice than apple cider. While it has a deep color, there is noticeably less apple matter in the juice itself than the ciders that are not from concentrate. While Trader Joe's spiced cider gets away with being from concentrate because of the spices and additional flavors, there is no such thing here. Instead, we have a cider that is perfectly pleasant but thinner than other options. This cider also has other flavors added to it, which just seems unnecessary. There are better ciders that forgo this.

Still, as a grocery store apple cider, it is a solid option. This cider offers a crisp apple flavor, which, while a bit too watery, is nonetheless pleasant. We are not sure what makes this "Old Fashioned;" we suspect it is just marketing. But, as an initially shelf-stable product that is widely available from one of the largest grocery retailers in the country, we would not turn up our nose at this particular cider, even if it isn't our favorite.

4. Nature's Nectar 100% Apple Cider

The good news about the Nature's Nectar 100% apple cider is that it did have more flavor than Country Acres. This version was also better than the other ciders from the company, which is likely due to this being a fresh, not-from-concentrate cider.

In addition to apple juice, this cider does have some potassium sorbate to help keep it fresh. The color was dark, and though cloudy, we did not see as much sediment at the bottom as we expected. We don't know exactly what apples were used in this cider, but we will say this blend is tart. We appreciate tart, but it was honestly a little surprising just how tart it was.

Still, we enjoyed this fresh cider much more than most of the other options. This is the first cider on the list that begins to make the flavor distinction between apple juice and proper cider. It has a tartness and a natural apple flavor that helps distinguish it from concentrated products. Our biggest complaint is that the blend of apples leans a bit too tart, and the cider still feels a bit thin. Despite being fresh, this bottle just does not have the full mouthfeel we have come to expect from a truly exceptional apple cider.

3. Trader Joe's Spiced Apple Cider

Trader Joe's spiced cider is balanced nearly perfectly. Initially, we were skeptical, as the drink is as wonderfully cloudy as a cider should be, but even after shaking, we did not detect whole crushed spices. However, after the first sip, our fears were put to rest. The spices in this cider seem only to enhance the fall feeling of this drink, working with the apple instead of overtaking it. This spiced cider also has the addition of citrus in the form of lemon juice, orange peel, orange oil, and lemon oil, yet the drink does not taste overtly citrusy. Instead, this just works to brighten up the flavor.

The spices included are cinnamon, clove, and allspice, which are brewed into the drink itself. This explains why there are no solids in the drink. We feel it works better this way. Additionally, the drink has a deep brown color, which was not present in most of the shelf-stable ciders we tried. While it is made from concentrate, not fresh juice, Trader Joe's at least dressed the drink up well.

2. Musselman's Apple Cider

Musselman's was the surprising star of the grocery store apple ciders. Not only is it widely available at Walmart, but it is simply delicious. Musselman's has been in the apple business since 1907 and has long been a fan favorite for applesauce, vinegar, and juice. Now we can add cider to that list.

Musselman's apple cider is slightly milky in appearance and is lighter than some of the other ciders. It has a decent amount of apple sediment in it and needs a good shake before you drink it, but you will be rewarded with apple cider that tastes like it came from an apple farm.

The only ingredients here are freshly pressed apple juice and some ascorbic acid to keep it fresh. This is the only shelf-stable, non-carbonated apple cider that was not made from concentrate, and you can taste the difference. This cider has a thicker viscosity that adds an almost creamy note. The flavor, which comes from a variety of apples, is robust and offers hints of citrus. As an added bonus, all of the apples are American-grown. The Musselman's apple cider is a near-perfect blend of accessibility and quality. Most of the other ciders just couldn't compete.

1. The Ohio Cider Company Apple Cider

We had to hand it to The Ohio Cider Company; this was not just the best grocery store cider but one of the best ciders overall. We purchased it at Walmart and will likely be going back for more. The cider is made by Fresh Forward Farms in Newcomerstown, Ohio. This company clearly knows its stuff. This cider is crisp-tasting without being too light or watered down. It's quite the opposite — this is a full-bodied cider. One sip instantly transports you to apple picking at a farm, colorful leaves, and cozy sweaters.

The thing that really sets this cider apart from the others is the balance of flavors. The apple is present, but there is just enough zing to remind you that this is cider. It does not rely on added spices to give this cider its kick. Instead, the cider leans into the natural, tart flavors of apples and blends them into a drinkable cider that is complex and refreshing.

Ohio Cider Company also makes single-variety blends such as Honeycrisp and Gala, as well as salted caramel and pumpkin spice flavors. We don't see how they can improve on the original, but we would really like to try these others to find out. We are so glad that a company such as Walmart has made this quality of cider readily available in grocery stores. Now, there is no going back.