Quick Take:

Move over wine and beer; hard cider deserves a spot on the Thanksgiving table. Santa Cruz County cider-makers are crafting dry, complex ciders that pair perfectly with the ultimate fall feast. Here, Lookout food and drink reporter Lily Belli shares her top picks for local ciders to bring home this holiday season.

For many Americans, the most important meal of the holiday season is coming up at the end of November. But, despite what wine sommeliers and beer aficionados will tell you, the best beverage to pair with your Thanksgiving feast isn’t pinot noir or pilsner — it’s hard cider.

Autumn is the season for apples, and according to the adage that “what grows together goes together,” cider is the perfect complement to the other fall feast flavors. And in the past decade, cider has experienced a resurgence in popularity and come a long way from the cloying sweet versions. Now, local cider-makers in Santa Cruz County approach cider-making like winemaking, and deliberately source high-quality fruit from local orchards. The finished product is often dry and complex, with a crisp, refreshing finish that will quench your thirst and please your palate as you dig into second helpings.

Here are three local ciders that anyone would be proud to pop with friends and family. Each is handcrafted in Santa Cruz County from locally grown fruit.

Soquel Cider by Everett Family Farm

All of the apples for Soquel Cider (7.5% alcohol by volume, 500-milliliter bottle) are grown by Laura and Rich Everett at their farm outside of Soquel. In addition to a variety of vegetables and fruits, Everett Family Farm grows a mixture of heirloom cider apples in its orchards, all certified organic. Laura Everett taught herself to make cider in order to use up the fruit from the farm and has honed her skills over the past 15 years.

The entire process, from harvest and pressing to fermentation and bottling, takes place on their property, says Everett. “I use what mother nature gives us,” she says. Because of this, each batch expresses slight differences.

Soquel Cider is dry and refreshing, with aromas of apple blossoms on the nose. It’s light-bodied with a tart core, medium effervescence and a crisp finish. This classic cider is a friend to all, especially the cheese plate being nibbled while dinner is being made.

Find it at New Leaf Community Markets in Capitola, Aptos and the Westside in Santa Cruz, Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House in Soquel and Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria in Capitola. More info at everettfamilyfarm.com.

Newtown Pippin by Tanuki Cider

Single-varietal wines are common, but most of the hard ciders on the market are blends. Cider-maker Robby Honda of Tanuki Cider bucks the norm with a single-varietal cider made from 100% Newtown pippins from Five Mile Orchards in Corralitos.

Newtown pippins are one of the most popular cider apples in Santa Cruz County, and here it’s easy to see why. Light amber in color and medium-bodied, this cider is woodsy and a bit funky on the nose. This enticing bouquet draws you into a juicy core with persistent bubbles and a dry finish. Reach for Tanuki Cider Newtown Pippin (8.5% alcohol by volume, 500-milliliter bottle) if you’re roasting your turkey on the barbecue, consider mac ‘n’ cheese to be a nonnegotiable side dish or like including savory additions such as leeks, roasted squash and mushrooms with the stuffing.

You can find Tanuki ciders at grocery stores and bottle shops throughout the area. Go to tanukicider.com to find your closest supplier.

Decennium by Santa Cruz Cider Company

Santa Cruz Cider Co. released this special cider for its 10th anniversary in July. The base cider is a mixture of apples, pears and quince that comes from a cider orchard on Casserly Road in Watsonville. It was aged in the bottle for six months before it was released over the summer.

“It just keeps getting better with age,” says Natalie Henze, who owns and operates the Watsonville-based cidery with her sister, Nicole Todd. “I love the fruity esters it gets from quince and the hard pungent dryness.”

Decennium (6.9% alcohol by volume, 500-milliliter) is a dry cider but boasts expressive fruit character. Golden and medium-bodied, it has low effervescence but is balanced and fruity, with a soft finish that isn’t overly tart. Pop this cider to toast the meal with something truly special in your glass, and grab a second pour if you’re all about the sides rather than the turkey — it will pair perfectly with anything roasted coming out of the oven.

Fewer than 20 cases of this specialty cider remain. Find it at Staff of Life Markets in Santa Cruz and Watsonville and at Santa Cruz Cider Company’s Watsonville tasting room. More info at santacruzciderco.com.

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Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...