In droves, brewers are returning to America's original drink of choice: cider. Greg Hall from Goose Island now runs Chicago's boutique Virtue Cider, Harpoon Brewery offers a range of ciders by the six-pack, and Heineken has taken back distribution rights for U.K.-import Strongbow.

Samuel Adams' best entry into this apple arms race is Strawman, released by its new Angry Orchard Cider House division. This is an elevated twist on the everyday cider. Influenced by the traditional farmhouse ciders of England and France, Strawman unites tannic French bittersweet apples and rich, juicy Italian culinary apples. Boston Beer Co.'s blend is then fermented with wine yeast and aged on oak.

The packaging – an ornately illustrated corked-and-caged Champagne bottle – shows that Angry Orchard is expecting this nearly wine-strength offering (10% ABV) to earn a spot at the dinner table. The flavor is just right for a meal or dessert: tart but still plenty dry with a vigorous, palate-cleansing carbonation. The oak gives the cider a touch of vanilla and toffee. Strawman has just enough sweetness to serve with apple pie, while it's crisp enough to cut through pork belly or to complement seafood. []