How Sweet It Is: Hard Cider and Tasting RoomsBold Rock's Mills River Cidery features a taproom, tasting bar and patioIt’s no secret North Carolina has quickly become a talked-about destination when it comes to craft beer, with currently more than 180 breweries and brewpubs. But the Tar Heel State is also seeing another drink rapidly gain popularity: cider. And make no mistake; this isn’t your office holiday party cider – hard cider to be exact.Unlike the complexity of some beers, hard cider is simply the product of apples and yeast. After fermentation (regular cider is basically pre-fermented apple juice), hard cider is then filtered and blended to the recipe style before being served to the delight of many.The rise in the number of cideries in North Carolina seems fitting, as the state ranks seventh in yearly apple production. Many of those delicious apples come out of Henderson County, which produces roughly 85 percent of all apples grown in the state. During spring, visit the Apple Country Cider Jam in Hendersonville to taste local ciders and enjoy great music in our state's largest apple-producing county. And there’s even an official cider festival, CiderFest NC in Asheville, which takes place each fall and awards ribbons for the top-produced ciders in North Carolina.Head out to one of these cidery tasting rooms to experience this burgeoning scene across the mountain and central regions of our state.Black Mountain CiderworksBlack Mountain Co-owners David Hall Bowman and Jessica Puzzo-Bowman were inspired to open Black Mountain following a trip to England several years ago. The English influences are evident with several of Black Mountain’s ciders (which rotate on a seasonal basis). Try The Puritan, which is made using a 17th-century recipe from colonial New England, featuring the wild yeasts of raisins and Good Queen Bess, a cider-lavender mead blend named for Queen Elizabeth I, who had a fondness for lavender. Black Mountain’s flagship is Pomona, a tantalizing cider that has a perfect dryness to it, and is also available to take home in bottles. The tasting room is open Monday, and Wednesday through Saturday.Noble CiderAsheville Noble prides itself on making pure hard cider “from tree to tap.” The popularity in this cidery grew so much that it expanded operations in 2015 from Fletcher to West Asheville, where it now boasts a taproom open Thursday through Sunday, complete with guided tours, where you can see apple pressings firsthand. Noble’s most popular year-round offerings are The Standard Bearer and The Village Tart, a cherry-infused cider like none other.Urban OrchardUrban Orchard Cider Company is one of two cideries with tasting rooms in AshevilleUrban Orchard CiderAsheville Just like the city where it resides, there’s no shortage of selection at Urban Orchard. First, of course, is the cider, which ranges from staples Sweet English and Dry Ridge to the more adventurous choice of Sidra del Diablo, featuring smoked habanero peppers and vanilla. Urban Orchard’s taproom offers year-round and seasonal ciders, along with guest bottles as well. Pair your favorite cider with a variety of local meat/cheese plates or baked goods to cap off your visit.Bold Rock’s Mills River CideryMills River Just minutes from Asheville, the Mills River Cidery offers an inviting patio and an expansive tasting room to enjoy any of the eight award-winning hard ciders. Take a tour of the newest facility in the Bold Rock family to learn about the local blends – Carolina Apple and Carolina Draft – and take a peek behind the cidery’s curtain at the expanded bottling line. The Tap Room is also the perfect spot for hosting your next party, fundraiser or company function.Flat Rock CiderworksFlat Rock Started by four Hendersonville businessmen with a vision of giving back to the community, Flat Rock Ciderworks is committed to its North Carolina roots – literally. The local cidery grows its own apples and blackberries, and sources other ingredients from Henderson County so the cider stays local from tree to bottle. Have a drink at the tasting room (open Thursday through Sunday) to try the popular Blackberry Gold cider. The tartness from a hint of mountain-grown blackberries makes this pleasantly different than a traditional cider.McRitchie Winery and CiderworksThurmond Wine and cider enthusiasts get the best of both worlds at McRitchie, which boasts bountiful vineyards and also sources handpicked fresh apples via the mountains in Wilkes County. McRitchie’s ciders are served in two styles – dry and semisweet – and you can enjoy them either onsite (open Thursday through Sunday) or take a bottle or two to go.Red Clay CiderworksCharlotte The Queen City’s first cidery opened to mass fanfare in July 2015. When visiting the taproom (open Wednesday through Sunday), seek out Red Clay’s crisp Queen City Common and the aptly named South End Sweet, named after the neighborhood where the cidery is located. There will always be a seasonal offering or two, and Red Clay has also wowed the local beer-loving crowd with its collaboration with nearby Birdsong Brewing and its Jalapeno Pale Ale for a beer-cider blend, Jalapacider.Bull City CiderworksDurham Locals have been, well, bullish on this cidery since it opened in 2013. While Off Main provides a crisp and drinkable offering, dig into your Southern roots and try Sweet Carolina, which is infused with local honey and Steep South, a cider cold steeped with black tea and honey that creates a refreshing sweet tea flavor. Can’t make up your mind? Try a flight, and don’t forget to check out the rotating seasonal and small batch offerings. Bull City is open Tuesday through Sunday, with tours of the cidery every Saturday.Matt McKenzie is a Charlotte-based writer who is thoroughly enjoying seeing North Carolina beer garner the national recognition it deserves.More FROM VISITNC.COMThere’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.Distill Tripping: Taste the Spirits of North CarolinaBootleggers once ran illegal spirits here, but today North Carolina has several legal distilleries around which you can plan an activity-filled weekend.A Tasty Craft Brew Tour, North Carolina StylePlan a brewery vacation with this three-day tasting tour of local breweries and craft beer spots in Asheville, Charlotte and the Triangle.15 Coffee Shops and Cafes You’ll Like a LatteNorth Carolina is filled with locally owned coffee shops, each offering a bit of homegrown flavor and insight into the cultures of our towns and cities.