Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cider Review: Nine Pin Cider Works' Nine Pin Signature Blend

Nine Pin Cider Works has a neat-sounding slogan, "Be Revolutionary. Consider the apple." I'm not
100% sure that they connect those two bold phrases in the rest of their promotional copy, but they still have some punch. Tonight, I'm trying the Signature Blend and introducing the brand a bit. 

Their look is fantastic. I love the shapes and fonts and colors on the label. The bold green and generous use of brass foil is just fresh and lovely. I'm somewhat less convinced by their somewhat scattered brand identity that references Rip Van Winkle, The Revolutionary War, local appeal, and ninepin bowling. I don't think they need the complex narrative, but that's just me.

This is the most direct part of what the website says about the company in general. I'm skipping the Rip Van Winkle story bit:
Like any revolution, Nine Pin Cider was many years in the making. In 1997, Alejandro’s father is hired to paint a 32 foot rose on the brick wall side of 925 Broadway. He raises his family on a small Hudson Valley farm, encouraging a love of nature, adventure and fresh food. In 2010, Alejandro wanders into a store and is asked to sample a local hard cider. He quickly develops a passion for the drink and became an apprentice. By 2013, Alejandro has perfected his own cider blend, winning a gold medal at the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition.
A gold from GLINTCAP is nothing to sneeze at. So let's find out a bit more about the Signature Blend. The apples are all locally sourced from Samascot Orchards. That's a cool bit of provenance. Nine Pin describes this cider, "It [is] an off dry sparkling cider with a crisp, bold, and refreshing taste." That doesn't tell me much. 6.7% ABV which is pretty typical for a commercially available craft cider. 

The best way for me to investigate more at this point will be to simply drink and report.

Appearance: palest celadon green gold, brilliant, active visible bubbles

Nine Pin's Signature blend looks quite pale and brilliant in the glass. It has a subtle but lovely shade that blends green and gold. Very fine bubbles play up to the surface of the liquid. I can see them  immediately after the cider is poured, and they continue for some time.

Aromas: vinous, overripe apple, lots of fruit

I enjoy the Signature Blend's slightly sweet vinous aroma. It contains overripe apples, blackberries, pears, dried apricots, just tons of fruit. At the end I get the barest hint of minerals. It smells like it could be a bit sweeter than the off dry that the company describes it with. Now to taste...

Sweetness: Semi-sweet

This cider is semi-sweet. I'm guessing Nine Pin Cider wants to differentiate its first offering from most industrial ciders with that label. This is a fine idea because this cider does not taste like the increasing range of offerings in grocery store six packs that are sweet and lacking in character. Nine Pin's Signature Blend has plenty of fruit and freshness in its semi-sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: tart, easy drinking, fine bubbles

I really enjoy the Signature Blend's fine champagne style bubbles. The cider has lots of fun crisp tartness, like green apples. The mouthfeel is thick but not quite syrupy. It drinks easy with flavors of white chocolate,  and fruit. I taste medium high levels of acidity and no tannins to speak of. Overall, the cider is pleasant and fun.

I'd happily recommend this cider both to long time cider fans and new drinkers of cider. It would make a perfect picnic or brunch cider. Drink with quiche and croissants and plenty of lively conversation!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Uncle John's Cider: American 150

At GLINTCAP, I got to meet Mike Beck who graciously helps put the event together and hosts so many cider folks. He does so much for the cider community all over the United States. He's also the man behind Uncle John's Cider. Part of his graciousness extended to sending me home with a whole lotta samples! So, I'm thrilled to be reviewing quite a few Uncle John's Ciders over the next few months. This is the best way to really get to know a cider company in my opinion. Try the whole line up but interspersed with other brands.

Uncle John's Cider Mill is a huge destination in Michigan apple country. It is farm, a cider mill, a restaurant, a winery, a distillery, and more. The company has many faces, but the one most relevant to us is Uncle John's Fruit House Winery from St. Johns, Michigan. This is the right part of the website to visit to find out more about the ciders:

Read about the new distribution deal that will be bringing Uncle John's cider to a lot more locations right here: Five of the ciders will become available in the Chicago area before too long, but sadly tonight's cider is not a part of that list. Tonight I'm trying the American 150.

Here's the official description right off of the bottle:
Now that you have come to love our initial line of ciders, it is time to introduce this line of specialty ciders -- made from fruit that is unique in nature, and is not always available publicly. American 150 is a blend of 6 classic American Heirloom varieties that have been a part of apple growing in America for at least 150 years. The apples used in this cider include: Baldwin, Grimes Golden Northern Spy, Winesap, Winter Banana and Rhode Island Greening. Fermented in stainless steel and oak barrels American 150 is an extra dry cider
I love this description because it names the apples used in this particular cider. Several of these are particular favorites of mine, most notably Rhode Island Greening and Northern Spy. The latter lends excellent aromas in spades and the former just tastes like golden summer goodness. One last fact: the ABV of this cider is 6.5%. Nothing too extreme in either direction.

Appearance: hazy, quickly disappearing foam, creamy golden color

This cider has sediment in the bottle, so it must be stored upright. Even so, it doesn't pour brilliant, which in my mind is just fine. I have no particular preference between brilliant, hazy, and cloudy. In color, this one looks like a creamy gold to me. A touch of lacy foam appears as the cider is poured but it quickly vanishes.

Aromas: ripe apples, hints of spice, citrus, stone

This makes my mouth water.  Something about this smell hints at lively acidity and a hint of sweetness, but I'm not putting my finger on exactly what says that to me.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

The sweetness is not the most notable factor about this cider. On the other hand, it is not extra dry to my palate though it is labelled that way on the bottle. I imagine for many new cider drinkers or those who prefer a sweeter cider, this might seem quite dry. For me, I notice a fair amount of fruit character and acidity but along with a little bit of sweet. Just a little though.

Flavors and drinking experience: Some petillance, plenty of acidity, medium tannins.

I really enjoyed this cider tremendously. The level of carbonation is just perfect for enjoying with a meal; it isn't distracting, but it also doesn't let the cider slip by so fast that you accidentally finish a bottle without realizing it. Quite an important balance to strike. I enjoyed the acidity which is sometimes a stumbling block for me. Lots of serious cider drinkers like more acidity than I do, but this showed verve and brightness without getting too aggressive. Medim levels of tannins and sweetness. This is very much an heirloom cider with lots of the Northern Spy and Rhode Island Greening characteristics that I relish.

I enjoyed my cider with too many pieces of veggie pizza, and I have no regrets whatsoever. The American 150 is a well balanced cider with plenty of flavor and character. I'd pair it with heartier foods, especially anything with a creamy or cheesy element. The acidity can really shine in that kind of pairing. As for activities, just eat, drink, and be merry.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cider Review: Sonoma Cider The Anvil (Bourbon)

 Though I'm still bursting with excitement over GLINTCAP, I need a bit more time to collect my thoughts and photos. Nonetheless, I've been tasting a ton of ciders lately and didn't want to neglect my review writing just because my cider adventures have been so varied as of late.

So tonight I'm reviewing my first Sonoma Cider out of Healdsburg, California. This is the only cider company I've ever seen with a nod from Forbes Magazine as a particularly promising start up company. Here's the link: Sonoma's homepage and their whole graphic presence is very bold and clear. It is a clean look with a lot of appeal. You can find out a lot more information on the brand and its founders on the website: I'm also definitely noticing the amount of emphasis I see that these guys are putting on the organic certification of the cider. That is a pretty unusual claim, I can imagine why they are proud of it.

On a recent visit to Kentucky, I scoured several bottle shops in Lousville to check out their cider selections. It has become almost a tradition by this point. This is also why when I saw a new cider brand, Sonoma I had to try their bourbon offering first. When in Kentucky, I simply must honor my home state's patron beverage in some small way. So bourbon cider it will be.

In this highly unusual promotional description, Sonoma Cider owns up to using flavor instead of other more traditional methods give their organic apple cider an aura of bourbon. See for yourself exactly how they spin it.
David and Robert both love bourbon. We mean love bourbon. Maybe that’s why they didn’t beat around the bush here. Sure, you can age subtly in bourbon barrels. And subtlety is sometimes enough. But, with the Anvil, the real spark ignited when we tossed nuance aside and added a healthy measure of our proprietary barrel-proof bourbon flavor. Suddenly, something intense, alive and memorable happened. To our palates, it offers a clean, lively, aromatic presence with a layered smoky finish. It’s truly integrated and rounded, yet vitally distinct. Enjoy.
I actually really appreciate the honesty, but I'm still not sure that I'm on board for this particular method of producing cider. I'll see how it tastes though and let that be my guide.

Appearance: caramel, brilliant, no bubbles

Sonoma's Anvil Cider has a deep dark color, unlike most ciders. It really looks the color of caramel candy or butterscotch. I see no visible bubbles of note either rising through the cider or clinging to the rim of the glass. The clarity is absolutely brilliant; I can read text through it easily though it is an unusually intense color for a cider.

Aromas: ripe ripe apples,

This cider smells so luscious. I really enjoy how much I can smell apples distinctly. Secondarily, The Anvil smells like stones and caramel. I can also just barely find notes that remind me of  freshly cut lumber and underripe blueberries. Really neat smells.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet

This definitely qualifies as semi-sweet. I can taste a few different sweet elements within The Anvil but they are never overwhelming. I think the level of sweetness actually puts this in a more moderate spot than many many ciders which can either veer very sweet or bone dry. Not a bad position at all.

Flavors and drinking experience: faceted, some facets good others weird

Wow! This is totally distinct and oddly faceted. I experience three distinct phases of taste each time I take a drink of this cider. My first impression is immediately of fruit and carbonation. This is the most typical of cider. The second taste is a bit weirder; I can taste more bourbon, smoke and candy. This is where the "bourbon flavor" comes through. Then after the big show, I can taste a slow finish of limestone. The tastes never truly meld; it is always a parade of three impressions. Overall the Anvil is not overly bourbony. I sincerely enjoy the beautiful long finish of minerality. Sadly, the weird second phase actually reminds me of Grape Nerds.

Okay, the jury is still out on an openly flavored cider. It did certainly exceed my expectations. There are some ciders that use or invoke bourbons much too strongly, and this is not one of them. On the other hand, I do enjoy a more holistic experience rather than three distinct tastes that never come together. I really wasn't into the mid-palate of that experience either. Interesing. I can certainly say that this cider is interesting.

Make up your own mind. But I'd suggest making it up by trying it rather than just guessing. That's the lesson I learned from this cider.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Driving out for GLINTCAP judging...and sharing something new

I'm so pleased and grateful for the opportunity I get this weekend to help judge the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP). We have the most entries in the history of the competition and it should be an amazing experience. You can read about the group and their activities here:

Saturday, I get an eight hour training in detecting faults and flaws in cider. This is something I've worked with some at Bellwether, but I'm beyond excited to increase my cider knowledge in this way. Then on Sunday, I'll be judging cider all day long with some of the best in North America and beyond. I feel floored and grateful to be included. Thanks so much to my readers, you guys helped make this possible.

In other apple and cider news...

This is a picture of me taken yesterday at Model Citizen Tattoo in Ithaca, NY. And yes that is an apple tattoo.

I wanted to celebrate my love of apples and cider. I've been tempted to get an apple related tattoo since 2004, the year my grandmother passed away. She and my papaw grew apples and throughout my entire childhood, she would pick and cut her home-grown yellow apples as a special shared snack. I thought of the idea again and again, as cider became a big part of my interests and again as this blog developed. So, for many many reasons, I finally got the apple tattoo I've wanted.

This is is the line work. My artist will add color in a few weeks. For now though, time to pack!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cider Review: Naked Flock Citra

I'm back to reviewing a New York state cider as my beautiful state gets pummeled with more winter weather. I know March isn't actually part of spring for upstate New York, so I'm reminding myself of what's great about New York with a cider made from 100% NY Hudson Valley apples. I'm returning to Naked Flock for their Citra cider. But someday, someday, it will actually be warm again here.
My previous reviews of Naked Flock Ciders feature their Original (check out the review here: ) and their Draft ciders (which can be found right here: .

Naked Flock's Citra does not appear on their webpage. I was able to get a small official description but it does not give much information, "Naturally fermented from fresh pressed Hudson Valley Apples, not concentrate. It is unpasteurized with no colorants, malts, spirits or grape alcohol added. Fermented with Champagne yeast and flavored with Citra hops." You can read more about the cidery here, but be forewarned that the information is limited: 

I'd actually recommend skipping the Naked Flock website and instead using their Facebook page for current information. This page does get updated regularly and features tastings and events as well as product information:

Okay! On to the cider!

Appearance: hazy very light yellow

This very bubbly cider looks like a perfect real lemonade in the glass. Light yellow and hazy with plenty of bubbles. Hazy ciders, including this one, can be so lovely. I wish more cider makers would not fear anything shy of brilliant clarity.

Aromas: no apple, only hops

Citra offers many exciting and zesty smells, but none of them are apple of any kind. This tends to be a characteristic of hopped ciders. No apple on the aroma and varied levels of apple in the ciders taste. What I did taste however was really varied, fresh, and exciting.  Aromas of fresh mint, lime, yellow green grass, and just bold summery freshness were all over the place. Mouthwatering good smells.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

Definitely the driest of the Naked Flock cider's I've tried. Perhaps I'm not tasting sweetness much in this one in particular because I am tasting so many other flavors, but this is definitely a cider that will work for those of us who are not very big fans of sweetness in cider.

Flavors and drinking experience: Big citrus, acidity, other fruits, refreshing

Like many hopped ciders the Citra by Naked Flock tastes gorgously of lemons, limes, and grapefruits. My husband and assistant cider taster Alex noticed Lychee. I think he's right. The cider is super acidic, but I expected that because all Naked Flock ciders have very high levels of acidity. I think it works better in the Citra. This has to be my favorite Naked Flock so far and by a wide margin.

For food pairing recommendations, I have to go with a sandwich and awesome kettle cooked potato chips. The saltiness of chips and wonderful varieties of texture in a truly good sandwich will complement zesty and refreshing flavors of Naked Flock's Citra. I had a chickpea patty with mayo, tomato, and avocado with mine and it worked out beautifully. I'd also pair this cider with whatever makes you feel warm if you're going to drink it during cold weather. Ideally though this is a summer cider meant for drinking after hikes, by lakes, or after pick up summer games of kickball, Ultimate Frisbee, or what have you. For this not-so-athletic person, I'd drink mine after a big hike. In any case, I can whole-heartedly recommend the Citra!  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cider Review: AppelTreow Barnswallow Draft Cider

Winter is a busy time for the cider industry and for us hardcore fans. This sounds weird and the exact opposite of what most folks would expect because cider is a fermented agricultural product and so when things aren't growing we should be less busy. But this isn't the case because cider fits so many acitivites into this "off" season that winter has definitely caught up to spring and summer. People do tremendous amounts of orchard maintenance, planning, fermenting, tasting, competing and selling in the winter. Lately, I've been pleasantly embroiled in a few of these activities myself, and it's pretty neat stuff.

During a brief break, I did get to try cider from a part of the United States whose ciders I know much less well. I found a bottle of AeppelTreow's Barnswallow Draft cider. AeppelTroeow comes from its own winery/cidery/distillery in Wisconsin. You can read a bit about the products and processes on the company's website: The website has some useful information, but it is a bit more perfunctory than inspiring. More thrillingly, they do have a tasting room, so one can go visit AeppelTreow when in Wisconsin.

In looking at how AeppelTreow describes its own identity as a cider producer, here is the bullet list of points they emphasize online.
  • Use of locally grown fruits and crops.
  • Use of special purpose, heirloom cultivars.
  • A minimalist production approach
  • A lighter style that lets the subtle flavors come through.
I love how specific this list is. It really gives me a set of expectations for the cider and for their brand. Beyond the list, this is what AppelTreow says about themselves: "We back up this philosophy with great carry-through resulting is very drinkable products. We support it with a lot of education about apple and cider history, fruit growing, even politics and chemistry." A cider maker that focuses on  educating folks about cider! Count me in. I'm really hoping that their cider lives up to the high expectations I've formed based on their promotional materials. These folks just seem like people I'd really like a lot. Hopefully there cider will be a likeable. 

So the cider I'm trying today is AeppelTreow's Barnswallow Draft Cider.

Here's what they say about it: "Crisp and refreshing, Green apple, tart, slightly bubbly." Followed by another of their bullet point lists.
  • Body: Smooth
  • Sweetness: 2
  • Tartness: 5
  • Alcohol: 6%
  • Apples: Red Delicious, Cortland, Ida Red, Greenings
  • Available: 750mL, 5.16 gallon keg
This is the part where I'm definitely now sure what scale they're using or exactly what those numbers mean. But I do know those apples and three out of those four are really ones I adore in cider. Greenings are especially lovely.

Appearance: Brilliant, topaz, beautiful tiny bubbles on the glass

Apologies for the cheesiness of  using my husband's music paper for a cider shot, but I couldn't resist. The cider shows total brilliance, not even a hint of haze. The color is an intense definite topaz. More yellow than many ciders but a shade more leaning into green than orange, still a relatively pale non-green yellow. This seems perfect for a November birthday girl like me. Though the photo doesn't show them perfectly, this cider does have tight little bubbles that cling to the glass.

Aromas: applesauce, overripe apples,  sweet

Smells like one of the apples involved was brought in especially for aroma. I'd guess that to be one of the dessert varieties, either the Red Delicious or the Cortland. Both provide good aroma to cider. Perhaps yeast and baking smells are a distance second. Very approachable.

Sweetness: Semi-dry or Dry with a semi-sweet finish

I agree with AeppelTreow that their ciders tend dry, but so does my palate. The start of this even has some pleasant bitterness. But by the finish, I can taste a lot more fruit and it becomes a bit sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: bittersweet, medium low acid, mellow

I know I said a variation of this before when talking about sweetness, but it matters here too. A first sip of this cider starts with a bittersweet note that unfolds into mellow fruits. I really enjoy how it develops even in one sip. The fruits are soft and warm yet tart: like a tart apple you've let warm in your jacket pocket while taking a spring walk. Sorry to get a bit imagistic, but that's what it made me think.

The finish and aftertaste are sweet but subtle. It really does balance tartness and sweetness well. The level of carbonation is not as aggressive as even some craft producers which should suit lots of cider fans quite well as well as making the cider more appealing to those who don't usually drink cider.

AeppelTreow's Barnswallow is definitely a cider I'd drink again. I'd also happily bring it to a social gathering, though that might be a touch awkward because I have no idea how to say the cidery's name. Alas. In terms of food pairings this is a really flexible cider. You could have it with a creamy soup like I did. It worked really well that way. Or you could have it with something more casual like a hearty sandwich and good salty chips. I think the tart yet sweet combo means that many different foods would pair tastily with this cider. This makes me even more excited to try their other options.

For right now, I'd suggest drinking this cider with dinner and then bringing a second glass to the couch with a flower or seed catalog. This is the perfect time of year for dreaming of planting and planning a garden, and this cider seems just right for a little day dreaming. Happy March!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cider Review: Original Sin Hard Cider's Premium Apple Cider

Lately, I've been a very social creature, and this means going out to restaurants and bars with friends for conversation and merriment. Fun, yes? Yes! But, this isn't always easy for the dedicated cider drinker. I don't always have any cider option at all, or if I do there will be between one and three very familiar choices. For two of my recent escapades, I've had the option of Original Sin Cider and I've chosen it. It amazes me actually that I've not yet reviewed their flagship cider because it is frequently my favorite option when I go out. A restaurant served it to me in a bottle and a local institution of a bar poured mine from their tap. So, my notes for this particular review come from both bottled and draft versions of Original Sin Cider.

Original Sin's official Brand Description gives the briefest of overviews of their history and priorities as a company, "Original Sin is a critically acclaimed cider launched in 1997. From day one we’ve been committed to producing premium quality cider using the finest ingredients. Original Sin contains no artificial flavors or colors allowing the natural qualities of the apple to speak for itself."  What this does not detail is the really interesting New York City and New York State connections of the company or its unique brand identity largely shaped by the graphic design by R. Black. You can read more about these elements and other at Original Sin's website:

A while ago I did review their Newtown Pippin: and their Elderberry: It feels like an oversight at this point not to have reviewed a cider that I drink regularly and that is far more available than many of the ciders I try. Folks can buy Original Sin in more than 30 states in the U.S.

I do with that Original Sin's official cider description gave me a bit more to work with, but here's what it says, "Dry Traditional cider, fermented with two types of Champagne yeast." I'm glad to hear about the yeast varieties. Traditional is not really a useful term at this point in American cider. Anyhow, on the review!

Appearance: brilliant, straw, lots of fairly active bubbles

I can't see it very well when this cider is served in the bottle, so I saved my photos for its appearance on tap. The color is a classic pale straw. Completely brilliant. Plenty of bubbles that are fairly fine and very active in the glass.

Aroma: cooked apples, sweetness, yeast, vanilla

What I can smell most strongly is exactly baked apple. Secondarily I can detect a blendy smell of yeast and vanilla. The overall impression is very much like a bakery! On some sniffs I could detect a tiny chemical after smell, Alex thought a touch vinegar, but to me it was a bit more bleachy. Overall definitely a sweet smell.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet to sweet

Much less sweet than the smell would imply. Oddly enough the sweetness of this cider seemed to vary for me based on vessel from which I quaffed it. From the bottle, I'd call it a semi-sweet but from a pint glass it tasted more sweet. Perhaps that could also have to do with having the bottled Original Sin with fish and chips or with super salty popcorn which was how I enjoyed my pint glass. I also totally acknowledge that my tastes have gone pretty extreme in terms of finding nearly everything either sweet or semi-sweet. It is a flaw in my personal calibration. Oh well.

Flavors and drinking experience: clean, balanced, low tannins, low acidity, green walnuts

This is a mass-market cider which means that crazy levels of tannins or acidity are just not part of the picture. What's great about it though is that this cider is smooth and balanced and clean. I also love that the smell and the taste offer two very  It somehow reminds me of greenness and pleasantly under-ripe fruit. It has a freshness like that to it. Very clean finish with hints of bitter apple skins, most of the sweetness is on the initial taste after which it backs off. I am reminded of green grapes and green walnuts, but nothing too sharp.

As if it wasn't apparent by now, this is my preferred bar cider. I don't really buy it to drink at home; that's where I imbibe my rare and exotic pretties. But, this is my top choice when I'm out and meeting friends, playing games, or eating salty bar snacks. That is exactly what this cider was designed for, and it does the job very very well.