Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cider Review: Black Diamond's Solstice

Today I've a really exciting local review and some fun news! The weather is gorgeous. Apple season is starting, so its a good day to taste something grown close to home. I chose Black Diamond's Solstice. This is a still cider made from late harvest apples, so I'll consider this a preview.

Black Diamond is the small family cidery of Ian and Jackie Merwin. They have a 150+ variety strong orchard near Trumansburg, New York. This is firmly Finger Lakes territory and my own cider backyard. Though the cidery dates back to 2003, the Merwins contribution to cider goes back far longer and stretches broadly. Dr. Merwin taught Pomology at Cornell University, and I've met former students who still rave about his classes years later.

You can find amazing information about Black Diamond on the Finger Lakes Cider House website: http://www.fingerlakesciderhouse.com/black-diamond/

And even more on the Black Diamond website: https://www.blackdiamondcider.com

I give more background about this Finger Lakes Orchard Cidery in previous reviews:

But today, I'm in the mood for a still cider: Solstice. Full disclosure, this bottle was a review sample shared by the cidermaker. As always, that doesn't sway my opinions about a cider. 

Black Diamond's official description reads, “Solstice Still Cider is a blend of late harvest Golden and Roxbury Russets, Hudson's Gem, Chisel Jersey, Dabinett, Brown Snout, Porters Perfection and GoldRush apples. Its flavors are ripe and round, with aromas of roasted nuts and cinnamon, and a tantalizing complex finish. Solstice is still and bone dry (0.0% R.S.), with crisp acidity (pH=3.5, TA=7.6 g/L) and soft, dense tannins.” ABV 7.2%

Appearance: bright jeweler's gold, brilliant, still

This looks like a still cider with bright rich color and great clarity.

Aromas: caramel, overripe apple, limestone

Ooooh, these aromas give me chills. I smell overripe apples, sun warmed rocks, late summer dust, and just a hint of caramel. These are all smells that I associate with rich tannic cider. We'll see if their promise delivers.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

Yes, this cider is dry. Its fruity and beautiful and complex. Its also uncompromisingly dry. Yes, please!

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, high tannin, rich, and complex

My nose did not deceive me and neither did Solstice. This still cider tastes acidic enough, it seems almost sparkling. But, its important to note that those high acids are balanced with high tannins. The Solstice comes across as astonishing and rich. Some flavors are darkly fruity or remind me of baking spices even though the cider isn't sweet. The ABV does impact my perception; the cider has a big slightly boozy mouthfeel. I don't know if this cider had anything to do with a barrel in its life, but something feels slightly and pleasanty barrely about the Solstice. The finish is lingering and the cider's mouth coat is decadent.

In terms of strict flavor notes, Solstice tempts us with spices and dried flowers. Though its structurally tannic, this cider also tastes warm and delicate.

I had Solstice with a modified Cobb Salad, lots of smoked salmon, and friends. It was our first dinner in their new house, and it could not have been more ideal. The cider, the food, and the company made for an entirely delightful evening. But, to be a bit more food specific, the salad was a bed of romaine covered with wedges of cut veggies and toppings: asparagus spears, blue cheese, boiled eggs, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, and smoked salmon.

So, the other thing I wanted to share today is that I'm going to San Francisco!

A vacation? Not exactly, I'm travelling to judge for the Good Food Awards.

This organization awards foods in a growing number of categories that combine tastiness with ethical and responsible production. Truly good foods as it were. I feel totally honored to be invited to judge along with some of my favorite cider friends. If you're coming, say hi!

Read more about all 15 categories here: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/

The blind tasting is September 17th, but I'm counting down the days already!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cider Review: Embark Craft Ciderworks The Crab Series Vol 1

After a week of bright heat in Ithaca, I am welcoming the shelter of clouds and the possibility of rain. August brings an unpredictability to the weather that feels a bit less risky than the ups and downs of spring. I love it. Changes in weather allow me to switch up my cider routine while still choosing my beverages to suit the season.

Today that means skipping some of the extras I've been enjoying in my cider all summer and just highlighting apples. This time, I'm after some of my favorite apples, crab apples. I want to find out if these fruit consistently bring both acidic sharpness and depth of flavor. Today's review is Embark Craft Ciderworks Crab Series Volume 1.

But, before we get to the cider, I'd like to share a bit about Embark Craft Ciderworks. This cidery grew from Lagoner Farms, now in its 5th generation of family ownership. The orchard was founded in 1909. Embark has two cidermakers: Jacob Lagoner and Chris Gowan. Their introduction talks a fair bit about apples, local food, and history, but also gives a nod to the cidery that inspired Embark: Farnum HillCiders. Their output looks to have expanded a bit beyond that inspiration though as Embark has released fruit blended and hopped ciders as well as a range of purely apple ciders.

You can read more about at their website:

Now, The Crab Series Volume 1.

Here's Embark's official description:

The first release in The Crab Series, this is a unique dry cider. It expresses flavors from three different crabapple varieties, balanced out with the sweetness of Tolman Sweet and mildness of Rome Beauty apples. It has a dark golden color and a flavor that lingers as you drink it. A nice amount of tannins and balanced acidity make this the cider makers’ drink of choice.
Awards: Bronze, New World Cider - Heritage Category, The Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition (2015)

Appearance: harvest gold, brilliant bubbly

This cider looks darkly sparkling. The bubbles glint with gold in a brilliant cider. Yes, this cider is inspiringly pretty.

Aromas: honey, red currants, fermentation, minerality

There's a lot happening in this cider when I bring my nose to it. At first the Crab Series smells honeyed but also red currants and ripe apples. Secondarily I can smell a bit of clean sourdough. Lastly, in the background, there's hints of funky minerality that almost remind me of a resting tractor on a summer afternoon.

Sweetness dryness: off dry to semi dry

The Crab Series' label indicates that the cider will be a semi-dry, but this feels on the dry end of semi-dry, even off dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, multiple kinds of fruit, some tannins

Wow! This is a fantastic cider. It tastes golden and rich but interesting and zippy. This is a lithe and active cider that reminds me of lots of summery white wines. It gives plentiful tropical fruit notes like pineapple, rich and yummy. I do so love what crab apples can do for cider.

As I hoped, the crab apples in this cider make themselves known with ongoing sharp zesty acidity and some tannic presence. As I drink this cider, there's spreading warmth and red fruit notes that just woo me. The tannins and acidity combine to great mouthfeel.

Let's keep the pairings seasonal, even knowing that with a cider like this, one has options. I'd happily serve this cider with tomato pie, corn and pepper chowder, or even just pita and homemade hummus (don't skimp on the olive oil, that's what makes it good). I had mine while watching an impressive thunderstorm from an attic window. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cider Review: Alpenfire Cider's Flame

This week's review is something a little different and a little special. Every year at CiderCon, I meet all sorts of folks who are just as obsessed with cider as I am. Its amazing. During CiderCon 2016, I was chatting with a new friend about super dry ciders when he pulls a bottle out of his backpack to send home with me. It was one of the last of a batch made a while earlier. 

I stored the cider in my cellar (dry basement) until this past winter. Now, with long days and warm temperatures, I feel the need to return to that winter night and Alpenfire Cider's Flame.

But before we get into the cider itself, I'd love to share a bit about Alpenfire. This is a small organic cidery out of Washington state and one with more history than many. Founders Nancy and Steve Bishop planted their orchard in 2003 and started harvesting organic apples in 2008, though the owners had dreamt of cider making for much longer. 

Find out more at the website: http://alpenfirecider.com

Today's review is of Flame. This is how it is described,"A true 'Methode Champenoise' cider. Made Primarily with Fox-whelp and Muscadet de Dieppe apples. We use Champagne traditions to develop a crackling carbonation with bright acidity and dryness."

Right now, this cider isn't available as it hasn't been made in a few years, but take heart. It's coming back in September. The bottles are currently awaiting riddling and disgorging. As any fan of champagne or champagne style ciders knows; there are a tremendous number of touches and steps necessary to make this style of beverage. 

I wrote back and forth with Nancy; she encouraged me to consider the age of the cider, and I think she's completely correct. Most ciders, even method champenoise, aren't meant to be aged. We don't have a ton of data about cider aging, so please keep that in mind and try the new one when it comes out!

Appearance: warm straw, brilliant, bubbly

The Flame looks bubbly like a champagne when poured

Aromas: ripe apples, boozy, wood

The aromas of this cider remind me of warmed or even cooked apples, lots of yeasty fermented notes, and some wood. The smells are also a bit caramelized and softened, like apple pie but both fresh and boozy rather than sweet

Sweetness/dryness: Brut indeed

The flame is so very very dry, it says extra brut and they're not lying. This is the sort of dryness that I get excited about!

Flavors and drinking experience: complex woody flavors, high tannins, high acid

The Flame wows the drinker right away with lots of lingering complex woody flavors, both green and smoky, hence the flame name perhaps. This cider offers up medium high acidity and very high tannins. I can certainly taste those special cider apples! At this age, the cider remains bubbly but not so much as it probably was a year or two ago.

Flame exhibits a nice wet mouthfeel that plays well with the cider's dryness. I found it a little acetic but that was more than balanced out with lots of minerals. I can certainly taste that 8% ABV. It is a boozy cider.

Eating dark chocolate mint cake with this dry tannic pleaser goes shockingly well. I'd not necessarily have predicted that particular pairing but it was lovely.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cider Review: Bulwark Traditional Craft Cider Original

The time has come to confess. I'm itching for travel. Many of my friends have camped, flown, or driven out to adventure in the last few months, while I've mostly stayed put. Today though I have a cider that traveled for me. What a fun way to taste another cider making tradition and another place, in this case I'll vicariously experience Nova Scotia through Bulwark Cider's Original.

Bulwark is appearing in this blog for the first time today. My friend Eric (of CiderGuide) sent me a bottle after I helped him out. Thank you, Eric! and this isn't one I would ordinarily be able to find easily. Bulwark produces cider in Nova Scotia, where they are affiliated with a winery. On the website, I read about their “5 Signature Apple Blend” including, Macintosh, Cortland, Russet, Honeycrisp, and Northern Spy. These are eating apples, but Northern Spy goes into a number of my favorite ciders. 

You can find out much more about Bulwark Cider on their website: https://bulwarkcider.com/

Or visit their Facebook page to see what's happening: https://www.facebook.com/bulwarkcider/

One reason to visit the website is to see what Bulwark says about sweetness and to check out their really great graphic that lays out the relative acidity, tannins, and sweetness of each of their ciders in one great graphic. (https://bulwarkcider.com/ciders)

About the Original, I'll let Bulwark introduce it.
Our signature cider, Bulwark Original, is a hand-crafted traditional cider, which is dry, crisp, and refreshing. 
It has a faint hint of spice followed by the Bulwark Original signature flavour that is achieved through our careful blending of five varieties of freshly-pressed Nova Scotia apples grown in the famed Annapolis Valley. 
The dry start is quite complex without the intense sharpness often associated with many traditional dry ciders. It moves quickly from dry to an almost wine-like and slightly mineral fruitiness before relaxing into a nutty floral finish. Great on its own or on ice!

Everyone knows how I feel about ice, but the rest of this is plenty intriguing.

Appearance: Brilliant, medium straw, lots of small visible bubbles

This cider looks fairly traditional, nice medium straw color, great clarity and some real bubble action. The picture fails to show the clarity because of the glass fogging, but its there.

Aromas: vinous, apple, plum, cold

What an interesting range of aromas, I get apples, plums, grapes, and some sense of cold. There's something rocky and mineral about the smell. The fermentation notes remind me specifically of wine, but there's also something a bit blunt in the background that's hard to describe.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

The Original initially tastes sweeter than I expected, but that balances out quickly. It doesn't have a sweet finish. 

Flavors and drinking experience: Floral, spicy, caramel, high acid

The cider offers up high acid without necessarily being tart. There's a fermented flavor and a concentration of flavor that are unusual.

I really enjoy the Bulwark Original's caramel richness, particularly because it is balanced by chilled stone fruits. There's some spicy cooked apple notes as well. Its Floral, warm, and like the description promises, nutty. That's a lot going on, though the cider is not mediated with flashy additives, its different.

Overall, the cider has medium body, medium bubble and a clean fermentation, but one that still imparts character to the finished drink. The Bulwark is quite satisfying, and I love the subtle ways in which it surprised me. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cider Review: Eastman's Forgotten Ciders' The Mad Russian

These are the weeks when lots of folks travel or move. Yes, its hot, but I love the quiet of staying in town through upstate's high summer. Things slow down; I walk on nearly desert college campuses in evenings. I watch the backyard wildlife from my porch, usually with a cider. Today's cider is a red cider from Michigan, another hard to find cider I obtained by trading with Darlene Hayes of Cider Cocktails: Another Bite of the Apple. Thanks again, Darlene!

This is The Mad Russian by Eastman's Forgotten Ciders. This small cidery comes from Wheeler, Michigan; it grew out of a specialty orchard, Eastman's Antique Apples. The company cares tremendously about heritage apples and the history of hard cider. This is part of how they introduce themselves:
We aim to produce cider reminiscent of our forefathers and founders - when cider was safer than water and the preferred drink of presidents and farm workers alike. We are enjoying a return to drinking cider across the nation and country, and look forward to providing this unique beverage with a great history and taste.
Find out more about them on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EastmansForgottenCiders/

This will be my first review of anything by Eastman's Forgotten Ciders. The Mad Russian's official descriptions vary on the bottle and on various beverage rating websites, but the bottle's promotional copy was too entertaining not to share.
Driven into a fit of rage from running out of this blood-red hard cider, The Mad Russian has lived up to his nickname. The crisp red cider is concocted from a combination of Russian red-fleshed, crab and heirloom apple varieties- leading to its red state. This semidry, tart cider will kick you in the teeth with its taste and drive you into a madness for wanting more. Go ahead and try a glass; just make sure you have enough to keep your sanity.
Now, let's find out how this Mad Russian tastes. 

Appearance: Brilliant, ruby, ringed with bubbles

There's no mistaking this color for anything other than deep ruby red. Though the color shines red, the cider is brilliant. My picture shows the ring of bubbles.

Aromas: grapes, tart cherries, apples, peaches and plums

Just bringing my face near the glass shows off how much this cider smells like plums, grapes, tart cherries, along with apples and peach. It offers tons of fruit. It doesn't smell exactly like unfermented through there, there's that hint of extra tart acid and some zing that tell me this will be real cider and not juice.

Sweetness/dryness: dry

Ooh! This cider isn't sweet. It has almost everything going for it without any sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, med-high tannin, fruity

The Mad Russian tastes excitingly bitter, dry, and astringent. This is a serious cider! It's tart but not in the pointed or sharp way of many Finger Lakes dry ciders. Its dry while being fruity and tannic! T
hese tannins take a moment to unfold, but they are here.The overall effect is massively stimulating and fun. This cider hits with acid right away but then backs off. 

I love finding ciders like this that remain fruity and dry.  I find this refreshing and rare. To speak more specifically about the fruit flavors; they shine as bright slightly under-ripe fruit- maybe a little nutty. This cider has a light body and medium high bubble.

You could pair this cider with anything rich and full bodied. I recommend a pairing of pasta with cream sauce and Game of Thrones for this equality surprising and rewarding cider. High drama television deserves a show stopping cider, and this one can deliver.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cider Review: Wyndfall Artisan Cyder Root River American Session Style Cider

I've been saving some really fun stuff for the summer, and not just canned ciders or hopped ciders. Those are fantastic, and you'll see more of them from me regularly, but summer brings out my inner fruit monster. I really enjoy my fruit blended ciders most with lighter summer foods or relaxing on my porch.

Today I'm trying my first Wyndfall Artisan Cyder. These folks are apple growers and cider makers in Minnesota. Today I'm reviewing their  Root River American Session Style Cider: something I got to take home from CiderCon. I've been waiting a while, but now just as raspberries are ripe here, I wanted to taste a raspberry cider.

Here's what I read about the cidery and orchard from the bottle itself. I think it gets at their identity very clearly, "Our cyders are produced with sustainably grown fruit on the family orchard in the blufflands of southeast Minnesota. Heritage variety apples add complexity and flavor you won't find in other ciders. Growing apples naturally can be challenging, but what you get in the bottle is simple: the purest cyder, the terroir of the Upper Mississippi River Valley"

Find out some more on the website: http://www.wyndfallcyder.com/

or on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wyndfallcyder/

"As for this particular cider, this is how the folks at Wyndfall describe it, Refreshingly tart, a forward fruitiness is balanced with a light sweetness to be everything a sweet Cyder should be, and nothing more." 6% ABV

Appearance: many warm hues, brilliant, few visible  bubbles

The cider is brilliant and its colors myriad: pink, orange, salmon copper, and rose gold.

Aromas: Raspberry, cherry, tart fruits, apple

This cider smells  very directly of raspberry,  with other bright tart fruit aromas like pie cherries and green apples.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

This cider is described as sweet on the label, and I'm used to sweetness being undersold. This was the opposite. There's a ton of acid, so the sweetness is definitely kept in check and works well at this level.

Flavors and drinking experience: very sparkly, semi-sweet, high acid, fruity

Ooh neat, I love how the Root River tastes cold and just sweet enough. ( I am completely for real when I say this tastes semi-sweet, tops.) That's certainly due to the high acid which give it a bright and zesty character that's not painfully zingy.

The Root River entertains with a good level of sparkle. The cider finishes up with one nice warm note at the end: perhaps cinnamon? I get lots and lot of raspberry. But that's not the only fruit presence, apple and grapefruit show up too. Flavors also include a little hint of wood. 

I find the Root River exceedingly drinkable, while not lacking depth or interest. There's an herbaceous aura here—something almost resembling salad greens. What a fun, tasty, and interesting take on the raspberry cider.

I paired mine with creamy carrot soup, perfect for summer. I like a very fruity cider with a chilled or creamy vegetable soup. Usually, I add lots of curry spices to my carrot soups, but this was mostly carrots, caramelized onion, and coconut milk. This treat and this pairing were worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cider Review: Far From the Tree's Sprig

Today is the day after all the fireworks and cookouts. Its a day lots of folks are heading back into work after a day off or even a long weekend. For me, from July 4th through when my husband starts teaching every fall is the high plateau of Summer. We'll get more thunderstorms, more watermelon, and soon real local tomatoes, corn, and peppers. America's summer holiday may be over, but the best summer food pairings for cider are just now coming into season.

So, I chose a supper summery cider from Far From the Tree out of Salem, Massachusetts.

Learn about the company on their website: http://www.farfromthetreecider.com

Previously, I reviewed their Nova cider which is another hopped cider offering: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/03/cider-review-far-from-trees-nova-hopped.html

Sprig is their cider that I want to explore today. The sub heading on the bottle reads Dry Hopped Mint Cider.

This is nearly my first mint cider, but far from my first hopped, so let's see what Far From the Tree has to say about it.

Official description:

Today is a great day for a hike. The sight of fresh green growth and the smell of sprouting leaves in the air are two of our favorite things about summer in New England. For Sprig, we've married fresh mint, cascade hops and apples grown in Massachusetts. We age Sprig in oak barrels, dry hop for two sweeks and add fresh mint just a day before bottling.

For us, this cider is what an afternoon hike in the woods would taste like if it came in a bottle. If we happen to cross paths one day, be it on a trail or while sharing a cider, we hope you'll agree that today really is a good day for a hike! 6.9% ABV.

Appearance: cool moonglow, transparent, lots of pretty bubbles

This cider looks almost frosty while still being glowy and transparent. I'd not call it brilliant, but I could see all of the lovely bubbles very clearly.

Aromas: mint, apple, hops, lychee

These smells all add up to a super cool minty picture, but in the mix, I found hops, lychee, apple, with an emphasis on everything being chilly and bright. This smells perfect for the hot weather. Imagistically, it reminds me of a freshly opened jar of applesauce taken from the fridge.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

This is a semi-dry cider. The acid probably makes it tastes drier than it would look were I to see the actual measurement of sugar. Its a nice level that won't alienate most drinkers of dry, semi-dry, or eve semi-sweet cider.

Flavors and drinking experience: Mostly mint, hops, balanced with apple

When I drink this cider of course I taste lots of mint and apple. I also get some hoppiness, but more mint. The cooling effect continues. Far From the Tree's melding of apple and mint works, but it's a tenuous balance. This cider offers up high acid, no tannins, and medium bubble.

I noticed how very consistent this cider tastes from tip to tail; the mint is dominant. I'm also struck by how much this cider depends on its clean fermentation in order to work. Seems tricky but successful.

I paired my Sprig cider with a very summery meal: sauteed summer squash with herbed chevre, sliced tomatoes, corn on the cob, whole-wheat toast, and baked beans. It was delicious and delicious all together.