Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cider Review: Blue Bee Cider Charred Ordinary


Happy Spring, everyone! We made it! *crickets* Okay, so for many of us it does not yet look like Spring has sprung. That's okay. It will. I promise.

This is my first review of anything by Blue Bee Cidery. They are an urban cidery (Virginia's first) out of Richmond. They describe their ciders by talking about what apples they use, saying, "Our ciders are made with rare and heirloom variety Virginia apples that are prized for their tannin, acidity and flavor." This doesn't denote cider varietals, but shows a focus on many fermentation qualities that make for good cider apples.

Take a look at the website. Its simple and attractive in design, describes their ciders, and allows for online purchasing. Basically, it has everything you need.

http://www.bluebeecider.com

Their exciting upcoming news is the Harrison release later this week. Yes, that Harrison. The apple formerly thought to be extinct. You can read more about that here: http://www.bluebeecider.com/event/harrison-release Pretty cool.

Today I want to share my thoughts on their Charred Ordinary. Here's the official description:
Served all day long at colonial-era taverns, or ordinaries, cider was the refreshment of choice for Virginians of all classes and walks of life – man, woman, child, rich and poor. 
CHARRED ORDINARY is semi-sparkling and made from heirloom variety apples to create an old-fashioned Virginia cider, dry and sharp. It pairs well with salty hams and cheeses, rich poultry dishes, and other traditional Virginia fare. 0.5% RS, 8.3% ABV.

This might be the first cider I've ever seen that billed itself as semi-sparkling. I've heard and read lightly sparkling or petillant, but this is new. We'll see what that means. The other thing to note in particular is how high this ABV is: 8.3%. I may end up glad that I only bought a 500ml.



Appearance: visibly bubbly, vibrant saffron color, brilliant 

This cider pours with a mousse that dissipates quicky, but adding excitement to those first few seconds. I'd call the color saffron and its deeply pigmented. Though the bubbles might make the photo unclear, the cider is brilliant.

Aromas: soft mushy apples, rich, a hint of barrel, hint of citru


The Charred Ordinary is very English smelling. From me, this comes as a high compliment. I smell something that reminds me of barn wood or barrel and overripe cider apples. This aroma is extraordinarily rich: frankly outstanding. There's definitely something citrusy going on; I think I can smell lemon. Overall, this recalls the Aspall Imperial. 

Dryness/sweetness: dry

This is an unambiguously dry cider. It has just enough residual sweetness to unfold its other flavors, but dry cider fans, this is a winner.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, citrus, sparkly, dry, savory


Though this smells like an English cider, the Charred Ordinary tastes quite surprising given smell. It's 100% New World, not old. This is defined by its high acid, mid tannin, and almost no sweetness. This cider ZINGs and keeps on zinging. 

Dry. Tart. Specifically Malic acid. Agey. In terms of notes, I get lots of lime, crisp raw tomato, and a bit of raisin. It sounds like a strange combination but it works. The Charred Ordinary also shares a surprising mushroom note and savory aftertaste. The cider manages to be funky and clean at the same time. In the mid palate it tastes nearly sour, but not vinegary at all. Some might find it slightly challenging, but its decidedly rewarding. The tartness is most extreme in small sips. For mouthfeel, there are lots of small bubbles, so I'm not quite sure why semi-sparkling was the term used.


I enjoyed my bottle first with veggie chili, then a 2nd glass while under a pile of cats and watching an episode of Mr. Robot. You can go simpler with a cider this good, but a tomato dish that has plenty of Umami flavor is actually very very tasty with it. The Charred Ordinary can help keep us all in good company till Spring actually shows up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cider Review Winter Storm Stella Edition: Vermont Cider Co.'s Wassail


I thought spring was tiptoeing in last week, but Winter Storm Stella has certainly shifted my expectations! As I write, the storm is continuing to blow all around my house and all around the northeast region, and I am starting to hear comparisons to the Blizzard of '93. So, I thought it the perfect time to continue last week's trend and pick out another spiced cider to try. 

And in the name of transparency, I did receive this bottle of Vermont Cider Co.'s Wassail. for free. It arrived in November, so I'm glad to be getting to enjoy it on a perfect night for a warming spiced cider. My opinions are un-swayed by samples, but I do appreciate them. This one didn't even get to jump to the front of the review line, but I'm feeling all the more ready for it.


This is my second review of something by Vermont Cider Co. My first is their Addison, which I tried back in November. You can find that review here: 

http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/11/cider-review-vermont-cider-cos-addison.html

For now, since http://vermontciderco.com/ is a landing page that's still in development, you can see tons of lovely photos and get information from Vermont Cider Co.'s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/VermontCiderCo/

I do have a description of the Wassail from the press release that came with my ciders, 
Wassail is inspired by the age-old tradition of celebrating with the orchards to ensure a good crop. Wassail begins with small batch hard cider infused with traditional mulling spices, including vanilla bean, ginger and cinnamon. The cider is then aged in rum barrels to produce a unique, rich cider that is ideal for the holidays. Like Addison, Wassail is made only from 100 percent fresh pressed Vermont and Northeastern apples. 6.9%ABV.
If any readers are unfamiliar with the term wassail, it is both the name of a beverage and an activity. The drink is a warm spiced cider and the activity is the ceremonial spilling and pouring of said beverage onto the roots of orchard trees in winter amidst caroling and asking for blessings on the trees. Its a wonderfully archaic and pagan way to to carouse on a winter's night. Just not on a blizzard night like tonight.



Appearance: bronze orange, brilliant, lots of visible bubbles

This cider looks amazingly dark and rich in my glass. The color is a harvest-y orange with tones of red and bronze. The photo shows how many bubbles observable once its been poured.

Aromas: bourbon vanilla, apple, cinammon, ginger

The cider smells boozy and desserty at once: a bit like real bourbon vanilla plus cinnamon. There's also plenty of apple notes going on, but they are like roasted apples dusted with powdered ginger. This is a complex set of aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet, but only just

Yes, I'll call this cider sweet, but its closer to a semi sweet than many other mulled ciders or many others sold in this format. The 12oz bottle tends to have more sweet offerings than some other sizes.

Flavors and drinking experience: ginger, vanilla, petillant, medium acidity, balanced

I am surprised that the Wassail is only mildly sparkling, perhaps to better connote the mulled-cider experience. This cider sings with ginger and cinnamon notes as well as vanilla velvety-ness. Its not bitter but also not fake tasting; all of the flavors offer great balance with only medium acidity.

Something about this cider reminds me of a cider version of a dark and stormy, perhaps the mild sparkle, rum caramel notes, plus the forefront of gingery notes. In any case, I'm into it. The Wassail is a very very pleasant cider. I'd rather have it than most Dark and Stormys or most  available mulled ciders, so two genuine compliments. I could be predisposed to like because I like many of the notes it offers in general. I'm a fiend for both ginger and vanilla, so it doesn't surprise me that I like them in the Wassail.



How to pair this cider? With warm blankets, good company, and Jeopardy. Its perfect. The blizzard is optional.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cider Review: Angry Orchard's Spiced Apple



Last posting day, March was roaring into town and since then we've been warmed by the sun, drenched, snow covered, and blow dried. I think of Spring as a season of worry and  hard work tempered by the excitement of change and glimpses of gentleness. I feel like we've already covered that in a week.

There's a nice upside to crazy weather like this if you're a cider lover: beyond even just a good reason to spend evenings indoors with a glass of something delicious. Cider can be a strongly seasonal beverage I've talked about this before on the blog. But getting all the seasons in a week means having very different ciders in closer proximity than usually makes sense. 


It snowed twice unexpectedly in the past week, so I went back to my store of spiced ciders. Tonight I'm sharing the the most recent spiced cider a company has shared with me: Angry Orchard's Spiced Apple. This is one that can found in their Winter Orchard Sampler Variety 12-Pack, but folks were kind enough to send me one in the mail. Thanks! 


Angry Orchard has been developing in multiple directions as the cider market is maturing and changing. They've not grown in 2016 the way they did in previous years, but this is still a company that's making and selling cider on a truly massive scale. Today's review is part of push for more seasonal variety in their 12 ounce bottles. The other direction of change is higher end ciders coming out of their research and development facility in Walden, New York. 


As always, you can find out tons more at Angry Orchard's website: http://www.angryorchard.com/

I have lots of previous reviews of Angry Orchard ciders. I'm only going to share a few of my favorites because there are too many to link back to all of them.

The Stone Dry is a nice reliable cider that's notably drier than most of their offerings: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/10/cider-review-angry-orchard-stone-dry.html

Walden Hollow from the Research and Development facility: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/09/cider-review-angry-orchards-walden.html

Knotty Pear which is a blended perry and cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/06/cider-review-angry-orchards-knotty-pear.html


Back in 2014, I shared a roundup review of a few of their ciders Strawman, The Muse, and Traditional Dry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/05/roundup-of-angry-orchard-reviews.html

These new releases are designed for winter: Tapped Maple and Spiced Apple. You can find these ciders in the Winter Orchard Sampler Variety 12-Pack which is being sold only through April 2017. Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on the spiced apple; you'll see the Tapped Maple in the coming weeks. 

Angry Orchard's official description says this about it.

Angry Orchard Spiced Apple was Inspired by the spices in this classic dessert and connection to the American cider making tradition. This hard cider achieves its balanced profile by combining bright and festive warming spices and a blend of culinary and bittersweet apples. This new limited release style is perfect for evenings with friends and family during the last months of winter.
The coolest part of the description is a list of apples used in this cider: "Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Gala French." All dessert apples and relatively familiar varieties that often make for aromatic, mildly high acid ciders without much tannic presence. Though the description hints at cider apples. The ABV is listed at 5%.

Alrighty, on to the cider!


Appearance: brilliant, dark red-orange

There's no denying that this is a pretty cider with a lot of color. Its brilliant and a deep reddish orange. I don't see much bubble.

Aromas: spicy, sweet, apple 

The Spiced Apple smells very much as the name would suggest of spices and apples. The spices are the classic baking or mulling spices with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove. It smells sweet.


Sweetness/dryness: sweet.

This is a sweet cider. This makes some sense for a cider that uses dessert spices. There's plenty more going on than just sweetness, but it is there. Don't look here for dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: mellow, baked goods, lactic acid, balanced

Initial taste is sweet followed by one half-hint of bitter and a half-hint of sour. It reminds me of lactic acid. The more sips I take, the more a mellow cinnamon dough impression creeps forward. I keep thinking of a number of pleasant autumnal desserts, cinnamon rolls, apple muffins, etc.

Everything spicy happens in the middle of each drink of this cider. Now that I'm thinking more precisely, it reminds me of Apple Stack Cake, which for me is a special family recipe handed down more than three generations. Definitely notes of brown sugar But there's also some tannin, I can taste that they are now using some cider apples- maybe what I was interpreting as Gala french is Gala apples and a blend of french cider apples. It's not clear. 

The spice isn't hot. it reminds me of apple pie ice cream actually. There's enough acidity to keep things in check but acidity isn't the star of the show. I'd say the star is the long sweet  finish that just keeps rolling across the palate again and again.



 So, March, what's next? Will it be time for the Tapped Maple this week or will I get some time for springy ciders before we visit winter again?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The January 2017 Cidrbox and Eden's Imperial 11° Rose Cider


Today, March begins with thunderstorms and wind; its unseasonably warm. But I want to share a cider experience from just before CiderCon, in the first days of last month. Imagine weather like March in upstate New York is supposed to have; that was much of our February. And that's when I got my sample Cidrbox in the mail. 

Full disclosure, I got to try a free Cidrbox for review purposes. I assure you that this does not sway my opinion about either the experience of getting a cider subscription or the cider from the box that I'm reviewing here. It did get to skip much nearer to the front of the review line somewhat though, but I don't want the December box being reviewed much later!

To give a bit more background about CidrBox as a service, the business is a subscription and curation service as well as a guide to the ciders it supplies. Dayna Bateman put it together and launched the project in December of 2016. She shared some of her time with me so I could learn more about what they offer. 

Most cider fans are extremely limited in their access to high quality craft, artisan, or orchard ciders. These products tend to stay local. Shipping laws are complicated and many wonderful ciders are made in such small quantities that anything like national or even regional distribution is impossible. That's where Cidrbox comes in as a service to both cidermaker and cider lover. 

Cidrbox finds cider makers who make amazing orchard based ciders. Dayna specifically seeks out ciders made from apples cultivated especially for cider. Things are very place based and the whole service gives cider lovers a window into a different cider terroir than the ones they might be able to find at home. 


I want to emphasize the reduced shipping rate. Each Cidrbox ships for ten dollars. That means you can get a box of cider from across the country for less than the cost of one bottle of good cider. The price applies to all three sizes of Cidrbox: three bottle, six bottle, and 12 bottle. Most bottles will be the 750ml size but a few, like the ice ciders in this box, will be 375ml.


You can read much more about this subscription service here: http://www.cidrbox.com/

Then the actual unwrapping experience, my ciders were packaged securely and neatly. I've gotten perhaps more than my fair share of cider arrivals in the mail, so I've witnessed a large range in how cider can be prepared for transport. Each bottle came in an individual protective box within the larger package.


Here's how they all look freshly unboxed on the piano bench.


Another fun part of trying a new cider is tasting with others, so Cidrox includes recordings of tasting sessions, extensive shared notes, and pairing suggestions. 

Here's a link to the material accompanying the Eden box:  http://www.cidersessions.com/eden/

There's both plenty of helpful information to contextualize these varied ciders and a ton of personality here. I love the photos and videos. The layout is clear and approachable. It certainly made me feel like i could open any one of these ciders and drink with Eleanor and David and the Eden crew. 

One of the other really social feeling and enjoyable elements is the feeling that getting a Cidrbox from a company starts an ongoing connection to that cidery. Cidrbox makes it easy to order more ciders from them after you've enjoyed learning about them and drinking everything from the box. That contextualization and ongoing flow of information and connection really makes it feel like more than the other subscriptions I've tried. Instead it feels more like an introduction at a small party with really good cider.

From my Cidrbox today, I want to review Eden's Imperial 11° Rose
 

Eden Sparkling Cider's Official description for the Imperial 11° Rose reads as follows, "Imperial 11° Rose Cider - New! Heirloom apple cider made with red currant and lightly dosed with ice cider. It is just off-dry and gently fizzy, with bright acidity and chewy tannic structure. A perfectly refreshing summer sipper!" The ABV is listed as 11% and the cider comes in either 750ml or 375ml bottles. My Cidrbox came with a full size 750ml.




Appearance: brilliant, deep fuchsia pink hedging into the red of rubies, few bubbles

I cannot overemphasize how pretty this cider is. I cannot do it. This red brilliance is lovelier than both rose and rubies to me. Perhaps, I am sharing too effusively, but many rubies do not have perfect clarity and many rose wines are not so intense in their color. The color reminds me of the dark pink of peonies, one of my favorite flowers.

Aroma: red currants, dust, cranberries

Apples do not come to the forefront of these scents. Instead, I am met with red currants, cranberries and that familiar dusty smell that has come (at least to me) to predict the presence of tannins and astringency.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry and tart

This tastes extremely tart, enough to make me question how much sweetness I perceive in this cider. It comes across as off-dry, but I'm guessing the measurable sugar would be slightly more than it seems.

Flavors: tart, fruity, vinous, bubbly
 

The Imperial 11° Rose cider is fruity and tart and extremely pleasantly balanced. The balance isn't an easy one, but more the dymanic balance of a tightrope walker, and my sense of excitement is only supported by how bubbly it is! The cider tastes far more vinous than most and reminds me of black currants, though the currants in the beverage are the more unusual red currants. The whole experience is deliciously mouth-puckering, jammy, nearing a hint of solvent, but ending up estery instead.
 
This cider is so very zingy, it reminds me of the letter z, the zest of fruit, and the feeling of a stretched string (back to the tightrope image). 


But, I am going to disagree with the official description. I think calling it a "summer sipper" undersells the complexity and flexibility of this lovely beverage. The Cidrbox folks are genius to pack this bit of flavorful intensity into a winter box. Right now is when we need the pop and zing of red fruit. Winter can be worrisome, disappointing, and glum (sorry winter lovers), so each moment of vibrant awesomeness should be seized. That's what this cider is all about for me.




And as for the Cidrbox experience, I could not be happier! The ciders were packed securely, shipped promptly, presented contextually, and best all well chosen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cider Con Part 2: Panels, Workshops, and Tastings of CiderCon 2017


I love seeing cider friends, making new ones, and tasting unfamiliar ciders at Cider Con, but I'm a cider geek. What makes me look forward to the event months ahead of time is the schedule of workshop, panels, and guided tastings. I love learning about cider more than most anything in the world. 

I started my schedule with "U.S. Cider in 2017 "by Angry Orchard's Ryan Burk. This description does not tell the whole story of the talk, but it says, "Insights and outlook for U.S. cider in 2017, covering the importance of drinker education, highlights and successes from across the country, and the future of apples in the U.S." What we learned was so much more. 

Ryan showed current market data about cider, but then he took us on a journey through the chain of cider production. Almost everyone in the room was reminded to think of a step further away from their relationship to cider than usual. We heard from nursery growers, orchardists, cider makers, distributors, and drinkers about how we can get good cider into glasses.
It all comes down to apples. Ryan talked about why we need more cider varietals grown in the United States and we talked about how to make that economically feasible for every link in the chain of production. And for some encouragement, he called out some love for cider companies providing great long-term commitment by planting their own orchards.
 

I next attended "Tools for Success: Marketing, Branding & Storytelling" by Caitlin Braam and Kate Bernot. Caitlin is the president of Seattle Cider Company and Kate does all the cider coverage she can get her hands on through Draft Magazine.

This is what I knew about their talk going in, "This session will focus on tools and techniques to take your cider brand to the next level. Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to enhance an existing brand, hear about tried and true tips for increased exposure, assisting with sales and gaining recognition for your brand through media outreach. Learn how to pitch, contact press, and craft the perfect story while understanding the challenges beverage writers face when writing about cider. Caitlin and Kate will also discuss some of the hurdles currently facing the industry, including style definition, Brix scale, macro vs craft and more." These were great presenters, and I appreciated the choice to pair a cider company president with a journalist so multiple angles could be covered. 

Everyone who attended "Cider Trends in the US & Abroad" by Danny Brager and Matthew Crompton from Nielsen and CGA got a great window into some Nielson data presented compellingly.  Here's how they described the talk. “Nielsen and Nielsen CGA will take a look at the Cider category in the U.S., and France, its performance at retail (both on and off premise), as well as the consumer dynamics driving its sales – the ‘why’ behind the ‘buy’. They’ll provide some comparisons to other Cider markets elsewhere, and to the performance of other U.S. adult beverage categories, and offer suggestions for growing the U.S. Cider market." I really appreciated the way these gentlemen broke down some numbers and let us know where and how cider really is selling in America.

Next came, "Online Branding" my talk with Eric West of Cider Guide (find his fine work at https://ciderguide.com/)

We pitched our talk, “Online branding can help or hurt a cider brand tremendously. Frequently, cider fans encounter a new brand for the first time online. That means that cider makers cannot simply let the beverage speak for itself. Instead they need to craft an online identity for their cider company. This talk will introduce people to the why and how of online branding and content marketing strategies. We’ll talk about the types of online communication necessary for a cider brand including: blogging, newsletters, and social media. Plus, we’ll address both basic and intermediate strategies for managing them.”

I feel quite pleased with our crowd and their questions. Eric gave some great granular thoughts about using specific applications and some excellent book recommendations. I stayed a bit more big picture and talked about information, communication, and guiding priciples for the most part. I did give a few tiny tidbits about various social media platforms. Rather than summarize though, I'll just give a link to the slides of our presentation: https://ciderguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Online-Branding.pdf

Next came a panel I looked forward to more than most was the “Women in Cider” a discussion organized by the Pomme Boots Society (founded by Gemma Fanelli Schmit, Jennie Dorsey and Jana Daisy-Ensign)

Here's how they introduced the panel, "Meet and learn from women working in different segments of the cider industry. Panelists share their experience, insight, challenges and inspiration from orchard to bottle and tasting room to market. Pomme Boots Society is honored to present a forum for discussion that shares the stories of women in our dynamic field." Also, for those not yet familiar with the group, here's how they introduct themselves, "The Pomme Boots Society is an organization for women working in the cider industry. The group supports positive network connections, education and professional development for women in the dynamic field of cider."

Of course there were many talks I really really wanted to attend but couldn't. First among these was, “Apple Orchard Mythology vs. Reality” by the legendary Pete Brown.

This description made me gnash my teeth for being unable to attend: “The apple is the most symbolic, mythologized fruit in human history. In this talk based on his new book, The Apple Orchard, Pete Brown traces the apple along a faultline between the real world and the mythological, through ancient Greek myth, Arthurian legend and the Garden of Eden, and attempts to answer key questions such as why the apple has such great significance, what was really going on with Snow White? And was the Biblical Forbidden Fruit really an apple or not? The answers shed new light on cider’s core ingredient.”

For those who might not yet be familiar, Pete Brown is an English beverage and culture writer who penned World’s Best Cider (with Bill Bradshaw) among several other beloved books. Luckily, I was able to purchase Brown's latest book The Apple Orchard at CiderCon and get it signed! Wow! For those who want to take a peek at the new book: https://www.amazon.com/Apple-Orchard-Pete-Brown/dp/1846148839/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487645778&sr=1-2&keywords=the+apple+orchard

My favorite tasting had to be the “Northeast Cider Tasting with Jenn Smith and Ian Merwin”

The description for this one read, "A lively conversation with a focused selection of cider makers from NH, NY and VT, including, Autumn Stoscheck (Eve’s Cidery). Eleanor Leger (Eden Specialty Cider), Stephen Wood(Farnum Hill), Jonathan Oakes (Steampunk Cider), and Dan Wilson (Slyboro Cidery). This dynamic panel will share a tasting of representative ciders and will discuss apples, methods and styles from the Northeastern United States; spirited debate will ensue."

The reality was a bit different as Autumn had the flu and could not make it and there were a few other substitutions. In the end we tasted the five ciders listed in my photo and heard from Ian Merwin in place of Autumn Shosteck.

The talk that made me what to change my life the most, was probably “Selling Against the Trends: Tradition and Authenticity in an Innovation Driven Marketplace” by Lauren Shepard. 

It was described as, "The question of where cider fits into the current alcoholic beverage marketplace has been debated ad nauseam. Within the beer industry, Shelton Brothers is attempting to redefine how artisanal beverages are sold today, by focusing on tradition rather than innovation, knowledge rather than marketing dollars, and competitive pricing rather than uniform margins. This session is for any small or midsized cidermaker who doesn’t want to put their cider in a 6-pack, but knows that they will likely be working through beer buyers in their home market and beyond."  Lauren's talk came from her experiences as a distributor of very fine ciders and beers. I think her points make a lot of sense for a market like Ithaca and several others I'm sure.

The biggest surprise of all came from “History of Apple Culture in the US” by Original Sin's Gidon Coll. Gidon is a friend of mine (I'm proud to say), and I really wanted to see what he could teach us about apple history. A lot as it turns out. 

The description of the talk was relatively simple, “A brief look at the history of apple culture in the United States with a look at historical text documenting the early days of cider production in our country.” Coll planted an orchard in 2012, made up of heritage, rare, and cider specific varietals, in Upstate New York. His talk and his credentials are both so much more than was promised. Gidon brought historical books on apples, vintage nursery catalogues, and shared with us information that wooed everyone into the world of orchard history. If any talks gave me the sense that I have homework I really *want* to do, this was it.

Cider Con ended with a panel discussion and Grand Cider Tasting with our guest french cidermakers. Folks got the chance to ask questions about keeving, the cider market in France, and hear these cidermakers' stories. Plus we got to try a few of their delicious ciders and perries. This was a perfect way to wind up a conference. We'd worked hard and learned a lot, so everyone felt pretty ready to listen and mellow out with some cider.

I know presentations will go online in the coming weeks, so folks who weren't able to attend Cider Con will get to have access to some of this great material. Though this is far from the full experience of Cider Con, I hope you guys enjoyed getting to share some of the ways in which I enjoyed geeking out!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cider Con 2017 Part 1: An Industry Growing Up

The United States Association of Cider Makers and the Big Picture 

Every year that I've attended, CiderCon feels like an event hosted by a developing organization. The United States Association of Cider Makers improves and challenges itself to learn more and do more each year. I remember some of the goals from last year, and we've achieved them. And when I think about CiderCon's maturation, it isn't just the parent organization, its how the whole industry approaches having a national meeting. We are learning to make the most of this time: not just to see friends and attend workshops, but to boost cider through timed releases, special events, collaborations and more.

Our hotel even had swank elevator wraps and quizzes

Most notably of the achievements of 2016 for the USACM is Michelle McGrath's hire as Executive Director. It took a long and arduous search but everyone is so happy that they found her. Bruce Nissen, our new USACM president and founder of Jester and Judge Cider (http://jesterandjudge.com/)
described the search as a thorough narrowing from an initial applicant pool of 1300 people down to just one. And after seeing Michelle throughout the weekend, I am completely impressed with her energy and organization. 

I want to show a bit more of the evidence I observed that CiderCon is maturing.

I appreciated excellent coordination as shown by the programs with maps, external work with organizations outside of USACM not only with Cider Summit Chicago but Cider Week Chicago, multiple cider releases timed to coincide with the conference, an organized press briefing, on and off site portfolio tastings, and best of all a strategic plan for USACM that covers their goals for the next three years. I've always felt like folks are trying to make the best of our time together at CiderCon, but some of these developments just blew me away.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a press briefing on the gearing up day of the conference. At this meeting each of the United States Association Board Member introduced themselves and their cidery. Each region and scale is represented on this board. The current board members are: Bruce Nissen, Dan Wilson, Eleanor Leger, Trevor Baker, Ryan Burk, Paul Vander Heide, Ben Calvi, Marcus Tieton, Brian Shanks, Dan Young and Eric Foster. As they each introduced themselves, they said a little bit about their cideries.


Board members also poured samples of their ciders; this is the tip of that iceberg

Michelle led the meeting and introduced us to what USACM is doing. The organization actively represents cider to the government to improve legislation of the industry. This is the year that the CIDER act goes into effect which reduces the tax burden on many cideries, particularly those making a sparkling cider.

The next legislative push is for the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act which you can read about here: https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/statement-on-introduction-of-craft-beverage-modernization-and-tax-reform-act.

Another major project of the USACM includes developing labelling for cider that will allow consumers to have a better idea of what they are purchasing. Though this is not yet developed early comparisons use the Riesling Taste Profile from the International Riesling Foundation as a potentially useful model.

Still on the subject of cider education, we got an update on the Cider Certification Program from Paul Vander Heide of Vandermill Cider. The first level of the CCP is now available to study and take online, with reduced pricing for USACM members. I was part of the inaugural class of CCP takers last February and vouch for the quality of information used for the test and training. The program is designed for everyone who wants to learn about cider in a serious way but is especially well suited to folks working in the hospitality industry or interacting with the public about cider. Learn more at the website: http://www.ciderassociation.org/Certification.

Another significant goal for the USACM is the comissioning of third party economic data that's more granular than what's available through Nielsen and more inclusive of local and regional producers. The industry needs better coverage of cider's “long tail” when such a large proportion of our businesses are very small and often very young.

Opening Session
This year we also played host to some very special visitors from two cider making regions of France: Brittany and Normandy. Ghisilaine Davy from Cidrerie Daufresne to share his Poire(Perry), Dominique Le Brun from Cidres Le Brun to discuss keeving as a fermentation technique, and Guilliaume Drouin from Christian Drouin, bringing his Calvados and cidre.

At the opening session, we heard (via video) from Oregon lawmaker Representative Earl Blumenauer about continuing bipartisan efforts to improve the regulations and taxation that govern cider as a beverage. He's a charming speaker who championed the CIDER Act that already promises to give some producers a number of beneficial legal changes.

Another highlight of the opening session for me was our welcome video. This includes cideries from all over the country and a few sly jokes if you know the personalities and companies involved. Even without these little hidden gems, the video is a fun window into the quirkiness of cider makers.

https://vimeo.com/203243082

The most exciting part of the opening session though was finding out about next year's location for CiderCon. In 2018, we'll convene in Baltimore. I anticipate lots of seafood pairings and events that show me a city I've never seen.


Our opening panel discussion

Up next, I'll share my experiences at the panels, workshops, and tastings of CiderCon 2017.


Wednesday evening Cider Share

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cider Review: Citizen Cider's Barrel-Aged Cider & Chicago Cider Week

Usually, I start with my review and then share any cider news, but I want to make sure Chicago area cider lovers know that this event is already happening! Chicago Cider Week runs from February 3-11 with a plethora of cider opportunities for sipping, pairing, and learning!

Tons of fabulous cider things happen at The Northman (http://www.thenorthman.com/) and this week is anything but an exception. We can meet Pete Brown (cider and beer author), Ria Windcaller(of Cider Chat: http://ciderchat.com/), and some super start cider makers.   

Pairing dinners and tap takeovers are also happening all over town! Check out the event list:

http://www.chicagociderweek.com/p/events.html

And as a way of transition, today's review is a cider by Citizen Cider out of Burlington, Vermont. They have already started a full series of cider events just by themselves this week for both Cider Week and Cider Con. 


I reviewed the bRose in 2014: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/02/cider-review-citizen-cider-brose.html

More recently, I stopped at their taproom and production facility in Burlington this past summer as part of my Cider Tour: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-2.html

To learn a bit more about Citizen Cider, please check out their website: http://www.citizencider.com/

Today's review is of their Barrel-Aged Cider. I'll share the official description, but here's a spoiler, I'm not going to pair it with steak. : )

This cider is aged in reclaimed oak bourbon barrels. We take our finest cider blends, let them sit in these American oak barrels, and while they get to know each other, a beautiful relationship emerges. Best enjoyed with a big steak and a friend.
Reclaimed American Oak Bourbon Barrels are going to impart a lot of flavor, and I bet it will smell and taste boozier than its 6.9% ABV, but there's only one way to find out.

Citizen Cider was kind enough to list some additional pairing options. Here's the list, "Pairings: Lamb Stew, Veal Ossobuco, Pumpkin Pie, Dark Chocolate Souffle, Blue Cheese and Smoked Blue Fish." There aren't a ton of vegetarian options in there, but I'm never going to argue with dark chocolate souffle or pumpkin pie.


Appearance: brilliant, lots of visible bubbles, medium straw 

Like all of Citizen's ciders, this has a perfect sparkling brilliance. Its easy to see lots of active bubbles throughout the glass. I'd call the color medium straw, neither particularly light nor dark.

Aromas: almond, cherry, apple, barrel

The cider smells intensely of barrel, but that's far from the only note. I can also get wisps of apple, cherry, and almond. It smells rather like pastries altogether, but I'm guessing it will be less sweet than it smells. 

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

I get a bit of initial sweetness but the cider tastes dryer as the tasting experience goes on; its like many barrel-aged ciders in this way.

 

Flavors and drinking experience: vanilla, cooked apples, bourbon, buttered toast

Let me say first that this cider has a lot going on in terms of flavor intensity! The best part is that all of these flavors go together beautifully. I tasted this first when I toured the facility in August; my thought then was that this cider would be perfect for winter. So, I bought a bottle and saved it until the beginning of February. And I don't disagree with past Meredith. What a brilliant winter cider.

This is so vanilla, bourbon, almond, buttered toast good. All of the flavors really do cascade together over the tongue. The apple flavor is soft like the apple has been cooked or pressed into pomace. This helps the overall impression of unity I get from the flavors. 

In terms of texture, the Barrel-Aged Cider offers up great strong bubbles in bountiful quantities.  The cider also features great retro-nasal aromas: weird to say but great to experience.

I noticed when looking around online that this cider has made a few lists of ciders that beer aficionados could enjoy, and I agree. This is a particularly emphatic and well balanced cider with cohesive flavor and real verve. I'd heartily recommend it to beer and cider drinkers alike. I had mine with local cheese and Miche bread: no steak anywhere in sight, and it was totally delightful.