Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cider Review: Whitewood Cider Company


This is a cider I've been excited to try for a long time. For one reason, Whitewood Cider Company makes their stuff in Olympia, Washington, and I get very few chances to try any west coast ciders. This is a rare treat for my curious tastebuds. Even more importantly, David White (Oldtimeydave), hero of the cider blogging world and a really nice guy, is the main dude behind Whitewood Cider. I've followed Dave online for long while, so I've been eager to try his cider. This was a also given to me back at Cider Days in Massachusetts. Pretty thrilling.

You can check out Whitewood Cider Company's website at whitewoodcider.com. It uses gorgeous graphic design which is no surprise since White has worked in graphic design for more than a decade. Other interesting information I gleaned online has to include Whitewood's cider CSA. I've now found a handful of examples of this creative way to both fund exciting small scale cideries and insure cider fans good access to a highly seasonal product. Cider made from real juice and real apples is a fairly seasonal affair after all.

Here's what Whitewood says about the particular cider I tried, The Northland Traditional Blend:
"Our Northland Traditional Blend is traditional as it gets. European cider apple varieties blended at the press, fermented through the winter, racked, blended again and matured into early Summer. Lightly back-sweetened for balance and bring out fruitiness. 
Floral spicy sweet nose, with strong characteristics of sweet apple, stone fruit, ripe orange and a tropical fruit acidity and wine-like tannic/bitter notes balanced with a crisp clean finish."
The apples are all cider varieties grown in Washington state. The Northland Traditional Blend cider stays just under the limit that means more regulation and taxation at 6.8% ABV.

Appearance: deep apricot, plenty of visible bubbles, brilliant

You can just see the cider apples in here. Cider apples give more rich color than many larger dessert apples. The same intensity of flavor also communicates in terms of color, making this an intense apricot color. Sadly, my photo doesn't do it justice. The bubbles are all over the interior of the glass making it hard to appreciate how brilliant it looks in the bottle.

Aromas: fresh apples, mineral, sharp cheddar

What strikes me most about the aromas on the Northland Traditional Blend is that the smell is so minerally; it really just smells like apples and stones in a straw basket. A hint of Sharpness that is both alcohol and cheddar. All of these together give me the impression that this will be a highly tannic cider on the dry side, but we'll see how it actually tastes.

Sweetness: off dry

This is dryer than what I frequently call a semi-dry, but not fully dry. I think Whitewood is spot on to call their cider a medium dry, and I'm happy to consider it off dry. There are fruit flavors, but the Northland Traditional Blend is truly not sweet.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: high tannins, medium fruit, medium-high acidity, great structure

Wow, the Northland Traditional blend tastes really tannic. Again, that's the choice of apples at work here. Balancing out those tannice, I can also taste lots of acid. This cider offers a note of extremely sharp cheddar in a wonderful way. 

To zoom out a little and describe the cider more generally, this cider has a slow unfolding of multiple deep rich flavours.  It takes about 4 or 5 seconds to go through its full taste.  Again, dry, but not bone dry.  Deliciously bitter. The cider is heavily sparkling and structured with a full mouthful but no hint of syrupyness. It is not sticky or heavy, but full and ripe.  It has the elusive "body" everyone is after.

It reminded me husband slightly of ricewine or sake with a hint of yeast and tanginess. It warms the tummy as you drink. Overall, I'd say it is  wweet enough to be drinkable (and not just sippable) while still being mostly dry and quite complex.  Goes fast and very pleasantly.  



I enjoyed my cider as a celebration of the new semester than just started for me. It is my return to teaching after about 5 months away. My Northland Traditional Blend complemented my radish and goat cheese pizza beautifully. Both were so warming and hearty. Full flavors are what I need in the winter and Whitewood Cider Company's Northland Traditional Blend fit the bill amazingly well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cider Review: Hogan's Medium Dry Cider


I'm still catching up with a few reviews of ciders I tasted over the holidays; I beg you to bear with my more spontaneous  and imperfect photography. I finally got to try a Hogan's cider on New Year's Eve with some good friends. Sadly most of the location was a bit too dim to get a good picture, so I snuck into a commercial kitchen with giant florescent lights to snap a quick picture of the bottle and label.  I really like this label. It has graphic clarity and simplicity in a way that makes it look totally fresh and contemporary without looking like it will be dated in a few months or years. Good labels and graphic design are far more rare in the cider world than they should be, but Hogan's obviously doesn't have that problem.

Hogans is an English cider company whose ciders I've only recently started seeing on a few shelves in Ithaca. They have a great website at: http://www.hoganscider.co.uk/, I praise it because of its design clarity and depth of information. This page especially, http://www.hoganscider.co.uk/how-its-made, that discussed their specific cider-making process brings visitors deep into the whole cider making process. An excellent resource.

Tonight's review covers their Medium Dry Cider. When reading on Hogan's site about their ciders I found two relevant sections of description. This first one talks about their general cidermaking and materials, "Hogan’s Bottled Cider is fermented from only 100% fresh pressed English cider apples. Our cider tastes so good because we do not use apple concentrate and we do not add any sugars prior to fermentation. Containing more than 85% cider apple juice our premium bottled cider is made only from fresh pressed cider fruit and precious little else. Hogan’s bottled cider brings you the authentic taste of the English orchard."

Hogan's Medium Cider has an abv of 5.4% which makes it a bit low in comparison to United States craft producers but right on par with many of their UK peers.

The specific tasting notes for the Medium Dry give great detail, "Hogan’s Medium Bottled Cider is golden, well balanced, slightly sparkling cider with caramel, butterscotch and dried fruit aromas." Since they mention butterscotch, I'm anticipating some woodiness. One of the things I've learned is that what tastes very much like wood to me can taste like butter, toastiness, butterscotch, or vanilla to many other tasters, especially wine lovers.

The website follows its tasting notes with a list of awards that could put American Hustle to shame. Apologies for my silly film awards season joke, but I couldn't resist! But all goofiness aside, I've been hearing good things about Hogan's online for months and months before I actually found a bottle to try.

Appearance: hazy, deep color

Hogan's Medium Dry Cider pours a deep maple syrup color. It's clarity is hazy. I wish I had a photo of this cider in an elegant glass, but I'm not yet to the point of bringing my own glassware to parties to photograph ciders. I make no bets on how long it will be before we reach that point.

Aromas: applesauce, mulch, hint of barnyard

Wow, this cider is very aromatic. At first I can smell fresh warm applesauce. The scent is extremely fresh. Secondarily Hogan's Medium Dry Cider smells of wood and mulch. Somehow it smells English. One small note of farminess rounds everything out very pleasantly. Lots of complex scents but a very nice whole picture.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

Though the bottle uses a specific term, Medium Dry, I'll be bold enough to translate it into my own dry/sweet scale. By that measure this is a semi-dry. The sweetness reminds me of toasted nuts; it is subtle and warm. I like. a lot.

Flavors and drinking experience: This tastes oaked to an intense degree. The abv is  5.4 but it tastes boozier and yet not heavy. Hogan's Medium Dry cider offers low acidity and high tannins. That is a quick way to win my heart. What sweetness I can detect reminds me just a bit of  slighty sugared warm almonds in that it tastes Sweet then immediately woody. In terms of mouthfeel, it is more clean and watery with a mineral effect. Almost a still cider, but with a hint of effervescence.

This is a thinking cider, not to be consumed too quickly or thoughtlessly. I'd drink it while catching up with friends or when testing out some new ideas. In terms of food, pair it with warm flavors and some richness. Perhaps winter squash or pasta with a cream sauce. There are near infinite good choices for what to eat alongside this cider, especially hearty winter foods. Choose boldly and with confidence! Hogan's Medium Dry Cider will not let you down.

 Just a picture of my frosted windowsill to show the atmosphere in which I've been doing my tastings lately. Beautiful but cold. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cider Review: Bantam Cider's Wonderkind


To celebrate my return from lovely, warm, comfortable Florida, I'm reviewing my very first Bantam Cider. You can check out their website here: http://www.bantamcider.com. It has a beautifully simple design and lots of excellent information. The company operates out of Cambridge, Massachussetts where they share some equipment with a small winery: a good practice for a young company.This is how Bantam describes its own identity as a cider company:
Bantam Cider was born from a proud family tradition of
winemaking and a desire to be part of a creative process
rooted in the local community.


We were inspired to do something special, to create a truly unique and
modern line of products that would reshape the way people experience
cider. We source our apples from local orchards and create and trial
cider concepts at our small lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By shar-
ing capacity with a regional winery, we are able to scale up production
to meet demand. This allows us to grow our business while maintain-
ing flexibility and a compact footprint.

We are a small enterprise in a world of big brands. While we don’t have
a big budget, we do have big ambitions and hope to challenge conven-
tional thinking about what cider should be.

We are committed to making creative and distinctive crafted cider using fresh pressed apples and high-quality,
all-natural ingredients.
 
These are some pretty admirable (and lofty) goals. I'm curious about how their focus on innovation and experimentation will translate to taste. I like a good traditional cider in many different styles, so we'll see what breaking tradition tastes like.

Bantam makes a few different ciders. My wonderful brother-in-law picked the Wonderkind up for me during a family visit. He chose just the right one because this is their first cider, which is always a grand place to begin. The bottle didn't give me very much information, but when I looked up the Wonderkind online, I found much more. Here it is:
We are proud to introduce our first cider, Wunderkind.
Bantam's maiden voyage is named in honor of one of
the greatest modern adventurers, Amelia Earhart. She
was bold and courageous and never settled for any-
thing less than achieving the extraordinary. It is her
fearless spirit and sense of adventure that inspires
our own quest.

Wunderkind is bright and crisp and gently lingers on
the palate. It is made from a blend of local apples,
slowly fermented to capture subtle esters, and del-
icately balanced with a hint of flower-blossom honey.
It is the result of countless test batches on dozens of
apple varieties and yeast strains to arrive at just the
right combination of flavors, aroma and body.

Wunderkind isn't simply a new twist on a familiar
theme, it's a new story altogether.
Still curious about what they mean about a new story. Let's see.

Appearance: White, very pale, super clear

Bantam's Wonderkind just shines in this big gorgeous glass my family let me borrow. Obvious brilliant. The color looks nearly white, almost light green. The bubbles look like champagne bubbles in that they are so very active and fine. I wish I'd taken more time for photos, but getting photos and tasting notes while enjoying cider and family at the same time isn't actually as easy as I'd like it to be.

Aromas: Honey

I can smell just oodles of honey. Secondarily, the Wonderkind wafts off notes white wine, pear, and vanilla. It doesn't not smell very much like apple. Perhaps this is the innovation to talked up in Bantam's promotional copy. It smells back sweetened, which means that the cider was likely fermented to dryness and then sweetened after fermentation to taste. This is a very common technique for cidermakers producing on any scale. Smells lovely but different.

Sweetness: Sweet

The taste matches the smell in that I can definitely taste some significant back sweetening with honey on the finish. That really affects the character of the sweetness and the cider.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: sophisticated even while being sweet, creamy, and approachable

At first the Wonderkind tastes sweet, then it blooms into a creamy floral mid palate. Next, I get spices  and very easygoing, fleeting honey-vanilla on finish. What really sets the Wonderkind apart is that it isn't strongly fruit forward even while having plenty of flavor and sweetness. I experience this cider primarily as something light, sophisticated, and pleasant. It goes well with any number of desserts, and since I was visiting family I got to try it with several. I enjoyed it most with almond cookies. The  tiny bubbles seem to occur naturally and add wonderful texture and lightness.  The Wonderkind comes across as bright but not super acidic, very low in tannins, and very friendly.

I'd definitely bring this cider to party. It seems meant for light conversation and little desserts. I'm curious to try Bantam's other offerings. This one really worked for me despite not tasting very much like my usual favorites. Maybe they are achieving exactly what they were talking about in terms of breaking tradition?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cider Review: Woodchuck's Private Reserve Barrel Select

Pardon the slightly noir photograph. I promise that Woodchuck's Private Reserve Barrel Select isn't particularly mysterious. I just haven't had many moments of sunshine for cider photos lately, so I had to shoot quickly. This is a perfectly approachable cider, nothing nefarious here.

Woodchuck gives us some fairly effusive copy about their cider: "Woodchuck Private Reserve Barrel Select is our ultra-limited cider crafted in small batches for a rare taste of sweet, crisp apple cider combined with smoky, dry bourbon flavors. Aged in genuine white oak Kentucky bourbon barrels, this copper-hued gem pairs excellently with cheese, pork roast and chocolate cake. Served best at 50 degrees, Barrel Select is truly an exclusive joy to relish."Drawing from that, let's just look at the information shared. This is aged in used bourbon barrels from Kentucky (Yay Kentucky!). They recommend pairing it with some fatty, sweet, intense flavors, so I'm guessing that this will be a very flavorful sweet cider. No mention of apple varieties. The ABV on this cider is 6.9% which does limit the places where it can be sold. Curse you, labyrinthine prohibition remnants haunting our alcohol laws!

Anyhow back to the cider at hand. Let's see how it looks.


Color and Appearance: Brilliant, almost no visible bubbles, orange

This cider is deeply and devotedly orange. You could call it copper or persimmon or even vaguely bourbon like, but it is a bold orange cider. Like most Woodchuck ciders, it has been filtered to complete brilliance.

Aromas: vanilla, cooked apples, whiskey, wood

Very dessert smelling. The apples are much more like my grandmother's stovetop cooked apples than anything more raw and natural. I also get some vanilla, caramel, almost butterscotch notes. Its all over the place so long as the place is sweet and candy related. More distantly I can also smell the wood and bourbon elements, but only through a fog of sugary food smells.

Sweetness: Too. Sweet.

This can be a recurring problem for barrel aged ciders and for Woodchuck's ciders. It doesn't always strike though. So for fans of sweet cider, this might be right up their respective alleys. It is however sweet even by those standards. The sweetness comes across with some of the same notes as the aroma but also with a maple flavor more than the caramel I smelled.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: Overwhelming on its own. Better with food.

I can taste some wood and some fruit but mostly dessert sweetness: maple, vanilla, caramel, booziness. I don't care for it as a sipping cider. However, when I sat down with some veggie chili and cornbread, that smoothed out the experience for me. Chili has a lot of strong vibrant roasty flavors and those pair well with Woodchuck's Barrel Select.

Socially, this is a great time for chili. We're all cold and stir-crazy. Maybe invite some folks over and try a whole bunch of new ciders along with a few different chili variations. This combo is not a bad one.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Cooking with Cider: Crispin's Honey Crisp in Apple Scones with Maple Glaze


It has been far too long since I've shared any of my cider cooking experiences here, especially since I'm discovering new ways to use cider for cooking all the time. This seems like a very winter appropriate recipe to share for the brutal cold wave that happens to be freezing most of us here in the United States today. My good friend Amber and I baked apple scones with cider and made a Crispin Honeycrisp maple cider glaze. They turned out super yummy.


Apple Scones with Crispin Honeycrisp Maple Glaze


 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 heaping tbs baking powder

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 lb (or 2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup apple, grated (no need to peel the apples before grating)



First off, the Apple Scone part of the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Combine dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Put aside.

Mix cubed butter with heavy cream, maple syrup, and grated apple in a different mixing bowl. Feel free to use either a hand mixer, stand mixer, or a wooden spoon, depending on what you've got. I don't have a stand mixer, so I know more about how to use a hand mixer a spoon.

Then combine the dry bowl ingredients and the wet bowl ingredients into whichever bowl is larger. In any case, take it slow. You don't have to worry about a perfect texture. It is better for little bits of apple to remain together than to overmix.

 
Generously flour your counter surface and set your dough on top of it. Similarly flour your hands, a rolling pin, and the top of the dough. Use the rolling pin to gently roll the dough into a roughly scone shaped mass. It might be between 1 1/4 and 2 inches tall and somewhat smaller than a dinner plate. Transfer this carefully to a buttered cookie sheet. Once on the sheet, make gentle slices across the dough to make the number of scone servings you'd like have in the end. I'd say it works best to have either six or eight wedges.

Into the oven they go! Now, before you read the baking instructions, remember to start your cider and maple glaze. If you start as soon as the scones go into the over, your timing should work out well. Now, back to baking...

Bake at 375° F until you can see some hint of browning on top. Around 25-35 minutes. They might not look 100% done, but turn the oven off and let them stay warm inside while you finish up the glaze.

Crispin Honeycrisp Maple Glaze

This is the sweet sticky heart and soul of the recipe.

1/4 cup pure maple syrup (use whatever grade you have on hand, but I really prefer grade B)

1 cup Crispin Honeycrisp Cider

Pour both of the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer them slowly on the stove. Basically you're making a reduction or simple syrup.

The key is patience because it can look like nothing at all is happening. Don't give in to the temptation of turning the heat up too high because you do not want your syrup and cider reduction to crack or turn into caramel in the pot. Though it would still be tasty, you want this glaze liquid enough to coat the scones and impart rich apple cider and maple flavors throughout.

And that's exactly what you do. Once the syrup has reduced by 1/4 or even 1/3 *and* once you've cooled the scone after removing it from the oven, pour the reduction all over the circle of scone pieces. Messy but so so good.
Many many thanks to Amber for masterminding the recipe development and cooking. She's an expert baker, and I'm just a cider fan with a camera, but I think we worked together well.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cider Review: Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry


Apologies for the photo of an empty bottle. I took this with me to a New Year's Eve celebration and it recieved such an enthusiastic response from my fellow cider drinkers that I didn't have time to get better pictures. That's a recommendation in and of itself, I suppose.

Getting to the basics, I'm opening Along Came A Cider's second year of cider reviews with the Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry. The cider is part of a small premium line by Virginia Cider producers Bold Rock. I reviewed one of Bold Rock's six-pack draft style ciders a few months ago, as part of my cider tastings on vacation. You can see what I said about the cider and the company here:
http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/08/cider-review-bold-rock-virginia-draft.html

In terms of an official variety introduction, I cannot say that Crimson Ridge/Bold Rock tells us much, even on their about page: http://boldrock.com/OurCiders.html This one description is meant to serve for both of their premium offerings, "In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Wintergreen, Virginia is a cidery overlooking the Rockfish River. Here a custom blend of Virginia apples is crafted to make a premium hard cider with a rounded, full-bodied apple taste. Rich and beautifully effervescent, Crimson Ridge is exceptionally well-balanced, bringing out the very best in Virginia apples." It is lovely to know that they use local Virginia apples and that their goals include body and balance, but I think they could tell us more about each cider specifically.

Appearance: light straw, some degree of visible effervescence, brilliant

Even in my red plastic Solo cup (I should have thought ahead and brought my own glass, oops.), I could see that the Vintage Dry's color is light straw. It appears brilliant in the clear bottle; most 750ml cider bottles are not clear, so I was a bit surprised when I first saw this. Once opened the bottle showed visible signs of effervescence but not to any unusual degree. Just a lovely sparkling cider.

Aromas: overripe apples, powdered sugar, other fruits

I immediately noted the warm overripe apple smell on this cider. Now, please don't get me wrong. Overripe is a way to describe the intensity of the apple aroma, not implying any negative aspect to the apple smell at all. This cider has a strong apple scent, especially when compared to other craft ciders. Secondarily I can smell strawberries and pineapple; the Vintage Dry smells very fruity.

Sweetness: Dry

Surprisingly after those buckets of fruits on the nose of the cider, it actually tastes fairly dry. Crimson Ridge's Vintage Dry offers some degree of fruit without tons of sweetness.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: minerality, soft fruits, spice

At first the Vintage Dry offers up hints of minerals and almost metallics, but that develops into  golden ginger spice. The fruits soften the midpalate to my tastes, and the whole show closes with a lovely clean finish. This cider is lightly and naturally sparkling; I enjoy that its bubbles are not too harsh. In terms of mouthfeel, the Vintage Dry coats the mouth to a medium degree. It doesn't disappear on the tongue.

This was a big hit with my friends as our first New Year's Eve cider. We enjoyed it while playing board games, eating copious amounts of gorgeous food (beer battered asparagus!), and watching the snow fall out the windows. This was a great cider for a great New Year's and in general I'd recommend the Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry as a celebratory beverage. But don't make yourself wait a full year to try it. Celebrate the little things too. Celebrate snow, or a pet birthday, or a completed knitting project, or successfully writing 2014 on something. The Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry goes with all of the above.