Friday, May 1, 2015

Cider Review: South Hill Cider's Hypothesis (available only at Cider and Beer Together At Last)

This review is a little different than most that I written. Mostly because this cider was served only for one evening. The cider maker described it as basically impossible to replicate, at least with any expectation of consistency. So, instead of telling my wonderful readers about what I thought of a cider they might choose to drink, I'm instead describing an experience I shared with those us who were at the Ithaca Beer Company and tried South Hill Cider's Hypothesis. 

Photo Borrowed from Ithaca Beer Company

I apologize in advance because this cider was really really good.

Because this is the first time I've reviewed a South Hill Cider here's a bit of background. South hill refers to a specific part of Ithaca and South Hill Cider went professional in 2014 though they've been making cider for far longer. Here's how South Hill Cider introduces the cider maker and the company. 
Steve Selin, the cidermaker, apple picker, and community orchardist has been bottling his own cider since 2004.  Collaborating with neighbors to help maintain and reclaim wild trees and forgotten orchards for use in cider making has been a labor of love for years... The apples from these trees, plus bittersweet and heirloom apples from other small orchards, enable us to give every bottle of cider the solid foundation needed for world-class ciders. I made around 200 cases in 2013 and am making around 600 in 2014.
Photo borrowed from South Hill Cider
and here's the larger philosophy behind South Hill Cider:
At South Hill Cider, our apples come from wild trees, abandoned orchards and orchards of high quality cider apples. Using traditional cider-making techniques we create timeless well-balanced ciders. We are planting our cider orchard on a peaceful hilltop to be part of a harmonious ecosystem that relies on diversity and fertility as its foundation.  South Hill Cider produces ciders with individuality, quality, and elegance reflecting the terroir of our beautiful Finger Lakes region.
You can read about the ciders you can buy of theirs here on the website:

South Hill Cider's Hypothesis: This is a single cask cider made from a blend of wild fermented cider, pitched yeast cider, hops and whole tart cherries. 

Appearance: cloudy, peach nectar

This looks like the fancy peach or apricot nectar at fancier grocery stores. It is completely cloudy and shows a small ring of bubbles at the top edge of the glass.

Aromas: Barnyard, leather, wood, fruit

I love how much barnyard and fermentation comes across here. I can smell leather, barn wood, and only a ghost of fresh fruit aroma remains.  There are milder notes like honey and overripe cherries, but also a bit of shoe polish. It rather works together almost like a warm peachy musk in scent.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

Dry, but so much more than simply dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: sour, bitter, astringent, exciting, petillant

This cider, though unique, tastes very British to me but also like a sour beer. The cherries were entirely subsumed by the fermentation process, so they add fresh tart fruitiness but not specific cherry flavor. The connection to Flemish-style sour beer comes through clearly. With its decidedly beery slant, I can't help tasting sourdough bread. All in all the flavors are very wild. Like the cherries, I think the hops contribute to the overall impression but don't really have their own distinct voice, at least not until the finish.

The astringent qualities wow me by being so through the roof yet so delightful. I love how very funky and bitter this cider tastes. Wow. The finish cleans up with piney hops. Of the fruit notes, I tastes grapefruit the most. This cider does remain balanced despite its bitter wildness. I get the same effect in small and large sips alike. Rather mild bubbliness, such that I would call this petillant. Too much would overpower the complexity of the flavors. I can taste some yeast, but not it is not overly yeasty.  Both the levels of tannins and acid are relatively high. The the cask conditioning has a lot to do with the tannins, but I know Steve Selin uses some very tannic fruit as well. I heard wildly positive comments from everyone I spoke to who tried the cider. I loved it!

Here's the menu from Ithaca Beer Company's event, Cider and Beer Together at Last. I had a fantastic time. I tried more than just the South Hill Ciders and enjoyed everything I had. The turnout impressed everyone, proving that cider, beer, fun music and delicious food go very well together indeed.