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.