Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cider Review: Blake’s Hard Cider's Santa Rosa, Virtue Cider's Mezzo Spritz, Plus NY state's First Cider Competition

This week, I’m doing something a little different. I’ve got one cider review as usual, and then I’m sharing news on a statewide New York cider competition and a cider spritz. I need a little something different from time to time, particularly when the winter has hit pause on a run of gray days that are going on forever. I’m dreaming of all things fun and fruity.

That’s why I want to start with Blake’s Cider’s Santa Rosa.

Blake’s Hard Cider ferments many different ciders. They are organized into different lines, including a year-round selection, seasonal releases, and two high-end specialty cider lines. You can visit Blake’s Hard Cider’s tasting and tap room in Armada, Michigan. One of the coolest things Blake’s Hard Cider does is the Kinder Cider line that releases a special cider tied to a particular cause for which it raises money. Most recently, the company created Great Blakes coffee-infused cider to raise money for Freshwater Future program. 

Read more about all of the ciders and other projects at: http://www.blakeshardcider.com

I’ve reviewed several ciders by Blake’s before. And for full disclosure, this bottle was sent to me for review. 

I used the Beard Bender to make my signature Thanksgiving dish Hard Cider Dressing: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/11/thanksgiving-ciders-eves-ciderys.html

And I did indulge in a pumpkin cider with the Apple Lantern: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/10/cider-reviews-blakes-hard-ciders-apple.html

To go with a special homemade dinner, I paired The Tonic with cucumber and ginger: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/03/cider-review-blakes-hard-cider-companys.html

One of my favorites is the El Chavo with habanero and mango: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/11/cider-review-blakes-hard-cider-companys.html

I had a can of the Wakefire with orange peel and cherries:

In the winter of 2017, I shared the Snapdragon with rum raisins: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/11/cider-review-blakes-hard-ciders.html

Today, I’m sharing my impressions of the Santa Rosa from the Forager line. Here’s the official description, “Bold yet refined. Hard cider fermented on Santa Rosa plum skins.The extended contact with the plum skins and the long cold fermentation produces a cider of complex depth. 5% ABV” The label includes lots of into that’s more difficult to pass along including fun orchard pictures, other descriptions of the cider and some neat neo-victorian collage art.  

Appearance: brilliant, apricot, bubbly

This cider has such a pleasing warm apricot color. No wonder it’s bottled in clear glass. Once poured the cider looks bubbly and brilliant.

Aromas: dried apples, raisins, caramel, sun-dried tomato

These smell are everywhere and so exciting. I get notes of caramel, dried apple, raisin, even some great savory notes of salt and sun-dried tomato. There is a connecting factor that makes it make sense. These smells associate with umami-rich foods. I expect a rich and hearty cider. 

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

As the graphic on the label indicates this is a semi-sweet to sweet cider.   

Flavors and drinking experience: raisiny, plummy, rich

There are as many tastes to this cider as there were smells, but in this sense they are milder and warmly sweet. The first note I taste is how raisiny the cider is. Yes to plums, but this is full of rich dried flavors. Everyone who tasted it got more than just plums, and they match the aroma profile. We tasted apricot, caramel, and cooked apple. There’s even one tiny note of mushroom in the finish

As I hope with a richer sweeter cider, the Santa Rosa has a big mouthfeel. It’s Good to roll around in your mouth. Medium tannins from the plum skin. Though it’s more than petillant, the Santa Rosa’s sparkle is on the lighter side. 

I love how it manages to be sweet but not cloying. I think that’s due to the Santa Rosa’s medium to high acidity that lingers with citrus notes. This cider isn’t a profile I choose everyday, but Blake’s clearly gets it right! Fantastic!

The announcement: I’m super excited about judging for a new cider competition. This is the first state-wide competition for New York ciders! it’s being held in Rochester in May; that just sounds dreamy to me right now. It’s being run as a non-profit fundraiser. If you are a NY cider producer, I encourage you to submit your very best cider or two! More about the competition in the coming weeks!

I’m sticking with the theme of different to review a spritz. I know. It’s not a cider. I was curious when I heard about it. Lots of cider makers are making beverages of this type in the past year or so. I even brought a few of them into my Cider Culture article about low ABV ciders and cider related beverages: https://www.ciderculture.com/low-abv-ciders/.

This isn’t going to be a regular feature, but if I happen to find one or try one that’s cider related, it may show up here. 

I have reviewed several ciders from Virtue in Michigan.

The Percheron:

The Mitten: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/05/cider-review-virtue-ciders-mitten-and.html

The Mitten Reserve: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/03/cider-review-whitewood-cider-cos-olivia.html

The Ledbury:

Virtue Cider Seedling Orchard With Schaerbeek Cherries made it into Elizabeth’s birthday dinner: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/09/my-dear-friend-el-just-had-birthday.html

My first taste was the Red Streak back in 2013: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/06/trying-virtue-and-olivers-ciders-at.html

Product information straight from Virtue includes: 
Product Details: Mezzo Spritz Blood OrangeMade with Virtue Cider, sparkling water, and botanicals including blood orange oil, sage, and spearmintTasting Notes: hazy orange-rose appearance, bright fresh-squeezed blood orange with light floral aromas, juicy blood orange up-front, dry, soft middle, and a crisp, complex bitter orange peel, cocktail bitters-type finish3.5% ABV, 80 calories

So when I read about Virtue Cider’s Mezzo Spritz it sounded like a cider-based low alcohol version of an Aperol Spritz or something like it. And I love an Aperol Spritz, plus having lower ABV options is often a really desirable thing. 

Appearance: deep orange, hazy, bubbly

What a fun color to be hiding in a can! This looks a lot like an Aperol Spritz! It’s deep orange, bubbly and mildly hazy. It does not look like a cider.

Aromas: blood orange, botantical, herby

This smells strongly of blood orange and secondarily like some botanical herbs. 

Dryness/sweetness: off dry

This was the biggest surprise of the whole experience. The Mezzo Spritz tastes significantly drier than I expected.

Flavors and drinking experience: apple, orange, bitter herbs

The Mezzo Spritz tastes like apple, orange and botantical herbs. It’s a lot less soda like than I rather expected. It’s not that the spritze doesn’t have a high bubble level- it does. This is an intense sparkler. The Spritz was just so much less sweet than I expected. This was a thrill for me, but I’m actually not sure how well that will serve it in the market. 

It has a light body, and I enjoy the relatively high acidity. I’d prefer Virtue’s ciders, but this spritz achieves its own identity. It’s tasty, bubbly, light, dry, and zesty. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cider Review: The Citizen Cellar's Sur Lies and Eastman's Forgotten Ciders Cinnister

I’m trying to write this week’s blog post with a very cuddly cat. Princess Peppercorn doesn’t really care that I’ve got a deadline, or that I found two really interesting ciders to review for the week. All she concerns herself with are ear scritches. Nonetheless, I am thrilled to share my thoughts on two more ciders that were waiting for another cold wintery week like the one we just had. I chose both of these ciders for their seasonal suitability.

I’m starting with Citizen Cellars Sur Lie. The Citizen Cellars line is the limited small-runs available at the Citizen Cider tasting room in Burlington VT. I’ve reviewed many a Citizen Cider before; here’s the list. 

I enjoyed another Citizen Cellars before in 2017 when I reviewed the Barrel-Aged: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/02/cider-review-citizen-ciders-barrel-aged.html

The Wood used juice purchased from Poverty Lane Orchards. That orchard is home to Farnum Hill Cider (http://www.povertylaneorchards.com/farnum-hill-ciders/): http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/07/cider-review-citizen-ciders-wood-and.html

The Tulsi is a cider that uses a lesser known variant of basil: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/03/cider-review-fable-farms-greensboro-and.html

I enjoyed the Companion Sour Cherry at a summer picnic in 2017: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/06/pickcider-review-citizen-ciders.html

Earlier that year, I reviewed the Wit’s Up, the Belgian beer inspired cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/04/cider-review-citizen-ciders-wits-up.html

And a long while ago, I shared my thoughts on the Citizen Cider bRosé: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/02/cider-review-citizen-cider-brose.html

My favorite coverage of Citizen has to be when I visited the tasting room and production facility in Burlington during the summer of 2016: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-2.html

The official description reads, “Sur Lies translates from French into ‘fine lees’ and is a method of aging where a thin layer of ‘lees’ (yeast and apple fruit leftover from the fermentation) is allowed to settle during aging, imparting flavors into the cider and smoothing out the mouthfeel. This dry and bubbly cider was sur lies aged for 18 months in American Oak barrels. So we spiritedly offer this cider aged on fine lees to you, the more-than-fine citizen.” 6.9% ABV

Appearance: brilliant, bubbly, warm straw

This looks like many American ciders with it’s warm straw hue and brilliance. I expect a very bubbly cider not only from the description but from how this looks when poured. 

Aromas: flowers, barrel, honey, minerals

I didn’t know quite what to expect from the aromas of this cider, but what I got was certainly complex. The Sur Lie smells of summer flowers and barrels, vanilla and honey. I expect based on some of these aroma notes that the cider will taste very mineral rich.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

This is a dry cider, but it’s not the simplest cider to categorize because of what’s going on with this cider. It’s doing so much more than just tasting sweet or dry. You’ll have to read on to learn more. 

Flavors and drinking experience: barrelicious, bright acid, white chocolate

Oh my, oh my! This is an exciting cider that I think only got better for waiting around in my cellar for too long. My first impression comes from many barrel qualities in this cider. That includes a host of flavors including, bread crumbs, vanilla, brown sugar, and substantial mouthfeel. 

The Sur Lie doesn’t only taste like it’s barrel aging though. There’s enough bright acidity to keep the  mouthfeel firm and crisp. I get fruity flavors as well like ripe apple and pear, but they don’t appear alone. This cider just oozes with white chocolate notes! I love how creamy the Sur Lie feels.

The combination of tartness and body is very pleasing. I had this cider with pesto pasta with asparagus, roasted red pepper, and and cherry tomatoes, and it was outstanding.  

Next up, I brought the Forgotten Ciders Cinnister to a party.

Several select ciders from Eastman’s Forgotten Ciders were shared with me at the most recent GLINTCAP. This Michigan cidery doesn’t make it easy to find out very much about the ciders, but the cidery does have a well-liked Facebook page.


I shared my notes on The Mad Russian (a red cider made from red-fleshed apples) in March of 2018: 

Here’s what the label says about this cider, “Once a high priced ancient world spice from the Silk Trade Route, this now common spice evokes many memories of fall and flavor. An inviting aroma and delicate warmth are peeled back  in this cider, artfully infused with the once rare and exotic cinnamon spice” 6.9% ABV.

Appearance: pumpkin, brilliant, no bubbles

This cider looks still and brilliant. I didn’t notice any bubble action when it was poured. The color reminds me of pumpkin or roasted butternut squash.

Aromas: cinnamon roll, cleanly bready, yeasty, fruity

The Cinnister smells like cinnamon roll. The notes of powdery cinnamon are not too sweet but persistently roll between spicy and fruity. This just smells so pleasant. I appreciate the clean and yeasty bread notes. I feel like I should check on the oven to see if my cinnamon rolls are done, but sadly there are no cinnamon rolls.  

Here’s the most interesting part of the Cinnister’s aromas; as I lifted my glass and the drink approaches, I could sense the acidity as it neared. I’d not call the experience volatile acidity, or some of the aroma notes that traditionally 

Dryness/sweetness: Dry!

This cider shocked me with it’s dryness. After all of those rich and desserty aromas, this is a rough and tumble spicy dry cider! 

Flavors and drinking experience: Tart, petillant, high tannins

Wowzers, the Cinnister tastes extremely tart! And yes, this cider was surprisingly dry to everyone at the party! It simply doesn’t smell how one expects a dry cider to smell, and I think that’s because we are conditioned as Americans to associate cinnamon with dessert. 

In terms of texture the Cinner has relatively low carbonation; I’ll even call it petillant. What the cider doesn’t have in sweetness or fruity notes, it does compensate for with high tannins and high acid. The body is sharply pointed. 

This is an ideal cider for the true cinnamon fan. Notably we usually associate cinnamon with ripe apples (perhaps because of apple baked goods) but these notes are of tart underripe apples. The fermentation tastes clean, and the overall impression is very fresh and pleasant. I appreciate the spicy start that eventually shifts into an apple core finish. We had this some luxurious baked macaroni and cheese, and the contrast was epic.

Whether you’re hibernating at home next to warm cats like me, or out taking in the outdoors whatever the conditions, I hope you find just the right cider for your season. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Cider Review: The Cider Lab's Empire Royale and Uncle John's Cider's Baldwin

Good morning Cider Fans! I’m guess many many many of you are in Chicago this morning for Cider Con or gearing up to get there. If you love cider and don’t know about Cider Con, it’s the industry education, networking, business, and social center of the American cider world brought to us by the United States Association of Cider Makers. And it’s sold out!

Learn more at: https://ciderassociation.org/cidercon2019/

I’m sad to say that I won’t be there this year; I need to rotate my big cider events so I can see different people and taste different ciders, while seeing folks at my day job often enough that they don’t forget I work there. Have fun without me, cider friends. I miss you!

I want to start with my first ever review of cider by The Cider Lab. This is way overdue, and it’s only the first review of a few that are coming. I’ll let the brand/enterprise introduce itself,

"The Empire Cider Company LLC (“ECC”) was founded in New York State in 2013 by Jacob Israelow and James Chuck with the mission of integrating family-owned orchards into the hard cider market for the benefit of New York State apple growers and hard cider consumers." And it’s not just one brand; this is a Geneva, New York project that aims to connect fruit growers and cider makers as well as create its own cider; that followed in 2016.

This is such and interesting project, I want to link to both homepages for The Cider Lab and for Empire Cider. 

The official description for the Empire Royale reads:
EMPIRE ROYALE ABV: 6.3%. Robust, juicy FLX and Hudson Valley blackcurrants set this cider on fire. The Cider Lab’s Empire Royale is reminiscent of the iconic French cocktail Kir Royale: beautifully balanced, elegant and refreshing. With a luscious deep purple hue and a fruit-forward nose that tempts the senses, Royale is a regal cider experience, pure pleasure from start to finish. Available from September – March in bottle

Appearance: brilliant, deep cherry color, few bubbles

I know I’m a sucker for richly colorful ciders. Whether it’s the umbre, ochre, orange of a West Country style cider or a delicate salmon shade of pink, I like lots of color. This cider delivers that in spades. This is a terrifically pretty cider with brilliance and not a lot of visible bubbles. I love the deep cherry hue.

Aromas: Bing cherries, ripe apples minerality

On the nose, I get darkly sweet Bing cherries, minerals, ripe apples, and a hint of black currant.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

This a semi-sweet cider whose sweetness is all fruit and in great balance with its acidity. The Empire Royale sparkles with lots of black currant flavor. I can tastes all sorts of red fruit fruit notes: raspberry, cherry, currant, strawberry. There are ripe apples notes as well, though the apples are behind the other flavors in intensity.

This cider offers a pleasingly hefty body and some tannic presence. The high acidity is just enough to balance both the sweetness and the tannins. Lower acidity could have left the cider feeling flabby or sticky; this is neither! I love the long subtle finish. It’s just so pleasant all around.

I had this at a birthday party for my friend, Jill. We enjoyed it with lasagna, herbed crackers, and the most intense dark chocolate lavender birthday cake. Remarkably, especially with the cake.

Uncle John's Cider's Baldwin

To give a really short brand introduction, if you love cider, please find a way to try something by Uncle John’s Cider and take a moment to raise your glass to a person and a company who had done more for the American cider world than almost anyone else: Mike Beck. He’s worked for decades to help the cider world at every stage from orcharding to cider legislation.

Here are my previous reviews of Uncle John's Cider.

I quite enjoyed Uncle John’s Draught Apple Cider in a can: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/06/cider-review-uncle-johns-cider-draught.html

I tried the Rosé back in 2015, years before the trend took off: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/01/cider-review-uncle-johns-cider-rose.html

Here's a link to my review of Uncle John’s American 150: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/04/uncle-johns-cider-american-150.html

To read more about this Michigan cidery, winery, and distillery at the website: http://www.fruithousewinery.com/

Uncle John's Baldwin is introduced on it’s bottle with the following,
Baldwin is made from 100% Baldwin apples grown near the Lake Michigan shore. Baldwin is a favorite apple of cider makers both past and present. It’s crisp and fruity flavor makes a very fresh and enjoyable cider. First introduced in our tasting room in 2009, Baldwin has become a consumer favorite. This cider is limited be sure to try it now. 6.8%ABV
I'm always curious about a single varietal cider, especially a heritage apple like Baldwin.

Appearance: warm straw, almost no visible bubbles, brilliant

This cider looks nearly still in the glass, but not seeing bubbles doesn’t prove their absence. I’d describe the color as warm straw and the transparency as brilliant. This is a classic cider in appearance.

Aromas: ripe apples, rock candy, leather, salt

What an enticing array of smells: ripe apples, rock candy, salt, a little phenolic funk, and leather. The apples and rock candy are far more forward than the savory and funky notes, but it’s enough to give me high expectations for a complex cider.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

Hooray for a dry cider! Yes, I love ciders at most points in the dryness to sweetness spectrum, but I never get enough dry, bubbly, high acid ciders.

Flavors and drinking experience: tropical, strongly sparkling, high acid

The Baldwin tastes very fruity with notes that remind me of pineapple, melon, tropical notes, and lush green leaves. Like many single-varietals, this cider has complexity! There’s even a gentle hint of fresh carrots. I really enjoy this dry super tart cider. The cider has a pleasing mineral finish. Though the cider is on the whole far more clean tasting than funky, I can sense a little phenolic funk in big sips.

In terms of mouthfeel, this cider is highly carbonated. I adore that strong sparkle. The high acidity and bubble add to an overall feeling of lightness. I had this cider at home with a chipotle cheddar grilled cheese and some red bell pepper strips. The meal was simple; all the better to show off this gorgeous cider.