Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cider Review: Scrumpy Ewe's Golden Crab and Forward Cider's Penpal

I’m so excited to introduce two cideries to the blog that I’ve not reviewed before. Of course, I love reviewing new ciders by my standby favorite cider makers, but there’s something differently exciting about trying a brand new voice in the cider world. It’s like picking out a book in the bookstore or library by an author you’ve not yet read. The expanse of what I don’t know is vast as I pour that first glass. And I was surprised to find these ciders have something else in common, you’ll have to read carefully to find out what. 

The first new brand I’m trying tonight is Scrumpy Ewe. I’ve admired the sheep’s head logo online for many months; it’s a striking graphic that feels both immediate and yet hearkens back to artistic styles of previous centuries. Scrumpy Ewe is a cidery in rural New York state in the Catskill mountains. Here’s how the company describes itself online.

"Scrumpy Ewe Cider is an independently-run, New York State Farm Cidery that ferments and grows a variety of European, heirloom and wild seedling apples in the fertile Schoharie Valley. We make hand-crafted, artisanal, dry ciders."

I highly recommend visiting the website. You can learn about the orchard, the cider making processes, and see a plethora of bucolic farm pictures with sheep, trees, cider, and apples. 

Here’s how the label introduces this cider.

“Golden Crab is a slow-fermented cider that showcases two of our favorite apples[:] the Wickson Crab and the Golden Russet Bright, bold and acidic, this complex cider pairs well with spicy curries, braised pork, and sharp cheeses” ABV 7.7%

Appearance: hazy, warm straw, no visible bubbles

The popularity of hazy ciders must be growing! I'm seeing more and more of them. This one pairs its haze with a warm straw color and no visible bubbles.  

Aromas: ripe apples, barely sweetened buttercream frosting, and pears 

The Golden Crab Smells inviting clean and fresh. The specific notes that stand out most immediately are ripe apples, cold juicy pears, and buttercream frosting. That last one might raise a brow for some cider fans, but I stand by it. I don’t mean general sugary sweet bakery smells, but the dairy richness of just barely sweetened real-deal buttercream. 

Sweetness/dryness: Off dry

I think many drinkers would call the Golden Crab completely dry, but I feel like it brings just the tiniest sliver of sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: still, fruity, high acid 

The Golden Crab is a still high acid cider that drinks in some ways like a wine. It has a beautiful balance of fermented and fresh flavors: yeast and apples. The still texture highlights how high and arching cider’s acidity can be without become pointed or punishing. The fruit notes are pomme fruits and tropical fruits. I get wafts of overripe apple, pineapple, cherry, and quince. The whole effect feels golden and ringing. The cider just reverberates with clear and appealing acidity. Perhaps my upstate New York is showing here, but I appreciate taut tartness. 

The cider is intense and welcoming. I enjoyed it tremendously. I served it to friends with a dinner of cauliflower Parmesan and pesto carrots. I was glad to double down on acidity, but that might not be for everyone. Now that I’ve enjoyed this cider, I think I’d pair it with a hearty vegetable soup, cheddar, and farmhouse bread next time. 

Next up, it’s a cider I received in a trade that has been tantalizing me from my fridge for too many weeks now! I’m super excited to taste Forward Cider’s Penpal!

Please note the tiny can! It's adorable!

I don’t know much about Forward Cider, but the company is based in Myra, Wisconsin. Instead of a website, they maintain a Facebook page. There’s a short intro that gives a sense of the cidery’s identity. “Dry Cider. Made in a Barn. Myra, Wis.” Short and boldly declarative, I like it!

You can see updates to Facebook here:

The Penpal cider is described as dry and barrel aged on the can, so I thought it might be a nice winter sipper. 

Appearance: hazy, deep copper orange, no visible bubbles

This is a lovely cider. The can is cute, but why hide this color? It’s a deep copper orange with no visible bubbles. It has an even haze that makes it reminiscent of soft cider from a farm stand.

Aromas: overripe apples, peaches, volatile acidity

I got all sorts of seasonal imagery when I inhaled this cider. The Penpal smells soft like sweated overripe apples and peaches. It’s very fruity with hints of VA.  I also get some citrus and syrup notes. Its fragrance is shimmering with a little sweet and a little sour. 

Sweetness/dryness: off dry

This cider is labelled as having o grams of sugar, but it’s fruity enough to taste just off dry. For many drinkers this would taste dry. I’d not feel confident in guessing its residual sugar down to the decimal points, but I’m not sure it’s 0.00.

Flavors and drinking experience: still, sour, peachy, overripe apples

Many of the notes I gathered when sniffing this cider came back around when I tasted it. It does taste drier than it smells though. I was surprised to find that this cider is still! I don’t get access to many canned ciders that are entirely still. 

I tastes some tart or sour notes of several varieties—both bright apple and dark citrus and stone fruit. It definitely offers up a peachy stone fruit finish.  This cider is also rich with minerality—more water and metal than stone. Penpal’s acidity spikes early and then recedes. 

This cider’s pineapple-heavy finish is the best part by my measure. I had some of this cider in a glass and some in the cute tiny can. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it more from the can, which is curious. This cider’s gentle element of bitterness seems tied to some of its creamier notes.  First sour, then bitter, then just barely sweet. When thinking about the whole experience I’d say that the cider has a somewhat European sensibility, which on inspection makes sense—the can says "Apples from France, Handmade in Chicago." Now I’m curious about how that came to be!

I enjoyed this cider as a little evening treat after dinner and after a winter workout. It was complex enough to stand on its own easily!