Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Cider Review: Mountain West's Cottonwood Dry Hopped Hard Cider and Big Hill Ciderworks Manchurian Cider

Days are blazing hot and sunny outside. My berry bushes have scads of ripe wild blackberries and even more thorns. At night, I can hear the rubber band croaks of frogs and the string section of insects. Not even a global pandemic can stop the season. I’m just grateful to have air conditioning and a few ciders designed to chill. 

Let’s start today with Mountain West’s Cottonwood Dry Hopped Hard Cider. 

A bit about Mountain West cider. Jennifer and Jeff Carleton started the company in Utah. The company’s cider maker is Joel Goodwillie.

I've reviewed one Mountain West cider before, the Ruby:

You can visit Mountain West online here:

Here’s the official description of the Cottonwood Dry Hopped Cider. 
From world-class skiing to remote hiking trails to pristine climbing pitches, it takes a lifetime to fully explore Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons. Infused with hops during the final stage of fermentation, our 6.9% alcohol by volume Cottonwood Dry Hopped Hard Cider offers a bold, complex flavor equally worthy of repeated exploration.

Appearance: transparent, corn, few bubbles

This cider has a color like ripe corn. It’s a yellow a bit more strong than Silver Queen but not quite as buttery as Golden Bantam. I’ll call it transparent rather than brilliant. 

Aromas: mild soapy hops, Concord grapes, minerality

My co-taster was the first to notice the Concord grape notes, but once he mentioned them they were unmistakable. I noticed the soapy hops, minerality, and sulphites first.  It does smell cooling, some note in the mix reminds me of aquatic plants and icy mint.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry

The Cottonwood tastes off dry. There’s almost no sweetness to it at all. I like this level for a hopped cider such that there’s just enough sweetness to make the overall experience not one of total austerity.

Flavors and drinking experience: astringent, citrusy, petillant 

The Cottonwood tastes very citrusy! I get strong astringence at the start, leading to a luscious smooth texture. I’ll call this cider petillant, as it’s bubbles are not very strong. The hops meld with the cider nicely with piney, citrusy, and aquatic notes. I appreciate that there’s no sweatiness. Instead this cider tastes aquatic and icy. One of the most surprising characteristics is the creamy mouth coat. It was a fun one to eat with vegetarian hand pies!

Now for Big Hill Ciderworks’ Manchurian Cider!

Every year since it began, I have the pleasure of judging the PA cider competition. Through that, I’ve gotten to be a big fan of several independent Pennsylvania cideries that I would never have other wise discovered. Big Hill Ciderworks happens to be one of them. The small company is based in Adams County; it was started in 2002 by Ben Kishbaugh and Troy Lehman. The fruit and fermentation are all local.   

I have one previous review of a cider by Big Hill Ciderworks, the Little Round Hop:

You can read about all of Big Hill Ciderworks beverages on the website:

This is the official description for the Manchurian by Big Hill Ciderworks:
Manchurian Crabapples by themselves pack a very acidic punch, even with their high brix content.  We’ve blended a bit of Winchester cider to round out the flavor and add some subtle tannins.  Both are barrel aged for one year prior to blending for a smooth vanilla and oak characteristic. 8.2% ABV

Appearance: Butterscotch yellow, brilliant, few bubbles

This cider has so much color! I think I’d describe it as a butterscotch yellow. It pours brilliantly with few bubbles.

Aromas: Tart, dusty, fusel oils and tropical fruit

This was where some differences of opinion began to show. My cotaster and I both agreed that something about the aromas tipped us off to a very tart cider. I got some mineral or dusty notes, and tropical fruit. My co-taster got more notes that reminded them of Sauvignon Blanc or Fusel oils.

Sweetness/dryness: Off dry

This cider tastes very nearly bone dry to me. I’ll call it off dry, but between the subtle barrel characteristics and the crab apple profile, I could be wrong. I could be mistaking richness or fruitiness for just a hint of sweetness.
Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, concentrated fruit, leathery finish

The Manchurian cider is delicious and fascinating! I loved it. I appreciate how the acid is high, but the profile of tartness and hints of sourness are so different from the kind of high acidity I taste in a lot of Northeastern American ciders.  The acid hits immediately, but then melts into a fruity mid-palate and a leathery finish.

I think it’s the heavy use of crab apples, but the apple notes taste concentrated somehow with intensity to acids, fruitiness, and tannins. There’s also a very real citrus presence in the mix. It is too sour for some, including my co taster. It’s got a distinctive profile, and one I liked very much.

I had this cider with peppers, tortellini, and homemade pesto. What a delightful pairing!