Monday, January 2, 2023

Cider Review: Big Fish Cider Co.'s Wassail

Let’s start off this year’s cider coverage with Big Fish Cider Co.’s Wassail! A Wassail is a celebration and collective ritual to create community and bring good harvests, so it seems an auspicious way to begin a new year! Here’s to many good and delicious things for all of us.

Big Fish Cider Company makes its home in Monterey, Virginia. The cidery was founded in 2015, though the cidermaker Kirk Billingsly had more than twenty years of home cidermaking to his credit before starting Big Fish. 

Here’s a little about how the cidery is introduced on the website.

We make ciders using locally-grown apples and traditional techniques to create completely new flavors. Our cider is available in a range of off-dry to semi-sweet blends, as well as seasonal offerings.

Big Fish has won multiple best in class, gold, silver, and bronze awards at the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Competition. We have also won both the Good Food Award and a Made in Virginia Award.

More snippets of background appear in all of my earlier reviews of Big Fish Ciders, going back to the cidery’s first appearance in 2018. Here’s the full list. 

Punk and Henry (my #2 Favorite cider of 2022):

And in case you didn’t see the favorites list:

Virginia Hewes Crab(my #1 favorite cider of 2020!):

Wild Meadow:

Allegheny Gold (my #3 cider from 2019):

Highland Scrumpy (my #3 cider from 2018):

Church Hill Blush:

One of the best ways to find out more about Big Fish Cider is to visit the homepage here:

If you’d like to read more about wassailing, I recommend Dr. Maria Kennedy’s excellent blog post about Wassails old and new:

Here’s what Big Fish Cider has to say about the Wassail.

Still gold naturally cloudy Medium Sweet cider featuring Jonagold, Pink Lady, York, and Stayman apples, 8.5% abv.

From Old Norse “ves heil” literally meaning “be you healthy.” Mulled cider was traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, a medieval English drinking tradition to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. Wassail is made with traditional mulling spices, but not so much as to eliminate the apple’s essence and taste. It’s a great wintertime drink.

Appearance: hazy, turmeric, bubbly 

The Wassail looks like a mulled cider. The color is a rich turmeric with plenty of haze. I can barely see my fingers on the other side of the glass. There are some bubbles that gather at the edges of the cider where it rings the glass.

Aromas: clove, ginger, cinnamon, minerals, cranberry, apple and cherry

Big Fish Cider Co.’s Wassail smells immediately like cinnamon, clove, ginger, orange, and wet apples. It’s tremendously enticing. Secondarily, I get notes of minerals cranberry, and cherry.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

This is a deliciously sweet cider whose sweetness feels fruity and tastes like brown sugar. The sweetness is completely welcome in this drink. Read on to see how it fits in with this gorgeous cider. 

Flavors and drinking experience: still, spices, citrus, medium acid, some tannins

Wassail delighted us on a wintry holiday evening. All of the flavors promised by the cider’s aromas came through in the flavors beautifully. Big Fish chose to make this cider still with a bloom of warmth, fruit, and spice. The cider needs to be sweet but what I appreciate about the sweetness is how it tastes quite real: nothing fake or out of balance. It’s just so very good! 

This spiced cider not only has the spice notes of clove, cinnamon, and ginger I noted in the aromas; it also uses citrus—orange juice notes quite effectively. The cider uses medium acids and immediate tannins that commingle with the clove flavor especially. Though it's plenty spicy, the cider never feels hot, pointed, or bitter. All notes play in concert beautifully. My mom described it as liquid apple pie. The apple speaks with ripe warmth, but all elements are necessary to the overall experience. What an amazing treat.