Monday, January 30, 2023

Cider Review: Tilted Shed Ciderworks' 2019 Echolocation

I’ve seen the sun twice this week, and I’ve recovered from Covid. You know mostly recovered in that I’m testing negative and able to go about my business. My congestion isn’t fully gone, and I’m returning to life slowly and carefully. That just seems the safest and comfiest option. That means that this set of notes is another one I took a while ago, and I’ve saved for a rainy day. Hopefully, there won’t be too many more rainy days before I can replenish these! But until then, I’m happy to share my thoughts on Tilted Shed Ciderworks 2019 Echolocation.

Tilted Shed Ciderworks has appeared on this blog regularly, so I’ll refer readers to earlier reviews for more background information on this orchard-based California Cidery.  What I will share again is that the cidery is based in Sonoma County California, where it was founded in 20111 by Ellen Cavalli and her husband Scott Heath. The cider releases are small and highly individualized, so if you’re curious about what Tilted Shed is releasing, the best way to have access is the cider club.

Find out more background in these earlier reviews.

Wickson (my #9 cider of 2021) :


Love's Labor (my 2nd favorite cider of 2020):

Lost Orchard:

Barred Rock Barrel Aged Cider:

January Barbecue Smoked Cider:

And you can learn all about what’s happening at Tilted Shed Ciderworks on the website:

I obtained this cider as part of the Tilted Shed Cider Club. Here’s what the Harvest newsletter said about it. 

2019 Echolocation    A coferment of 70% Asian pear varieties (Hosui, Shinseki, and Shinko) from Sebastopol’s Gabriel Farm and 30% Roxbury Russet from Murray Ranch on Sonoma Mountain. This was our first time working with these delightful pear varieties, and we think it turned out really well! Straw gold, with a aromatics of pear skin and just a whiff of marjoram; vivacious acidity with notes of pear and a touch of honeydew melon. I dig it, and the more I drink it, the more I find it rather beguiling. I think it’ll be a great cider for pearing...haha, I mean, pairing with a wide range of foods. Let me know what you think! PS You might be wondering where the name “Echolocation” comes from. Well, when I conceived of the art for this label, I drew four nested concentric circles representing the four types of pome fruit that go into this blend. I asked Scott to paint it for me (I cannot paint!) and when he showed me the finished art, it immediately reminded me of the radarlike imagery of echolocation—that is, the way creatures such as dolphins and bats navigate using sound instead of sight. Hence, the name. I think it is apropos as it shows how we are navigating our way through our cidermaking journey by using all our senses.

Appearance: intense aconite yellow, cloudy, few bubbles

The color of this cider is intense and joyful. It reminds me of Winter Aconite, one of the first flowers we’ll see in upstate New York. The cider is cloudy rather than clear or hazy, and it poured with a bit of a mousse. After a few moments, I can still see just a few isolated bubbles, but I still anticipate some sparkle

Aromas: Dust, red grapes, cantaloupe, apricot

The Echocolation smells rich and exciting like mineral dust, red grapes, cantaloupe, and apricot. I love the concentrated intensity of these aromas. It's tremendously inviting.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry!

Yes! Another dry one. I’m always curious about perceived sweetness when dealing with a perry because of the varying levels of sorbitol in pears. This is a conclusively dry pear and apple blend. 

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, floral, astringent, honey, ripe apple  

What a lovely and complex treat! Echolocation taste dry and yet like floral honey and fusel oil. The pear cider offers a long ripe apple finish and strong bubbles. The flavors are wild and intense and communicate while remaining fully dry. The cider creates an astringent experience that feels almost cottony in my mouth. The mid-palate’s bitterness slightly recalls wonderfully fresh red pepper. The overall effect varies between spring flowers and summer vegetables. It’s a wonderful vacation from a cold gray day and it has woken up my taste buds with amazing vibrance.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Cider Review: Wild State Cider's Classic Dry

I’m writing from my bed where I’m stuck with Covid. This is the weekend that I’m grateful to have some sets of cider review notes saved from earlier tasting sessions. For a long while, I was lucky enough to avoid the dread illness, but my luck ran out. I hope the congestion clears and that I’ll return to full sensing form soon. This is one reason why I try to keep a few sets of notes in reserve at all times. Now I’ll just write and feel envious of past and future selves that get to enjoy ciders like Wild State’s Classic Dry. 

Wild State Cider comes to us from Duluth, Minnesota. The cidery was kind enough to send me several samples for review a while back. I’ve reviewed a few Wild State Ciders, and I’ve included more background in the earlier reviews. Here’s the full list. 

Peach Basil:


Triple Berry:

I recommend visiting Wild State Cider’s website to learn about the full cider lineup and the taproom:

Here’s how Wild State describes the Classic Dry. It’s not a ton of info, but it highlights what the cidery wants us to know about this cider.

The champagne of ciders. Perfectly dry with 0g of sugar. Only 170 calories and 2g carbs. 6.9% ABV

Appearance: hazy, applesauce color, bubbly

The color of the Classic Dry reminds me of applesauce; it's warm in tone but mellow and hazy. There are drifts of bubbles resting in the bottom of the glass.

Aromas: minerals, salt, fresh green apple, sulphites 

Wild State’s Classic Dry smells initially of minerals and fresh apples. Specifically I smell the green apple malic acid note along with some hint of saltiness and sulphites.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

It is dry! I’m always curious when a cider bills itself as fully dry. Many drinkers don’t want fully dry; they prefer off dry described as dry. Not Wild State though, when they say dry, they mean it! 

Flavors and drinking experience: Austere, high acid, bracing, tannic

Wow! This is highly unusual for a canned cider. Not only is the Classic Dry actually dry, it’s bringing high acid and some tannins to the table as well. I find the cider more austere than fruit-forward, but it’s wonderfully bracing.

Because of the combination of acid, dryness, and tannins, the whole experience feels angular, almost sharp. The bubbles are plentiful and powerful too. This is a great way to wake up your mouth! I find it tremendously refreshing and very different from most of what I find in cans. 

Fingers crossed that by next week, I’ll be back up to the usual cider shenanigans. Be well, friends!

Monday, January 16, 2023

Cider Review Farmhouse Cider's Goldrush Single Varietal Cider

Farmhouse Cider is the cider line created by Back Bay Brew House: Farmhouse in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Today, I’m sharing my thoughts on the Goldrush Single Varietal Cider, and I have to mention my thanks to the cidermaker. He shared this cider with me for review and is one of the kind folks I got to meet in the Hudson Valley this summer when I traveled to take my Pommelier exam. 

You can read about Back Bay Brewery: Farmhouse and all their beers, wines, ciders and canned cocktails here:

This is my first ever Farmhouse Cider review.

Here’s what the Goldrush Single Varietal Cider’s label says about it. 

Unlike many other cider apple varieties that are over 200 years old, the Goldrush apple was only brought to market 30 years ago. This apple brings a refreshing tartness, hints of tropical fruit, and a unique spiciness that is both warming and invigorating. 

Appearance: slight haze, vivid warm nectarine color, virtually no visible bubbles

This cider looks warm and homey with its mild haze and inviting nectarine gold color. It reminds me of the warm sunny days that are both behind and ahead of us. (Can you tell I’m missing every season but Winter?)

Aromas: tangerine, pears, ripe apples and old fashioned bubble gum

The Goldrush smells like tangerine and old fashioned bubble gum on an immediate first sniff (hat tip to my co-taster who identified the fruity mix that reminded both of us of old school bubble gum). I noticed Pear and ripe apple notes that are vivid in their intensity as well. 

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

This is a dry cider. I often expect that in a single varietal cider, but it cannot be assumed. This is a lovely true dry cider. 

Flavors and drinking experience: High acid, pear, fine bubbles

Much of what comes out in this cider’s aromas are present also in the Goldrush Single Varietal’s flavors as well. It tastes beautifully like ripe apple and pear, with a gentle background of interplaying tropical fruits. This cider brings wonderfully high acid that remains fun and fruity rather than sharp or austere. 

The pleasure of The Goldrush cider is enhanced by its plethora of very fine bubbles. Everything combines to make this cider very drinkable and delightful. I had mine with tilapia, brown rice, and delicata squash. I kept the meal very simple so I could focus on a new and exciting cider. I’m glad I did!

Monday, January 9, 2023

Cider Review: Turncoat Cidery's Madeira Cask Cider

It’s not everyday I get to try a cider that’s as new and mysterious as Turncoat Cidery’s Madeira Cask Cider. I wanted to try something new on a dark winter night in that strange time of lull after the holidays. 

Turncoat Cidery is an up-and-coming small cidery on Benedict Arnold’s historic farm, using all Rhode Island apples. Madeira Cask Cider intrigued me especially because I’ve never actually tasted Madeira. For me, it's always been one of the near infinite list of beverages that show up in novels that have piqued my curiosity for years. For some additional background information, I turned to both online sources and Turncoat’s cider maker. 

I’ll link to Turncoat Cidery’s website more for the future than for the present:

According to the Connecticut and Rhode Island Beverage Journal, “Employing 16 heritage cider varieties—including Golden Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Harrison, Arkansas Black, Whitney and Roxbury Russet—Turncoat! farms organically and follows low-intrusion fermentation techniques to add great character to their small-batch production.” The cider is available via distribution and at restaurants. 

Here’s what the cider’s label reads.

Madeira Cask Cider Turncoat ciders are made from heirloom cider apples grown at Fox Hill Farm, a beautiful saltwater farm at the base of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and the colonial era farm of Benedict Arnold. Today we honor the traditions of cider making past through thoughtful blending of bittersweet and bittersharp apples to give our cider both nuance and character.  

This particular cider went into the bottle about 6 months ago.

Appearance: hazy, medium intensity shortbread color, no visible bubbles 

The Madeira Cask Cider’s color reminds me of perfectly baked shortbread; its golden but gently so. I don’t see any visible bubbles, and the cider has a soft haze. 

Aromas: petrol, apricot, leather, walnuts, mushroom

These descriptors paint a picture for me, just like the Madeira Cask Cider’s aromas do. This is a story of mature, earthy and wild scents. Its very foresty with apricot, walnut, and mushroom notes. The cider doesn’t just smell like fairy woodland though; I also get petrol and leathery elements as well. I so appreciate the multi-dimensional funk going on!

Sweetness/dryness: bone dry

This cider is dry. Don’t ask for it to be sweet. 

Flavors and drinking experiences: sparkling, lemon, smoky and funky

This cider’s  flavors grow very naturally from its aromas. The Madeira Cask Cider has some of the barrel and oxidation-related notes more associated with Madeira itself: walnut, hazelnut, and orange peel. There’s more though; this cider is sparkling, with notes of lemon, barrel, and smoke.

This is a funky cider that I think will appeal most to fans of both UK cider profiles and genuinely dry ciders. Luckily for me, I’m very fond of both! I like the cider’s acidity, austerity, and challenge. The whole experience is angular and savory. It could stand up to a hearty meal beautifully, but the cider is complex enough to enjoy on its own. Lovely.

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. 


Monday, December 26, 2022

My Favorite 10 Ciders of 2022

Finally! We’ve been holidaying for weeks; its time to wind down the year. Only a few more days remain in 2022. That means it’s also time for me to round up my favorite 10 ciders of the year. And though this isn't a year I expect to look back on fondly, I have some very happy cider memories. Mostly, I'm glad to that I got to see more cider friends than I have in a while and that I became a Pommelier in 2022. 

This favorites list is one of my favorite year-end traditions: the tenth time I’ve gathered such a list. I’m so happy to share again. But first, here are all of the earlier cider countdowns I’ve made. 

2021 Top 5:

2021: My 10-5 countdown:








First ever cider countdown from 2013:

And here’s a little bit about how it works. I choose only cider per company.  That’s not because no cider produces more than one absolute champion per year but I want to highlight ten different ciderys each year. Any cider I’ve reviewed in 2022 is eligible. I want to reiterate that these are my favorites; I have no illusions that my tastes are objective or universal. These are just ten ciders that wowed me the most this past year.  

10. Stormalong Cider - Pearman Quince (Massachusetts)

I remember tasting the Pearman Quince on a sweltering summer evening while exploring a space perhaps not strictly intended for cider exploration. The cider was barely bubbly but featured medium levels of tannins, aquatic flavor notes, a healthy dose of funk and fruity acidity. Stormalong created a fun and unusual cider in the Pearman Quince with lots of excitement brought by the addition of quince.

9. Wild Arc Farm - Apples (New York)

This Hudson Valley cider uses a blend of apples and pears, a natural fermentation, and very limited interventions like filtering or fining. Many of those choices increase the risk level when making a cider, and this cider still managed to end up incredible. The fruit, the time spent in oak plus all of the factors I mentioned above created a beautiful alchemy for deliciously balanced and integrated cider with a gorgeous strong sparkle. What a win!

8. West County Cider - Quince / Redfield Cortland (Massachusetts)

Lemon curd, pineapple, and homemade applesauce, what’s not to love here? The Quince Redfield Cortland is a semi-sweet cider with lots of aromatic quince in the mix,  bringing sparkling vivacity, high acidity, all supported by a solid base of medium tannins. 

7. Montana Ciderworks - Hopped Up Heritage (Montana)

This hoppy cider benefitted from taking hops seriously. The hops included add multiple dimensions of aroma and flavor. So much citrus aroma! The cider maker also chose to make this hopped cider semi-sweet, with notes that remind me of super-ripe apple, honey, and peach. I feel like many cider folks have tasted some unbalanced hopped ciders or don’t see the point of hopped cider, but a good one can really be a beautiful and complex beast. That’s exactly what I smelled and tasted in Montana Ciderworks Hopped Up Heritage.

6. Redbyrd Orchard Cider - Tompkins King / Stoke Red (New York)

I love a small blend. To me it seems the most logical stopping place for a cider maker who wants to show off the natural qualities of a few specific apples while also presenting a balanced beverage that’s complete and enjoyable on its own. This 5050 blend of Tompkins King and Stoke Red apples illustrates this wisdom amazingly. It’s got all the tannins, acidity, and aroma that one could want. I loved that this cider brings both gorgeous fruit notes and solid minerality. 

5. Absolem Cider Company - Ferryman (Maine)

The Ferryman by Absolem uses time spent in port barrels and pressed red wine grapes to create a shockingly soft cider. Both the flavors and the mouth feel were beguiling with complex tannins that sent along with some gentle fruit notes as well. This off dry cider is one shows off that use of port barrel and grape must in the aromas and flavors both, but without losing a distinct sense of apple stems and cores.

4. Big Hill Ciderworks - Barrel Aged Reserve (Pennsylvania)

Barrel aging can change everything about a cider. I’ve had ciders that lose a lot of apple characteristics because they are so dominated by barrel qualities, but Big Hill Barrel Aged Reserve doesn’t lose sight of the cider at all.  The cider’s aromas are all about ripe apples and the blunt clean woody side of barrel aging. This off-dry cider is zingy with medium tannins and tons of flavor. 

3. Black Diamond Cider - Perry (New York)

This pear cider is from one of my favorite local cideries: Black Diamond. I enjoyed this as part of the Black Diamond and Moosewood pairing dinner during New York Cider week. This pear cider does everything I love in a perry or pear blend: lively bubbles, grapefruit citrus notes, softness and high acid.

2. Big Fish Cider Co. - Punk and Henry (Virginia)

It’s no surprise that Big Fish makes some fantastic ciders. (I already have two sets of notes that will go live in 2023 that I’m very excited about.) Punk and Henry is all about softened autumn fruit in semi-dry cider that delivers high levels of fruity acids, along with high tannins, and notes of golden raisins, ripe apples and caramel. It is a glorious cider.

1. Snowdrift Cider Company - Red (Colorado)

Everything about the Red works for me. Actually, that’s underselling it, I love everything about this cider from Snowdrift. Its aromas of under-ripe strawberries, booze, and sweet orange were intriguing. It sparkles with verve and acid while still presenting fruity sweetness and some low but present tannin. The Red is a gorgeous cider that plays tremendously well with food. 

This was a hard list to create because I tasted far more than 10 delicious ciders this year. Thanks so much to all of the cider makers, apple growers, and other folks in the industry who work hard to help get utterly fantastic ciders from the tree into our glasses. May next year be even more sparkling with good times and good tastes. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Cider Review: Citizen Cider's Little Thicket Spruce Tip Cider

This is my last new cider review of the year. After this, I get to share my favorite 10 ciders of 2022, and then we’ll start a new year. On the one hand, I can scarcely believe it, while on the other I feel more than ready for a new fresh year. But first, a fresh new cider from Citizen Cider!

Today, I’m sharing my thoughts on Citizen Cider’s Little Thicket.

I found this cider at a local grocery, and I’m so glad that I did. Citizen Cider comes from Burlington, Vermont. They are a regional powerhouse that I often relish. I don’t always get access to the limited releases though. Here’s how Citizen Cider tells the origin story for the cidery. It highlights the focus on innovation and curiosity: two key elements of Citizen Cider.

Justin Heilenbach, Bryan Holmes and Kris Nelson founded Citizen Cider in 2010 on a hunch and some good old-fashioned hard work. Kris was working as a wine salesmen, Bryan as a chemist and Justin as a small farmer. All discontent for one reason or another, they started pressing sweet cider in Kris’s barn and fermenting test batches of hard cider in Bryan’s basement. As it happens, they discovered that their ideas about hard cider translated into some pretty unique and interesting finished products.

It’s been a while since I last reviewed anything by Citizen Cider: too long really. Here’s the full list. 

For Shore:

Tree Tapper:

Northern Spy:

Sur Lies:


The Wood:

Companion Sour Cherry:

Wit’s Up:

Barrel Aged:

Citizen Cider bRosé:

My visit to Citizen Cider:

I also recommend Citizen Cider’s website. That’s the best spot to find out about all of the ciders:

What drew me to this cider is its use of spruce tips as an additional flavor. Here’s the full description. 

We are proud of being cidermakers in Vermont and look for ways to share the culture, history, and flavors of our little state. This limited edition cider is our way of sharing a piece of the green mountains with everyone. With a bright cherry nose and a rich, pine finish, this cider will transport you to a little thicket of trees, high in the mountains of Vermont. 5.3% ABV

Appearance: brilliant, pale straw, few visible bubbles

This is a lovely cider with a pale delicate straw color. I can see through the brilliant liquid clearly, but I don’t see a lot of bubbly action. 

Aromas: piney, herbal, aquatic, ripe apple, and blackberries

Oh fascinating! In some ways the Little Thicket’s smells remind me of some hopped ciders. It smells herbal, piney, and forested. The cider has more notes going on though than just those. It also smells piney without being either sweaty or soapy, both of which can happen with hopped ciders. Instead I get additional notes of ripe apple and blackberry along with something aquatic.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

This cider is semi-sweet rather than the semi-dry to off-dry indicated by Citizen’s packaging. The sweetness tastes very fruity and natural. It might be too much for some cider fans, but the sweetness is well integrated.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: medium acid, petillant, clean, fruity and soft

The Little Thicket is a cleanly fermented cider with loads of fruit and herbal flavors. It’s pleasingly full bodied. The low level of visible bubbles was an accurate predictor of a petillant rather than strongly sparkly cider.

This semi-sweet cider brings medium acidity and plenty of ripe apple character. Rather like the aromas, in some ways it reminded me of a hopped cider, but in addition to tasting clean and green, the little thicket tastes soft somehow.

It was a delightful cider to have with a simple supper of rye bread, cream cheese, raw veggies, and smoked salmon. Many thanks to my delightful sister-in-law and her family for sending delicious PNW salmon our way! I like a sweet cider with intense flavors like the salt and smoke of the smoked salmon.

I’m glad I got a four-pack, because I’m looking forward to tasting the Little Thicket again!