Monday, December 30, 2013

My 10 Favorite Ciders of 2013

 2013 has been a huge year for me. I mean it. Huge! And Along Came A Cider has been a big and wonderful part of that, making 2013 my best cider year ever. Meeting cider makers. Going to Cider Days. Actually having cider makers want my feedback! Most of all, I'm just learning so much about cider from this wonderful friendly community. I'm so thrilled and grateful. So, thank you.

That said, I hope it will be a fun thing just to informally share my top ten ciders of the year. The caveat is that I'm not listing more than one cider from any company, and I'm not limiting myself to ciders that have full reviews on the blog. Sorry, but it is really hard to get good photos and complete notes each and every time I sit down (or stand up) with a new cider. Some of these that don't have full reviews now will get them in the coming months. Let's hope anyway.

Anyhow, this is in no way definitive or complete, just a way for me to revisit my year in cider exploration and highlight a few of the very special ciders that really impressed me. Ordering these was really really difficult and completely subjective. Actually, remind me not to do this next year...

Along Came A Cider's Ten Favorite Ciders of 2013

1. Anthem Hopped

Purists are going to hate this choice; I just know it. Oh well. I really enjoy hopped ciders. Their aromas and complexities just bowl me over again and again. And Anthem (whose parent cidermaker is Wandering Aengus) makes the best of the lot. I definitely wish I had a way to get this in Ithaca. You can read the full review here:

2. Bellwether King Baldwin

I know. I know! I work for Bellwether, so I must be biased. Eh. Probably. But I love our ciders and I think they are truly top notch. Not reviewing them here and shouting their praises from my tiny blog's rooftops is sometimes crazy hard. This cider is just lovely. It has two antique American apple varieties: the Tompkins King and the Baldwin. Pairs really well with all kinds of food. I love its balance of fruit and crispness. When I got to go to a bonfire party back in the fall and recline outdoors with a warm fire and a cold cider, I went to the King Baldwin, and it was perfect. Since I don't have a review, you can read about it in this Edible Finger Lakes review:

3. West County Reine De Pomme

I absolutely adored this cider and the elegant and educational way in which is is presented both in the bottle and on West County's website. Try this one in a gorgeous big glass because the color is something special to behold. Gotta love the minerality in this one. My review says far more about the experience:

4. Oliver's Gold Rush

Though I don't have a full entry dedicated to just this cider, I give some pretty thorough notes in this writeup of my first visit to The Queen's Kickshaw. This cider is for fans of highly tannic very British ciders, and since that is exactly what I love, I was pleased beyond words with this cider.

5. Thatcher's Green Goblin

This is the cider that reminded me of how much I like oaked ciders. I also really enjoyed getting to share this with my mom and really show her a cider with enough complexity to really impress. There are many, so I'm just getting started sharing some good ones. My review says more:

 6. Farnum Hill Kingston Black

I really owe this cider a full review of its own. I love so many of Farnum Hill's ciders, and this one particularly stood out to me when I tried it as part of a cheese and cider pairing workshop back in New York City. Here's my entry all about that whole evening: Hopefully, I can track down a bottle of this so I can focus on it properly soon.

7. Julian Black and Blue

This was a surprise love for me, and one I'd really like to taste again. I am not always super into fruit additions to cider, but I loved the deep bittersweetness of this. Deliriously good. I keep coming back to Julian Cider with very good impressions.

8. Distillery Lane Ciderworks Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider

This is one of the most traditional ciders on my list and Distillery Lane does it so well. I loved their Dry Sparkling Cider. It was the first cider I got to enjoy in my Ithaca apartment very very shortly after moving in, so the good memory also helps it to stand out in my mind.

9. Albemarle Pomme Mary

Despite my usual preference for dry ciders, Albemarle won me over with their entire line and most especially with their Pomme Mary. It is a beautifully balanced and truly lovely sweet cider. I reviewed this one on vacation in the Outer Banks which was also just a wonderful experience. Vacations are the best time to catch up on reviewing.

10. Arsenal Cider Fightin' Elleck

I have so much affection and respect for Arsenal Cider. Mind you, they are bringing cider to Pittsburgh, and for that alone they deserve some major credit. But not only that, they are making some really neat creative ciders that taste fantastic. I have reviewed a couple of theirs, but the Fighting Elleck made such a good impression, I have to include it here:

Thanks again everyone. Thanks especially to photographer friends who lend a hand, friends and family who cider hunt for me 24/7, cider sellers (The Cellar D'Or!), cider makers, my fellow Bellwether crew, cider lovers nearby and faraway, all the cider ambassadors on Twitter, and everyone who has ever stopped by Along Came A Cider. You guys have all been a tremendous highlight to my 2013. Thank you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cider Review: Crispin Georgia

I've reviewed a fair number of Crispin Ciders and drunk a few more, but this is my first experience with any of their barrel aged limited releases. If you want to check out my previous Crispin post, you can find it here: I've also reviewed a few of their sister company Fox Barrel's perries, and

Crispin has a fantastic website: with gorgeous photos, recipes, and mixed drink ideas. They've clearly put tons of effort into their brand image and it shows. I wish more companies were as thoughtful in how they present their ciders as Crispin.

I don't know if you can forgive the cheese, but this official press release has tons of good information. It just presents in a way that's a bit over the top.
Let’s kick off this ride with the sweet goodness of Georgia peach juice.  Georgia peaches have a high quality combination of sugars, acidity, aromas and textures making it a seamless integration into the unpasteurized, fresh-pressed juice already being used in Crispin’s super premium artisanal ciders.

An elegant, spicy blend of Crispin’s Colfax Classic apple-wine superbly aged in bourbon American whisky barrels.  The final blend is finished with Georgia peach juice, a mention of mint and a touch of Tupelo honey, also aged in bourbon barrels.

Georgia offers a drinking experience and flavor profile like no other.  Georgia has full, rich whiskey notes right up front with smooth toasted oak and vanilla.  The peach juice provides a velvety lushness with a mere hint of mint to bring it all together.  This 6.78% (678 being a Georgia area code) alcohol by volume cider packs full flavor and full body.

So how might one enjoy this beverage? The optimal sip scenario for Georgia is at the cellar temperature of 50/55 F. Grab a snifter or a tulip glass and get ready for greatness. When pouring, use a solid bottoms-up tilt and swirl the bottle to disperse the sediment evenly. This unlocks the whiskey aromas and a unique bouquet.
This is nearly the first time, if not the very first time, that I've seen pouring instructions and glassware recommendations with a cider. Frankly I like it. It gives the cider even more of a sense of identity and tradition.

Appearance: Cloudy, nectarine, plenty of bubble

After pouring this cider, I noticed immediately how cloudy it looks. It is easy to be a casual cider fan and never see a truly cloudy cider, so let this picture illustrate. I couldn't tell how many fingers someone was holding up behind this cider. This cider shows off a gorgeous nectarine flesh color and lots and lots of visible bubbles. It looks like a meal.

Aromas: Asian pear, fresh apple, honey

So fruity! This cider is so cool and refreshing to smell. The Georgia begs for warmer temperatures, but even now it reminds me beautifully of summer with the ultra clean fruit notes of asian pear and fresh apple.  The honey is more understated but definitely supports the fruits. Upon repeated sniffs, this really reminds me of a light-bodied perry in aroma. Alex (my frequent co-taster and husband) noted a distinct aroma of caraway seeds. Interesting.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet/sweet?

It is difficult to decipher the level of sweetness in Crispin's Georgia. Ultimately, I think this is a sweet cider, but the flavors go so far beyond just fruits and sweetness that this measure is made much less meaningful for this particular cider. The sweetness is definitely not the dominant impression as I'm drinking it.

Flavors and drinking experience: crazy (minty), complex (honeyed) and fun (peachy)

The complexity on this cider truly overwhelms me. First, I taste the cool and delicate fruit, getting bolder. Mint hits the mid palate and intensifies at the finish. Crazy. Seriously. Certifiable. I keep drinking it, and I keep being surprised by a few of the notes. The peach isn't overly strong and it melds well with the whisky. I like the honey and the mint. I'm not sure the Georgia needs to have all four notes, because, in the end, it becomes a mixed drink more than a cider. That said, I'd love to see this divided into two summery ciders, a whisky peach and a honey mint. Even so, as an intense punch this is a lovely drink.

 I'm enjoying this with an old fashioned fish fry, cole slaw, and some sweet cooked carrots. It is a lot of flavors, but it works. The Georgia is a summer time drink; for me, it reminds me of summer because December in upstate New York is a far cry from summer. I think this cider would work best as a summer picnic cider. Use the cooling mint when you really need it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cider Review: Woodchuck Cellar Series Smoked Apple

Back to the cellar series from Woodchuck! I so enjoyed their Dry Hopped Cider (reviewed here There you can find some background on the company as well as links back to my reviews of Woodchuck's Winter limited release and their Belgian White cider.

Woodchuck now keeps a blog for their cidery business; it hosts recipes that feature a wide variety of their ciders. So, if you like cider recipes or want to read more about Woodchuck, it is definitely something to check out:  The specific entry on the Cellar Series Smoked Apple is really neat because of its rare visual insight into Woodchuck's cider making process.
I'm back with their cider series this evening, reviewing their Smoked Apple cider. Full admission here, I did not pay for this cider. Woodchuck was kind enough to send me a bottle for review. Here's the short version of their official description of the Smoked Apple, "Apple pomace is smoked using a blend of maple and applewood chips. Our original small batch hard cider is run through the smoked pomace. The result is a full-bodied deep amber cider. Strong crisp apple notes with hints of vanilla are balanced on an applewood smoked backdrop." I'd like to just throw in a few background facts. This cider's ABV is 6.5% and it is only available in 22 ounce bottles. This is pretty much the perfect sharing size.
 "After the pomace was smoked using maple and applewood chips it was brought to the Middlebury Cidery. The smoked pomace was then infused into small batch fermented cider. The result is a full bodied deep amber cider. Strong crisp apple notes with hints of vanilla are balanced on an applewood smoked backdrop. A well-balanced, limited run cider that is perfect for the cooler days ahead."

 Appearance: Deep burnished brown red, many many many visible bubbles

I honestly cannot tell if this cider is brilliant, hazy, or cloudy. Between the dark mahogany color and the number of bubbles, it is difficult to see the clarity of the Smoked Apple. I notice the color more than anything else, because it is so unusual. This depth and redness just looks rich and satisfying.

Aromas: leather, fresh apples, hint of smoke

The more I  inhale this deeply and think about it, the more I can scent the smoke. My dear husband Alex gets beer and cranberries. I can see where he is coming from, but the Smoked Apple still smells more like leather to me.

Flavors and drinking experience: Smoke, bacon, apple

As I drink the Smoked Apple, it begins like sweet molasses but then the other flavors take over. Mostly those other flavors are smoke, leather, peat and meatiness. Seriously, this is like bacon cider. Bacon freaks, I know you are out there. Dig in. Whiskey, earth, smokety-smoke smoke. It intensifies in the after flavor. The smoke makes this a beverage for its sensory experience rather than any thirst-quenching properties, but it's uniqueness more than makes up for that. 

Overall, this is a super neat cider. Probably not one I'll buy for myself with any regularity just because of the intense bacon-ness that the smoke calls to my mind. I do heartily recommend it though for fans of smoked beverages. Still though, I'm more than happy to enjoy it with some vegetarian chili or lentil soup. It is super warming and appropriate for these cold dark months. I'd also recommend it for a recuperating after winter outdoor adventures. I've been enjoying giant walks in the snow lately (till our rain melted it all) and this is the perfect kind of cider to enjoy after coming in from the cold. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cider Review: Redbyrd 2013 Harvest Cider

So exciting! I'm about to taste my first craft cider bottled from the 2013 harvest. I've had some tasty home brewed ciders, but Redbyrd Orchard Cider introduced their 2013 Harvest Cider more quickly than any other offerings from this year's bumper crop of apples.  

First through a bit about Redbyrd Orchards. They are a very farm and orchard oriented cider company. They are also very small, independent, and locally oriented. All good things in my book. You can read about their ciders, process, and philosophy on their website: 

One of the really neat things about Redbyrd is that they have a cider CSA (it stands for Community Supported Agriculture) Their CSA shares are on sale now. What a great concept. They explain how it all works on this page:

Back in the fall, during Cider Week, I did my first review of a Redbyrd Cider, their Starblossom 21012. Feel free to check out that review here: I do a more thorough introduction to Redbyrd in that post. For now though, I'm ready to dive into this exciting new cider.

Luckily for us, Redbyrd Orchard Cider gives extensive and informative notes on all of their releases. I'll let them speak for themselves about the Harvest Cider before going into my own impressions.
2013 Harvest Cider
Tasting Notes:  Harvest Cider 2013 is a blend of our first two pressings of the 2013 harvest season.   It is rich in color with aromas of bittersweet apple, rose hips, and peach skin. In the glass, Harvest Cider is lightly sparkling, or petillant, with a palate that is clean, crisp, and ripe with fresh fruit and minerals. This cider finishes with velvety tannins and racy acidity.
Apples:  20% Browns Apple: early sharp English cider apple, aromatic
                12% Major: early bittersweet English cider apple
                12% Domaines: early bittersweet French cider apple
                8% Dolgo Crab: early Russian crabapple for color and aroma
                48% mixed early heirlooms and early bittersweet drops

Alcohol:  7.7% alc/vol.
Residual Sugar: 0.0%rs.

Production Notes:  Most ciders from the 2013 vintage will not be ready for release until late winter/early spring 2014. After primary fermentation, the cider from the first two pressings naturally clarified much quicker than usual.  Normally we wait for all of our tanks to finish fermentation to find the right blends to create balance and brightness in our ciders. These very first two tanks of cider were surprisingly balanced, aromatic, and bright, and in combination made for an early cider to be released. Racking off the top of the tanks allowed us to take only the clearest cider of each and then blend, force carbonate, and bottle. This cider is unfined and unfiltered.  This is cider in its purest form.

Alrighty, back to Along Came a Cider then. I love that Redbyrd tells us about their specific apple choices in the blend and about the process that allowed this cider to come into its own so early. Fascinating stuff. 
Appearance: maple, brilliant, no bubbles

This is a exceptionally dark cider. To me it looks almost like maple syrup in the glass. Perhaps this is because it is both unfined and unfiltered? Or it could have to do with the apple choices. Either way, it is striking to see.

Aromas: wood, tannins, some apple

Not a lot of apple aroma. The scent of this cider is dominated by woodiness. I can detect some minerally almost metallic notes as well. I'm definitely predicting a dry cider based on this aroma.

Sweet to dry: Absolutely bone dry

Dry, and I do mean seriously dry. But with just a tiny hint of more fruitiness in the tasting than I got from smelling the Harvest 2013 cider. If you like sweet ciders, this is not for you.

Flavors and drinking experience: Acidic!

This is just about the most sour cider I've ever tasted. The bright acidity knocks every other element out of the competition to get noticed. Yes I can still taste the woodiness and some citrus and apple fruitiness, but mostly this is an extremely zesty acidic cider. It isn't to my tastes as much as the 2012 Starblossom, honestly. But I can see some cider fans really getting into this style. I like the woodiness, but I wish it were more mellow. I do enjoy the level of carbonation on this.

What I would do though to maximize my enjoyment of this cider is to pair it with the right dish, something that needs some brightness. And believe me, this time of year there are a ton of heavy dishes that could use a pick me up. I think a creamy chowder would complement this cider very well. As for activities, pick this for snowed in night at home with just your nearest and dearest, who are presumably already cider fans. This is an unusual enough cider that you don't want to share it with any new cider converts necessarily. This is more for those who already like the more acidic and dry sides of the beverage.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cider Review: Thistly Cross Whisky Cask

Thistly Cross Cider crossed my path through my favorite local cider shop, but I'd been hearing about them for some time before. This is definitely my first Scottish cider. Check out their website that has tons of great information here:

I decided to review their Whisky-Cask Aged Cider before any of their other ciders because of it's category. The barrel aged ciders show such variety. Some of them I quite enjoy, but others don't taste very balanced and instead come across as overpowering in either aroma or flavor. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about exactly what role the whisky cask plays in this cider. Here's what Thistly Cross says about this particular cider, "Matured in ex-Glengassaugh whisky casks this is a dry & subtle cider. Infused with mellow, vanilla oak of the cask. A refreshing, complex drink to be savoured." In keeping with many United States craft ciders, they keep their ABV right under 7% at that frequently utilized 6.9% that is unless you trust the other part of Thistly Cross' website that lists the cider at an ABV of 4%. Other tidbits I gleaned from the website is that the aging process takes about six months and it aims to balance the overtones of whisky with cider's fruit and lightness. This sounds like a tall order to me. The one thing I didn't notice was much mention of either apple varieties or wood notes from the barrel. I'm curious to find out how it tastes.

Appearance: Brilliant,  deep maize color

I could see lots of still bubbles on the bottom of my glass through the complete brilliance of the cider. No haze here. It also appears as a deep maize color. Definitely more rich and saturated in color than many ciders. 

Aromas: overripe apples, yeast, vinous

I could smell fruit first, specifically yummy warm overripe apples. Next, I noted yeast and some booziness. Hints of wine ghost across my palate. At the tail end of the aromas, I could detect some astringency. The Whisky-Cask Cider does not present too much whisky in the aromas.

Sweetness: Quite Sweet

This is obviously and immediately sweet. I'm not at all sure why Thistly Cross' promotional copy lists it as medium dry. There is nothing wrong with making a sweet cider and it helps the sweetness fans find it when it is described as sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: mildly sparkling, plenty of boozy flavors, odd finish

I think the relatively low level of fizz is a good thing for the Whisky Cask. It has a lot going on between the sweetness and the intensity of boozy barrel flavors; it doesn't need to add aggressive bubbles to the list. What I could not smell very much in terms of whisky notes I can certainly taste. The whisky flavors and sweetness cannot be separated; it is an intense and sweet boozy experience. In a bigger gulp the Whisky-Cask has more flavors but still not much in the way of nuance. It's finish lingers and is a bit weird; to be completely honest it veers towards the acidic and chemical.

Overall, Thistly Cross's Whisky Cask is a big sweet cider. It seems best enjoyed at trivia with fried foods like cheese sticks and fries. Combine some crunch and salt with all of the flavors in this cider, and you'll bring out the best in it.
Our Whisky-Cask Aged Cider
Matured in ex-Glengassaugh whisky casks this is a dry & subtle cider.
Infused with mellow, vanilla oak of the cask.
A refreshing, complex drink to be savoured.
ABV: 6.9%
PRODUCT: Clear golden, smooth, medium dry Scottish cider
AGE: Matured for at least 6 months to give balance & smoothness
- See more at:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cider and Cheese Pairings: A Cider Week Event with The Cellar D'Or

Wow, this post is so overdue: my apologies, especially to the faraway folks who were asking about the pairing choices months ago. Finally. Here we go.

Back in October, I had the joy of doing some cider and cheese pairings with Mark of The Cellar D'Or.  This was a free tasting event by The Cellar D'Or for the good people of Ithaca (and surrounds) as a part of Finger Lakes Cider Week. The Cellar D'Or does a free tasting of some form or other at least once a week, usually on Friday evenings; so with this we managed to celebrate Cider Week and introduce a few more wine people to a variety of international ciders and cheeses. Putting this together with Mark was such a great time; he's a real asset to the cider and wine communities here in Ithaca. Thanks, Mark!

Here's what we paired. Some pairs were guided by the shared regional qualities and others just because they complemented one another well in aroma, taste, and texture. We also ordered these with some care because of the strong flavors going on both the ciders and cheeses. In general we tried to begin with more austere tastes and textures and allowed the choices to become more intense and aromatic toward the end. After all, it is easier for the palate to understand things getting crazier, but our mouths have a far harder time noting the nuances of something delicate after a fabulously taste-bud shredding.

1. Cabot Clothbound Jasper Hill Cellar Cheddar with Farnum Hill's Semi-Dry Cider (until we ran out of course and switched to a few bottles of their Summer Cider). Their Semi-Dry has 7.4%ABV and would probably taste dry to most folks. Both Cabot Creamery and Farnum Hill are incredibly respected New England businesses that set standards for their respective products. The Cabot Clothbound is aged for a period of 10-14 months, giving it a sweet, nutty, tangy, caramel-tinged savoriness.

2. P'tit Basque with Txopinondo Sagarnoa Cider: both of these delicious treats come from the Basque region. The P'tit Basque cheese uses sheep's milk which has an astonishing percentage of flavor-giving fat: 45%. The cheese is fairly firm with an edible rind. The Txopinondo Cider is more tart and acidic with lots of citrus fruitiness. It's ABV has a more typical 6% after being matured on the lees for six months in barrels.

3. Valdeon with Castanon Natural Sidra: Spanish ciders and cheese both here. The Sidra goes a bit farther still in terms of its acidity; that is the most famous quality of this region's ciders.  It has an ABV of 6%. The Valdeon cheese is a Spanish blue that can use either cow or goat milk. The flavor is intense but clean. The cheese is always wrapped in sycamore, chesnut, or maple leaves before being sold. This is definitely the pairing that starts down the road to fiercer flavors.

4. Humbolt Fog with Etienne DuPont Organic Cider Brut 2011: this may have been the most popular pairing of the evening. The Humbolt Fog is a California goat cheese that uses vegetable ash, buttermilk, and fresh cream. It also offers the most gorgeous cream line when you cut into it. The Etienne Du Pont has many of the great qualities of Normany ciders. It is unpasteurized and uses no sulphites (great to know for those with sensitivities). It manages to offer both sweetness and slightly farmy complexity. 

And for just a tiny while, we had a decadent Fourme D'Ambert with Eden's Vermont Ice Cider Heirloom Blend. The ice cider is much boozier with an ABV of 10% and the kind of intense sweetness known to fans of ice cider (15% residual sugar). The cheese is one of ancient lineage that goes back to the Roman empire. Now it comes from the Auverne region of France, and it uses cow's milk to create this semi-hard blue cheese. Amazing.

My friend and photographer, Sara, caught me mid-explanation here, but evidently I didn't stop moving very often. This is the cider fan in her natural habitat. The only unusual feature is that she has neither bottle nor glass in hand.

All Photos appear courtesy of Sara Kalla. My thanks to her for documenting this great time!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cider Review: McKenzie's Hand-Pressed Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider

The last time anybody saw any McKenzie's Cider appear on this blog was when I reviewed their Lazy Lemon at the beginning of August. It was their special shandy-inspired cider for summer and you can remind yourself about it or check it out for the first time here: I still really like the concept, but I wasn't bowled over by some of the specifics. I want to be fair though and acknowledge that what McKenzie's as a brand is going for is a specific style of very approachable, sweet, easy-drinking hard cider. That's the category; that's the style. To criticize it for doing that is missing the point.

McKenzie's original, which I reviewed in July, shows that they have a firm understanding of what they're going for. Here's that review, which was my first encounter with this Seneca, NY brand: That's where I write the most about the company, or you can visit their own website and learn what they have to say about themselves:

Today's review is about their fall seasonal release, McKenzie's Hand-Pressed Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider. It is their take on a bottled cider with mulling spices. McKenzie's describes it this way, "Flavored with Cinnamon and Nutmeg. Sip, smell and savor the rich, mulled spicy goodness of McKenzie's Seasonal Reserve. Aromatic fall flavors warm you from the inside out, and chase away the chill on those cold nights. Serve warm or cold, but only for a limited time!" I love mulled cider, and this is a beverage that needs sweetness with spice, so I've got high hopes that McKenzie's can really do this one right!

Appearance: Hazy, applesauce, bubbly

I can see so many bubbles on the sides of my glass that it took a while for me to determine if this was slightly hazy or brilliant. Hazy, as it turns out. The color of McKenzie's Seasonal Reserve for fall reminds me of applesauce. The photo doesn't show all the bubbles because they do start to dissipate steadily after a moment or two.

Aromas: minerals, candied fruit, ginger

Spices dominate my impressions of the McKenzie's Seasonal Reserve in terms of aroma. I smell a dusty candied ginger smell, cinnamon, and cooked fruit. All of this comes together to form a picture that's very old timey and familiar. I don't know exactly why, but perhaps it is nutmeg, mace, or allspice notes that recall my grandmother's pumpkin pie. In any case, it is a good smell but not one very usual for cider.

Sweetness: Sweet

The sweetness is totally integral to this drink. It needs to be sweet and the sweetness in this case is very enjoyable. This mulled cider inspired beverage needs to be a sweet spicy dessert and it is.

Flavors and drinking experience: super flavorful, medium carbonation, light mouthfeel

Spices! That's definitely what defines the Fall Seasonal from McKenzie's. It tastes a lot like a mulled cider but chilled and carbonated. So, in a way it feels very old fashioned but also non-traditonal. The mouthfeel is fairly light for such an intensely flavorful beverage. Medium carbonation is just right for this one. There is a touch of spice bitterness on the finish that reminds me of citrus peels or grapefruit but also of nutmeg.

Enjoy this while watching silly holiday movies on TV or bring the McKenzie's Seasonal Reserve to a cookie swap. Though it is marketed as fall, I can see this cider performing well through the holidays. Mulling spices go tremendously well with the cider McKenzie's is producing, and this is far and away my favorite cider of theirs that I've tried.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cider Review: Thatcher's Green Goblin

I usually only review American ciders, but I do enjoy ciders from many different places. My palate doesn't discriminate by region. When I was on a trip home to Kentucky recently, I promised to look at what I could find in terms of local cider selection and write about it. The most interesting thing I found had to be Thatcher's Green Goblin. I got the very last bottle at a Liquor Barn in Louisville KY and I had to climb on the shelves to get. And this wasn't even on Black Friday! In any case, I was thrilled to see something I do not usually see, hence a review of a decidedly English Cider. Hopefully in coming years, I'll see some Kentucky ciders. We do have the apples after all. If you've ever heard of a Kentucky cider, please let me know!

Thatcher's Green Goblin has its own website at and for more information, this page has more detail The promotional copy isn't particularly descriptive, but it does emphasize that the apples are English and that the cider is oaked. Here's how they put it: "The Green Goblin from deep in the wood - 100 year-old oak vats, that is. Made with English apples, and matured in oak vats, Green Goblin cider is a full-flavoured, bittersweet blend, beautifully balanced to give a fresh character with a medium dry finish." When reading about their cider process, they list two apple varieties Somerset Redstreak and Dabinette both grown in the West County region. I know both of those apples from several US ciders that use them for tannins, so I'm even more curious than I had been before.

Appearance: brilliant, papaya, no foam

Seriously, the color is deep papaya. I've never seen another cider like it. When poured, this cider had no foam or head. As I hope the photo shows, it has no haziness and is instead clear and brilliant. What a beautiful cider!

Aromas: stone, wood, subtle aura of persimmon

This earthy smell is delightfully cidery but in an unexpected way because it offers almost no apple, and absolutely no yeast. Instead I smelled stone and wood with just a smidge of acidic fruit. Thinking about that fruitiness, ripe persimmon rather captures it.

Sweetness: Fairly dry

While the dryness is not extreme, this cider defnitely comes across more dry than sweet. I think the dryness combines with the tannins to emphasize those elements more than sweetness or fruit.

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannins, low acid, dry. Woody.

I taste tannins most predominantly in the Green Goblin and I love it. The tannins are soft and not overly aggressive because they are balanced with some lovely apple notes and low acidity. The cider tastes very woody in that almost drying way. Some folks don't care for this, but I'm totally into it. I get hints of leather but those are restrained. Some subtle spicy fruits and farminess give character to the apple. The Green Goblin has fairly intense levels of carbonation, but they lighten up what is otherwise a fairly dark-tasting beverage, so I'm not complaining. The finish lingers with more wood and spice, but at this point the farmyard notes have all disappeared, giving it an evolving taste.

This cider strikes me so deeply enjoyable because of its maturity and balance. I shared the Green Goblin with my mother who doesn't usually care for cider, but she loved the complexity and drinkability of the Green Goblin. She's totally right; it is exceptionally good. I can now add oaking to my list of techniques that make a cider more likely to make my list of repeat buys. Nice.

When thinking of food pairings, I can see a few different directions suiting the Green Goblin. In summer, I'd drink this with a capese salad with loads of fresh mozzarella and some aged balsamic vinegar. In winter, pair the Green Goblin with pasta in cream sauce with walnuts and broccoli. In terms of activities, I'd bring this to a gathering full of new people. The cider has so many different nuances that it makes a great conversation starter, and I'm confident most folks who try would find it both enjoyable and interesting. Besides, I'm always looking to use parties as a way to make more drinkers into cider drinkers.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cider Review: Woodchuck Cellar Series Dry Hop

 Tonight, I get to reviewing a cider that came to me in the mail from Woodchuck, so this is not a cider I paid for. That's also how it happened to come in this really snazzy box. Woodchuck sure knows how to put together a nice package. I have reviewed a few of their ciders before, recently I checked out their Belgian White ( and my very first review here was their Winter cider (, but this is the first I've received from Woodchuck for reviewing.

Woodchuck began their cellar series this fall, and I'm reviewing the first Cellar Series Cider, the Dry Hop. First a little info about the Cellar Series: they will be released nation wide periodically; the line seeks to highlight several different innovative cider styles. Dry hopping a cider is just such a technique; several different small cider producers make a dry hopped, but this may be the first one that is available in many places. So for some readers, this could be the first hopped cider on your local shelves.

Here's what Woodchuck says about this cider, "The dry hop technique, by which the fermented cider is strained through a tank of fresh Cascade hops, infuses the cider with crisp citrus and pine notes. The smooth apple character of Woodchuck’s signature hard cider balances perfectly against the bitterness of the hops. It’s another category bending cider from Woodchuck." This isn't tons of information, but it is good to know that they use Cascade hops.

Color and Appearance: corn kernel, lotsa bubbles, some foam

This has foamiest head of any cider I've ever seen. The Dry Hop offers rich intense color like that of an un-popped kernel of popcorn. It is a really neat color. Even after the cider's head dissapates, the number of visible bubbles in the glass is truly unusual.

Aromas: beer

Yes, I can smell the hops, but more I smell the finished product, beer. This cider doesn't show off clear hop distinctions like citrus or pine but just smells like a cold fresh mildly hoppy beer.

Sweetness: semi-sweet

If not a first for Woodchuck, the semi-sweetness of their Dry Hop a near first. Enchanting! What sweetness there is comes in at the finish. It is so nice to be surprised in this arena by a cider company that usually sticks to sweet.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: Grapefruit, sweet finish, piney hops.

The hop characteristics come out more in the flavors of the Dry Hop than in its aromas. This cider really does taste so much more complex than it smells. I get strong notes of lychee, grapefruit and kiwi.  The Dry Hop opens with a soft floral fruit that is the Lychee but finishes with distinct ruby red grapefruit. With moderate minerals, the cider tastes pleasantly rocky. That aspect reminds me of the Belgian White, but I prefer this cider. Dry hopping continues to be a way for cider makers to win me over.

Overall, I have to declare this cider deliciously gulpable. If you see any on the shelves, get several and have them with the crazy amazing sandwiches we'll all be making with Thanksgiving leftovers on November 29th.

I'm curious about the rest of the Cellar Series releases. Hopefully I'll be trying their second one, the Smoked Apple before too long.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cider Review: Oyster River Winegrower's Hoboken Station Cider (including bonus cat + cider picture)

This cider showed up my collection recently after my husband went to our local cider store without me. I'd never heard of Oyster River Winegrowers, much less their Hoboken Station Cider. A cider from Maine! This is a first for me. Exciting! When I tried to find out a bit more about Oyster River Winegrowers, I used their Facebook page because their website does not appear to be current or operational. Oyster River Winegrowers' Facebook page however is full of interesting and useful information. They appear to be a small vineyard winery, farm, and cidery in Warren, Maine.  They say this about themselves, "We are a Maine vineyard and winery focusing on farming with draft horses and without the use of synthetic chemicals." And yes, the FB page has pictures of their horses. Too cute.

About this particular cider, their Hoboken Station Cider. I'll be piecing together information from a few different sources. The bottle says, "Produced in Warren, Maine from a variety of mostly esoteric apples chosen for superior cider quality. Dry and bottle conditioned." Bottle conditioned means that a second fermentation takes place over time in the bottle, allowing the cider to become naturally sparkling, in this case they use organic cane sugar for the bottle conditioning. One post on Oyster River Winegrower's Facebook page says this about the Hoboken Station Cider, "This Cider is dry, native yeast fermented from a blend of obscure more cider specific apples ( Golden Russet, Dabinett, Esopus Spitzenberg, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, Blushing Granny, Ida Red, and Golden Delicious) with heavier tannin content and high sugar content giving us 9% alcohol. It is a sipper, but surprisingly easy with wine like, or perhaps Belgian beer-like complexity and just a small amount, not so much to be distracting, of carbonation from a natural bottle fermentation."Let me add that the cider has a hefty 9% ABV; cider by winemakers, indeed!

Hoboken Cider with curious cat Amelia
Appearance: hazy,  intense mango

The color is more deep than with many ciders. When I look at my glass, I can see lots of still bubbles cling to all sides of the glass. A few move to the top almost by turns. This isn't a totally brilliant cider which comes as no surprise as it is unfiltered.

Aromas: ripe apples, dust, minerals

Primarily, I smell ripe apples that communicate a bit vinously. Slightly winey apples warmed in the sun. The secondary scent reminds me of mineral dust mingled with and followed by a hint of sweetness.

Sweet to dry: Semi-dry

Though this cider is plenty fruity, I'd cal it semi-dry. I really dig the level of tannins that balance out the fruits as I take my second and third sips. I can see the comparisons to both wine and Belgian beer. It does sort taste in waves and an early wine like wave of flavor is followed by a one that reminds me of yeasty slightly sour Belgian beer. This is pretty tasty, though I rather miss the smoothness that complex ciders can have.

Flavors and Drinking experience: apple, stone fruits, honey, hints of yeast

At first this cider tastes fruit forward and light. Winey notes bite the mid-palate a bit roughly.Honey whispers through the long finish. Pleasant amount of fine-bubbled carbonation. It feels warming because of the higher than average ABV. 

I'd pair this with heavier foods but nothing too spicy. Actually this would be a perfect cider to have with shepherds pie or a layered vegetable lasagna. This is also a great sharing cider. Invite people over and make this your pot luck cider of choice. Though everyone is putting out Thanksgiving recommendations, I'll add this one to the list as well. I think it's strength of flavor could really remain present and enjoyable through many of this holiday's big big flavors.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cider Review: Wandering Aengus Dry Oaked

It has been far too long since I've reviewed anything by Wandering Aengus Ciderworks out of Washington State. The last time I reviewed one of their cider, I took a look at the Bloom cider. You can check out my review here:  Their website appears to be undergoing a certain degree of transition right now, but you can still read about their ciders.

Tonight I'm reviewing their Dry Oaked Cider. I can provide the official stats and description as offered by Wandering Aengus:

Orchards: Hood River, OR & Lebanon, NH
Dry and spicy
“mild clove bite”
Pairings: Salami or Stinky Cheese
ABV 6.8% (2009) 8.4% (2011)
Available in 16.9oz and draft
1/2 & 1/6 barrel kegs – Limited Run Vintage 2011

It's very neat that they share where they sourced the apples, in this case from Hood River, Oregon and Lebanon, New Hampshire. I wish the description gave a bit more in the way of apple varieties or tasting notes, but this is still a nice amount of information. Let's see how this goes.

Appearance: Brilliant, Gamboge, almost no bubbles

Looking at the Dry Oaked cider, I had to find some webpages that list different shades of orange. This thrills me because I have so often referred to shades of yellow, but this is the first time I've gotten to refer to shades of orange. After delightfully thorough consideration, I'd say the color is Gamboge. That word was a new one to me; it refers to the deep orange/yellow pigment used to dye Buddhist monks' robes. What a wonderful excuse to learn new things.The cider is brilliant and pours with Belgian lace

Aromas: wood, fresh apples, light pear and honey notes playing in the background

What a delightful smell! At first the wood just dominates but after a moment and a few repeated sniffs, I could detect the apples, pears, and honey.

Drinking Experience and Flavors: Dry, tannic, acidic, woody

This dry cider tastes so cleanly farmy, which sounds odd because often farminess and gamey flavors go together with funk. But this remarkably different. The Dry Oaked cider gets it farm notes from the combination of acidity and tannins. So much wood! This enchants me because of how well the balance works. The cider gets its liveliness from the acidity, depth from tannins, and restraint from the dryness. Gosh, I'm impressed. I love love the woodiness. It tastes like almost sucking on a barn beam in a way.

Though the cider has some natural sparkle, it isn't at all distracting or overpowering. The finish lingers smoothly. Overall, this is a remarkably drinkable cider for one with real complexity, dryness, and body.

I recommend cooking with this and drinking it at the same time. My husband used it with some good butter to saute mushrooms. This brings out the farminess and earthiness beautifully. We then used those mushrooms on top of pasta with basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes (from my father's garden). Yeah. It worked out amazingly well for something fairly improvised.

 If you don't want to cook your own meal while drinking this cider, I don't blame you. Wandering Aengus' Dry Oaked cider serves up enough complexity to deserve its own focus. Perhaps then drink it while someone else is cooking something earthy, rich, and marvelous. Cooking is an excellent spectator sport afterall and this cider can keep anyone entertained.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Franklin County Cider Days 2013: A Few Photos and Highlights

Starting with a maple tree and not with apples? Sacrilege, I know, but I wanted to share the amazing atmosphere and weather that attendees of Franklin County Cider Days enjoyed. It was perfect, and all of the locations I saw were beautiful. I enjoyed the town of Shelburne Falls so very much with its cute local shops and classic rural MA houses and amazing fall foliage. It made a great setting for Franklin County Cider Days.

I'd been looking forward to this weekend full of cider events for a few months, and it did not disappoint. People were friendly, informative, and welcoming. I learned so much about cider and good event planning from this brilliant weekend, and I didn't get to see half of all the amazing events that had been put together. I recommend Franklin County Cider Days to any cider enthusiast. It is a mandatory event for professionals in any aspect of the industry. Next year will be the 20th annual Cider Days weekend, and I hope to see you all there.

The home brewers event was my first event of the weekend. People sampled home brewed cider, and discussed it. Judges critiqued and compared the ciders and folks got into the nitty gritty of fermentation science, fruit selection, and all sorts of facets to home brewing great cider. Since I've never made my own cider, I felt like an observer and not a participant, but this was a great window into a thriving and vibrant community that is clearly producing all kinds of interesting cider.

This picture is from the amazing apple table. At the marketplace, one vendor set this up and allowed people to taste from dozens and dozens of unusual and heritage types of apples. I must have fallen in love about ten times. This is a must try event for everyone because I know of no other way to try so many rare apples. It was amazing.

 Another fun thing worth mentioning, is the cool companies who represented their work in fun ways. I love this vehicle modification for the Urban Farm Fermentary, and though I didn't get a picture, Citizen Cider made a real impression by having a cadre of their folks all wearing the same cool shirt. This is a great opportunity for brands to build up enthusiasm before the Cider Salon, and it really added to the atmosphere.

The Cider Salon

Attending the Cider Salon has to be a highlight for almost everyone who comes to Franklin County Cider Days. It is one of the largest cider tastings that occurs anywhere with more than  75 cider producers and a handful of intrepid cider importers as well. The event is so popular that it has to be divided into two tasting sessions because the tent won't hold enough people for everyone to taste at once. Even with two sessions, people are crushed a bit. My brave companion and I attempted to work counter clockwise through the room, but didn't make it to all the tables. All the more reason to attend again next year.

I attended the second session and tasted ciders from all parts of the United States and a few from Canada, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. We got a tasting booklet with information on all of the companies who sent cider which helped guide our tasting choices. There were simply too many ciders there to taste them all. It was a cider lover's dream. I learned so much in that hour and a half and recalibrated my palate tremendously. For anyone who fears cellar blindness (changed expectations of cider because of much familiarity with one brand or style) this is exactly the kind of event to fix that.

The volunteers were crucial to making this work, and they poured with enthusiasm and good humor. Many thanks to them. They were facing a lot of empty glasses in those two sessions.

The Harvest Supper

Right after the Salon, we made our way to the Harvest Supper. Everyone sat at long tables in the Shelburne Buckland Community Center and made friends with our tablemates (or already had enough cider buddies to fill a table). Volunteers served us delicious food. I'll include the official description of the meal and menu for the sake of accuracy.

"The 2013 CiderDays Harvest Supper was held from 7 to 9pm on Saturday, November 2nd, and includes seasonal savory and sweet New England themed cuisine. Chef Paul Correnty celebrates the fall harvest by incorporating as many local ingredients as possible into our annual feast."

The 2013 Menu
On the Table Appetizers
: White bean and garlic dip with rustic bread from El Jardin Bakery
Seared sesame tuna with Real Pickles

Cup of Chunky Harvest Vegetable Soup

: Late Autumn Greens with Cider Vinaigrette

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne with Rosado Sauce and a side 
of Italian sausage
Apple Crisp with Bart's ginger ice cream and cider syrup 
from New Salem Orchards and Preserves 

And much cider left over from the Salon was poured and enjoyed. I especially liked the soup and salad, but everything was lovely. The meat eaters at our table spoke highly of the Italian sausage, and I will vouch for everything else. I left well stuffed and well cidered and very satisfied.

Spanish Cider Tasting

Because my schedule had some limitations, I just got to try one event on Sunday, the Spanish Cider Tasting. This was led by James Asbel who has been inporting Spanish ciders for three decades as Ciders of Spain. He did a fantastic job along with two featured tasters and a moderator and of course a selection of 5 Spanish ciders that ranged from the genteel to the wild.

This event was a must attend for me because I feel like the Spanish style of cider that frequently focuses on acidity and funk without pronounced tannins is a weak spot in my range of cider experience. This tasting really contextualized Spanish ciders for me and, better yet, showed everyone who attended a range within the style. Sidras vary. Some are more woody, some have sparkle while others do not. Some are produced with the intention of export, others are not. The event deserves its own entry; I took copious notes. But I'll only make it an entry if it seems like someone besides me would find interesting. In any case, the event was marvelous and so educational.

Sadly, I had to leave after that and drive back home. But Franklin County Cider Days was an amazing experience that I cannot wait to repeat next year!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cider Review: Woodchuck Belgian White

I'm reviewing a Woodchuck cider for the first time since my introductory post for Along Came A Cider. I begin this blog with a review of their Winter seasonal cider:  In that review, I give a more thorough introduction to Woodchuck as a brand, but as always you can check out their website too: But what I can has changed is that now Woodchuck has further diversified their lines and has not only the seasonals and the private and barrel reserves, but they also introduce a cellar series cider from time to time. Look for my review of their first Cellar Series, their hopped cider soon.

As for today though, I'm reviewing the Belgian White. This is one of their limited offering that focuses on fermentation experiementation, in this case both their choice of yeast and some additives in the style of a Belgian Witbier. In terms of beer that means that in the last 15 minutes or less of the boil dried orange peel and coriander are added. Since there's no heating in cider making, I'm curious about when these additives go in. Let's take a look at what Woodchuck says about their cider:"A handcrafted treasure, the ultra-limited edition Private Reserve Belgian White, is crafted with a classic Belgian beer yeast. Cloudy, with a rich, golden hue, it presents a delicate aroma and taste, with coriander and orange notes. It pairs excellently with seafood fare, mixed greens or sharp cheeses. Join the select few who get an exclusive taste of the fruits of our labor." I love these pairing suggestions, so we'll see how this cider tastes. 
Appearance: very hazy, warm apricot

The Belgian White is nearly cloudy but in pretty consistent suspension which makes it strongly hazy. The cider looks warm apricot in color. It didn't maintain a head once poured.

Aromas: dusty, sweet very little aroma

This doesn't have a lot of fruit aroma. I enjoy the dustiness of the smell, but I do wish it smelled more.

Flavors: citrus, apple, stone

Whatever creates the stony elements in this cider's aroma suites me fine! Minerality is a lovely element.

Sweetness: Sweet

This is definitely a sweet cider. It isn't too desserty and overwhelmingly fruity in its sweetness, but nonetheless the sweetness is probably a bit more than the style requires. 

Drinking Experience: perfect level of carbonation.

I had this with fish and chips. I enjoyed it plenty in that context. I'm not sure I'd try this cider without a food accompaniment, but I do think that Woodchuck provides a great list of food pairings. I think they are correct to choose seafood, sharp cheeses, and greens. This is defnitely a cider for a social weekend lunch. It is light and easy and fun.

Conclusion: Some folks knock Woodchuck. I admit I've grown less fond of some of their ciders over my time as a cider fan. I feel like I can taste the use of apple juice concentrate. But I genuinely like several of their seasonal and small batch ciders and this is among them. I'd not suggest trying to share it with serious fans of Belgian Witbiers. Allow it to be what it is: a cider with plenty of drinkability and some fun mineral notes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cider Review: Albemarle Ragged Mountain

Reaching back to notes I took in August, I wanted to post another review of a cider by Albemarle Ciderworks. This is the third of their ciders to be reviewed on Along Came a Cider.

The first covers their Royal Pippin and appears here:

and the second concerns my surprising enjoyment of their sweet Pomme Mary:

As always, my first review has the most background information on the brand.

What I'd like to add though that their website is full of special events listings and neat stuff. In just a couple of weekends Albemarle Ciderwords will host the Vintage Virginia Apples Annual Harvest Festival November 2nd from 10am-5pm. It sounds awesome, and I wish I could go. That's occurring at the same time at Franklin County Cider Days in Massachusetts where I'll be. Read about it here: We are so lucky in the cider world right now to have more awesome events than we can possibly attend. If you do have some time or live in or near Virginia, check out their calendar. 

Again, I have to praise Albemarle Ciderworks for having helpful and extensive notes on each of their ciders online. This is just some of what they have to say about their Ragged Mountain, "With a touch of sweetness, Ragged Mountain is perhaps our most traditional cider. It is an off-dry blend made from Albemarle Pippin, Goldrush, Pink Lady, and Virginia Gold among others. With a simple, fruity nose, this cider has a Champagne feel and a short, crisp finish. Ragged Mountain pairs well with salad courses, cheese plates, spicy and ethnic foods or is easily enjoyed on its own." This cider has a fairly hefty alcohol content at  8.2% ABV, so enjoy these mountains carefully so as not to end up more ragged than you intended.

Appearance: glowy, hazy, bubbly

The Ragged Mountain pours with a tiny bit of a head that dissipates quickly. It has this lovely moon-glow color like some other Albermarle ciders. It isn't super clear, more hazy which influences the color as I see it.

Aromas: sweet, fruity, yet funky

This cider is very aromatic. The notes alternate between sharp fruits and goat cheese with a little funk. The wildness is gentle though and not astringent or unfresh.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet/Semi-dry

Though this cider isn't sweet like their Pomme Mary, Ragged Mountain does have some pleasant fruit sweetness to it. It isn't a very heavy feeling cider.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: tannic, a bit rough, minerally

When drinking the Ragged Mountain, I can instantly tell why they chose to pair this name and this cider. It is not smooth, not balanced, but it is exciting.The taste is tannic while not overly acidic. I talk minerals; I'd include all of these in my list of notes copper, tangy, metallic. As I sip it more, I can also taste sharp cheese and blueberries. This is a tremendously dynamic cider with good crispness.

When I had this, I was enjoying August warmth and beach time. Reading what I said about it, I think the Ragged Mountain is a cider that would still taste fantastic in the fall. Now instead of light nibbles and salad, I'd try Albemarle Ciderworks' Ragged Mountain with a spicy chili to keep the evening cold at bay.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cider Review: Doc's Draft Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider and Cider Week NY

First off, I have to say that I enjoyed our Finger Lakes Cider Week tremendously. Soon, I'll write up the amazing cider and cheese pairing night that went down at The Cellar D'Or in Ithaca. It'll happen.

The whole experience was fun enough that I have to recommend folks in NYC and the surrounds try to make it to some Cider Week NY events. This Cider Week begins tomorrow (October 18th) and runs through the 27th. There are great ciders and cider makers coming in not only from the Hudson Valley and New York State but from all over the country. Cider Week NY is an amazing way to increase one's cider knowledge and taste some great stuff, including some product releases that are happening as part of Cider Week! Read more about it and look at their events list:

Today, I get to try my first pumpkin cider of the year. I'm pretty excited. Fall and pumpkin things have brainwashed me like they have millions of otherwise sane reasonably-level-headed human beings until I look forward to fall treats all year long. No pressure for Doc's Draft then...

I've reviewed a few Doc's Draft ciders: their original (, dry hopped (, and cranberry spice ( In the first of those, I introduce the brand more thoroughly. You can check out their website which talks about all of their ciders and related products:

The official Doc's Draft description keeps the description of their Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider simple, "A seasonal cider made with roasted pumpkins, cinnamon, allspice, fresh ginger and nutmeg."

In a blind taste test by Willamette Week of a wide variety of not only pumpkin ciders but also pumpkin beers, Doc's Draft Pumpkin had the absolute top ranking, and pretty much the only whole positive set of notes. Pretty impressive, no? Here's what these tasters said about Doc's Draft Pumpkin, "This kicks ass. A little nutmeg, a lot of pumpkin and not too sweet,” and “It really balances the apple and pumpkin—it’s like a hug from autumn.” and “A light, crisp cider that brings back memories of my mother’s sugar-free pumpkin pie." I'm not at all sure about this concept of a sugar-free pumpkin pie, but I'm not going to insult anyone's mom or her notions about pie.

You can read the whole article here:

Appearance: apricot, brilliant,

This cider pours with a head that dissipates into lace then vanishes entirely. The cider has no haze or cloudiness. The pumpkin variety offers a deeper color than most colors, making it more apricot or mango.

Aromas: Spices, nutmeg, clove, mace

The Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider's most immediate notes are pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, clove, and mace. I can smell them all immediately, even before pouring the cider from the bottle into a cider glass. I'm not getting many other scents, not pumpkin or apple.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet

I love how the spiciness affect the cider's sweetness! This is a cider with some bitter notes and some sweetness that play really well together. The spices definitely take center stage in relation to the fruit, but the apple and pumpkin are part of the sweetness in Doc's Draft Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider. The allspice and nutmeg mean that a bitter, slighty astringent edge cuts through sweetness; it's great.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: balanced, lots of carbonation, autumnal

As I'm drinking, a few different things characterize this Doc's Draft. It is so very very fall and autumnal and seasonally appropriate. The pumpkin pie spices give it a lot of flavor and the apple background combines with them easily and well. I also notice that this is a bit more strongly  carbonated than many of the ciders I've had lately, but sparkle is a great flavor transmitter. Mostly though I notice how well-balanced this spicy pumpkin cider is. Pumpkin and apple play supporting roles to baking spices happily. Unlike some ciders by the brand, I don't notice much yeastiness in the Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider. There are no noticeable levels of tannins, just enough acid to be lively but not distracting.

In some ways this pumpkin cider is a lot like mulled cider, while being cold and sparkling. The spices are forward enough that the cider is not measurable by some traditional criteria, but what makes it so different is what makes it so pleasant. I enjoyed my cider with a sweet and savory baked pasta. It worked well, but I think roasted Delicata Squash, veggie sausage, and cornbread would be even better. Drink this outside by a bonfire before the nights go from crisp to cold. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finger Lakes Cider Week Special Review of Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Starblossom 2012

 We're more than halfway through with this year's Finger Lakes Cider Week, and I'm both very happy and very tired at this point. We've had wonderful activities that range from the educational to the indulgent and most everything in between. Tomorrow night is my last big event. I'll be pairing ciders and cheeses with the fine folks at The Cellar D'Or on State Street on the Ithaca Commons from 5-8pm. We'll have New York, regional, and international selections in both cheeses and ciders, and the whole event is completely free. Come by and taste a few things and mingle with your fellow cider lovers. I've been doing my cheese research for the event, and I'm pretty stoked to share some wild and funky cheeses. Delightful!

Anyhow, I'm blogging tonight to review another local Finger Lakes Cider by Redbyrd Orchard Cider. This is a relatively young company, but one of the founders, Eric Shatt, has been fermenting various beverages since his teenage years and came to cider professionally after several years in the local wine industry. Last year this company was one of the founding members of the Finger Lakes Cider Alliance along with 7 other cideries. I think this statement found on their website tells me the most about their goals as cidermakers, "We grow heirloom, wild seedling and European cider apples to produce unique and complex artisanal ciders."You can check out the rest of their website here:

Tonight, I'm reviewing their oaked cider, the Starblossom 2012. This is what the folks at Redbyrd Orchard say about their Starblossom cider: "Bottle conditioned and barrel aged in french oak, Starblossom is a heavy yet elegant cider with a nose of spice and vanilla, smokey cloves and dried fruit.  Exquisite with a fine ring of bubbles in your glass and a warming creaminess of effervescence in your mouth. An excellent pairing with a spicy lamb tangine, pasta nestled in a delicate cream sauce, roasted pork loin, or even on it’s own as a celebratory drink." I've not had many oaked ciders, so I'm extra curious about how dramatic the oak's effects will be on the cider and what that will be like. Those I've had a few; Some use highly flavorful boozed-up barrels for strong notes of the previous barrel occupants like bourbon or whiskey. Others use more subtle neutral barrels to up their tannins, using the wood as one more way to give their ciders structure. Two very different directions.

Appearance: Brilliant, pale, creamed honey

This looks to be a petillant or lightly sparking cider from the pours I'm seeing. Not very many visible bubbles. Beautiful brilliance and very pale color. It has the barely off white color of creamed honey through the cider looks anything but opaque.

Aromas: fresh apples, a bit of warm vanilla, perhaps some more tropical fruits

Luscious notes of fresh apples just open right up as soon as I smelled this cider. The other notes aren't as strong, but I did smell some warm vanilla and tropical fruits, mostly banana.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

The Starblossom isn't very sweet, but the fruits on the mid-palate definitely translate into some sweetness for me. When listening to others respond to the sweetness or dryness of this cider, I've heard a range of opinions, everything from noting it as pleasantly almost sweet to extremely dry. Palates vary.

Flavors and drinking experience: crisp, mildly fruity, wood on the finish

Well now I can definitely tell that Redbyrd uses their oak more for structure than for intense flavors. The cider makes its impression primarily on its crispness and firm structure. This cider drinks well and enjoyably for me, but my husband found it a bit rough and imperfectly balanced. The fruits only really come into play in the mid-palate but enjoyably so. The wood from the oak is most noticable in terms of flavor in the finish for the Starblossom.

I had this with a blue cheese and then again later with a hearty fall grain salad. It worked with both but I think the creaminess and intensity of the blue cheese made for an especially fun pairing. The zesty outspoken cheese relied a bit on the stability of the cider and the cider benefited from the excitement.