Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cider Review: Anthem with Hops (plus Cider News)

All the Anthem Ciders are created by Wandering Aengus Ciderworks out of Salem, Oregon. These appear under a different label because these cider makers use different apples, including many dessert varieties, whereas any cider under the Wandering Aengus label only uses heirloom cider apple varieties. For more information, I highly recommend checking out the line’s FAQ here.

The Anthem Cider with Hops is a cider I’ve been really excited to try. Hops are an ingredient very common to beers but not at all common in ciders. According to Anthem, these are Cascade Hops from Oregon. I have no idea how the flavor will come out in a cider. The ABV comes to 5.5% which doesn’t give me many clues since so many ciders have similar ABV percentages. The Anthem Cider with Hops sells in a 22oz. bottle for about seventeen dollars a bottle in New York City. It looks like the price varies a lot by location based on what I can see online.

Color and appearance: dark amber

This cider has a notably rich color. This isn’t a golden cider, but rather it looks more like maple syrup or deep amber. When pouring, this cider creates no visible bubbles. It looks entirely still.

Aroma: whiskey mash or wine, fermenty, reminiscent of barrels

The aromas are undeniably boozy but they wander between being vinously fruity or more like the cereal smells of a distillery and the woodsy smell of bourbon barrels. The smell makes me wonder about the listed ABV, which doesn’t usually smell this, potent. The scent is almost three-dimensional; it feels like the kind of super yummy smell I’d like to fall into entirely. Cidery, rich, and deep.

Sweet-dry scale: semi-sweet

In describing the particular sweetness of this cider, I can only use words like dark, rich, and caramel. It offers a mature sweetness that more refined and less fruity than most. Wonderful. The sweetness comes across as understated.

Drinking experience and flavors: smoky and amazing

I was surprised by Anthem’s slight tangy sparkle because the bubbles are 100% invisible. Sweet basket of kittens, this is good. This has a truly unusual rich mouthfeel.  As I drink it, I can discern a bit of lemon but nothing too tart. This is a filling and satisfying cider.

Finish: citrusy, woodsy, and long

I think the hops really contribute to how the finish lingers in the nose. Very pleasant.

Drinking Notes: I want to drink this with everything. Cheese

In an effort to be more helpful and descriptive, this is a cider that really could be enjoyed with a wide variety of foods and experiences. During this cold snap, I’d drink it with chili or a casserole. It could also go beautifully with a fondue or other rich foods. As for recommended experiences, this is the cider to convert a beer snob. Seriously. Invite one over for something appropriately tempting and share this cider.

The Anthem Cider with Hops tastes perfect for winter. But I tell you I’ll be trying it again in Spring, Summer, and Fall. This has to be one of the most delicious complex and yet balanced ciders I’ve ever tasted.

Also in truly fantastic cider news, I've been hearing about a very special get together for cider fans in Chicago, Portland, and Seattle. Please take a peek at the Cider Summit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cider Review: Cliffton Dry


Cliffton Dry Premium Cider comes from New York state and New York state apples. The cider has an abv of 5.5%. Their website unfortunately appears to be in flux and currently unable to give much additional information. One interesting note gleaned from their Facebook page is that the company claims to use the same fermentation process for their cider as for their wines.

Color and appearance: very very pale almost green

The bottle is clear, something rare in ciders, and its shows off the Cliffton Dry’s unusual lack of color. In the glass, it looks even more translucent, if such a thing is possible. The bubbles rise slowly in columns to the top rather like a sleepy champagne.

Aroma: winelike, acidic, red currants

The smell reminds me more of grapes and wine rather than cider. This could be because of the fruity and acidic notes in the aromas. Even mild spring beans with their green fresh qualities come to mind.

Sweet-dry scale: a true semi-dry

This has some aspects of sweetness and others of dryness. I could certainly call this cider vinous, which might be the fermentation process showing. It isn’t too drying but nearly so. Semi-dry is an apt description.

Drinking experience and flavors: tart, nippy, green

The Cliffton Dry has a raw quality to it. The cider should definitely be paired with foods. Because of the tartness, it drinks slowly. Lots of carbonation further slows the cider down. This compromises its enjoyability, because it isn’t very satisfying little sip after little sip.

Finish: lingering and citrusy

This cider is particularly fresh tasting at the finish.  Though it is undeniably sour, that could be refreshing under the right circumstances. It reminds me of spring days and mown grass.

Drinking Notes: Pasta salad, potatoes, or other starchy foods

This is a picnic cider. It is very Summer friendly. The cider and I didn’t get along perfectly, but I blame the circumstances rather than personal failings from either of us.

In conclusion, I’d suggest that fans of lighter but not sweeter ciders consider trying it. It is available in New York City Whole Foods locations at approximately five dollars for a small bottle. I might give it another while come June, but for winter, it simply isn’t the cider for me.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cider Review: Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider

New York City is lucky enough to be very close to the Hudson Valley, where a great many good apples grow and a great many good ciders are born. Among these cider makers, we have Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. They’ve won quite a number of awards and produce several different ciders and perries under the imprint Doc’s Draft. Several states have distributors that carry the brand, but it isn’t available everywhere.

Tonight’s review belongs to Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider. This is their straight man cider, no additional fruits or spices.  Its ABV comes to a fairly standard 5%.  This variety won a gold medal in the Hudson Valley Wine Competition and generally ranks as a favorite locally and further afield.

Color and appearance: pale gold

Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider appears mild and light in the glass, but not unusually so. Its color is a fairly cooler than some. No head and few visible bubbles.

Aroma: apple pastry, yeast

The cider smells absolutely like a bakery. The Doc’s Draft gives off a gorgeous apple strudel scent that just makes my mouth water. The aromas aren’t strong, but a careful sniff gives heavenly rewards. It does make one begin to wonder if the cider will be semi-dry as it is described by the maker.

Sweet-dry scale: sweet but beautifully balanced

This has a delicate pleasant sweetness, but it could not be accurately described as semi-dry. I worry that some cider drinkers and makers are beginning to use the sweet to dry continuum as an indicator more of authenticity or cache rather than flavor. Some sweet ciders are delicious, as this one most certainly is.

Drinking experience and flavors: caramel apple, butter

The Doc’s Draft has a very appley flavor, even when compared to other ciders. The apple deepens though, with some dark caramel notes. It feels almost buttery. This cider is lively with a touch of astringency, but it is not too carbonated. The overall picture of robust sweetness, freshness, and gentle sparkle makes for enjoyable easy drinking.

Finish: gentle air of powdered sugar

The finish just makes me want to reach for another sip. It isn’t overly sweet, but it turns from fruity and caramel-y back to the pastry notes of its aroma. Just a smidge of powdered sugar.

Drinking Notes: salty snacks, soft cheeses

Try this with some brie and nuts. The sweet and salty combination works as it should, and the fattiness of either cheese or nuts enhances the mouthfeel of the Doc’s Draft Apple. This is a long conversation kind of cider, so think about pairing it with your most interesting friends and many big ideas.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cider Review: Prima Most

Tonight I’m reviewing something quite special and unusual. Prima Ciders come from Long Grove, Illinois, near Chicago. Prima has spent over 30 years on their cider-making process, though their labors have only been available to the public for a fraction of that time. Only six liquor stores in the United States sell their locally beloved ciders. While visiting Chicago over the weekend, I purchased a 750 ml bottle for 18.50; this would be a bit steep for ordinary cider, but tasting the Prima Most really is a rare opportunity.

The Most cider, one of their three varieties, contains 7% abv. The special methods Pima uses for the Most cider include cold-cellar fermentation and bottle or cask conditioning. They refrain from filtering their ciders for a farmhouse cider taste, look, and experience.

Color: cloudy light blonde

Immediately after pouring, this cider gives the glass an almost frosted appearance because of its color and cloudiness. The Most cider makes a tremendous fizz in the glass, but the bubbles dissipate quickly rather than forming a head. The choice to share this cider unfiltered supports its claim of being farmhouse style, at least in appearance. Let’s find out how it smells.

Aroma: sour and fruity, red currants, hints of funky fermentation

The smell is sharply unlike most American ciders in its bold earthiness. It harkens to English farmhouse ciders of the rough and rustic sort. The cider’s aroma reminds me of The Black Rat, a Somerset cider, but with less horsiness.  

Flavors and drinking experience: lemon zest, grapefruit, lots of carbonation 

The Prima Most gives a first impression of a citrus bitternessness that is tremendously refreshing. This smoothly transitions into a crab apple bite that makes me feel just a bit of tannic pucker in my cheeks and jaw. For a farmhouse cider, it is aggressively effervescent. Wonderfully balanced.

Sweet to dry: dry

 The combination of a more sparkle with true dryness and fruit notes is a surprising and satisfying combination. I love how dry it is, but I expect that it will surprise some cider drinkers who haven’t had any small batch dry ciders before. The American cidery with the most in common with this quality of dryness has to be Farnum Hill. Good company to be in.

Finish: Extra lemon on the back, minerals

It has some of the mineral qualities of a dry white wine, but the citrus farmy notes definitely give the last impression.

Pairs with: salad, many cheeses, and whole grain breads

At the risk of sounding stereotypical, this farm-style cider goes well with simple foods. A heavily-grained bread like oatmeal bread or a dense wheat would be a delightful counterpoint. To bring out the light fruitiness of the cider, it could also be paired with salads. Like many many many ciders, it enhances a whole spectrum of cheeses delightfully. Since this cider is relatively hard to come by, I'd not suggest pairing it with any activity at all. Let the Most be your entertainment.

This cider makes me sad to leave Chicago, despite the terrible weather. The Prima Most shocks me with how good it is. This cider has some of the best characteristics of English and American cider traditions. The aromas tantalize; the flavor satisfies; the bubbles add zip. What a wonderful beverage. I hope someday to be able to try their other two varieties.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cider Review: Wandering Aengus Bloom

I’m lucky to have access to a few varieties of cider made by Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, a Pacific Northwest cider maker. Tonight I'm reviewing the Bloom. The 2011 Bloom’s ABV is 6.5%, a bit more than many ciders put out by larger operations. The company specifically mentions using cider apples from Oregon and Washington in their blends. I’m curious to see if this will taste different from ciders that use more dessert apples or have a more Northeasterly origin.

Color and appearance: Intensely amber yellow, lots of still bubbles

I was surprised by the vibrance of the color The bubbles are small and appear to nearly hang in the poured cider. It is a beautiful drink.

Aroma: Definitely Floral, tangy and sweet

Though the smell is sweet, it hints at a more challenging cider. The aroma is one of pure anticipation caused by the bits of golden flower, honey, and forest mustiness.

Flavors and drinking experience: Apple skin, Tannins, gaminess

This cider’s flavors open sharply with some bitter and sweet all tangled together. It puckers the cheek a bit, but only pleasantly. It is just a bit challenging as I hoped it would be.  What smelled floral turns wilder and a bit gamey on the palate. The level of carbonation plus the wilder flavor notes make this a slow-drinking cider.  Since the bottle is a not inconsiderable 22 ounces, one bottle of this cider is perfect for sharing.

Sweet to dry: semi-sweet/semi-dry

The sweetness is present behind the gamey tanginess, but far less than in the cider’s aromas. While it isn’t necessarily honey-like, for anyone who has tasted wildflower or kudzu honey, this shares its sprightly wildness.  The Wandering Angus bloom has depth and dryness more than sweetness as one drinks it.

Finish: A flourish of sweetness at the end. 

Pleasantly lingering rather than clean.  Sweetness reappears at the last moment.  It almost numbs the tongue slightly for just a moment before it fades. Again, a reason to savor the drink rather than quaff it quickly.

Pairs with: cheese or fish, salty dishes

This cider can balance strong flavors and plenty of salt. It could also bring liveliness to a starch-heavy meal. I think a chowder or a potato soup would be a great meal to eat alongside the Bloom. If folks would like a cider to introduce at a leisurely brunch with friends, this could suit the situation nicely.

Overall, this cider is quite the experience. A small group of key words keep coming to mind (wild, gamey, floral), but they feel like the right ones for Wandering Aengus’s Bloom cider.  Drinking the Bloom can be divided into three phases: sweetly floral, aggressively tangy, then a honeyed finish. This is a very good cider. I highly highly recommend it. It could make an excellent gateway into more serious ciders for someone who has previously only enjoyed the sweeter lighter side of the beverage.

Cider Review: Woodchuck Winter

Woodchuck is one of the most familiar cider brands to United States cider drinkers, and it is also fairly divisive. Some folks find all of Woodchuck’s offerings to be too sweet, while others enjoy the varieties and availability of Woodchuck ciders. I quite like several of the varieties, but I can see the validity in some critiques. That’s all I will say about that. On to tonight’s cider: Woodchuck Winter.

Cider fans can only buy this cider in November, December, and January. Winter cider, winter availability. The company describes the Winter as having notes of vanilla and oak. The ABV is on par with many Woodchuck ciders at 5%. Though the price is not consistent shop to shop, much less state to state, six-packs tend be available in $9-12 dollar range. That makes the Winter an easy cider to take home for casual drinking.

Here are my findings based on several trials.

Color and appearance: Warm topaz

It looks like a sparkling maple syrup in the glass. It produces no head, just a slight ring of foam around the glass.

Aroma: burnt sugar and caramel, vanilla, toasted gentle woods

The aromas of this cider are not at all difficult to detect when drinking from a pint glass. Straight from the bottle, I have a harder time getting much in the way of scent without awkwardly bringing my proboscis directly to the mouth of the bottle: not  a recommended move when enjoying this cider with friends or loved ones. The smells are nice, so taking the time to pour this cider into a glass is well worth it.

Sweet-dry scale: sweet

All Woodchuck ciders are sweet. That is simply a fact we must accept. The particular character of the Winter’s sweetness is a mellow friendliness. I can taste it high in my palate, but it isn’t annoying. Some ciders’ sweetness (say that ten times fast) give one a sense of youthful hijinks and morning-after headaches. But Woodchuck Winter is definitively not one of those. Thankfully. The sweetness is tempered by the vanilla, making the Woodchuck Winter a more mature beverage with an interesting character.

Drinking experience and flavors: Woodsiness, maple, very drinkable

The oakiness or a more general woodsiness comes the forefront when actually drinking this cider (particularly with food). The level of sparkle/carbonation is on par with other Woodchuck ciders, and, in general, this is most reminiscent of their 802 cider. The carbonation remains through pouring, but takes on a finer character (read: tiny bubbles) after some time in a glass. Drinking from the bottle puts the carbonation more at the forefront of the experience if that’s your thing.

Finish: pleasant, relatively clean

The restraint in the sweetness really pays off throughout drinking the Woodchuck Winter, but it offers the most benefit in the finish. Each sip, drink, and gulp of this cider leaves the mouth tidily with only a ghost of vanilla. A real highlight.

Drinking Notes: hearty dishes or salty snacks

Woodchuck Winter goes well many savoury but not spicy winter dishes. The flavors show excellently against chili, pizza, and hot sandwiches. It can cut through a bit of greasiness, so don’t be afraid to take it to a bonfire potluck. It also goes well with freshly popped popcorn and BBC programming for the couch hibernators among us.

All in all, I think it is a better than average cider, though it could still be less sweet.   I wish I could get it for more of the year; three months a year is not a lot of quality time together.