Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cider Review: West County Cider, Reine de Pomme

West County Ciders hail from Colrain, Massachusetts where they have been made by cidermaker Judith Maloney and her family since 1984. They mention hailing previously from California’s wine making traditions which they have blended with New England cider making and blending techniques. They only use pressed apples and no concentrate. Their website has much more information.

As a varietal intro I mostly want to share what West County says about their own cider. The story comes from their discovery of “a classic French bittersweet apple” described as having strong tannins, complexity, a note of iron. Their blurb says, “Reine de Pomme is an archaic French Apple. We found it in the Geneva Reference Orchard. In 1987, in France, the only reference to it we found was a listing in a nursery catalog from the 1920’s at an apple museum in Normandy.” And this is just the apple. When described the cider as they have created, cellared, and blended it, they say, “As a cider it has a deep, dark-fruit, honeyed taste. We blended it with our Dabinet to round out the tannins, and Redfield to add bright fruit and to balance the bitter-sweets. Though blended, Reine de Pomme leads the taste, and the Dabinet and Redfield fall in nicely as supports. It is the fullest-bodied cider we have made. And the closest in taste to a French Cider.”

ABV: 7.3%

Color and appearance: Deep glowing apricot

The appearance of this cider is truly unique. Its color is glorious. When we cannot stand a moment more of grey winter, pouring a glass of the Reine de Pomme can temporarily transport us to sunnier days. This cider also shows tremendous levels  of bubbles. So many active bubbles. A bright white head formed when I poured my first glass, and then vanished quickly.

Aroma:  candied citrus, nectarine, and dusty granite?

As crazy as this may sound, the end of the each sniff of this cider brought strong grey rock in the sun to my mind. As an inveterate basker and lounger who would always prefer to sit or lay on the ground, I’ve smelled rocks aplenty and the Reine de Pomme smells like a sun-warmed rock. It also smells like fruit and sugar with a citrus pinch.

Sweet to dry: Off dry

The bottle describes the cider as dry, and for many cider drinkers it would be quite dry. For those more attuned to independent, small-batch ciders though, the range is wider and dryer than that made up only of more widely available ciders, making the Reine de Pomme a very pleasant off dry. This an ideal level of sweetness and dryness in my mind.

Flavors and drinking experience: tannic, heavy, creamy mouthfeel,

The citrus from the scent develops fully when I taste this cider. I can taste the mineral element from the smell also, but it fuses with the fruit notes more, almost adding a shadow of depth behind the brighter notes.

Finish:  slow but still creamy with residual flavors of lemon

The finish is luscious, less dry than the initial taste. It dallies and gives a second impression of creaminess united with lemon or sweetish citrus.    

Pairs with: a full meal with strong flavors, maybe a risotto or shepherd’s pie.

The unusual mouthfeel would allow drinkers to pair this with something usually less available for cider pairings. Maybe even something with more than a hint of spiciness. Alternately, the cider drinkly beautifully on its own. I’d take this particular drink sunbathing, maybe because of the aroma. Still, I think the Reine de Pomme would be a lovely companion for unwinding in the out of doors. Quite a fascinating cider, especially for one so drinkable.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cider Review: Bellwether's Liberty Spy (and blog news!)

Tonight I’m happy to be reviewing a cider I’ve enjoyed the few chances I’ve had to taste it. The Liberty Spy is created by Bellwether Hard Cider. It is a cidery that has been in business since 1999: located in Trumansburg, a small hamlet outside of Ithaca, New York. The company produces ten distinct ciders. Bellwether is part of a larger cider scene in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York. Since I will be moving to Ithaca in a few months, this is a cider scene I’m definitely planning on joining. If you're from there, please say hi!

Within the cadre of Bellwether ciders, the Liberty Spy is described as semi-dry/semi-sweet. Its apple components are listed as Liberty and Northern Spy, hence the name. They sell it as a cider to bring to people not yet familiar with ciders. That’s partly why I chose it to be my first Bellwether review, an introduction of sorts. It comes in a 750ml bottle, a good sharing size.

ABV: 6.8%

Color and appearance: Quite pale

If feeling romantic, I’d almost call this color moonglow. It hints at springtime with its paleness just on the verge of yellow and green.

Aroma: floral, honey, yet tart

The scent plays between a few different notes not uncommon in a semi-sweet cider, including a sort of floral honey mélange and a lightly sharper element reminiscent of green fruits.

Sweet to dry: semi-sweet

Though Bellwether calls this a semi-dry/semi-sweet, I think it falls a bit more into the semi-sweet category. It opens with sweetness that dissipates quickly. It is anything but cloying; the refreshing zest of this cider is wedded to its light amount of sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: green apples

I immediately understand why this is described as an introductory cider. It shows off the pleasant and lively side of cider with ease and power. Perhaps that sounds a bit odd, but the carbonation level is just right. It sets the drinking pace and showcases the cider’s flavors well. The mouthfeel is what gives the impression of power because it is not a thin cider, instead it feels rich on the palate.

Finish: Surprisingly quick

For such a mouthfeel, I was surprised by short the finish is on this cider.
Pairs with: asparagus, nuts, mushrooms

Because of this cider’s balance and effervescence, I’d choose foods with bitter elements and play up the contrast. It could easily be served with appetizers including nuts and cheeses or a meal including asparagus or mushrooms (especially if cooked with butter). The substance of this cider can stand up to buttery highly flavored dishes, but the range is far wider than these descriptions. Socially speaking, I’d choose this cider for a vintage-style listening party. Give everyone a plate of nibbles, a glass of the Liberty Spy, and get lost in whatever music calls to you. 

I’m very excited about trying this cider again once the weather is more genuinely spring-like. Even more exciting to me is the notion of expanding my knowledge of Bellwether’s offerings. The upcoming move to Ithaca should make that easy. In the meantime, I heartily recommend tasting the Liberty Spy and sharing your impressions with me in the comments. I’m all ears!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cider Review Ace Cider Apple Honey

Ace Ciders come from California, and their website claims that they are America's best ciders. Quite a claim! The support for such a bold assertion gives is a bit more helpful specificity because they define their idea of best as ciders falling between very sweet mass-produced ciders and the more more challenging dry ciders that often carry hints of farmyard flavor. They are proud to be a company focused on producing easy drinking semi-sweet ciders. A much more reasonable claim to make.

My dear friend Rebecca found the Ace Apple Honey and shared it with me on a recent visit. The Apple Honey features Sonoma Wildflower Honey and uses all dessert apples. This choice of apples distinguishes it from many dry ciders that use specifically cider apples. It was originally introduced in 2010 as a fall seasonal.
Color and appearance: dark intense gold, visible bubbles,  no head

Aroma: honey, tangy

The aroma promises a wild sweet flavor. The tang certainly keeps in mind that the honey used to flavor this cider is wildflower honey and not a mild or smooth honey. An intriguing bit gaminess.

Sweet-dry scale: sweet!

The cider has a slightly overwhelming caramel dark sweetness. I suspect this will be the divisive factor for anyone who tastes the cider.

Drinking experience and flavors: honey and grapes

Too sweet for fast drinking. Plenty carbonated. The cider doesn’t really coalesce into one experience, but  gives several distinct impressions. It is easy to taste grapes, honey, and apples.

Finish: sweet and lingering

The best part of this cider is its version of a sweet finish.

Drinking Notes: This could be paired with spicy foods to reasonably good effect. I think that would balance out some of the sweetness nicely. If you are after experiencing the sweetness fully rather than neutralizing it, go crazy and eat this with fruit salad or french toast. The honey and fruitiness can handle it.

I think this Ace cider comes out far more on the sweet side than their promotional copy would suggest. For me this isn't a selling point, but I know that significant sweetness is a feature and a draw for many cider fans. I'll encourage them to try it, and for everyone to come to their own conclusions.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cider Review Commonwealth Cider Traditional Dry

Based out of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Cider Traditional Dry is a relatively new cider attempt from the Philadelphia Brewing Company. I got to taste it because I have good friends in Philadelphia who want to share local things with me, and I'm quite grateful.

This is my review of their Traditional Dry. Their website describes it as “a very dry, crisp, easy drinking and delicately balanced cider.  It is wonderfully tart and eervescent with a light apple fragrance.” We’ll see how it tastes to me. I'm always curious about how different companies interpret their own ciders on the sweet/dry scale.

ABV: 5%

Color: clear topaz

Some steady thin streams of bubbles. No head but a ring of bubbles formed around the edges of the glass.

Aroma: bread, yeast, raisins with apple

The scent is sweeter than the taste. The scent is not unlike that of the Doc's Draft, with an aura of pastry.

Flavors: beer-like cider, mineral notes

In some ways this Commonwealth Cider is like a more intense Strongbow. Like how I remember it tasting, rather than how it tastes to me now. It is a bit textural. Not quite rough.  It is a perfectly satisfying semi-dry beer-inspired cider.

Drinking experience: This cider has loads of carbonation.

It keeps reminding me of beer! The carbonation levels are indeed strong, and the mineral notes dominate any fruitiness. A summery beverage.

Sweet to dry: semi-dry to dry

Not the most outstanding flavor profile, but a when the company promises crisp and effervescent, they deliver.  I can imagine that this works well in warm weather or when someone wants to enjoy a beverage that will not distract from a meal. For Strongbow fans, it is a clear winner.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cider Review: Arsenal Cider Fightin' Elleck

The Arsenal Cider Cellar and Wine Bar is a very local Pittsburgh cidery, and it was my pleasure to visit them recently. They run a unique business with a strategic design to reward return customers. Their focus is on making several distinct and delicious ciders, which they sell out of a civil war themed cider cellar. They primarily sell refillable growlers which are labeled as "Daily Rations." When customers buy a growler of cider or mead, they are asked to grant themselves civil war military ranks which become part of the individualized cider label. The theme is continued in how this Pittsburgh rowhouse’s interior is transformed into a log cabin with antiques and old-timey music. It is a great destination for cider tasters since four tastes are available for free to anyone coming in to learn about their ciders.

This is only the first of a few posts on Arsenal Ciders, but today I want to talk about their signature cider, the Fightin’ Elleck. It has a fairly high ABV at 8%. I'm curious how that will affect the drinking experience. Sometimes a higher ABV makes more a cider that demands to be enjoyed more slowly. One of the interesting features is that Arsenal ciders are carbonated right at the bar before the growlers are labeled.

Color and appearance: pale clear maize

Very few visible bubbles. Beautiful clarity.

Aroma: honey and flowers

I admit that I had a moment of fear when I first sniffed this cider because the smell did come across as sweet and honeyed at first. Tasting soon changed that impression and soothed my fears.

Sweet-dry scale: true off dry

The cider is much less sweet to the taste than I was prepared for by the aroma. This cider has enough sweetness to make a reasonable introduction to the brand,  but it is not the dominant impression. The sweetness is of a floral character, perhaps honey and elderflower. A very good level and type of sweetness for many cider drinkers.

Drinking experience and flavors: golden raisins, warm, vanilla, and wood

This tasted more like plump golden raisins to me than either honey or apples, both of which I somewhat expected. Further notes include smokiness, vanilla, and a strong woody element. Overall it has a notably warm character, suiting it well to this time of year. The added carbonation is plenty strong.

Finish: sweeter than the rest

This is where the long anticipated sweetness finally speaks, and here it works.

Drinking Notes: I decidedly enjoyed this cider and wish I could add it to my rotating cast of ciders to share with those not yet aware of how complex and satisfying craft ciders can be.

Their website is a bit basic, but there’s some more information on their Facebook page. The cider is available in house and at some local Pittsburgh bars and restaurants, but the cidery offers a great experience. I highly recommend giving it a visit.