Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cider Review: Arsenal Cider Cannoneers Bone Dry Sour Cherry and a Cider Event!

Today, I’m sharing my review for another cider from Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Cider and Wine Bar , The Cannoneers Bone Dry Sour Cherry. I previously reviewed their signature cider, the Fightin’ Elleck which has since gotten a silver medal at the 2013 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. If you want to find information about their current offerings, rather than using their website, I’d suggest going to their frequently updated Facebook page. This Pittsburgh cidery sells by the 1 litre refillable growler, and their local tap list grows by the week.  

At first I was skittish about even trying a free sample of the Cannoneers Bone Dry Sour Cherry  because I tend to dislike most cherry flavors. Even most varieties of cherries themselves. Once encouraged, I will try most ciders, and this one was full of surprises.

The ABV clocks in at a whopping 11.5% which means that our 1 litre growler is a pretty potent sell. I had some very interesting tasting help from my husband and our good friend Aaron (who is usually a scotch or beer drinker). Arsenal ciders are carbonated right at the bar, so I was curious how this one would do after waiting unopened for about five weeks.  On to the review!

Color and appearance: deep pink, a few visible bubbles, no cloudiness
I tend to love the ciders with deep naturally occurring color. This one is beautiful. It looks like a sparkling rose in the in the glass.
Aroma: Funky, farmy, fruity

The Sour Cherry doesn’t actually smell very much like cherry. Its dominant impression is resinous and funky. The fruit comes through more as apple core and red currants. Some of our tasters noticed some mineral elements that reminded them of shellac, but for me this has a very pleasant farmy barnyard smell. Many of my favorite English ciders have aromas in this family.

Sweet-dry scale: off dry

Though Arsenal calls it bone dry, I’d call it pleasantly off dry. It is too fruity to taste completely dry, but it could not be called sweet.

Drinking experience and flavors: Carbonized cherry crumble, Chestnut, pulp

Between all three tasters, we got associations and impressions in a few different directions. We each tasted the cherry more than we had smelled it, but between the carbonation (which remained good and strong in the unopened growler) and the dryness, the cider does not taste like fresh cherries. It has a pastry quality, more like a cherry crumble. We also agreed on a warm nuttiness that probably connects to the fairly full and oily mouthfeel. I love a robust mouthfeel in my ciders! I also tasted hints of wet paper pulp amidst the green pear and slight tannic puckering. The Sour Cherry is a cider that is better than the sum of its parts, some of which are a bit weird. The overall experience, however, is truly enjoyable.

Finish:  Salt, lime, well water

For Aaron, the finish reminded him of the saltiness of Islay Scotch, but for me it was all citrus and minerals. That’s how I understand tasting salt and lime.

Drinking Notes: The added carbonation remained strong in the unopened growler quite well for more than a month. I’ve been drinking the cider little by little and the carbonation has waned understandably after the growler has been opened.

The Cannoneers Bone Dry Sour Cherry pairs very well with potatoes. I'd be more specific, but I think this cider shows real flexibility in terms of food accompaniment. I'd love to drink the Sour Cherry with an au gratin or with garlic mashed potatoes or even with fries and a sandwich. I'd stick with savoury pairings, but within that category, you can go nuts.

The cider is available in house and at some local Pittsburgh bars and restaurants. I can heartily recommend Arsenal's Sour Cherry Cider to folks who enjoy the funkier side of the beverage. It singlehandedly changed my mind about cherry ciders.

Also, Arsenal is organizing a Pittsburgh Cider and Mead Festival for April 27th!

Check out the info on their handy dandy flier.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Double-Rising Sweet Cider Bread: A Story About One Very Forgiving Recipe

We’ve all heard what to do when life gives us lemons, but what about when life gives us some very dubious hard cider? This is the story of how I asked a well-tried beer bread recipe to endure a few modifications—and it came through for me like a champ.

The afternoon wasn’t getting any less rainy, and the thin, oversweetened Michelob Cider in the fridge wasn’t magically going to become tasty on its own, so it was time to salvage it with a simple backing project.

Here’s how my in-laws make beer bread. First pour a bottle of room temperature beer into bowl with 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 of a cup of granulated sugar, and a tablespoon each of baking powder and salt. Stir gently until it becomes a thick batter with no powder remaining. Preheat a loaf pan with about an ounce of butter in the bottom. Pour the dough into this hot loaf pan. This gives off the most satisfying sizzle when you spoon the dough into the hot buttered pan Then put a few pad of butter onto the top of the dough before closing the oven door. This lovely stuff gets baked at 375 for about 45 minutes.

Using the cider would be modification #1. I began by letting the guilty cider sit and sweat, reaching room temperature, while I gathered ingredients. As luck would have it, my loaf pan was missing (I like to think it’s partying somewhere with several single socks).  This led to modification #2: I used a brownie pan instead, which means a shorter baking time. The rain on my kitchen window reminded me that humidity can be the nemesis of rising bread, so I added a pinch more baking powder—modification #3. My dough then grew much thicker than cake batter but looser than typical bread dough. Into the oven it went, and a light-colored, cake-like bread emerged 35 minutes later.

Once it cooled, I cut it into generous portions. My husband and I ate it with sharp cheddar cheese, and he raved over the apple-y taste and surprisingly fluffy texture. Only then did I realize that I’d added that extra baking powder to what was already self-rising flour! Oops. Modification #4. My in-laws’ beer bread recipe is forgiving as my oft-dropped but always functional cell phone. My doubly-rising sweet cider bread was delicious. It would make a perfect substitution for coffee cake, with its soft crumbly texture and its breakfast-ready sweetness.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cider Review: Anthem Cider

I think of Anthem Cider as the funkier more experimental sibling to the traditional and delicious Wandering Aengus since they are largely made by the same cidermakers in Salem, Oregon. Wandering Aengus uses cider apples, and Anthem uses dessert apples and sometimes additional flavorful ingredients like hops or cherries. You can read more about the company on their website. Anthem made their first ciders relatively recently, in 2010, but they’ve done very well for themselves so far, this cider taking a silver at the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition (GLINTCAP) in its category.*

This is how the company describes the Anthem Cider, “Anthem Cider – offers the tart acidity of the apple’s natural malic acid with a clean fruit forward finish. Anthem Cider is the foundation for all the Anthems. Semi-Dry. Medium Tart. 5.0% to 6.5% ABV. GLUTEN FREE.” It doesn’t give very much specific information, but we’ll taste to see if we agree about dryness level, flavors, acidity, and finish. One thing to note is that Anthem ciders are pressed year round with a varying cast of apples, so each batch is somewhat different. This review may show some variance from what may find when you buy your own Anthem Cider. I tried Batch 28, bottled 4/4/12.

ABV: 6.5%

Color and appearance: golden hay

This cider pours with a lovely color, not too pale. It shows small amounts of bubbles, no foam, no head.

Aroma:  Fresh apples, peaches, rock candy

This has an extremely juicy scent. Anthem Cider smells positively mouth-wateringly of apples. The scent offers the cleanness mentioned in the bottle’s description.

Sweet to dry: semi-sweet

The sweetness makes this cider approachable. It is aromatic, balanced, and fresh. My weirdo husband compared this cider to a slightly more warm and caramelly watermelon rind, but what he’s getting at is a simultaneous impression of warmth and freshness. Though I’ve never had this cider before, it drinks like an old friend.

Flavors and drinking experience: balanced, fresh, golden

Drinking this cider brings to mind a very fresh fruit salad and warm bread just out of the oven. This is an indirect way to saying that it is a very foody cider with a substantial mouthfeel. The drinking experience is not slowed by either any sort of imbalance to the flavor or overly aggressive carbonation. Very delightful, but it can slip away almost too quickly and easily. I expected to make my 22oz bottle two separate tasting occasions, but I failed. Oops.

Finish:  finishes with a glow

The finish on this cider isn’t unusually long or short. The flavor goes a bit less fruity and more yeasty but again, in a balanced way. A pleasant finish but not necessarily fruit forward.

Pairs with: I had it with cheese ravioli and faux-chicken with a light tomato sauce (Yes, I confess. I am a pescatarian. Sorry animal eaters, I cannot help you with your pairing suggestions.).

This would be delicious with most anything. It is a flexible, easy-going cider. I could imagine it with bread and cheese, on its own, or with a complete meal. Because I find this cider pleasantly relaxing, I’d feel very comfortable sharing it with new people I’m meeting for the first time, or while watching Game of Thrones. Since that is what we are all doing every Sunday night for the next couple of months, right?

*If you've not looked up GLINTCAP or any other cider competition, I'd suggest giving it a try, that is if you're ready to tempt yourself silly with the number of fabulous sounding ciders you may or may not have heard about before. Try it, but be forewarned.