Friday, July 26, 2013

Last review before the big move! Cider Review: Querry?

As with all moves, part of getting ready to go is taking care of what you've been putting off. I'm afraid this review falls under that category.

I tried Bonny Doon Vineyard's 2011 Querry? on a recommendation from a wine store with a significant cider selection. The beverage is a fermented blend of apple, pear, and quince juices. Hence the question mark. When I tried it, I had two dedicated beer drinkers and my husband with me. We all had different opinions and enjoyed ourselves tremendously trying something so unusual. What I forgot to do though was take any pictures. I'm using promotional images from Bonny Doon, so you will at least get a peek at the super fun label. 

Bonny Doon Vineyards, from everything I can tell is a creative, experiemental, light-hearted vineyard in California with a good sense of fun and graphic design. You can check this out for yourself at their website: Their leader, Randall Grahm, seems like a likeable interesting fellow. His blog can be found here:

The 2011 Querry? has an ABV of 6.9%. The summary Bonny Doon provides is full of both charm and useful information, so I'll quote it extensively. "¿Querry? A Getrunkenexperiment. Query: What might a blend of apple, pear, and quince taste like naturally fermented (with indigenous yeast)? Result (not surprisingly): The ethereal suggestion of pineapple quince; the pungent, heady, dusky perfume of pear; and the earthy succulence of apple. I never thought I'd see... a pome as lovely as Querry. Crisp in acidity and bone dry, Querry is the perfect accompaniment to, well, essentially everything. It is composed of virtually everything, but most significantly: 58% pear, 33% apple, and 9% quince. Excellent with charcuterie, Asian food, seafood, and poultry—fare as humble as meat pie or as elegant as lobster. Querry pears with everything. Open very carefully, as contents are under some pressure." From what I understand this last warning is significant, the first batch of querry had bottle fermentation that was just a bit too vigorous and exploded many bottles. Not an uncommon problem, as I'm learning in various cider communities.

 Then they give a whole new batch of information formatted in way I'm less used to seeing. Is this wine people talk? I don't honestly know. But the information is good, so again I'll just pass it along and let readers take it as they will.

Vital Statistics:
Alcohol by Volume: 6.9%
Ingredients: 58% pear, 33% apple, 9% quince
Appellation: 91% California, 9% Oregon
TA: 6.1 g/L
pH: 3.53
Serving Temp: 58ยบ F
Cellaring: 0-2 years from release (Nov. 2012)
Production: 285 cases
Label Art: Chuck House

Color and Appearance: brilliant, mild white gold

This cider pours with a gentle frothy head around the edges. The color is very subtle and the clarity is as brilliant as can be.

Aromas: pineapple (quince?), pear, all ripe, candy

Querry smells fruity and sweet. My beer expert detected a bit of a phenolic or chemical note under the blend of fruits, and once my attention was drawn in that direction I could sense a hint of that. Mostly though we all picked up on the plethora of different fruits in play. It smells totally distinct from either a traditional perry or cider.

Sweetness:  Semi-dry

Though the label says "bone dry" everyone in our group would call it semi-dry. It certainly has the pleasant maturity that comes with good levels of dryness, but it also has some sweetness and plenty of fruitiness.

Flavors: grapefruit, other citrus, pineapple

This querry definitely takes after the Spanish cider that inspire it with its high acid level and low tannins. Citrus flavors dominated my early sips, then the fruity metallic pineapple notes joined in.  My husband noted how much of the flavors are notable on the gums and the sides of the tongue. Truly unusual and rather exciting.

Drinking experience: effervescent, clean, shifts into mild breadiness

Querry tastes extremely carbonated—outright foamy in larger sips.  It disappears in an ultra-clean finish. I experienced almost no aftertaste. It's mouthfeel is very light, but after many sips, this cider accumulates a soft, bready aftertaste of mild yeast and sugar. This is actually more like what I associate with cider than the super quick clean finish. More fruits come out and play when you take a larger sip and hold it in your mouth for a little while.

This is a great conversation cider. I highly recommend tasting it in a group and perhaps grouped with a few other ciders of varying styles. Highlight what is unusual and special about the Querry? rather than asking it to be something it is not. That's the best way to approach and enjoy it.

I also think it gives American cider drinkers a truly interesting variant because this does not aim for the English or French styles that we see more often. It doesn't taste like a traditional Spanish Sidra, but it belongs more to that tradition of cider making than to most of what I've tasted. I have a feeling that as more and more cideries add to their lineups that we'll see more and more ciders that take their inspiration from more styles. This is an early moment of adventure and exploration.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cider Review: Woodpecker Premium Cider

When I saw a very English looking woodpecker on a cider bottle at my corner grocery store, I wasn't quite sure what to think. The name Woodpecker only vaguely rings any bells in terms of cider, but I feel like I occasionally saw this cider years ago. The bottle said "Made to the recipe of H. P. Bulmer Ltd. Hereford, England." I've heard of Bulmer's; they belong to C&C Group which owns Magner's and a number of other English and American cider companies. This is a big big operation, not a mom and pop cider farm. Here's the fairly minimal website specifically for Woodpecker:

Unfortunately, it doesn't tell me what I really want to know.That quote saying that Woodpecker is made to an English recipe doesn't actually tell me if Woodpecker available in the U. S. is made here for a British company or made abroad. It took a little digging, and I could be wrong, but it appears that the Woodpecker available in the states is in fact made in Middlebury, Vermont. I'm afraid learning all this has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. Hopefully the cider will still be good, but the big companies owned by even bigger conglomerates are not usually the most interesting part of the cider world.

This appears to be the brand's only variety. The cider has a lower than average 4.2% ABV, along with a slightly lower calorie count as well.Here's what Bulmer's says about their Woodpecker cider, "The use of the English bittersweet apple provided Woodpecker with a distinctive taste and refreshing drinkability. A crisp semi-dry finish, amber hue with a lightly sparking appearance, sweet fruity aroma and a slight toffee-apple note." To look on the bright side, this will be an English style cider made in the United States. Tasting will hopefully tell me more than my online research.

Color and Appearance: Intense yellow gold, brilliant

Woodpecker Cider showed no visible bubbles on first pour. Brilliant in terms of clarity. The coloar is intense yellow gold. A small foam appeared and quickly disappeared during my second pour.

Aromas: no discernable apple smell, yeast

This smells like tasty sweet bready yeast. I could not smell much in the way of apples or fruit from Woodpecker Premium Cider.

Sweetness: semi-sweet

The Woodpecker's sweetness is a bit honey like, but it's cleaner and the minerality keeps it that way. It really is very balanced.

Flavors: minerally, beer-like, balanced

I hate to keep returning to the same word, balanced, but that is what I'm noticing the most. This is a mild and relatively beery cider. It does give some pleasant minerality, but I'm missing the appliness or tannins that often make my favorite English style ciders remarkable.

Drinking Experience: not super fruity, good level of carbonation

As I keep drinking, I'm noticing the thin mouthfeel on this cider. It is very pleasant and extremely drinkable, but its wateryness becomes apparent by the end of the bottle. While in some ways this is a low-impact cider, it becomes most appreciable as a session cider.

My husband called it a picnic cider, in that it is refreshingly beer-like and not boozy. I'll agree and recommend it for long afternoons spent outside with sandwiches, pasta salad, baked beans, and watermelon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cider Review: Doc's Draft Dry Hopped Hard Apple Cider

Doc's Draft ciders keeps appearing in my glass/fridge/life. I reviewed the flagship cider from Doc's Draft a few months ago. You can read that review here: Cider Review: Doc's Draft Hard Apple Cider. I introduce the brand more fully there, but for now, I'll just point readers back to their website: The brand appears more regularly than many around  New York City, and I got to visit their tasting room briefly in June. Today, I'm finally finishing my second review of one of this brand's ciders, though I admit I've tasted it a few times before getting around to writing about it. 

Being a fan of hopped ciders, I'd been looking forward to trying Doc's Draft's Dry Hopped Cider for months. The official description gives some useful information about the types of hops used, "Dry Hopped with Centennial and Chinook hops providing a citrus and floral hop character to a traditional cider."I don't know very much about different hop varieties, so I looked up Centenniel and Chinook hops. My readings say that both types are strongly aromatic and can be used for bittering; Chinook hops offering spiciness and pine while Centenniel can be citrusy and floral. From what I understand dry hopping primarily contributes to the scents of a beer or cider but does not add bitterness because they are added without any boiling.

 (The cider accompanied by an amazing grilled cheese on a Hello Kitty plate)

Color and Appearance: pale straw

This cider shoes lots and lots of bubbles. It briefly has a head that dissapates almost before a glass is fully poured. The color looks like pale pale straw. After a moment, the bubbles are barely visible.

Aromas: beautiful grapefruit pith and pine, hint of apple

The hops dominate the apple, in the form of herbal pine and citrus. It smells so vibrantly green! The scent reminds me of new mown hay, Japanese green teas, and the long summer evenings of my childhood. Warm sun on green growing stuff, I guess is the simplest way to say it. The hint of apple becomes most discernible at the end.

Sweetness: perfect semi-sweet

This is a supremely clean sort of semi-sweet. It doesn't coat the mouth or cloy. Instead, I can taste the cider for a moment when it is on the tongue, then it disappears. The flavors come across far more strongly than the level of sweetness which is ultimately unobtrusive. For me this is a tremendous strength.

Flavors: green herbs, citrus, beer, green apples

My tasting abilities may be clouded by my general unfamiliarity with hops, but I noticed fairly high acidity in Doc's Draft Dry Hopped Cider. I did not taste very high levels of sweetness or tannins though. The primary flavors include green herbs, citrus and pine. It reminded me of beer + fresh green apples, which is not really a surprise based on what I read about the types of hops used.

When I shared this with a home-brewer and beer enthusiast, he noticed the delicacy and balance of the hops in the cider. For him, it was not nearly as dramatic as it was for me as a nearly-exclusive cider drinker.

Drinking Experience: Amazing

Not a useful term, and I apologize. The Dry Hopped Cider drinks easily and quickly but never disappears unnoticed. The carbonation is present but not distracting. I love the bright pine in the scent and taste.

I've had this with meals, with snacks, and on its own in the tasting room setting. I enjoyed it all three times, but I enjoyed it most with a special grilled cheese. For those who care, my amazing husband made me a mozzarella and cheddar grilled cheese on a hearty wheat bread with sweet Kumato tomatoes. The Dry Hopped Cider makes me feel triumphant, so perhaps drink this when having a food and board games night.

This continues my personal trend of loving hopped ciders. I cannot imagine I am the only one. Cidermakers, please keep these coming and keep them great.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cider Review: Millstone Cellars Gingeroot

First, a note, please forgive the picture heaviness of this post. Several pictures turned out, and I am enough of a photo person that I cannot narrow it down to the usual two pics.

Millstone Cellars works from the refurbished Monkton Mill in Monkton, Maryland. It is primarily a father son business that has been making cider and mead for more than ten years. They say this about their own processes: "Recreating early America’s libation of choice, our cider is crafted from pressed heirloom cider apples, oak barrel fermented, and aged. Once barreled, we let the ciders chill out as they undergo a long cool fermentation, slowly develop the ciders character and complexity. Each apple varietal is fermented to dryness and aged for 5-12 months before we hand select barrels to blend into our finished cider." They also mention bottle conditioning as the final step in the cider process. You can see some gorgeous pictures and read more about their business on their website:

Today, I'm reviewing their Gingeroot. Their official description explains it as, "Cider warmed during the winter months in the barrel with organic baby ginger and infused with raw blueberry honey. A spicy aromatic cider unthawed for the coming of spring." They do list their ingredients in a completely appealing and open way. The back label lists and pictures Summer Rambo and McIntosh as the apples that go into this cider along with organic baby ginger and raw blueberry honey. With all of these various flavors coming together, I anticipate a complex beverage. Final few facts: ABV 8.0%, Residual Sugar 2.5%, Sweetness Semi-Sweet. I'm curious about what I'll be tasting.

Appearance: pale yellow gold and bubbly

The Gingeroot pours fizzily. The beverage quickly forms a very big bubbled mousse with loads of excitement. The head dissipates quickly. Either in the bottle or the glass, this cider has brilliant clarity and very pale yellow gold color.

Aromas: ginger, pear wood, spice

The first thing that I have to share to properly communicate the experience is that this beverage is significantly more aromatic than most ciders. It is beautifully strong smelling, even when fairly cold. The aromas aren't appley though; Alex gets concord grape, but I smell ginger primarily. Beyond the ginger, I could smell pear, wood, and spice. Very exciting.

Flavors: apple, ginger, and spice

I can taste the apple much more than I could smell it, but the ginger comes across just as clearly. The two meld well with a spicy almost punchy taste. Very invigorating. I enjoyed how much the Gingeroot manages to be a zesty and yet fruity cider.

Drinking experience: intense, powerful, a bit slow

This cider is high in tannins, similarly high in acid, and off dry. The honey really is pleasing as a separate but balancing note. The level of carbonation also gives this an aura of champagne. For me, this tastes very much like what would happen if someone clever shaved fresh ginger into a glass of dry champagne.

I chose this cider specifically go with a meal. My darling Alex made zucchini and summer squash cold noodle salad with tofu and peanut teriyaki sauce. Delish. The cider worked with it as I hoped it would. The balance of powerful cider and chilled peanut sauce were especially complementary. I recommend this confidently as an accompaniment to Asian food. In terms of activities, where I live it is still too hot to do very much besides survive. Therefore, I'd recommend the Gingeroot for a calm slow afternoon or evening, reading a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. This cider can stand up to any chilling tale.

For those interested in reading more, a local paper did a nice write up of the cider here: "Gingerroot to Ciderberry: Making Mead, Cider in Monkton"

Friday, July 5, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different...Fox Barrel Pacific Pear

 I got a lovely sampler box from Crispin Ciders a few weeks ago, and I'm making my way through it slowly. It is my first box of free cider for reviewing after all. Tonight though I wanted to try something light and refreshing, cooling if I could get. it. So I decided to pick up one of the perries they sent from Fox Barrel. Fox Barrel calls them pear ciders but makes a point to emphasize that they come completely from pears. In my mind, that makes them perries. I know that perry is not a familiar term in the United States, but I'm a bit of a stickler for words. A mildly alcoholic beverage made from pressed pears is a perry. Anyhow, I'm curious to try one. I've not had more than a sample pour of a perry in quite a few years.

The specific beverage in question is Fox Barrel's Pacific Pear. Here's what Fox Barrel says about their Pacific Pear: "Naturally fermented using 100% pear juice, not from pear juice concentrate or pear-flavored hard apple cider. Filtered cold for extra purity, and smoothed with pear juice. With no added colorants, sugar, sorbate or benzoate preservatives. No added malt, spirit, grape or apple alcohols. Naturally elegant and refreshingly adult with a sparkling clean natural pear finish, and a subtle woody complexity, completed by an intense fresh pear bouquet." The alcohol content is relatively low at 4.5% ABV. It comes in 12oz bottles. You can find out some additional information on their website: I honestly don't know enough to make any educated guesses about what's coming. Let's find out.

Color and Appearance: brilliant, jasmine or straw

Pours beautifully. In the glass, I was surprised by the level of brilliance. The color is somewhere between Jasmine and Straw. I just learned about the "Shades of Yellow" Wikipedia entry, and it is quite useful for color distinctions. I tend to get a bit fuzzy and associative on my own. While I don't want to abandon that, I also like to check in with real color words regularly.

Aromas: Ripe PEAR, banana, ginger

Oh my gracious! This isn't cider. I suppose it is only natural and good that it smells this much like pears. The smell is emphatically ripe pear with a secondary fruit note of banana and a teensy bite of ginger.

Sweetness: sweet!

The Pacific Pear offers fruity and floral sweetness. It stays light and lively on the tongue. The sweetness is so intrinsic to the pear fruitiness of the cider; I'd not actually ask it to be drier. That said, folks who cannot abide a sweet drink will not find this as enjoy able as I did.

Flavors: pear, candied orange peel, lemon

The foremost flavor cannot be mistaken for anything but pear. The Pacific Pear tastes like pears. I can also note some citrus and almost a ghost of spice but mostly pear and sweet citrus.

Drinking Experience: refreshing, light, easy

This perry is much lighter than many ciders. It is also extremely refreshing. The Pacific Pear suits my goal for a cool beverage. The level of carbonation is understated and delicate.

Lately, New York has been beastly hot. So warm, that taking a cool shower has been the highlight of some days. This drink was completely lovely and appropriate for this hot July night. I'm not going to become a perry person. It just isn't as absolutely appealing and enjoyable and perfect as cider. I'm sorry. But it is delightful for conditions like we've been having. Survive the summer with a cool cool perry, along with the usual cider regimen of course. Whether alone or with friends, just stay cool.

I want to end with a quick shout out to one of my cider friends. Congrats to Patrick of Crafty and The Beast for his new job with Great Shoals Winery! What a great time to love cider.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cider Review: McKenzie's Hard Cider Original

McKenzie's Cider is made in Seneca, New York. You can visit their website here: The company has been in business since a fairly tumultuous start in 2011 (I'll let you Google it if you care), but since then they've gone on to win a fair number of cider awards for a few of their varieties. I decided to review them tonight in no small part because a my very best friend just added a different McKenzie to her name. Congrats you guys!

As I like to do, for my first encounter with this brand, I'm tasting their mainstay cider. For McKenzie's that is their Original Hard Cider. It has and ABV of 5%. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a lot of information about their apple selection, but I do know they work with Mayer Brothers which is a long-standing Western New York apple company, so I imagine they have access to primarily dessert apples and concentrate, but that's speculative. What I cannot find out in print hopefully will be countered by what I can taste. Let's find out.

Color and Appearance: nectarine flesh

McKenzie's Original has deep intense color. It looks like the inside of a nectarine or even like the slightly orange tinted yellow of a yellow caution light. An interesting color.

Aromas: fresh apple smell but not strong, a hint of estery smell

McKenzie's smells beer-like at first, but then a bit of sweetness creeps in. It's a bit like the floral or fruity end of an alcohol smell, closely related to a vinous smell but lighter and more floral.

Sweetness: sweet

The sweetness specifically reminds me of Strongbow. It is decidedly drinkable, especially on a warm day.  The cider coated my palate a bit, but not in an overly sticky way.

Flavors: dark apple caramel with a tiny mineral tang

I can taste the apple more than I could smell it, which is good for this still fairly beer-like cider. McKenzie's clearly followed a fairly mainstream English cider making tradition with a goal of an extremely approachable beverage. It reminded me of several large scale American cider companies, which is not a bad flavor profile for a sweet beverage.  I enjoyed the slightly caramelly element to the fruit forward beverage. At the base though, I could definitely taste a slightly tang of minerals.

Drinking Experience: Not too much carbonation, quick

This flows directly from my comments on the sweetness. McKenzies is a very fast cider. The low ABV and level of carbonation make it easy and quick to drink.  It has a medium body that goes well with a variety of foods. I had my cider with a cheddar-topped veggie burger and strips of red bell pepper. In terms of function, this is a good choice for an after work cider, especially if you want to share cider with coworkers, neighbors, or friends who aren't familiar with the beverage.