Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cider Review: Albemarle Ciderworks Royal Pippin Virginia Apple Cider

This afternoon, I'm quite pleased to share my first review of cider by Albermarle Ciderworks. I've been following the company online for a while, but I got a chance to taste several of their ciders on my recent vacation. I asked on Twitter and did a bit of research into where I could get cider reasonably close to the Norfolk, Virginia airport and I was thrilled to see so much cider at the fairly nearby wine store. I hauled my embarassing amount of vacation cider to the Outerbanks of North Carolina and reviewed ciders all vacation long. This is definitely a process I recommend and plan to repeat.

You can check out their website here: It has lots of great information about their ciders, local events, and cider more generally. Very nice. Though I haven't gotten to visit it, I'm excited that Albemarle has a tasting room! You can visit them Wednesdays - Sundays from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. in North Garden, Virginia just south of Charlottesville.

I'm starting this series of reviews with my encounter with their Royal Pippin Virginia Apple Cider in no small part because I've already tasted and reviewed the Newtown Pippin single variety by Original Sin. You can check out that review for comparison here: The apples aren't the same, but they are closely enough related that I think looking at the reviews together makes sense.

Here's the official blurb for the cider from Albemarle: "The Albemarle Pippin, besides being an exquisite dessert and culinary apple, makes a delightful single varietal cider. Royal Pippin has notes of pineapple and grape, with a well balanced acidity and a lush apple taste. It is a refreshing apertif and pairs splendidly with seafood and pork. 8.5% ABV." What I find really interesting is that the label lists a different ABV than the website; on the cider label the ABV appears to be 9.5%. I'm sure batches vary and that labelling requirements are as mysterious in Virginia as they are in other states, but I wish I knew what the actual ABV of the cider was. 

In the websites's tasting notes section, it says this about the cider: "Royal Pippin is a wonderfully diverse cider, perfect for pairing with so many dishes.  Roasted chicken over winter root vegetables, lemony scallops, poached salmon, even spicy carnitas or a firm, nutty cheese. . . all work well alongside this cider."

Giving a bit of extra info in the "Why we like it" section, Albemarle says this about the background of its Royal Pippin: "The Albemarle Pippin has a storied past; Queen Victoria and her subjects were so enamored of the taste of the Albemarle Pippin that they were willing to pay higher prices and forego the import tax on this richly flavored apple.  Our Royal Pippin cider captures all the best aspects of this apple's essence superbly."

Appearance: slightly hazy, glowing deep vanilla

The color needs a slightly more whimsical description than some, perhaps because of the haziness or the lovely bubbling. So, I stand by my glowing deep vanilla color assessment.

Aromas: Fresh apples, wine yeast, tea, pencil shavings

This smells sweet but the other blended aromas that include clean minerals, iron, wood, and wine yeast give me a good hint that it won't likely taste sweet. I am expecting a fairly high tannin level though.

Sweet-dry scale: off dry

Upon first taste, my prediction is fulfilled. This is not a sweet cider, but is approachable and full of flavor. I love this level dryness. The Royal Pippin could easily go with food or be enjoyed just on its own.

Flavors and Drinking Experience:  floral, high tannin, low acid, woody

Thie cider tastes wild and English, but not farmy. Instead it strikes me as refined with hints of very sharp cheddar, lapsang souchong tea, rich mushrooms, maybe even bleu cheese. The Royal Pippin's  finish is citrusy, but I get no citrus before then. It gives a lingering warmth that is most enjoyable.

Drinking Experience:

This single varietal is better balanced than Original Sin's Newtown Pippin.  In fact, it is so well balanced and drinkable, I would not have guessed it for a single origin cider had I known this beforehand. For me that makes it not just an educational or interesting beverage, but one to savor on its own merit as well.

Though you could drink this on its own, I recommend it with a summery veggie tart something with lots of zucchini, tomatoes, corn and cheese. It could also go easily with sitting on a porch and watching the world go by. Very lovely indeed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cider Review: Bold Rock Virginia Draft

I had the wonderful chance on my way down to Duck North Carolina to stop in Norfolk Virginia to stock up on a vacation's worth of cider, and then some! The first cider I tried on vacation was one by Bold Rock Hard Cider. I'd heard of them before through various cider boards on Pinterest. The company is based in Nellysford, Virginia. The company came into being when John Washburn and Brian Shanks combined location, resources, and expertise to put some Virginia apples to a new cider destiny. They've been working on a locally oriented and environmentally sound company ever since, winning both international and local cider awards with several of their ciders. You can read more about their ciders and tasting room on their website:

I chose Virginia Draft for my first Bold Rock cider experience. Unfortunately, the Bold Rock website does not include any sort of tasting notes or information about apple varieties used in their ciders. The website does tell me that the Virginia Draft is 4.7% ABV and should be eaten either ice cold or over ice.

Appearance: brilliant, warm applesauce

When poured, some foam appearance on the surface of the Virginia Draft, but it calms quickly. The clarity is completely brilliant. The color suggests to me a warm applesauce in a very pleasant way. 

Aromas: Fresh apple, pear, cherry

Though this cider doesn't have a very strong smell, I could detect fresh apples, pears, and cherries. A totally fruity smell with no rough edges.

Flavors:  appley, low acidity, no tannins

This fruit forward cider offers tons of apple flavor.  My husband Alex calls it low impact, but I say the cider is decidedly mellow. It doesn't have particularly strong elements of either tannins of acidity. The finish definitely shifted towards baked apple and cinnamon notes. This really seems like a fall friendly cider.

As for my suggestion for when and how to enjoy this cider, I admit that I'm influenced by my vacation. I had mind without any food accompaniment in a hot tub under the stars. What a fantastic way to drink cider. I highly recommend it. : )

Monday, August 19, 2013

Perry Review: Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear

To start with full disclosure, this was another sample perry gifted to me by the kind folks at Crispin, Fox Barrel's parent company. This is one of the last ciders I got to photograph and taste in New York City before moving to Ithaca. You can check out their really nicely developed website that has tons of photos, info, and extras at: I have reviewed one of their perries before here:  I timed my tasting for maximum fruit relaxation during our massive July heatwave.

I couldn't get the Fox Barrel website to work for me, so here's what they say that I could find on a different review site "Naturally fermented using 100% pear juice, not from pear juice concentrate,or flavored hard apple cider. Filtered cold for extra purity and infused with natural blackberry juice. With no added colorants, sugar, sorbate or benzoate preservatives. No added malt, spirit, grape or apple alcohols. Naturally elegant, refreshingly adult with an authentic blackberry dark-fruit taste and a sweet-sharp fresh tang. Mouthwatering juicy complexity. Luscious pear-berry bouquet."There are a lot of claims and descriptions in there, but we'll see how it tastes.

Color and Appearance: blood orange, no visible bubbles, brilliant

This is a beautiful beverage.  It appears intensely colorful and completely still. The clarity is such that you could easily read text through it in good light, so brilliant.

Aromas: blackberry, punch

This doesn't have much in the way of pear aroma, but I can easily smell blackberry and a sweet fruity punch sort of melange. I'm tiny bit worried about how sweet it will be, based on the aromas.

Sweetness: sweet, fruity, tart, but a clean finish

The Blackberry Pear tastes sweet, but its acidity makes the sweet balance well with its tartness. It is refreshing and clean on the finish. No syrupy issues here, as I've had with some ciders blended with fruits or fruit flavors. Using only real ingredients makes a definite difference, so congratulations to Fox Barrel there.

Flavors: not very pear, more blackberry with zing

This is a lot more than just a sweet fruity blackberry drink, though it starts there. The Blackberry pear offers warmth with a yeasty nutty loveliness. Definitely enjoyable even on hot hot night.

Drinking Experience: tremendously easy drinking

My worries were for naught. Fox Barrel has blended blackberry tartness with pear sweetness in a lovely and totally easy to enjoy way. It isn't a beverage I'll add to my regular rotation, because when push comes to shove even a very nice perry just doesn't compare to cider, but I like it. Put most simply: not a cider, but tasty.

The Blackberry Pear would be a fantastic party perry that would pair well with sushi or light desserts like sponge cakes, gelato, or sorbet. One could easily play up either the sweet or tart side of this beverage or even just slip in a fresh sprig of mint and put it in a pretty glass to offer to guests.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cider Review: Bad Seed IPC (India Pale Cider) Reserve

Before leaving New York City, I stopped at the Union Square Greenmarket regularly. It is a great place to pick up some New York State ciders that are a bit off the beaten path. If you ever want to check out their times, vendors, etc. the website has all that info: On one of my last trips before moving, I picked up four ciders from a quite small new cidery, Bad Seed Ciders. Their offerings seemed adventurous and what I tasted at the stand pleased me. This is the first, but I'll be reviewing all four the ciders I bought.

Bad Seed Cider doesn't have a traditional website. Like more and more companies, they are spending their web time on their Facebook presence. Here's the link to their active Facebook page: It has tons of great pics and updates about their availability, but not much info about each of the ciders. I'm not a big fan of cideries not having a consistent place with tasting notes and detailed information about each of their offerings, but I understand that developing and maintaining both a website and a social media presence is tons of work that can feel redundant. Here's what I could find out on their FB page. They were founded in 2011 and are based out of Highland, New York as a development of Wilklow Orchards.

The Bad Seed's cheeky acronym IPC stands for India Pale Cider, not a phrase I've ever seen before. The official description says this about the beverage: "India Pale Cider- Fermented with and American Ale yeast and Dry Hopped with Cascade hops for a bright grapefruit flavor of a fresh IPA" The cider is a small batch reserve with with an ABV of 5.5%. I have shared here a few times how much I love dry hopped ciders, so my hopes are high.

Appearance: tremendously bubbly, hazy, creamy beeswax

When poured this forms a head briefly, but even after that dissipates lots and lots of bubbles both cling to the glass and to the surface of the liquid. I'm almost alarmed by how bubbly this looks. The color is a creamy beeswax with hints of yellow/green. I think the color looks a bit different than many ciders because of the number of bubbles and because it is hazy rather than brilliant.

Aromas: Not apple, lemon, bran and wheat, hint of herbs

The IPC smells cold in an unexpected way. I smell all kinds of fruits and foods, but not much apple. The citrus smells dominate the nose of this cider.

 Flavors: Big citrus bitterness, fresh hay

 Again, not very appley. The Cascade hops speak as grapefruit pith and there's a decided backdrop of hay and bitterness. I think by using both beer yeast and hops, this has traveled further into beer territory than most ciders influenced by beer. I love how full the mouthfeel tastes to me.

Drinking Experience: first though is cider for beer people.

Mind you, I second guess that, because the passionate beer afficianados in my life seem to divide binarily about cider. Either they grant its pleasures and validity, in which case they like a number of ciders, or they do not and they list the things they dislike about every cider they try. So I guess it is a cider for cider people who enjoy some beer characteristics. I fall decidedly into this category, so it certainly is a cider for me. It is citrusy, bittery, and extremely carbonated. There is a slightly soapy aftertaste which is odd and perhaps a sign of stressed yeast, but doesn't prevent me from enjoying the cider tremendously.

In terms of pairing, I'd suggest having it with a very flavorful meal. This isn't a light salad or dainty snacks kind of cider. Get a big pizza or make it a burrito night when drinking Bad Seed's IPC. The cider's bitterness would go well with rich foods, including everything cheesey. The flavors are so big and lovely that it really demands some big food as well. I think it could also be a great cider for the last grilling occasions of the summer. Take advantage of the good weather and this very summery cider before fall arrives.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cider Review: Distillery Lane Ciderworks Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider

Distillery Lane Ciderworks makes and sells cider in Jefferson, Maryland near the town of Burkittsville. They are the first licensed cidery in the state. I first heard about them first through a fellow cider blogger who lives much closer, but they have a really interesting story and location. Their website tells it far better than I could here, Be warned that though the website has great info, it does have a tendency to spit visitors back at the front page unexpectedly.

The Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider is the first cider I've gotten to taste from Distillery Lane Ciderworks. The ABV is measured at 7.5%. Here's what the cider makers have to say about it, "Our Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider is made from a blend of English, French, and American cider apple varieties. The blend of apples gives our ciders the right combination of acid, tannins, and sugar to make fine hard cider.  We take the well-balanced cider blend and allow it to finish the fermentation process in the bottles (similar to bottle-conditioned craft beers).  The result is a fully dry, sparkling beverage that is perfect for a hot summer day or an evening toast. Many people have commented that this hard cider is very similar to champagne."

Appearance: significantly Hazy, mellow lemon curd color

The Traditional Dry Sparkling has a warmer tone than many ciders. After pouring, I noticed a ring of mousse around the glass. The cider looks so hazy it appears that the tiny bubbles have to fight their way to the top.

Aromas: fresh apples, lemon peel, hay

I notice enough fabulous smells that I am positively champing at the bit to actually taste this one.

Sweetness: Dry

Deep bone dry. This is what I've been waiting for. So many ciders that get described as dry don't taste fully dry to me, and this one actually does. This means it is a cider for people who know and love the beverage rather than first time cider tasters.

Flavors: citrus zest, minerality (stones), wood and smoke

The Traditional Dry Sparkling shows its high level of tannins, making it taste smoky, almost meaty. I tasted medium to high acidity, but I'm definitely still getting a handle on how to gauge acidity. It was enough to make the cider citrusy but not enough to trouble me, and I'm not the biggest fan of super high acidity ciders. The cider is so British in style that it makes me long for Norwich, where I first enjoyed cider.

Drinking experience: warming, strongly sparkling, structured

The full mouthfeel and strong body really point to their use of cider apples. I enjoy the level of carbonation because I can drink it very comfortably, but I won't accidentally finish a glass without noticing. The thing about its warmth is that this cider tastes like it has a higher ABV than it actually does.

Drink this in the afternoon while listening to Bowie, The Smiths, Morissey, whatever British music moves you. Don't invite anyone talkative over. This cider deserves your full attention. Fantastic.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cider Review: McKenzie's Lazy Lemon

McKenzies Hard Cider is produced in New York State south of Buffalo in West Seneca. I reviewed the flagship cider from this brand earlier in the summer. You can can see a more complete brand intro and how that cider fared here. You can also find out some information about the brand from their own website.

Here's what they say about themselves, "McKenzie’s Hard Cider was founded in 2011 by Lenny Ciolek in Buffalo, New York. Lenny played a crucial role in the success of the Mike’s Hard Lemonade brand and was able to secure distribution for McKenzie’s utilizing existing relationships and a grassroots method of marketing. McKenzie’s currently produces 5 different varieties of hard cider; Original, Black Cherry, Green Apple, Seasonal Reserve (cinnamon and nutmeg) and Lazy Lemon (lemonade blend). Its varieties have received several awards including Double Gold Medal for Black Cherry, and Silver Medals for Original and Green Apple at the 2012 New York Wine & Food Classic. McKenzie’s can be found at a bar near you, or at Wegmans and Tops grocery stores, where it is the best‐selling hard cider." Now that I live in Ithaca, that Wegmans reference has a whole new meaning for me. It is the grocery chain of the region and much beloved. (For my Florida friends, people here love Wegmans as much as Floridians love Publix.)

Today I'm reviewing McKenzie's Lazy Lemon. This is definitely the first lemon cider I've seen for sale, but many ciders have citrus notes, so the pairing is fairly logical. Furthermore, I've enjoyed shandies, a mix of beer and lemonade served ice cold, and this could well be the cider answer to a shandy. Informed by these two associations, I have hope that this will surpass many of the six-pack ciders I've tried lately.

Their product description is more playful than informative, but I'll share it here since it has disappeared from the official website for the year. "Pucker up! You're going to love this little tart. Lazy Lemon has a burst of citrus without the acidic bite, giving long carefree days a zesty punch of refreshing flavor. Serve Chilled. Kick back and enjoy often."

Color and Appearance: Brilliant, fresh corn

When poured I see almost no visible bubbles in the Lazy Lemon. It has a lovely pale color, almost like fresh corn on the cob. The clarity, as the picture suggests is brilliant. You could read text through this easily.

Aromas: musty, lemon, minerals

The cider gives off a genuinely intriguing aroma. It smells very pleasantly rocky and citrusy. Rather like some white wines. So far, my hopes are not disappointed.

Sweetness: Sweet!

The Lazy Lemon is sweet like lemonade. It left my mouth a bit sticky like lemonade also.

Flavors: Boozy lemon soda

I'm tempted to just leave it at that. It doesn't taste like apple or cider. The Lazy Lemon is easy on the carbonation, which is a plus. It has some mild tartness that cuts the sweetness pleasantly, but that could be stronger. It really does taste like a slightly boozy sparkling lemonade.

Drinking Experience: Needs ice

Ice actually helps mend the level of sweetness, so I'd say break the traditional cider rules. Pour this one on ice if you want to enjoy a the Lazy Lemon at its best. It isn't very cidery, so I'm not sure the rules really apply.

The other two things you could do are either add a scoop of super tart sorbet or gelato and just turn it into a float or get a lager and make a shandy-esque lemon + cider + beer blend. If anyone tries either of these, please comment and let me know.