Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cider Review: Woodchuck Belgian White

I'm reviewing a Woodchuck cider for the first time since my introductory post for Along Came A Cider. I begin this blog with a review of their Winter seasonal cider:  In that review, I give a more thorough introduction to Woodchuck as a brand, but as always you can check out their website too: But what I can has changed is that now Woodchuck has further diversified their lines and has not only the seasonals and the private and barrel reserves, but they also introduce a cellar series cider from time to time. Look for my review of their first Cellar Series, their hopped cider soon.

As for today though, I'm reviewing the Belgian White. This is one of their limited offering that focuses on fermentation experiementation, in this case both their choice of yeast and some additives in the style of a Belgian Witbier. In terms of beer that means that in the last 15 minutes or less of the boil dried orange peel and coriander are added. Since there's no heating in cider making, I'm curious about when these additives go in. Let's take a look at what Woodchuck says about their cider:"A handcrafted treasure, the ultra-limited edition Private Reserve Belgian White, is crafted with a classic Belgian beer yeast. Cloudy, with a rich, golden hue, it presents a delicate aroma and taste, with coriander and orange notes. It pairs excellently with seafood fare, mixed greens or sharp cheeses. Join the select few who get an exclusive taste of the fruits of our labor." I love these pairing suggestions, so we'll see how this cider tastes. 
Appearance: very hazy, warm apricot

The Belgian White is nearly cloudy but in pretty consistent suspension which makes it strongly hazy. The cider looks warm apricot in color. It didn't maintain a head once poured.

Aromas: dusty, sweet very little aroma

This doesn't have a lot of fruit aroma. I enjoy the dustiness of the smell, but I do wish it smelled more.

Flavors: citrus, apple, stone

Whatever creates the stony elements in this cider's aroma suites me fine! Minerality is a lovely element.

Sweetness: Sweet

This is definitely a sweet cider. It isn't too desserty and overwhelmingly fruity in its sweetness, but nonetheless the sweetness is probably a bit more than the style requires. 

Drinking Experience: perfect level of carbonation.

I had this with fish and chips. I enjoyed it plenty in that context. I'm not sure I'd try this cider without a food accompaniment, but I do think that Woodchuck provides a great list of food pairings. I think they are correct to choose seafood, sharp cheeses, and greens. This is defnitely a cider for a social weekend lunch. It is light and easy and fun.

Conclusion: Some folks knock Woodchuck. I admit I've grown less fond of some of their ciders over my time as a cider fan. I feel like I can taste the use of apple juice concentrate. But I genuinely like several of their seasonal and small batch ciders and this is among them. I'd not suggest trying to share it with serious fans of Belgian Witbiers. Allow it to be what it is: a cider with plenty of drinkability and some fun mineral notes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cider Review: Albemarle Ragged Mountain

Reaching back to notes I took in August, I wanted to post another review of a cider by Albemarle Ciderworks. This is the third of their ciders to be reviewed on Along Came a Cider.

The first covers their Royal Pippin and appears here:

and the second concerns my surprising enjoyment of their sweet Pomme Mary:

As always, my first review has the most background information on the brand.

What I'd like to add though that their website is full of special events listings and neat stuff. In just a couple of weekends Albemarle Ciderwords will host the Vintage Virginia Apples Annual Harvest Festival November 2nd from 10am-5pm. It sounds awesome, and I wish I could go. That's occurring at the same time at Franklin County Cider Days in Massachusetts where I'll be. Read about it here: We are so lucky in the cider world right now to have more awesome events than we can possibly attend. If you do have some time or live in or near Virginia, check out their calendar. 

Again, I have to praise Albemarle Ciderworks for having helpful and extensive notes on each of their ciders online. This is just some of what they have to say about their Ragged Mountain, "With a touch of sweetness, Ragged Mountain is perhaps our most traditional cider. It is an off-dry blend made from Albemarle Pippin, Goldrush, Pink Lady, and Virginia Gold among others. With a simple, fruity nose, this cider has a Champagne feel and a short, crisp finish. Ragged Mountain pairs well with salad courses, cheese plates, spicy and ethnic foods or is easily enjoyed on its own." This cider has a fairly hefty alcohol content at  8.2% ABV, so enjoy these mountains carefully so as not to end up more ragged than you intended.

Appearance: glowy, hazy, bubbly

The Ragged Mountain pours with a tiny bit of a head that dissipates quickly. It has this lovely moon-glow color like some other Albermarle ciders. It isn't super clear, more hazy which influences the color as I see it.

Aromas: sweet, fruity, yet funky

This cider is very aromatic. The notes alternate between sharp fruits and goat cheese with a little funk. The wildness is gentle though and not astringent or unfresh.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet/Semi-dry

Though this cider isn't sweet like their Pomme Mary, Ragged Mountain does have some pleasant fruit sweetness to it. It isn't a very heavy feeling cider.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: tannic, a bit rough, minerally

When drinking the Ragged Mountain, I can instantly tell why they chose to pair this name and this cider. It is not smooth, not balanced, but it is exciting.The taste is tannic while not overly acidic. I talk minerals; I'd include all of these in my list of notes copper, tangy, metallic. As I sip it more, I can also taste sharp cheese and blueberries. This is a tremendously dynamic cider with good crispness.

When I had this, I was enjoying August warmth and beach time. Reading what I said about it, I think the Ragged Mountain is a cider that would still taste fantastic in the fall. Now instead of light nibbles and salad, I'd try Albemarle Ciderworks' Ragged Mountain with a spicy chili to keep the evening cold at bay.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cider Review: Doc's Draft Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider and Cider Week NY

First off, I have to say that I enjoyed our Finger Lakes Cider Week tremendously. Soon, I'll write up the amazing cider and cheese pairing night that went down at The Cellar D'Or in Ithaca. It'll happen.

The whole experience was fun enough that I have to recommend folks in NYC and the surrounds try to make it to some Cider Week NY events. This Cider Week begins tomorrow (October 18th) and runs through the 27th. There are great ciders and cider makers coming in not only from the Hudson Valley and New York State but from all over the country. Cider Week NY is an amazing way to increase one's cider knowledge and taste some great stuff, including some product releases that are happening as part of Cider Week! Read more about it and look at their events list:

Today, I get to try my first pumpkin cider of the year. I'm pretty excited. Fall and pumpkin things have brainwashed me like they have millions of otherwise sane reasonably-level-headed human beings until I look forward to fall treats all year long. No pressure for Doc's Draft then...

I've reviewed a few Doc's Draft ciders: their original (, dry hopped (, and cranberry spice ( In the first of those, I introduce the brand more thoroughly. You can check out their website which talks about all of their ciders and related products:

The official Doc's Draft description keeps the description of their Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider simple, "A seasonal cider made with roasted pumpkins, cinnamon, allspice, fresh ginger and nutmeg."

In a blind taste test by Willamette Week of a wide variety of not only pumpkin ciders but also pumpkin beers, Doc's Draft Pumpkin had the absolute top ranking, and pretty much the only whole positive set of notes. Pretty impressive, no? Here's what these tasters said about Doc's Draft Pumpkin, "This kicks ass. A little nutmeg, a lot of pumpkin and not too sweet,” and “It really balances the apple and pumpkin—it’s like a hug from autumn.” and “A light, crisp cider that brings back memories of my mother’s sugar-free pumpkin pie." I'm not at all sure about this concept of a sugar-free pumpkin pie, but I'm not going to insult anyone's mom or her notions about pie.

You can read the whole article here:

Appearance: apricot, brilliant,

This cider pours with a head that dissipates into lace then vanishes entirely. The cider has no haze or cloudiness. The pumpkin variety offers a deeper color than most colors, making it more apricot or mango.

Aromas: Spices, nutmeg, clove, mace

The Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider's most immediate notes are pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, clove, and mace. I can smell them all immediately, even before pouring the cider from the bottle into a cider glass. I'm not getting many other scents, not pumpkin or apple.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet

I love how the spiciness affect the cider's sweetness! This is a cider with some bitter notes and some sweetness that play really well together. The spices definitely take center stage in relation to the fruit, but the apple and pumpkin are part of the sweetness in Doc's Draft Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider. The allspice and nutmeg mean that a bitter, slighty astringent edge cuts through sweetness; it's great.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: balanced, lots of carbonation, autumnal

As I'm drinking, a few different things characterize this Doc's Draft. It is so very very fall and autumnal and seasonally appropriate. The pumpkin pie spices give it a lot of flavor and the apple background combines with them easily and well. I also notice that this is a bit more strongly  carbonated than many of the ciders I've had lately, but sparkle is a great flavor transmitter. Mostly though I notice how well-balanced this spicy pumpkin cider is. Pumpkin and apple play supporting roles to baking spices happily. Unlike some ciders by the brand, I don't notice much yeastiness in the Pumpkin Hard Apple Cider. There are no noticeable levels of tannins, just enough acid to be lively but not distracting.

In some ways this pumpkin cider is a lot like mulled cider, while being cold and sparkling. The spices are forward enough that the cider is not measurable by some traditional criteria, but what makes it so different is what makes it so pleasant. I enjoyed my cider with a sweet and savory baked pasta. It worked well, but I think roasted Delicata Squash, veggie sausage, and cornbread would be even better. Drink this outside by a bonfire before the nights go from crisp to cold. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finger Lakes Cider Week Special Review of Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Starblossom 2012

 We're more than halfway through with this year's Finger Lakes Cider Week, and I'm both very happy and very tired at this point. We've had wonderful activities that range from the educational to the indulgent and most everything in between. Tomorrow night is my last big event. I'll be pairing ciders and cheeses with the fine folks at The Cellar D'Or on State Street on the Ithaca Commons from 5-8pm. We'll have New York, regional, and international selections in both cheeses and ciders, and the whole event is completely free. Come by and taste a few things and mingle with your fellow cider lovers. I've been doing my cheese research for the event, and I'm pretty stoked to share some wild and funky cheeses. Delightful!

Anyhow, I'm blogging tonight to review another local Finger Lakes Cider by Redbyrd Orchard Cider. This is a relatively young company, but one of the founders, Eric Shatt, has been fermenting various beverages since his teenage years and came to cider professionally after several years in the local wine industry. Last year this company was one of the founding members of the Finger Lakes Cider Alliance along with 7 other cideries. I think this statement found on their website tells me the most about their goals as cidermakers, "We grow heirloom, wild seedling and European cider apples to produce unique and complex artisanal ciders."You can check out the rest of their website here:

Tonight, I'm reviewing their oaked cider, the Starblossom 2012. This is what the folks at Redbyrd Orchard say about their Starblossom cider: "Bottle conditioned and barrel aged in french oak, Starblossom is a heavy yet elegant cider with a nose of spice and vanilla, smokey cloves and dried fruit.  Exquisite with a fine ring of bubbles in your glass and a warming creaminess of effervescence in your mouth. An excellent pairing with a spicy lamb tangine, pasta nestled in a delicate cream sauce, roasted pork loin, or even on it’s own as a celebratory drink." I've not had many oaked ciders, so I'm extra curious about how dramatic the oak's effects will be on the cider and what that will be like. Those I've had a few; Some use highly flavorful boozed-up barrels for strong notes of the previous barrel occupants like bourbon or whiskey. Others use more subtle neutral barrels to up their tannins, using the wood as one more way to give their ciders structure. Two very different directions.

Appearance: Brilliant, pale, creamed honey

This looks to be a petillant or lightly sparking cider from the pours I'm seeing. Not very many visible bubbles. Beautiful brilliance and very pale color. It has the barely off white color of creamed honey through the cider looks anything but opaque.

Aromas: fresh apples, a bit of warm vanilla, perhaps some more tropical fruits

Luscious notes of fresh apples just open right up as soon as I smelled this cider. The other notes aren't as strong, but I did smell some warm vanilla and tropical fruits, mostly banana.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

The Starblossom isn't very sweet, but the fruits on the mid-palate definitely translate into some sweetness for me. When listening to others respond to the sweetness or dryness of this cider, I've heard a range of opinions, everything from noting it as pleasantly almost sweet to extremely dry. Palates vary.

Flavors and drinking experience: crisp, mildly fruity, wood on the finish

Well now I can definitely tell that Redbyrd uses their oak more for structure than for intense flavors. The cider makes its impression primarily on its crispness and firm structure. This cider drinks well and enjoyably for me, but my husband found it a bit rough and imperfectly balanced. The fruits only really come into play in the mid-palate but enjoyably so. The wood from the oak is most noticable in terms of flavor in the finish for the Starblossom.

I had this with a blue cheese and then again later with a hearty fall grain salad. It worked with both but I think the creaminess and intensity of the blue cheese made for an especially fun pairing. The zesty outspoken cheese relied a bit on the stability of the cider and the cider benefited from the excitement.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finger Lakes Cider Week Cider Review: Eve's Cidery's Beckhorn Hollow Dry

To get ready for Ithaca's Apple Harvest Festival and Finger Lakes Cider Week, I'm highlighting some excellent regional ciders from where I live, the Finger Lakes region of New York. To start, Eve's Cidery has been running in Van Etten, New York since 2002. You can read all about the people and the ciders on Eve's Cidery website here: It's got a lot of good info, even if a few sections appear to no longer have content. I reviewed their Autumn's Gold cider a few months ago in this post: 

The Beckhorn Hollow Dry cider has an ABV of 8%, which is a bit higher than average. I didn't see an official description or promotional copy for the Beckhorn Hollow Dry on their website, but I contacted them through Facebook and asked. I got an excellent description in reply, "Made from a diverse blend of apple varieties including crabs, heirlooms and desserts, this cider is naturally sparkling and bone dry. Tropical fruits and vanilla on the nose give way to a refreshing wild-apple finish. Makes a delightful compliment to Indian curries, chicken pot pie or gourmet farmstead grilled cheese on rustic sourdough." Such an intriguing list of food pairings.

Appearance: brilliant, palest green gold

Pours with lots of activity and bubbles that settle quickly into a brilliant cider. I see the color as the perfect meld of pale green and pale gold.  Apologies for the imperfect capturing of color in this  nighttime photo. I wish I could always be drinking my ciders and photographing them during the golden hour, but that option isn't available frequently enough.

Aroma:  fresh apples, tart green grapes, underripe bananas

I could smell All kind of sappy green fruits like lime and green grapes. Extreme crispness comes to mind when I smell all the tart zingy freshness of the apple in the aromas. I'm defnitely anticipating some bittersharp and dry notes based on the smells.

Sweetness: Dry

This is a lovely lovely dry cider that still has full aromas and flavors. The rawness I smelled comes across more maturely in the woody dryness. This doesn't have high enough levels of tannins to dry out the mouth though, which means it can still be enjoyed casually.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: Woodsy, very fine bubbles, citrus

I get some ethanol bittersweet on the attack, like lemon pith or even a citrus zest, but it smooths out to apple and wood notes quickly. Overall the acidity level isn't particularly high, even lower than the medium tannins. The Beckhorn Hollow Dry shares its sweetest moment in the finish which is a soothing and excellent encouragement.

I'm not sure I'd follow the official recommendation and try it with any curries, but I'd certainly recommend enjoying the Beckhorn Hollow Dry with delicious buttery cooked greens or a rich vegetable au gratin. The dryness could lighten up a rich heavy meal beautifully. For an activity, I'd love to have this cider on hand while doing some of my own cooking and baking. The dryness would be delightfully refreshing in that context.

If you'll be anywhere in the finger lakes region during our Cider Week (October 4-13), come out and see ciders like this one from Eve's Cidery being sampled, paired, mixed, or taught. Eve's Cidery makes some beautiful ciders, and they aren't the only ones in the area.

Also, please come out at see me and the fine folks at The Cellar D'Or next Friday evening October 11th between 5 and 8pm. We'll be pairing all sorts of ciders and cheeses, both regional and international selections.