Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cider Review: Original Sin Hard Cider's Premium Apple Cider

Lately, I've been a very social creature, and this means going out to restaurants and bars with friends for conversation and merriment. Fun, yes? Yes! But, this isn't always easy for the dedicated cider drinker. I don't always have any cider option at all, or if I do there will be between one and three very familiar choices. For two of my recent escapades, I've had the option of Original Sin Cider and I've chosen it. It amazes me actually that I've not yet reviewed their flagship cider because it is frequently my favorite option when I go out. A restaurant served it to me in a bottle and a local institution of a bar poured mine from their tap. So, my notes for this particular review come from both bottled and draft versions of Original Sin Cider.

Original Sin's official Brand Description gives the briefest of overviews of their history and priorities as a company, "Original Sin is a critically acclaimed cider launched in 1997. From day one we’ve been committed to producing premium quality cider using the finest ingredients. Original Sin contains no artificial flavors or colors allowing the natural qualities of the apple to speak for itself."  What this does not detail is the really interesting New York City and New York State connections of the company or its unique brand identity largely shaped by the graphic design by R. Black. You can read more about these elements and other at Original Sin's website: http://www.origsin.com/.

A while ago I did review their Newtown Pippin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/02/cider-review-newtown-pippin.html and their Elderberry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/09/cider-review-original-sin-elderberry.html It feels like an oversight at this point not to have reviewed a cider that I drink regularly and that is far more available than many of the ciders I try. Folks can buy Original Sin in more than 30 states in the U.S.

I do with that Original Sin's official cider description gave me a bit more to work with, but here's what it says, "Dry Traditional cider, fermented with two types of Champagne yeast." I'm glad to hear about the yeast varieties. Traditional is not really a useful term at this point in American cider. Anyhow, on the review!

Appearance: brilliant, straw, lots of fairly active bubbles

I can't see it very well when this cider is served in the bottle, so I saved my photos for its appearance on tap. The color is a classic pale straw. Completely brilliant. Plenty of bubbles that are fairly fine and very active in the glass.

Aroma: cooked apples, sweetness, yeast, vanilla

What I can smell most strongly is exactly baked apple. Secondarily I can detect a blendy smell of yeast and vanilla. The overall impression is very much like a bakery! On some sniffs I could detect a tiny chemical after smell, Alex thought a touch vinegar, but to me it was a bit more bleachy. Overall definitely a sweet smell.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet to sweet

Much less sweet than the smell would imply. Oddly enough the sweetness of this cider seemed to vary for me based on vessel from which I quaffed it. From the bottle, I'd call it a semi-sweet but from a pint glass it tasted more sweet. Perhaps that could also have to do with having the bottled Original Sin with fish and chips or with super salty popcorn which was how I enjoyed my pint glass. I also totally acknowledge that my tastes have gone pretty extreme in terms of finding nearly everything either sweet or semi-sweet. It is a flaw in my personal calibration. Oh well.

Flavors and drinking experience: clean, balanced, low tannins, low acidity, green walnuts

This is a mass-market cider which means that crazy levels of tannins or acidity are just not part of the picture. What's great about it though is that this cider is smooth and balanced and clean. I also love that the smell and the taste offer two very  It somehow reminds me of greenness and pleasantly under-ripe fruit. It has a freshness like that to it. Very clean finish with hints of bitter apple skins, most of the sweetness is on the initial taste after which it backs off. I am reminded of green grapes and green walnuts, but nothing too sharp.

As if it wasn't apparent by now, this is my preferred bar cider. I don't really buy it to drink at home; that's where I imbibe my rare and exotic pretties. But, this is my top choice when I'm out and meeting friends, playing games, or eating salty bar snacks. That is exactly what this cider was designed for, and it does the job very very well.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cider Review: Millstone Cellars Cider: Winesap

Last Friday night I knew I wanted to share something interesting with some good friends who  had invited my husband and me to dinner. So, I brought one of my Millstone Cellars ciders that had been waiting patiently for me since a cider swap I did back in the spring. Millstone is a small family-run cidery and meadery in Monkton, Maryland. This is their website, where you can find out about the company, their tasting room, and various events they do: http://www.millstonecellars.com/.

This little quote from their site I think sums up their cider-making identity as I see it: "By working closely with the farmers we ensure the highest levels of quality and freshness for our ingredients. Our ciders and meads specialize in what our region grows best helping to support local agriculture and sustainability along the way." Great goals. Gorgeous website. In fact, they just won Baltimore Magazine's Best Winery Award.

My only previous experience with Millstone Cellars involved the delightful and complex Gingeroot Cider. You can see the review and my many photos here: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/07/cider-review-millstone-cellars-gingeroot.html I enjoyed it very much and I've been waiting to try other ciders of theirs for a long while.

What has me excited about this cider, the Winesap, is that it is nearly a single varietal. Millstone Cellars blends two apples for this cider: Stayman Winesap and York Imperial. Here's the official copy from Millstone Cellars: "Crafted from a blend of heirloom apple varietals, fermented to dryness with a touch of raw tulip poplar honey. Oak barrel aging has tempered this cider into a dry character with a biting personality. Cider Composition: Apples 50% Stayman Winesap, 50% York Imperial." I love that these folks are so completely serious about honey and apples. The ABV is 8.5% which will noticably affect the tast.

 Appearance: lemon curd, brilliant, active in the glass.

 This cider actually poured with a small head which dissipated quickly. The Winesap's color looks like rich lemon curd to me. It is a warmer color than straw but still more yellow than gold or peach, so lemon curd it is. It is a color that to me hints of tannins and depth of flavor.

Aromas: Lemony. Honey, ester, raspberry,

Immediately I can smell fresh apples, raspberries, some boozy fruity esters, and honey. The honey notes hit distinctly and stand apart from the fruit. Secondarily I smell lemon and bright citrus. Perhaps minerals lounge in the distant background. This will be another complex cider, I can tell.

Sweetness: Sweet, fruity, clean

A little sweet, but most of its apparent sweetness owes to its brightness. I get mild fruits and particularly crystallized pineapple from this cider. Very pleasant and very clean.

Flavors and drinking experiences: Minerals, honey, wild, unbalanced

Whoa! Once I taste the Winesap mineral and metallic notes features so much that I think this would ping for a metal detector. Then immediately after that wave hits, honey notes bound all over everything. This tastes as much a cyser (halfway between a cider and a mead) as a cider. I can tell that the Winesap is bottle conditioned; the carbonation is strong but very fine. Altogether the cider tastes wild and weird and a bit unbalanced but in such a pleasant way. Thinking more analytically, I get medium levels of tannins and high acidity. Tiny background hints of raw balloon rubber. But with a bigger drink I taste far more honey and nicer finish. I'd recommend this with food to drink and not to sip. It leaves my mouth feeling so bright and clean. This is so refreshing!

This was a fine fine choice for a dinner get together, but I'd not necessarily recommend it for those not already well versed in the ways and forms of cider. Perhaps for a dedicated mead drinker but not for someone coming to cider with beer or wine based expectations. In terms of specific cuisines, I think this would be a truly ideal cider for extra flavorful fried foods like falafel or sweet potato fries. Give the brightness some umami to play against and this will show beautifully. As for activities, grab your usual cider suspects and food, nothing else. This cider will call for tasting, consideration, and conversation. And it will be worth all three.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cider Review: Citizen Cider bRosé

Apologies to everyone. I've been a terrible blogger this month. February is hard, what can I say? Trust me, I'm still thinking cider and drinking cider. Mea culpa! This is an older set of notes from a cider-tasting bonfire party back in the fall. It was the first real cold night of the season and wonderful fun to taste ciders with a group of dedicated folks.

Citizen Cider is a company I don't know well. They are a relatively young company out of Burlington, Vermont. They were also the group with the most visible showing at Cider Days in Massachusetts because so many of their employees were wearing genuintely cool matching Citizen Cider shirts. I found this on their website: "Citizen Cider was founded in 2011 by Justin Heilenbach, Bryan Holmes and Kris Nelson. Kris was working as a wine salesmen, Bryan as a chemist and Justin as a small farmer." So it sounds like they have a really inspiringly appropriate set of skills between them.You can find out more information at their own website here: http://www.citizencider.com/.

So, the bRosé has the less than helpful official description, "Cider + Blueberries + 3(bros) = bRose. An off-dry cider co-fermented with blueberries. (ABV 6.8%)" This is improved slightly when I hunt for more details and find that the apples and blueberries are all local Vermont grown: using local materials is something I admire in a cider.

Appearance: Brilliant, salmon, not many visible bubbles

Obviously this is a gorgeous cider. It looks lovely in the bottle and you can trust me that it looks even better in the glass. Absolutely brilliant clarity and a salmon pink color that .

Aromas: vinous, blueberry, baked goods

It smells both like wine and muffins. Hrm. Interesting.  I think the impression I get of muffins is because the bRose smells both fruity and yeasty, also a bit like a yogurt-y cheese. The vinous notes are the most noticeable, but the blueberry comes in second. I'm not smelling a ton of apples.

Sweetness: Sweet but well balanced

This cider does use sweetness to transmit flavor and it has plenty of fruit in the profile, but it does use enough acidity to remain crisp and sharp. Citizen Cider has done a nice job balancing a pleasant sweet cider.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: fine bubbles, subtle blueberry, plenty of acidity

The Brose tastes fairly acidic with low levels of tannins. The flavor is livened by lots of very fine bubbles. Blueberry is subtle in the bRose's aftertaste. Though it smells directly like blueberry the flavor is more like blueberry skins. That pleasantly bitter effect is reminiscent of stems as well; it improves the cider's balance. Overall, somehow it has a warm taste. My one caveat is that bigger drinks give me a moment of funny cereal funk.  Usually though this cider offers a clean finish with almost no aftertaste. 
This would be a great Valentine's Day cider for those inclined to celebrate the holiday. Or, since today is now Galentine's Day (look it up!) share this with your best friends. Those friendships deserve to be celebrated with delightful tastes, and this cider is an easy one even for not-yet-afficianados. Mind you, for all that good friend time you might need a few bottles! Enjoy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cider Review: L'hermitiere Cidre Demi-Sec (AKA My First Review of a Normandy Cider!)

 I wish I had a lot more information to share about this cider. I found it at a local bottle shop (a new spot call Pop a Top) in Gainesville, Florida while visiting and saw it listed on the drink menu at Stubbies and Steins (which happens to have the best selection of cider and beer of any bar or restaurant in town). L'hermitiere Cidre Demi-Sec has an ABV of 4%. It comes in a 750ml bottle like many fine ciders of all stripes and traditions.

What I can do is talk just a little bit about the Normandy style to give some context to this review. Mind you, I also want to share the caveat that this is my understanding of Normandy ciders. Please don't come after me with barrels and pruning shears if you don't like what you read.

When different regional styles are discussed apple choices, tannins, acidity, sweetness, and effervescence are usually considered among other factors. Normandy ciders frequently have high levels of tannins and use cider varieties of apples. Though there can be some variance in sweetness, most Normandy ciders are either sweet or semi-sweet; I would be surprised by anything bone dry. These tend to be low acidity ciders by and large. Fermentation usually is completed within the bottle, so all sparkle or effervescence is naturally occurring. I also tend to note some degree of farminess to either aroma or flavor but that can be either subtle or pronounced. I like a fair amount, but that's just me.

Okay, on to tonight's cider!

Appearance: hazy, warm honey, plenty of active bubbles
This has a beautifully warm appearance that comes from the depth of color and haziness in the L'Hermitiere Demi-Sec. As the photo shows, it has plenty of bubbles and shortly before the photo was taken the cider briefly had a bright white head of foam that vanished quickly. 

Aromas: ripe apples, wet hay, with a hint of sourness

This has a very moderate and pleasant level of farmyard to the aroma. I can get leather, cheese, and hay in there, but all underneath the more predominant smells of ripe apples and yeast.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet/sweet

This is absolutely on par for a Normandy cider. It has plenty of sweetness, but it doesn't harm the complexity or the mouthfeel. That's what I like in good quality sweet ciders. The flavors are rich and fruity and completely natural.

Flavors and Drinking Experience: Fruit, oak, tannins, and sweetness

This tastes like it was aged in neutralized oak barrels, ie barrels that have been used again and again. The funk from the smell is back in the flavor in a way that definitely suggests some Brettanomyces in one or more strains. I love it, but I'm not sure all American cider fans would want that because it isn't exactly like the super clean ciders that lots of quality United States cider producers are selling. The fruit is very approachably apple with hints of cherries. It dries out a bit toward the end and the wood notes predominate in the finish.

I loved getting to taste this and share it with too rarely seen friends. It is a great conversation cider and tastes just wonderful both chilled and even after holding it in the glass a while. For foods, I'd have this with seafood perhaps some sweet scallops or lobster. Enhance and appreciate the sweetness and complexity with a food that is also just a touch sweet. I'd not go so far as to name this a dessert cider though. Honestly, it doesn't need any food accompaniment though. Just good company.