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:

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: 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.