Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cider Review: Distillery Lane Ciderworks Kingston Black

I received a fabulous array of awesome Mid-Atlantic ciders; many thanks to Patrick Huff of Cider Nation ( and Crafty and The Beast ( He also does regular cider chats on Twitter. Check out the hashtag #ciderchat most Thursday evenings, and you'll find something useful and interesting. So tonight's cider review comes from that store of deliciousness.

I'm reviewing Distillery Lane Ciderworks' Kingston Black.

Previously, I reviewed their Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider. Here's a link to that review:
You'll find a lot more background information on the company there.

I made an interesting discovery when looking up Distillery Lane's website. It is not only available at but also now at  Both sites offer identical information on the cidery's history, name, event and availability. What I could not find enough information about was their selection of ciders, althrough their Facebook page has more info there than the main website.

 To set this scene, this cider came with me to a dinner party with my husband and a couple of his fellow professors and their families. Lovely lovely people, many of whom already love good cider and wine. So of course, I asked them to help me taste through a bottle of something new over dinner. So these observations are not the products of only my fevered brain, but also those of my companions.

This is what Distillery Lane Ciderworks says about their Kingston Black.
It is rare amongst the hundreds of apple varieties grown today that one apple has proper amounts of sugar, acid, and tannins to make a high-quality, single varietal cider. Kingston Black, an apple first grown in Somerset, England, is one of these rare apples. Highly prized, but scarcly cultivated in America today, Kingston Blacks grow very well in our orchard.  It has a wonderful tartness and lovely finish. Serve chilled with poultry, mild fish or pork. We also bottle limited quantities of Kingston Black sparkling.
Additionally, I'd like to note ABV listed is 7.5%.

Appearance: Rich honey color, brilliant

This poured beautifully. Everyone appreciated the rich golden honey color. No visible bubbles to speak of, but I really didn't expect them in a still cider.

Aromas: oak, hints of apples, brightness

The Kingston Black smells fresh and bright, but with a hints of fresh apples, cherry, honey, and a few  interesting phenols. The oak aromas really jumped out at us after a few seconds.

Sweetness: semi-dry

Like other single varieties of cider I've tasted, issues of sweetness and dryness are almost swept aside because the flavors are about so much other than that. Even so, this has some sweetness and fruitiness, but it is more dry than sweet. Definitely a semi-dry in my book.

Flavors and drinking experience: complex, tannic, buttery

Because of the tannins and oak, this tastes in some ways like a REALLY gentle whiskey, or a bit of warming apple brandy. The individual notes in that experience are butter with a whipped cream aftertaste. Rather like the overall impression made by some bourbon barrel aged ciders, one can get hints of pancakes. Someone in the group astutely tasted notes of white chocolate. I found it a little minerally. The cider has very high tannins and fairly low acid. It tastes relatively little like apple, but we could detect bits of apple core, skin, and wood.  The Kingston Black tastes best when you let it flow over the whole tongue. You warm up to it and the cider itself is warming.

 We enjoyed this cider with grilled salmon and asparagus, wild rice salad with dried cranberries, and chocolate covered strawberries. The meal was delicious and the cider stood up well to all of those varied strong flavors. This is a cider to enjoy with food. I liked it plenty, but overall I still find cider blends to be more approachable than most single varietals. None the less, this one hit plenty of high notes for me. I love tannins, and this cider delivered them in spades.

Thanks again to my dinner companions and cider sharers!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cider Review: Virtue Cider's The Mitten (and color for my cider apple tattoo)

Before I get too deep in any cider reviewing, here's the tattoo that I first shared here: but now it has color! I'll get one more coloring session in before I can call it complete, but I'm pretty thrilled with all of Phoebe's hard work. Anyhow, I'm here celebrating my anniversary with my charming husband. Of course when we drove to Albany (to see Eddie Izzard) we had to see if there was a way to try an interesting cider. The City Beer Hall had just what we were looking for, so we stopped there.
For those who want to check out this charming restaurant/bar

The Beer Hall had a whole page of ciders including a few on tap. We chose our meals and cider to complement one another. So, to go with a quinoa and lentil burger with wasabi dusted fries and a beet and blackberry salad, we chose to go with a Virtue Cider. I know their ciders really emphasize acidity and brightness, so I thought it would pair especially well with the house veggie burger. If you've not visited Virtue's website, you can find it here Virtue makes adventurous ciders and features beautiful graphic design and the most attractive cider merchandise. They are a cider business truly pulling out all of the stops in order to support their ciders. I know it isn't easy to make everything look as polished and yet funky and original as Virtue does, so kudos to them.

The City Beer Hall had Virtue Cider's The Mitten on tap, so I chose to give that cider a try. Here's what Virtue says about this particular cider.
When the leaves fall, there’s a chill in the air and the evening greedily takes hours from daylight, we stand strong and embrace the wintertime. It’s a time of rich foods, roaring fires and our favorite sweaters. Drinks change from refreshing to intense and satisfying. The Mitten is a Winter cider, a blend of last season's best, aged in bourbon barrels, with the new season’s fresh pressed apple juice. Straight cider, aged for 3 seasons, finds notes of vanilla, caramel and charred American oak, balanced with the best of the orchard, over-ripe apples and their sweet, tart, earthy juice. Many barrels are filled, but only a small portion, the very smoothest, will find their way into The Mitten. We love wintertime, especially when we have The Mitten to keep us warm and happy through the long, cold night.

Appearance: brilliant, rich custard color, small numbers of visible bubbles

This cider pours with some mousse that dissipates almost immediately; all it leaves is a subtle ring around the glass. Totally brilliant in terms of clarity. The color is a rich yellow custard. Alternately, my husband calls it muted pale brass. I could see a consistent pattern of upward-drifting bubbles, but just a few dozen at a time. The picture shows the effect fairly well.

Smell: Overripe apples, richness, spice

The Mitten has such delightful overripe apple notes that I'd make a strong guess that some Northern Spy apples went into this cider. I love their aroma. It is a rich and intense smell, but I do get the barest hint of apple candy. This could indicate some acedification, but overall the smell is completely inviting.

Sweetness/Dryness: Semi-dry

Honestly there is so much flavor in Virtue's Mitten that I can barely tell if it is sweet or dry. If forced to choose, I'd say semi-dry but the excitement comes from other particulars.

Flavors and drinking experience: plenty of acidity, light bourbon flavors, warming

Immediately, I can taste bourbon barrel melded with high acid apples. This is exactly how Virtue would approach a bourbon barrel aged cider. It tastes warming on its way to the stomach in a way that seems like a higher ABV than its 6.8. The Mitten's acidity is slightly puckering on the salivary glands and yet still smooth. A larger gulp makes this cider taste really woody. I get so many flavors in multiple waves. Virtue's Mitten is much more balanced than most bourbon barrel ciders.

This tastes Really Good. Alex says that it feels like it centers on the tongue, swirls, and then sublimates upwards.  I'm not entirely sure about that, but he's usually on to something. There's some deeply buried sweet note in there like coconut or maple, but it's a ghost of a flavor. This cider is not bitter at all; low tannins. I can taste caramel and vanilla notes from bourbon plus woodiness and somehow this all equals maple, plus the cider's buttery mouthfeel equals waffles. Yay for cidery grown-up waffles.

Overall Impression: Wow!

I really enjoyed this cider. It goes well with veggie burgers and good conversation, but I'd also treat it as a salve to the winter cold as Virtue's promotional copy suggests. This is definitely one I'd like to try again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Roundup of Angry Orchard Reviews: Strawman, The Muse, and Traditional Dry

I realize that I am not always an organized person. This leads to me having scattered bits of cider notes in my phone, in my husband's phone, and on every computer I ever approach. It is a problem, perhaps. Eh. Besides not being able to find what I want at the moment I want it, there is an upside. Sometimes I find sets of cider notes that I thought had been lost forever. That's the story of this post.

Dear friends of mine host dinner at their home most Thursday evenings. I frequently bring ciders and write up my notes there. Last Thursday I brought Angry Orchard's new Ciderhouse offering, The Muse. This was a very nice coincidence because someone else brought a six pack of the brand's Traditional Dry. I thought doing a double-header Angry Orchard post might be a good way to actually see what's going on with both of those ciders. So we did notes and pictures and several folks gave me their impressions. Then we all ate way too much delicious food: two vegetable based no pasta lasagnas, two meat lasagnas, and a vegan pesto with sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts. Then milkshakes made with local ice cream. And we do stuff like this every week and most weekends. It is a good thing.

Once I recovered from my food coma, I realized that I've really not covered Angry Orchard's offering very much in this blog. I don't drink them often, so they don't show up. This is a real oversight on my part because so many other folks drink Angry Orchard a lot. Depending on who you ask, Angry Orchard might sell the most cider in the United States these days. 

So this post aims to fix that. Here are three Angry Orchard reviews appearing together. I'll go in the order what I liked most to least.

#1. Angry Orchard Straw Man

This is the only Ciderhouse selection that I've liked enough to purchase more than once. Definitely my favorite. I'll let Angry Orchard explain what they were going for with this particular cider.
For centuries Farmhouse Cider making has been a tradition celebrated by farmers in the English and French countryside. Strawman combines a distinct blend of juices from traditional culinary and bittersweet apples, which is then aged on oak. The result is a full-flavored, complex, and balanced cider with wine-like characteristics, rounded out by apple and citrus notes. Its lingering, earthy finish is an homage to the origins of this unique cider. 10% ABV.
Appearance: coppery orange, foamy, hazy

In the glass, this cider looks deeply colorful like a brand new penny. It does create an unusual amount of foam when poured. Not brilliant but more hazy. It does look more like an english style cider, especially when compared with Angry Orchard's other ciders.

Aroma: boozy, surprisingly not fruity

The Strawman exudes a strongly alcoholic scent, but it is not fruit-forward. I get more dust and minerals than fruit. Maybe, I can smell a little pear and wine. There is definitely some straw and hay smells, but the cider does not smell farmy. Once the cider warms up a bit in my glass, fruit scents of overripe apple emerge, but that took some time.

Sweetness: Dry

Wow! Angry Orchard is capable of making a dry cider. I would never have guessed. What I find particularly fascinating is that the official product description does not place it on a dry to sweet scale. Pleasantly tart with some fruit that still remains dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: Medium tannic, high acidity, high carbonation, warm

My first impression is of the high  but not soda-like levels of carbonation. I like a lot of bubbles and this delivers almost more than enough. Strawman's very high alcohol content makes for a lingering warmth; it recalls a harder drink in its aftertaste. Though the cider is dry, it's mouthfeel is so coating and full as to be slightly cloying. I note an immediate aftertaste of wood which is where the medium level of tannins come out. There's a lot going on, but I like it.

#2. Angry Orchard Traditional Dry

One of Angry Orchard's "core ciders," the Traditional Dry is one of the most widely available ciders across the United States. I'm curious to see Angry Orchard's interpretation of both traditional and dry. I have my suspicions that I might disagree on one if not both. I found a few different descriptions on the Angry Orchard website, including: "This traditional English-style cider is bittersweet and slightly spicy with a bright apple aroma and a dryness that makes you pucker." 

These online tasting notes give a bit more information, "Our Traditional Dry cider is made in the style of English draft ciders. This cider is bittersweet and slightly spicy with a bright apple aroma. It is a leaner cider with a dry finish and without any juice added to impart extra sweetness." The cider has a more standard ABV of 5.5 and the color is listed as amber. I have my doubts about the color description considering almost any cider or beer coincides with one shade or another of amber, but I'm heartened to see some suggested food pairings; they are:
  • Sweet and sour chicken or pork
  • Grilled bluefish and scallops
  • Seafood Alfredo
  • Roast chicken with mushroom cream sauce
Now let's actually try the Traditional Dry.

Appearance: deep caramel color, brilliant, no visible bubbles

Like the Strawman, Angry Orchard's Traditional dry has a darker color than most ciders. this one looks a bit less warm and orange and more rich caramel brown. No haziness here, just brilliant clear cider with almost no visible bubbles.

Aromas: Not a lot of smell, a bit bready and dusty.

This cider does not offer much in the way of aroma. I poured half of the bottle into a wine glass in an attempt to open up the aromas and make them more perceivable, but I didn't get much more. When I try I can smell some yeasty bready notes and similar hints of dust and must like I get from the Strawman. Not much going on.

Dryness: Semi-dry

Though I could not smell much sweetness on the nose, this cider is not truly dry. I cannot say that I am surprised; many many many ciders sell themselves as dryer than they taste. This isn't completely sweet either though and the sweetness I get is a fresh fruit sweetness. More on that in the flavors section.

Flavors and drinking experience: distinct tastes not melding, grapes and fruit, lingering sweetness

To my tastebuds, The Traditional Dry divides into a thin fruity layer of taste and a much larger watery one. This cider falls right in the midle of what I am reviewing to day in terms of sweetness; it tastes drier that the Muse but still not dry. I taste plenty of grapes, either juicy white or concord depending on who you trust. Everyone tasting this cider got grape notes but we did not agree on the details. The finish is mostly clean but sweetness lingers. I can definitely tastes the added citric acid. Overall, it tastes cleaner and colder than either the Muse or the Strawman; I think the lower ABV of 5.5% versus Muse's 7.7% and Strawman's 10%.

#3. Angry Orchard's The Muse

This was the cider that I felt compelled to share with my friends at dinner, and yet this is the cider that comes in last in my group of three. I do love the bottle though. This is not a bad cider, it just goes for a number of goals that aren't my favorites. Here's what Angry Orchard has to say about this one.

Inspired by the festive nature of slightly sweet demi-sec champagnes and sparkling wines, The Muse is a bubbly, effervescent cider made from traditional culinary and bittersweet apples and aged on French oak. The cider is sweet upfront with a juicy apple aroma and bright acidity, and slightly drying on the finish with a lingering sweet apple note. The French oak adds a subtle wood impression, imparting notes of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and hints of vanilla. 7.7% ABV

Appearance: brilliant, apricot, lot of active visible bubbles

This was the lightest of the three reviewed here, and still this is a more pronounced color than many ciders. I see this color as a rich apricot. You can see all of the motion of the bubbles in this shot; it looks a bit champagne like in that regard. This is also an extremely brilliant cider. I would have no trouble reading text right through it.

Aromas: oak, sweet, sour, fruit

Angry Orchard's Muse definitely has more going on in the aroma department than their other ciders. I cannot quite tell how these notes of sweetness, sourness, fruit and oak will translate into taste, but I do expect some depth of flavor and sweetness.

Dryness: Uncomplicatedl sweet

This is where the french cider influence is coming in. Many Normandy ciders have some real sweetness to them but also complexity, woodiness, and farminess. Angry Orchard imitated the level of carbonation and aroma but didn't really obtain the necessary complexity to give the cider enough identity.

Flavors and drinking experience: green apple candy, minerals, lychee

My biggest disappointment with this cider is that the flavor goes a little candyish at the midpalate. The Muse drinks pleasantly, a little French, very nice minerals, not outweighed by its caramel flavor. In terms of fruit, I mostly taste lychee rather than apple. The Muse has been carbonated brightly with tons of big bubbles making it a little soda-esque. The phrase on the bottle "Carbonated apple wine" should have led me to expect that, but I was so distracted by the mention of oak that I completely passed it up.

There you have it folks, I've been trying a few Angry Orchard ciders here and there, but now I've organized my thoughts and put them together. If you want to go back to my Angry Orchard Elderflower review from last year, you can find it here:

What do you think? Should I track down their other flavors? Does the combination format work?