Monday, June 23, 2014

Cider Review: Woodchuck Cellar Series Chocolate

Woodchuck has been kind enough to send me several of their Cellar Series ciders for review. In fact, I got Woodchuck's Cellar Series Chocolate back in January. It has been sitting in my fridge and then in my cider fridge for far too long. Mostly because I had some trepidation about a chocolate cider.

This is the third cider released in the Cellar Series line, though it was released in time for Valentine’s Day, I'm only just now trying it. Apologies to Woodchuck and all of its fans. Nonetheless, I have really enjoyed both of Woodchuck's previous Cellar Series offerings.

Here's my review of their Dry Hopped (I'll definitely be picking up more of that one when I can.)

This is my review of the oh-so-bacony Smoked Apple

If you want to find out official information about Woodchuck as a company or about any of their ciders, you can visit their website at:

The big talk about Woodchuck these days is that they have a new cidery facility opening up in August. The company is hosting a huge concert and party to celebrate and calling it a Ciderbration. Very cute. I might try to make it up. The drive to Vermont is beautiful, and I love getting to meet fellow cider freaks.

Setting aside all fears aside about combining two of my favorite things in the world, cider and chocolate, let's take a look at what Woodchuck says about this entry into their Cellar Series lineup.
Woodchuck’s original small batch hard cider, featuring Vermont culinary apple varieties such as McIntosh and late season Northern Spy, was aged with crushed cocao beans. Cocao beans, or nibs, are the starting point from which chocolate is produced. The infusion of the cocao nibs bring notes of artisan chocolate throughout the nose and taste of the cider. A hint of caramel accompanies the dry finish, as does a full apple flavor. 
“The use of crushed cocao nibs allowed for this cider to showcase chocolate’s true character,” says Cider Maker John Matson. “The infusion of the beans brought out those strong natural chocolate notes, without the sweetness found in a chocolate bar. The balance of the apple against the cocao creates a truly distinctive tasting experience. I am thrilled with the result and hope our fans are too.” 
Cellar Series Chocolate represents one of the most unique ciders Woodchuck has ever brought to market. It deepens the commitment to crafting cider styles that push the category forward while exposing cider to an ever-growing audience.
Cellar Series Chocolate is pasteurized and featured in a 22oz bottle. Alcohol by volume (ABV) is 6.9%.

Appearance: deep red brown, brilliant, some degree of visible bubbles

When poured, the Woochuck Chocolate has a color much like cocoa powder, deeply red brown. Though the color is too dark to read through, it is a brilliant cider.  I can see plenty of bubbles, enough to expect that this cider will be pleasantly carbonated.

Aromas: balsamic vinegar, milk chocolate, ripe apples

Whoa! I am amazed by how many different smells come out of this. First, I smell a rich and fruity balsamic vinegar. Something dark and intense. Secondarily, I smell milk chocolate. Underneath both of those scents, one can grasp hints of ripe apple, but the chocolate and balsamic smells are far more forward.

One of the folks with whom I was tasting this suggested that this cider might smell and taste good warm. So, we microwaved a little bit of it. This cider smells much boozier when warm but retains both the chocolate and balsamic elements.

Sweetness: Supah Sweet

Apples and chocolate with caramel as well. The sweetness reminds of the whole fondue experience of dipping apples in various warm sweet sauces. In this case perhaps like a freshly cut eating apple dipped into milk chocolate and caramel.

Flavors and drinking experience: sweet yet fresh, boozy, chocolatey

For some, drinking this cider reminded them of sweeter gentler version of whiskey. Something rich but not cloying, a little fresh even. I believe on comment that I noted verbatim, "Like booze without the booze!" I know I wouldn't go that far, but the comment is on to something. This cider tastes extremely dessert-like, but feels warming to the throat and stomach. It doesn't taste like something that would give that warming effect, and yet it does. The carbonation levels are lovely, just about ideal.

I think bringing the creaminess of milk chocolate to a tart and sometimes acidic beverage kept this from coming together into one seamless experience. I was always experiencing cider and chocolate rather than a truly chocolatey cider.

I enjoyed this cider around a kitchen table with some good friends and my own homemade raspberry cobbler. Though we tried this warmed as well as cold, I strongly recommend serving this chilled. I think it is a fairly good dessert cider, though the combination of chocolate and cider still doesn't 100% work for me. Give it a try over some ice cream perhaps or with some very mild cheeses and a baguette.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cider Review: Putney Mountain Winery of Vermont Apple Maple Wine

So, I've had an internal conflict for some time about whether or not to review products labelled apple wines on my blog. There is no consensus about what difference may exist between hard cider and apple wine. There are some tendencies, like ciders are more often sparkling and apple wines more often still or that the ABV level is commonly higher than what we tend to see in ciders. Again though, these are tendencies only; it is easy to find exceptions. That's why I decided that if I feel like reviewing an apple wine, I'll do it. Here's my first such review.

Charles (yes, *the* Charles Dodge:  and Kate Dodge, along with their production manager and associate winemaker Jason Hubner, have been creating fruit wines in Vermont for some time now. The Dodges began in the 1990s when Dodge felt inspired by his music students' stories of their own home-brewing. You can read all about Putney Mountain Winery on their website here: Or you can see them on Facebook at:

In reading their story, I found this part to be the most interesting and the most communicative of what Putney Mountain Winery is all about.
 [N]ear the end of the drive home to Putney one evening, as he passed Green Mountain Orchards, Charles had an epiphany. He realized that many of the best experiences he and Kate have, in drinking wine throughout the world, come from drinking local wine, made from local fruit, enjoyed near the local winery.

Then and there, he decided to stick with Vermont tradition and craft delicious fruit wines from the delectable local produce.
Now that we've all been properly introduced, let's talk about tonight's beverage. I'm trying Putney Mountain's Apple Maple Wine with several visiting friends who have a whole spectrum of beverage experience and preferences. This bottle is being shared between two cider aficionados, one wine fiend, one beer guy, and a most-of-the-time non-drinker. I expect some variety of opinions around the table tonight. 

Here's the official description of the Apple Maple Wine.
Apples. Maple syrup. The twin tastes of Vermont. This light, semi-dry wine combines two of Vermont’s signature flavors. At first taste the apple dominates, rendered fruity but not too sweet by the syrup. Then a subtle maple aura emerges to create its very long finish. A favorite of many customers, our Apple Maple wine is also a consistent award winner. It makes the basis for a spectacular mulled cider wine (find the recipe on our Facebook page). We serve it chilled in the Summer and mulled in the Winter.
This is sold in 750ml bottles and has a 10% ABV.

Appearance: Brilliant, dark maple color

When poured, this looks completely still. It features a deep dark maple color and total brilliance. There is not one hint of haze.

Aromas: maple syrup, mulled cider, wood, cooked apples

I noticed tons of smells in this cider as soon I as I lifted my glass. Between everyone in the party, we smelled: mulled cider, green wood, vinous-ness, home cooked applesauce, and everyone noted the maple syrup.

Sweetness or Dryness: Sweet!

Though this is described as semi-dry, we all agreed that this tastes distinctly sweet. To me, with my biased palate, this tastes very much like a dessert cider or wine.

Flavors and drinking experience: boozy, sweet, spicy, loooong finish

Again, the sweetness dominates the experience for me. I'm not quite sure that a 750ml is the most logical size for this beverage, based on its intensity of flavor. This wine is almost completely still, but just onf the verge of being pettilant. It tastes warmly boozy, even when chilled. Goes down a little spicy in a slow, non-alarming way. The wine offers up a strong long finish with plenty of maple. It gives a heavy mouth coat, nearly syrupy. Some tasters detected hints of salty toffee. We all agree that it tastes rich and toasted like a port or a tokaji dessert wine. This would tastes best with candied nuts. You could also use it as a glaze.

Though not for review, I did try their Vermont Cassis a few weeks ago as part of a movie night featuring the Original 1970s Wicker Man.  It also shared the intensity, warmth, and richness of the Apple Maple Wine.

Overall, I was impressed with both products within the realm of sweet fruit wines. Neither lines up precisely enough with my preferences to make a regular appearance, but I think they do what they do very well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cider Review: Eaglemount Rhubarb Cider

I like to think of summer as visiting season here in Ithaca, and, when people visit me, they get to try ciders. Sharing cider is always a joy, but choosing ciders for friends and family that I think they will particularly enjoy makes the experience even better. So, during my dad's recent visit, I broke out the first Rhubarb cider I've ever seen.

Eaglemount makes wines and ciders in Washington state; their Rhubarb Cider is a blend of half apple wine and half rhubarb wine. I say wine because they do, and they have to because of their 8%ABV.

Eaglmount Winery has been in business since 2006 but the founder had been making ciders, wines, and meads since 1996. They have a tasting room in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. Their website gives plenty of good information about their business, their products, and even about their orchard. They mention several distinct heritage varieties including Gravenstein, Winter Banana, Jonathan, and Roxbury Russet as well as varieties of French and English cider apples. You can read more about them at

One last cool note. They introduced me to the existance of a Washington State Cider Route: "The Olympic Peninsula’s 3 cideries are located within minutes of each other." This clearly deserves a place high up on my list of future cider vacations.

Appearance: Deep maize, hazy, some sediment

This cider has tons and tons of color. When poured it looks as intensely maize as an unpopper kernel of popcorn. I see no visible bubbles anywhere, but I do see some sediment. This cider is hazy and not totally brilliant.

Aromas: Rhubarb, apple, cherry, fruity and juicy

Eaglemount's Rhubarb Cider gives off oodles of fresh fruit aromas, mostly rhubarb, but also apple and cherry. This cider smells so very juicy! Fruit just utterly dominates the aromas, but with a hint of smooth acridity,  perhaps even a tiny note of coffee or at least coffee berry.

Sweetness: semi-sweet to sweet

The fruit flavors come out just as much one the palate as to the nose. This cider tastes like apples, rhubarb, and strawberry. For being a fairly sweet cider, it has medium astringency and a persistantly pleasant mouthfeel.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity, very nearly still, tannic, sippable

One of the most notable features of this cider when I drink it is that Eaglemount's Rhubarb cider is petillant, almost entirely still. Ciders can come in all levels of sparkle from completely non-sparkling and still to champagne levels of effervescence. This cider falls far more to the still side of the spectrum.

I can taste a moderate level of tannins coming from the heirloom apples in this cider. I do not taste much in the way of acidity: decidedly low acid. I almost wish there was more going on there.  Sipping is the best way to enjoy this cider, as big gulp do not illuminate it in any special way. I get some lingering astringency after drinking and that ongoing nice mouthfeel. Alex says “the more I drink it, the more I like it.” High praise from him.

The flavor really doles out lots of strawberry—a bit like an oaked strawberry wine—but rhubarb tends to bring out that flavor in its companions.  This cider is astoundingly not warming for how alcoholic it is; kinda hard to believe it’s really so strong.  I also get nice lakeside breezy minerals.
Overall, I think this is a lovely fruit wine and cider blend. It tastes very good with strongly flavored foods; we had it with falafel and hummus, though something about this bespeaks cold summer nights—a rocky beach, lighthouse in the background. If you want a cider for nighttime beach picnics or lakeside porch sitting, this is a great one for that.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cider Review: 1911 Somerset Original Cider

I've not really reviewed 1911 ciders nearly as much as I should have, especially since they are relatively local. So, I'm working on that. 1911 is the cider branch of a local company, 1911 Spirits, that makes ciders, wines, and spirits, many from apples. I've met a few folks from Beak 1911, and without fail they have been lovely, friendly, and helpful. You can read about their history and product on their website: SITE They'll be opening their new facilities this summer in Lafayette, New York. They're expanding after 13 years of cider production. Like many long-time cider-makers, Beak and Skiff pre-date the wave of popularity cider is currently experiencing, but they are benefiting from it significantly.

Beak and Skiff does have a tasting room in Lafayette, New York open seven days a week during the warmer months. I plan to make up this summer before the relative insanity of apple season. You can find out about it and about all of their products on their website:

Looking to 1911's website, all I could find about this cider was this description: "An old favorite updated for the 21st Century, with a pleasant crisp hint of apple flavor." Not very useful I'm afraid. From a different website reporting on the activities at 1911 and Beak and Skiff, I was able to find just a bit more information: "A sparkling aromatic cider with flavors and aromas of freshly picked apples." All sources cite the ABV as 4.5%.

Here's my confession for the post. I forgot to take pictures when sampling this cider. I do have my written notes on its appearance, so I've found a stand in that looks very much like the Somerset Original, but I don't want to perform any sleight of hand on this blog, so I'm just sharing that fact before posting a representative picture.

Appearance: deep color, brilliant, some bubbles

This is a very lovely cider in the glass. The Somerset looks absolutely brilliant in clarity. I can see a fair number of bubble immediately after pouring the cider, but they do not linger.

Aromas: Overripe apples, apple sauce, musty dust, minerals

Wow, the scents are immediate for the Somerset Cider. Overripe apples just jump out at me. I can detect minerals and dust commingled, which is often the case. The home-cooked apple sauce smell makes me wonder if there are any Northern Spy in this cider. That apple and that smell just go together.

Sweetness: candied, sweet

This cider tastes sweet like candy. I'm not always a fan of this particular variant of sweetness, I prefer really raw fresh fruit sweetness, but the richness and depth of more caramel and candy notes do have their appeal. Lots of folks who enjoy the fall spice palette, brown sugar, caramel, and dolce de leche flavors will enjoy that about it.

Flavors and drinking experience: very French in style

What makes this French like in style are the sweetness and yeast hints that make up so much of its flavors. It does taste cleaner than most french ciders. You won't get any farmy notes from Beak and Skiff's Somerset cider. It is very approachable and easy to drink, with just a lovely level of carbonation.

I'd recommend this cider with a mushrooms and a deeply roasty wild rice salad. Or in terms of activities this is the perfect cider to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise often traumatizing experience of watching Game of Thrones.  : ) Generally, anytime you have the room and inclination for something a bit rich and dark and sweet, Beak and Skiff's Somerset Original Cider will do the job nicely.

And by way of apology for the missin' photos, here's one of my cat Cabot emerging from a pile of blankets, surprised that the world still exists after his epic nap.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cider Review: Uncle John's Cider Draught Apple Cider

I know that summer in the Northern Hemisphere doesn't technically begin until the summer solstice, but walking around in bright sunny 84 degree days sure feels like summer! So, for Along Came a Cider, summer is here. And I'm celebrating by reviewing one of my very first canned ciders.

I've been completely curious about these for a long time because glass isn't convenient for traveling or permitted everywhere that I'd like to to enjoy cider. When I got my wonderful box of ciders from Uncle John's, I started looking forward immediately to the perfect weather for hard cider in a can. That day has now come.

Before getting into my review, just in case some readers did not see my previous review of a cider from Uncle John's, here's a link to my review of the American 150:

You can also find out tons more about this Michigan cidery, winery, and distillery at the website:

This is what Uncle John's Fruit House Winery says about their own Hard Apple Cider: "Full-flavored, crisp and refreshing with just the right amount of carbonation. Its award-winning flavor comes from apples grown just steps from our winery." I had my 6.5% ABV cider in a 16 ounce can, but the same cider is also available in bottles or on tap.

Appearance: Brilliant, light straw, plenty of visible bubbles.

Though I consumed most of my cider from the can, I did pour a bit in a glass so I could get a look at it. This draught cider pours with an airy mousse, but it vanishes without a trace. Mostly though, I just drank this out of the big green and silver and black can.

Aromas: dust, stones, minerality, fresh apple

Lots of dust and stone. Some fresh apple aroma. I could smell some light minerality. Uncle John's Draught Apple Cider does not offer up a ton of smell even when poured from the can into a more wide-mouthed container.

Dryness: Semi-sweet

Fruit and dried fruit flavors give character to the sweetness. It is definitely more on the tart and acidic end though, so I imagine many cider drinkers would perceive this as more dry than I do.

Flavors and Drinking experience: fresh apples, oranges, citrus

This cider tastes like beautiful blend of apple and sweet citrus. It has really big mouthfeel, with a lingering finish. I love how zingy and tangy and tart it is. All of this makes for some supremely easy drinking, which is absolutely required of a canned cider in my opinion.  One caveat, perhaps also related to my first canned cider experience. This cider is very burpy.  Its plentitude of carbonation was very pleasant with my tomato basil quinoa salad, but provided plenty of burps.

Mostly though what stands out to me is how much I enjoy the orange-tinged citrus flavors. I wanted a summer cider and this is a perfect summer cider. Enjoy it on picnics, hikes, or just hanging out on the porch.