Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cider Review: Millstone Cellars Hopvine

Today makes Millstone Cellars' third appearance in this blog. I'm lucky to have friends in the Maryland DC area and a phenomenal local cider seller (https://www.thecellardor.com of course!) who hosted the cidermaker from Millstone (bringing in the current line of ciders for tasting and sale) because normally these ciders are only available in the Maryland and Washington DC areas. Ask me another day about the extremely difficult hurdles of distribution for small craft cider producers. I'll talk your ear off. Anyhow...

Here are my two previous reviews of Millstone Cellars ciders.

Millstone Cellars makes really interesting ciders. You can read about them on their website here: http://www.millstonecellars.com/artisanal-cider/ They aren't afraid to try interesting additives, unique apple varieties, and the most nuanced use of honey as a backsweetener that I know. Combine my good feeling for Millstone Cellars' style with the fact that I love hopped ciders. They are the absolute best for hot summer afternoons. The world can consider me very excited to try Millstone's Hopvine.

Obviously the Hopvine is an apple cider with hops, but we can do better than that for some useful information. Here's what Millstone says, "Cask cider aged with Maryland dry hops and blended with a touch of raw honey. Wrap your taste buds around a cascade of lemony and spicy hop flavors." Further reading or even just admiring of the beautiful label shows that this cider uses York Imperial apples, wildflower honey, and Cascade hops. This cider has an ABV of 8%. It is also listed as being bottle conditioned and dry.

Prepared with this details, let's pour and taste. Today is 88 degrees in Ithaca, perfect for hopped cider.

Appearance: Hazy, lemon curd color, not too many visible bubbles once the initial head disappears
The Hopvine pours with some belgian lace that quickly dissipates.

Aromas: Wow, alfalfa, citrus

The reason for the wow is that this cider is intensely aromatic. I love it when a cider gives me plenty of good smells! This one has alfalfa, hay, citrus, grapefruit pith, and a background of apples. But as it warms up a bit, the smells develop and give me additional notes like baseball glove or soft patent leather. Mmm! Wow indeed.

Dryness: Dry

Like many bottle-conditioned ciders, the Hopvine manages to exhibit loads of flavor while being bone dry. I really appreciate this in a cider. 

Flavors and drinking experience: zesty, astringent, sour, fruity

I must preface my description with the fact that this cider tastes milder than it smells. It is dry, phenolic, and astringent. I love the intensity that astringency brings to mouthfeel; it makes everything zesty. The cider finishes with notes like straw, leather, and sour yeast. The hops make it spicy yet vegetal or herbaceous. I love how totally insane the Hopvine is with leather and acidity. This does not strike me as a sipping cider. I was tasting with a few friends who faulted it for moments of bracing funk that approach sweatiness, but I really enjoyed those facets. What can I say? I like a little stink in my cider. I like it a lot.

What we can all agree on is that Millstone's Hopvine pairs with strongly flavored aromatic dishes. Bring out the Rosemary bread, olives, and feta. I flipping love Rosemary and never get to eat it often enough, but the salty rosemary bread and briny feta just complemented this cider perfectly. My love for hopped ciders continues! This is probably one for the lovers of sour beers, unusual ciders, and deliciously complex tastes. I'd not share this with just everyone, but then again I say that about most of my favorite discoveries.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cider Review: Standard Cider Company's True Believer

Tonight, I'm reviewing the True Believer by the Standard Cider Company. They are a Long Island based cider company that uses 100% New York state apples for their ciders. As far as I can tell they have a small number of ciders; The True Believer, The True Companion make up the mainstays, but I've seen enough mentions of a holiday season limited edition that I think they've had at least one of those. Please pardon my lack of total confidence in my information, but I've not been able to find out as much about the Standard Cider company or their products as I would like. What info I can find comes from magazines and blogs covering the NY state beverage scene (thank you!) and the Facebook page for Standard Cider Co. here's a link if you'd like to check it out. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Standard-Cider-Co/444740802236202

When I saw this cider for sale locally, the graphic design caught my eye immediately. I really enjoy creative, visually appealing use of text. The lettering on this label definitely counts! This label manages to achieve some cute old-timey cachet while still being totally clear and easy to read. This is a genuinely difficult feat, so kudos to Standard Cider Company for this.

Of the True Believer and True Companion, I chose to review the True Believer first. It is a blend of Cameo, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji and Granny Smith apples. The True Companion begins with that as its base, but it also blends in orange zest, ginger, and spices. Starting with the apple-only cider seems logical to me. It is a relatively modest blend of dessert apples, so I know I'll be drinking something with a good bit of aroma, high acidity, but almost no tannins. We'll see if I'm right.

Appearance: dark peach, hazy, big bubbles

This cider looks peachy in the glass, but it is almost brilliant, barely hazy. The bubbles appear quite distinctly: notably larger than in most ciders, even forced carbonation ciders. A touch unusual.

Aromas:  apple sauce, cinnamon, earth

Oh wow, when I smell this I immediately think of the two most aromatic apples I know for a cider blend: Northern Spy and Golden Russet. It just has that rich, warm, applesauce aroma. But I get a lot more than that in this particular cider: cinnamon, spice, dusty minerals, earth, and brown sugar. My predictions aren't terribly wrong so far. Let's see if I can keep this up.

Sweetness to dryness: Sweet

The sweetness is so integral to this set of flavors, I don't want to give anything away too soon. Just read on.

Flavors and drinking experience: mulled, spicy, sweet, cherries

Interesting! Though the apple blend mentions absolutely no addition of other ingredients or flavors, this tastes mulled. I'm sure most everyone knows this, but a mulled beverage is one that has been sweetened and spiced while being heated. Usually they are then served hot, but they can be chilled  back down after being heated and spiced. Obviously out of the bottle and out of the fridge, I drank this cold, but it still tastes mulled. Cinnamon, brown sugar, ginger, and spices just jump out at me.

This cider coats the tongue and has such a massively thick mouthfeel. The True Believer delivers a  strong aftertaste of ginger, powdered sugar, and Maraschino cherries.

Beyond a sweet spiced cider experience, the other aspect of the True Believer that I notice the most is the strong sparkle. If you like your ciders bubbly, sweet and sweetly spicy, then this is absolutely for you.

So, my predictions were not entirely correct. I did not anticipate the apple pie spice palette of this cider, and I'm not sure I can easily explain it using only that blend of eating apples. Overall, this isn't really the sort of cider I enjoy most. I can see the appeal of the True Believer, but for me and for summer this isn't a great match. But, wait for a stormy night with unseasonably cool wind (they sure happen up here) and curl up with something indulgent and fun to watch. A bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer perhaps? That's what I'm about to go do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cider in the Summer: Along Came A Cider’s Guide

I used to live in Florida, so complaining about hot weather in upstate New York feels almost a like joke. Almost. I say almost though because almost nowhere around here has A/C and the predicted heat index for yesterday was 101 degrees Farenheit. These are the days when I begin my morning with iced coffee, slowly transition to cold cold water (with more ice), iced tea, cold cold sparkling water (usually with ice), and eventually cider (although I do intend to eventually try one of these bad boys: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/06/limonada-de-coco/)

Cold beverages really are how I deal with excessive heat, well those and afternoon naps on days that allow for them. But I cannot just clock out of life for two hours in the afternoon most of the time, so we’re back to relying on cold beverages.

Important Tangent: The Ice Issue

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even think of spending time on the idea of ice. It seems obvious. If you like cider, you shouldn’t add ice, because it will dilute the beverage.  Mind you, there has been a concerted marketing push from some of the industrial cider companies (especially in the UK) to serve and drink cider over ice. I get it. They are trying to make cider a specifically summer drink  and iced drinks are summery.

My opinion? Don’t do it. There are more other ways to keep a beverage cold than I can readily try or evaluate, everything from beer koozies to whiskey stones and high tech gadgets. I’m partial to using a marble wine bottle cooler, myself. Try any of these techniques or toys you like, but mostly I recommend just chilling your cider well before serving it. If you’re going to transport it, chill it well and pack it well. Good luck.  

I’ve talked about the beverages suited better or worse to hot weather a few times before. Reaching back, I can definitely pick out a few ciders that pair well with ridiculous temperatures.

A few good ciders for summer: 

This because of its wonderful balance of dryness and effervescence. I think this is the quintessential profile for a hot weather cider

This cider has actually really grown on me since I first reviewed it. I liked it fairly well then, but I really love it now. This also achieves that perfect bubbly crispness and zesty acidity for a summer cider.

I can particularly recommend two other avenues for exploration. The first being semi-dry and dry perries. Ideally, I’d find one even more ephemeral and dry than this, but  that’s not always easy to find.

I think the other specialty cider best suited for summer is hopped cider. Here’s just one choice. I’ve reviewed a number of hopped ciders, and though they are far from equal many many of them are delicious. The aroma and citrusy notes just perfect the summer beverage in my book.

Mostly if I cannot say something good, I say something descriptive, or nothing at all. But for summer there are some ciders that just don’t work, even if the cider is otherwise interesting or tasty. 

Save these for later:

http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/05/cider-review-docs-draft-cranberry-spice.html I think the cranberry spice combo says it all here. It is a lovely beverage, but is the exact opposite of cooling.

http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/03/cider-review-ace-cider-apple-honey.html Anything with sweet notes of honey just doesn’t fly for me once it gets genuinely hot. There is a warm quality to honey that just doesn’t go away at any temperature.

http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/12/cider-review-woodchuck-cellar-series.html Do you know what’s hot? Fire and smoke. That’s why a smoked cider just seems roasty, toasty, and hot. Pass on this one till October or so.

http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/08/cider-review-mckenzies-lazy-lemon.html Sticky. Cider shandy should be good for cold because lemonade can be radically perfect on a hot afternoon. But this is so sticky sweet that I cannot recommend it, again except for as a float with gelato or sorbet. That summer drink dessert might just work.

 For me, summer is the time for tremendously bubbly dry cider served quite cold. This works with food, with friends, in sun, in shade, amidst chaos or quiet. Or there are the delicate perries or bold hopped ciders. All good choices.

In any case, cheers to summer. Let's enjoy it.