Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 10 Favorite Ciders of 2014

Like last year (http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/12/my-10-favorite-ciders-of-2013.html), I want to pause now at the end of 2014 to bask in complete gratitude for this year. Along Came A Cider has had a great 2014. And do you know who I have to thank for it? My wonderful readers and all the cidermakers I know!

Without further ado, allow me to share my top ten ciders of the year. The caveat is that I'm not listing more than one cider from any company, but, unlike last year, I am going to limit myself to ciders that have a full review on the blog. I'm also going to up the suspense a bit and list them from 10 to 1, and only reveal my absolute favorite cider of the year at the very end. I know, you'll all be barely able to contain yourselves. But, I think a little anticipation is good for the soul.

10. Bantam Cider's Wonderkind

So, I'm starting out my list with I cider I enjoyed surrounded by family. And I did really enjoy it, though this particular cider surprised me considerably with its honey aromas and substantial mouthfeel. The Wonderkind managed to be both fun and sophisticated, which means it is something I'd enjoy pretty much anytime. You can see the full review here:

9. Virtue Cider's The Mitten

I still enjoy what I've tasted by Virtue Cider completely, and I think this particular meal paired with their bourbon barrel aged cider was my favorite Virtue Cider experience of 2014. (Mind you, grabbing late night vegan buffalo wings with my dad and having that with a Virtue Red Streak before Christmas was also great.) My favorite quote from that review says,  "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." One of my favorite ciders of the year makes me think of waffles. Who knew that would happen? This review also has the first picture of my cider apple tattoo with some color:

8. Whitewood Cider Company's Northland Traditional Blend

Old Timey Dave has been a fixture in the cider blogging world since long before Along Came a Cider, so getting to try one of his ciders was a big deal for me. I'm thrilled to say that Whitewood Cider Company's Northland Traditional Blend was delicious. This experience impressed me particularly because of the slowly unfolding complexity of this cider. Great fruit and great tannins. Here's the rest of what I had to say:

7. 2 Towns Ciderhouse Hop and Stalk

A recent one, and yet another winner of a cider that I first experienced with pizza. This is beginning to tell me that I eat rather a lot of pizza. Oh well. What I enjoyed wasn't just the pizza though; I loved the building rhubarb flavors, robust carbonation, and tons of planty herby hoppy notes. Hopped ciders continued throughout 2014 to provide me with some of my favorite flavors of the year. The Hop and Stalk really took that fruit plus hops combination to new places by adding tart and zesty rhubarb.

6. Vintage Henney's Still Cider 2012

I remember not only how gorgeous Henney's Still Cider 2012 tasted, but also how much I adored its appearance. I wrote my review in late October still at the height of fall, and perhaps the season affected how I perceived this particular cider. I said, "This color reminds me of certain fall leaves, dark amber grade B maple syrup, or cinnabar. This is a color for the smell of woodsmoke and the crunch of leaves already fallen to the ground." But aside from its beauty, this cider also offered plenty of rich deep tannins and some fabulous fruit. See for yourself:


5. Farnum Hill Farmhouse Cider

It is not likely a surprise to anyone that Farnum Hill produced a cider that made it to my top ten list. They've been making really good cider for a very long time now. This review is one of the last ones to feature photos taken in my old apartment. The surface under the cider is a little ladder that permanently connects a small sleeping loft to the TV nook in that apartment. I loved that place, and I loved this cider. It's aromas especially just left my mouth watering.


4. Millstone Cellars Hopvine

Hoppy, bottle conditioned, and dry, what's not to love here? There isn't much, as it turns out. This cider is wildly funky with lots of unexpected notes in the aroma. I really enjoyed that about it. But for those who might be scared off by a cider that honestly smells like a baseball mitt, it does taste gentler and more mild than the aromas would imply. I'm not at all afraid of an untamed cider with tons of flavor and acidity, so this suited me very well in both smell and taste.

3. West County Cider Cider Maker's Favorite

A cider that fits my ideal flavor profile: tannic, low alcohol, plenty of acidity, dry, and richly and deeply flavorful. I couldn't ask for a more Meredith style cider. I still wish I knew more about it, but in this case I'll just have to settle for a delightful mystery. Truly something special.


2. Appeltreow Kinglet Bitter

I knew one of my Appeltreow cider experiences would make it high on this list. I simply love what they do. I wish I had easier access to more of their cider varieties. My review of the Kinglet Bitter ends with, "Thanks so much to AeppelTreow for making the Kinglet Bitter. Yes, it is worth growing the difficult cider apples. Keep up the great work."This is in reference to their own descriptive copy that talks about the struggle to grow the rare and fussy cider apples used for the Kinglet Bitter. Those apples, however difficult, add the best tannic depth and mellowly rich fruit notes. I stand by my earlier appreciation, and I want to go searching out another bottle of this stuff!

And now for my number 1 cider of the year...

1. Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Wild Pippin

It tastes like no other cider I've ever had. As much as I completely enjoyed each and every cider on this list (and I did) this had to be my top choice. It goes beyond what I thought cider could be. I adored the Wild Pippin's herbaceous spicy notes. They blew me away. It balanced them with gorgeous sparkle, clean dryness, and great acidity. Redbyrd Orchard Cider did a marvelous thing with their wild gathered apples. I doubt, I'll ever get to taste anything quite like it again, but I do know that they are working to get some material for grafting from some of these wild trees, so I can hope for a cider with fennel, peppercorn, and basil notes. If you want to read my further adulation of this cider and see cute kitten pictures, follow this link to my review:


Thanks again to everyone! My special appreciation to friends, family and guinea pigs who  tried any weird ciders I offered. Thanks to those who hunted rare or faraway ciders for me to taste and review. As always, I must thank all the cider sellers and producers I know. You guys make this passion of mine possible. I cannot forget thanks to every commenter, reader, and visitor to Along Came A Cider. I'd enjoy cider no matter what, but sharing this with all of you enriches my life tremendously. Cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cider Review: 2 Towns Ciderhouse Hop and Stalk

My darling husband traveled to Oregon without me for work this past fall. I would have loved to have gone with him, but between August and early November, I'm pretty tied to this area for many reasons (all of which have to do with apples). So, he went alone and vowed to bring me back some ciders from the region. He brought back a whole suitcase full of cider goodies and tales of the wonderful hospitality offered to him by the kind folks at 2 Towns Ciderhouse. He visited their tap room, and they took amazing care of him. I am so grateful. Thanks, guys! So, I have to recommend visiting their tap room if you are in Corvallis, Oregon. I hope to make the trip myself someday before too long. This is my first review of any the ciders he brought me back from that trip.

In looking at the 2 Towns Ciderhouse website, one thing becomes abundantly clear. They want everyone to know that their ciders are natural rather than artificial. Those are some fairly huge concepts: natural and artificial; I'm afraid I spent too much time in grad school to just accept that we all mean the same things when we use those words. Luckily for me, and all the other word nerds out there, 2 Towns Ciderhouse clarifies their position in a very helpful introduction to their ciders. Check out how they outline their concepts and their ciders:
At 2 Towns Ciderhouse our aim is Damn Fine Cider. This means cider produced using the best the Northwest has to offer, superior brewing standards, innovation and a lot of love. We insist on using only the finest fresh-pressed 100% NW apples in our ciders. We never take shortcuts in the cider-making process, and never add any sugar or essence flavorings, but instead let the fresh, naturally fermented ingredients speak for themselves.
Further reading identifies three qualities that 2 Towns prioritizes in their final products body, aromatics and flavor. So, I'm happy to think of these qualities in particular when I taste and describe my first 2 Towns Ciderhouse beverage, their limited edition Hop and Stalk.

If you want to read more about 2 Towns Ciderhouse, you can either visit them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/2townsciderhouse or their full website: http://2townsciderhouse.com/ Both places have plenty of additional information, pictures, and news from this exciting cider company.

Tonight's cider is their limited edition Hop and Stalk, which is a cider with both hops and rhubarb. The official description follows, but it doesn't add a tremendous amount of additional insight to help us build more precise expectations, "An outrageous amount of hops and a healthy helping of righteous rhubarb make the Hop and Stalk a perfect cider for adventurous hop heads! Stalk on Hop!"  This is only sold in 500ml bottles. It's ABV is 6%. That's all I know so far.

My only previous encounter with rhubarb in cider came through a really fun little petillant cider from Eaglemount: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/06/cider-review-eaglemount-rhubarb-cider.html

Appearance: Deep nectarine color, brilliant, lotsa bubbles

Nectarine color really pops tonight because the sun has been hiding for so many days. I can see every single little bubble because this cider is crystalline in its brilliance. The bubbles most remain still; I don't see a lot of motion in the Hop and Stalk.

Aromas: hops, red fruit, dust

The aromas promise good things for this cider. I can smell hops with that piney, almost soapy, grapefruit freshness. I simply adore how this smells. Hops in cider are such a shortcut to my heart, or at this point, to high expectations. I can also smell red fruit like strawberries or currants. This simply smells so good, so in terms of aromatics, 2 Towns Ciderhouse is doing well.

Sweetness/Dryness: semi-dry

Very fruity but not too sweet. Tons and tons of zingy acid to balance out the sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: balanced, zippy,

The rhubarb tastes subtle at first, but it definitely builds. This cider has notes of mind and herbs that decidedly come from the hops. Definitely pine and basil. It has an almost celeriac quality in a yummy way.  Very tart. The rhubarb builds in this tartness with some strawberry, lychee, and orange notes. I just get tons and tons of zesty fruit flavor. I love how tremendously big yet well balanced this is. Great body with lots of robust carbonation.

I savored my Hop and Stalk tremendously with a giant fluffy deep-dish cheese pizza, the kind it takes to get through this many days in a row with no sun at all. Sorry to fuss, I promise I'm not a winter hater. This cider is really helping though. I feel like I am reminded that summer and fruit exist because of its rhubarb hoppy lightness. This is particularly thrilling, even inspiring, in late December. You could pair it with lots of different dishes, but I think making sure you've got something not too acidic would be key, and dairy fits the bill well for me. I could also see pairing this cider with present wrapping and cookie baking. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cider Review: Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Wild Pippin

In October, I got an amazing opportunity to take part in a media and trade tour for cider in the Finger Lakes region. Taste NY (http://taste.ny.gov/) and the New York Cider Association (http://www.nycider.com/hardciderwine.htm) put this together. They did just a brilliant job. Even though I've been part of the cider industry of the Finger Lakes since I moved here in 2013, I feel like I learned so many new things about the cider production realities and possibilities unique to the Finger Lakes. Amazing!

This picture is of a row of the relatively young trees at Redbyrd Orchard Cider. These are being trained in the slender spindle style to encourage them to bear fruit early and grow in a relatively stable and secure way. It largely involves training the branches downward because branch position relative to the trunk of the apple tree gives signals to the tree about how much fruit to set. Interesting stuff. This farm is also focusing on biodynamic farming that involves other farm projects all being designed and chosen to mutually support one another, in this case chickens and sheep along with apple trees to create natural fertilizer, control pests, and feed livestock all at the same time.

But tonight's post isn't just to talk about what an educational (and tasty) time I had learning about local ciders. I actually want to talk about one specific cider that I tried from Redbyrd Orchard Cider: the Wild Pippin.  (You can connect with them on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RedbyrdOrchardCider.)

To zoom out a bit Redbyrd Orchard cider describes themselves as, "Cider made from sustainably managed orchards nestled in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York." The business belongs to a wife and husband team Eric Shatt and Deva Maas. Their website offers more information about their process and descriptions of all of their past and present ciders at http://redbyrdorchardcider.com/.  My own previous review of their Starblossom cider can be found here: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/10/finger-lakes-cider-week-special-review.html.

Of everything I tried by Redbyrd Orchard Ciders, the cider that stood out the most to me by far. In fact, this stood out so much that it became my Thanksgiving cider.  Before I give my own impressions, let's take a look at the writeup by Redbyrd Orchard Ciders.
Wild Pippin is a rare and unique blend of 100% wild gathered apples.  Every year we search the country side around the Finger Lakes for wild apple trees that we feel will add complexity and “wildness” to our ciders.  This year we found plenty, and blended them into most of our ciders and made “Wild Pippin”, a crafted blend of sharp, and bitter sharp wild-grown seedling  apples.  We will likely graft and grow out the best of these varieties to plant in our orchard for future ciders.  Will the grafted clones act and taste the same as their wild parents? After primary fermentation we aged the cider in French oak barrels just long enough to integrate this nice rustic character into the cider.  We finished the cider with an in bottle secondary fermentation to add elegant and creamy carbonation to balance its wild acidity…enjoy!!    pH 3.5,  approx. TA 0.8, RS 0.0%, 8.2% alc/vol    Bottle Conditioned
I'm thrilled to see this much information in a cider description, especially specifics like residual sugar (often abbreviated to RS) and total acidity (TA for short) and pH in addition the alcohol by volume. These numbers indicate to me that I should expect a completely dry cider, with some lively acidity and a relatively high alcohol level. What I don't know is what notes the wild apples will impart or how a short period of time in french oak will affect the cider.

Appearance: Robust butternut squash color, bubbles, brilliant

I'm afraid this picture does not do the cider justice, but in all of the hubbub of preparing for Thanksgiving Dinner, I didn't have time for a full photo shoot. You can see tons of very fine bubbles all along the glass and many moving within the cider. No haze to speak of. The cider is a rich yellow orange very reminiscent of uncooked butternut squash.

Aroma: Spicy! Herbal!

Whoa! Both times I've had this cider, I noticed the savory nature of the aromas immediately. It doesn't smell like fruit, it smells like herbs and spices. Very interesting and different.

Dryness/Sweetness: Bone dry yet flavorful

0.0 Residual sugar does not lie. There isn't any sweetness going on here. But, counter to many expectations, lack of sugar does not mean lack of intense flavor. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Flavors and drinking experience: Peppercorns, squash, grapefruit and more spice

Complex and unusual doesn't even begin to describe how truly wild this cider tastes. The predominant flavor for me is peppercorns. It is spicy and savory all the way. After that, I can begin to taste grapefruit, squash, lemon, poppyseed, fennel, and just a raw zesty green-ness. The bottle conditioning comes across clearly in how fine and intense the bubbles are. The acidity is strong but not out of control. But I cannot emphasize enough that this cider tastes savory.  

What I find hard to describe is how balanced the Wild Pippin tastes while still being so feral and distinctive. I absolutely adore this cider. It really pushes our perceptions and expectations about cider while at the same time being drinkable and incredibly pleasing.

As for how this paired with Thanksgiving? Excellently and just as I'd hoped. A very bubbly cider cuts through the richness of many traditional Thanksgiving dishes like mashed potatoes, turkey (for meat eaters), and buttery sauteed mushrooms. Acidity further extends the lightening and brightening effect of this cider which pairs well with my cold cranberry relish.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cider Roundup: Grocery Store Ciders Reviewed by the Along Came A Cider Moving Crew

This roundup review is a little bit of a stretch backwards in time, but I really don't want the rest of 2014 to slip by without reviewing a few of the new entries into the grocery store cider market. I use this term in particular because where a cider is sold has so much to do with who sees it and who buys it. More folks see the ciders in supermarkets than in wine or beer specialty stores, so this seems significant.

Along Came a Cider Headquarters moved this August. Luckily I had a hardy crew of about a dozen friends to help. Traditionally the reward for a moving crew of this type is pizza and beer, but my friends agreed to not only move my stuff but also help me taste and review a number of new ciders for the reward of pizza and eternal fame and glory, of course.

Everyone was a great help in moving and even better sports about being cider guinea pigs afterwards. they even let me take silly pictures of them. We had tons of pizza and spoke pretty candidly about this varied crop of ciders. 

And Now for The Ciders:

Johnny Appleseed

This cider is certainly the one I see advertised the most around here since its release. Ads appear on Twitter regularly and I know I've seen them elsewhere. This is Anheiser Busch's cider and the only one of the new crop of grocery store ciders to advertise its sweetness as a feature. Here's what they have to say about their cider.
Johnny Appleseed is a refreshingly sweet and intense hard apple cider. It’s best enjoyed on the rocks, among good friends. Inspired by a legendary adventurer and storyteller, Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider was created for anyone with a story to tell. So whenever friends gather to share a drink, a tale, or a night out, raise a glass of Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider — to the hundreds of stories waiting to be told.
This has the most chemical or artificial notes of any of the ciders we tried. Everyone noticed that though the cider has a pleasant appley first note it gets way too sweet and fake tasting. Specifically this tastes like green apple candy. This is especially noticeable because of the simultaneous stickiness and thin mouthfeel. Not a winner for any of us.

Smith and Forge

First, let me share some of official press release for this cider including the fabulously clear headline, "Presenting Smith & Forge Hard Cider: A Sturdy Drink for the Hardy Gent." Alrighty, this is a cider being marketed as manly and for men. Here's more from MillerCoor's exec Kroll, “There was a time when more hard cider was consumed in America than beer.  Now hard cider is exploding again, but the sweetness of many current ciders can be a turn off to beer drinkers, and some of them are looking instead to spirits and crafts for variety,” said David Kroll, MillerCoors vice president of insights and innovation. “Smith & Forge is a strong, just-sweet-enough hard cider that encourages guys to discover -- or rediscover -- the world of hard cider.”

“Once upon a time, barrel-chested men proudly drank tankards of hard cider,” continued Kroll. “Smith & Forge is honoring those times by bringing back the sturdy side of hard cider.”
One of my guest reviewers said, "This tastes exactly like apple juice. This is something my six year old would enjoy." I'm pretty sure he thought that was a bad thing even though he enjoyed the beverage enough to finish it.

In looking at the website now for Smith and Forge it seems to take a lighter view of its obvious targeting of a male demographic with jokes about mining, biceps, taverns and a general manly old-timey, moustache-loving vibe. Cute but feels artificial.

My word on the cider: it does tastes the most like fresh unfermented juice of any alcholic cider I've tasted above an ABV of 3% and yet this has an ABV of 6%, so I think the level of backsweetening and post-fermentation flavoring must be intense.

Woodchuck Fall Harvest

 (Many thanks to Woodchuck for letting me borrow one of their promo pics. I really wanted to show off their packaging and this photo does it.)

This is the cider I've had the most experience with before sharing it with my friends/movers, but we'll start with what Woodchuck has to say about it
The fall harvest brings farmers and communities together to celebrate another year of fruitful labor, It is a time of shorter days, cooler night, and great apples. This cider has a complex and elegant character full of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg balanced out with a hint of American White Oak. A true taste of the season.
My friendly movers had a lot more to say about the spices of this cider than the fruit or apple characteristics. The most common observations were about the apple pie similarities, questions about mulling this cider, and mentions of a brown sugar finish. We all expected it to be sweet, so there were no surprises there.

DeMunck's Belgian Style Hard Cider

Wow! This is some confrontational copy. I knew this cider would be a little different as the first cider by a regional microbrewery (Southern Tier) but they don't let us forget it. Take a look.
If you like artificial cider made from imported, concentrated apple juice, filled with caramel color, sweetened with corn syrup, and containing more than 200 calories per serving, we recommend you look elsewhere. It makes us angry that so many ciders are made with apples from orchards on other continents.

We ferment 100% pure apple juice with our house Belgian Abbey Ale yeast for a very special hard cider. Made in small batches, DeMunck's Hard Cider is smooth, easy to drink and naturally gluten-free.  
My tasters and myself all noticed that this cider hits with an initial half moment of bitterness and some beer-like aromas. The meaning of Belgian style becomes clear, they are using a Belgian beer yeast. This is good to know because I don't actually know of any particularly Belgian cider traditions in either the creation or consumption of cider. Perhaps if I'd read more carefully I would have noticed the website saying, "Fermented with Belgian Abbey Ale Yeast" sooner. Oh well.

This cider is the only one of these I've bought again since the moving party. Though I think the finish is a bit odd with some powdered sugar and bing cherry flavors, it is a nice well balanced cider.

Overall, we liked the DeMunck's best with a tie for second place between the seasonal Woodchuck and Smith and Forge. Pizza and thirst were ideal accompaniments for all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cider Review: West County Cider Cidermaker's Favorite

Tonight I'm reviewing a little bit of a mystery, West County Cider Cidermaker's Favorite. Unfortunately, I'm not finding out a lot of background information about this particular cider. I got it at a fundraising cider sell-off to raise money for Franklin Country Cider Days back in 2013. I finally opened up my bottle of cherished Cidermaker's Favorite on one of the first cold nights of the winter and shared it with visiting family.

I'll post a link to West County Cider's website, but I'll mention ahead of time that there is basic contact information on the page and nothing else. http://www.westcountycider.com/
The page is beautifully presented and formatted, but again mysterious. I tried for Facebook presence but alas, I found nothing.

 I've tasted their ciders very rarely, but I quite like what I've tried. My only previous review is of their Reine de Pomme. You can read about my impressions of this unique cider right here and my post also has more background information on West County:


All of what I know about this cider comes from this classic yet minimalist label and tasting it.
 The basic facts include that this cider has an ABV of 4.8% and is surely a blend of heritage local apples like all of what West County does.

Appearance: Polished Copper

The Cidermaker's Favorite looks totally brilliant. Not one hint of haze is visible. The color strikes me as more metallic and clear and clean than many; it is unusually intense and looks just like polished copper to me. I don't see many bubbles, so perhaps this will be a still cider?

I can barely get over how deep and richly this color comes across.

Aromas: applesauce, highly aromatic, dusty, minerally

Ooh! My mouth waters. Certain aromas give excellent hints about how a cider will taste, and this set of smells gives me all kinds of goodness to anticipate. Dusty smells imply tannins to me. Many fabulous bittersharp apples and heritage apples offer their gorgeous applesauce notes in a blend's aroma. My hopes have officially been raised.

Dryness/Sweetness: Dry

Definitely dry but with fruit and tannin notes.

Flavors and drinking experience: Wow I did not anticipate how high the acid levels would be on this cider. It makes it very exciting! I did expect higher than average tannins, and I am not disappointed. Yay! The cider drinks with almost no sweetness. But still somehow dry, tannic, and acidic balance out beautifully. The low ABV of this cider really shows well. It makes a huge difference in how smooth and approachable it is while being this dry. The other element of this cider I must emphasize is how rich rich rich it tastes. Perfection. I love this complex and exciting balancing act. West County Cider has really pulled off something special with its Cidermaker's Favorite.

I had this both with dinner and after, so I can vouch enthusiastically for this cider as either a pairing beverage or something to focus on. My food was a baked pasta dish with a cream-based sauce, walnut, spring peas, and a swirl of pesto on top. Very rich and a nice accompaniment to such an utterly delightful cider.

If you see West County Cider anywhere, please do yourself a favor and try them. I cannot wait to have the chance again.