Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cider Review: Uncle John's Cider Rosé

This afternoon I am desperate for some color. Yes the whites of snow and grays of winter are among nature's subtle masterpieces, but I am ready for something brighter!  This is what led me to Uncle John's Fruit House Winery Cider Rosé. Of course a beautifully red cider will clear away any sense of winter blahs! Besides, I've been saving this one long enough. It is another one of the treasures I got to bring home from GLINTCAP.

To begin with a bit of background. Uncle John's Fruit House Winery is part of the larger business of Uncle John's Ciderhouse in Michigan. It looks like an amazing place to visit, especially if you're like me and just go nuts for agricultural tourism fun with apples and pumpkins and baked goods and spectacular views. 

Read about the place and the cider on this website: https://www.ujcidermill.com/.

My own previous reviews of Uncle John's Ciders include on of the American 150

and the Draught Cider (in a can!).

I've enjoyed both of these ciders, but I'm ready to see how different a Rosé will taste. My previous experience with a Rosé cider is extremely limited, so the curiousity is great. If you want to read a bit more about rosé ciders in general from someone whose had more of them than me, I'd recommend Chris Lehault's article on Serious Eats http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/08/rose-cider-how-it-gets-pink-what-to-try-uncle-johns-lukeluk-traditions.html

This is what I read about this cider on its label:
Now that you have come to love our initial line of ciders, it is time to introducet this line of specialty ciders - made from fruit taht is unique in nature, and is now always available publicly. Cider Rosé is very special. Its color comes from 100% red flished apples such as Geneva, Redfield, Watermelon, Niedzwetzkyana and others. The rosé pigment is evident the minute the apples are pressed, and only gets richer as it is fermented. This is a very rare cider - as are the apple. There are less than 40 cases available, and it won't last long. Enjoy!
Only 40 cases! Whoa, I feel very special indeed to have a bottle of this.

As several articles that mention this cider, it seems significant to note that Uncle John's Cider Rosé is first to use Malus Niedzwetzkyana. Aside from just being a really cool apple name, this matters because that's a pretty neat apple variety and the genetic grandparent as it were of most cultivated apples with red flesh. One last fact, the ABV is a very reasonable 6.7%.

Appearance: Cerise, brilliant, fizzy!

When first poured, the Cider Rosé fizzles up into the most delicately light pink mousse imaginable. I wish I were quick enough with a camera to catch it because it doesn't last. This cider's own color is cerise or perhaps even the Pantone shade Magenta. This looks deeper than many rosé wines perhaps because of the differences between red grape skins and red-fleshed apples.

Aromas: minerals, strawberries, rhubarb, fresh apple

It took a few sniffs to really feel like I understood how this cider smells. It was deliciously elusive for a bit. Eventually I decided that the Cider Rosé smells like minerals as much as it smells like strawberries, rhubarb, apples and cranberry. Fruity smells, but I'm anticipating dryness.

Tastes so tart I made a face for the first sip. First red berries and dryness!

Dryness/Sweetness: Dry! Oh my!

I wasn't quite sure what to expect here because the cider smelled like it might be dry but both of my previous Uncle John's ciders were semi-dry. It tastes dry indeed!

Flavors and drinking experience: many stages of flavor, pleasant, highly acidic

The dryness of this cider speaks first, and it remains acidic throughout. The biggest surprise to me is the pleasingly astringent third act; it may come in late but it sharply continues through the finish. I love how much I find in this cider. I think the red-fleshed apples probably include many eating varieties all of which can contribute to pleasant levels of acidity. It has just the right amount of sparkle to be very drinkable, something I've noticed in general with Uncle John's ciders.

This one has to be my favorite though. All of that zesty red fruit tartness is just so pleasing!

I had this with Celebration Roast (braised in cider of course) and roasted brussel sprouts. The pairing worked very very well because each element offered its own interest and the stuffing of a celebration roast has butternut squash, mushrooms and granny smith apples all of which respond well to a full bodied dry cider like this. As for pairing this with an activity, if you can find any (or happen to have saved some from warmer months) drink it while watching the snow fall and drift. It will remind you in both appearance and flavor that warmer and more colorful days are coming.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cider Review: Redbyrd Orchard Cider's North Star

Perhaps three weeks into this shiny new year is too soon to review a cider by the folks who made my absolute favorite cider of last year. Alas, those protests will go unheeded. This set of cider notes actually pre-dates my falling totally in love with the Wild Pippin, and this represents a start of some early spring cleaning around here. I have lots of slightly odd sets of notes or sets of photos with incomplete notes. I have really extensive written notes for this cider, but much in the way of pictures. The cider is interesting, so I'll work around the lack of pictures. I plead for your patience.

Redbyrd Orchard Cider is a small local cidery made up of a wife-husband team (Deva and Eric) with a beautiful orchard and some really big goals.
Redbyrd Orchard Cider approaches cidermaking with a winemaker’s sensibility.   As with grapes to wine, to make truly great cider, you must start with truly great fruit. (You can make bad cider out of good fruit, but you cannot, no matter how hard you try, make good cider out of bad fruit.)   “We are lucky to live in an area ideal for pomme fruit and Our goal is to grow the best fruit around and in turn offer you the best cider possible!”
Read more about them, their ciders, and their really exciting cider CSA on their website: http://redbyrdorchardcider.com  For more frequently updated information from Redbyrd Orchard Cider, you can visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RedbyrdOrchardCider.

As my faithful readers I'm sure already know, Redbyrd Orchard Ciders have appeared in this blog a few times before:

The Starblossom http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/10/finger-lakes-cider-week-special-review.html

Their Dry Harvest Cider 2013: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/12/cider-review-reddbyrd-2013-harvest-cider.html This is the best of the reviews not only because it talks about great cider, but because there is a kitten picture.

The Wild Pippin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/12/cider-review-redbyrd-orchard-ciders.html

And most recently as my #1 cider of 2014, the Wild Pippin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/12/my-10-favorite-ciders-of-2014.html
In looking back at those reviews, the major pattern I see from Redbyrd Orchard Cider is their love of extremely high acid ciders. We can surely expect something tart and acidic from the North Star.

This is what Redbyrd Orchard Cider says about their North Star, "A beautiful and rich blend of 70% Golden Russet, 15% Northern Spy, and 15% Rhode Island Greening.  Fruit pressed frozen on Dec. 6, 2013.  1.5 % Residual Sugar,  10% alc/vol." I'm also willing to bet that the aromas will be good; I have loved many aromas from Northern Spy and various Russet varieties. What I don't know much about is how pressing these apples frozen will have altered the finished cider. We'll see.

Appearance: brilliant, small bubbles, deep straw color

Lovely cider in the glass. It is truly brilliant. The color shades almost too deep to be called straw and instead goes in the direction of untreated pine grain or light apricot flesh. Truly lovely and a shame I don't have more and better pictures.

Aromas: applesauce, dusty, green apple, perhaps a tiny hint of acetaldehyde

This cider produces so many notes for me to smell; it really is quite complex. First I notice some dusty chalky smells that combine fluidly with the cider's primary applesauce aroma. The apple aromas smell very cooked and soft to me. Underneath all of that I get perhaps a tiny hint of acetaldehyde flaw that smells a little bleachy along with some hints of green apple candy. Though I might be detecting some imperfections, overall this smells tasty.

Dryness/Sweetness: Off dry but altered by acidity

Right at the start, on the tip of tongue I perceive a powdery, slightly honey-ish, vanilla flavor, but it becomes immediately overtaken by the North Star's acidity. Though this cider has a residual sugar of 1.5% and some fruity characteristics, it actually presents as drier than it is because of the high levels of acidity.

Flavors and drinking experience: umami, acidity, ginger, low tannins

Wow! The umani flavors in this cider really remind me of fresh ripe tomato and lots of it! That's so interesting. I can tastes med-high or even higher acidity; it really lights up salivary glands. Notes of ginger and grapefuit bounce around my palate in a super lively way. This cider is sharp and spicy
 but has almost no tannins. It does offer decent astringency and is quite drinkable. I think I enjoy the persimmon and spicy notes the most. Medium levels of sparkle.

The North Star contains a relatively high 10% alcohol by volume, which makes it's finish just a bit  bitter despite low tannins. I wonder what kind of yeast went into this.

My recommendation for pairing this cider would be to balance out the high acidity with something warm, rich, and perhaps a bit heavy. It would work well with pestos, cream sauces, mushrooms, and all manner of winter comfort foods. In my perfect world, put this cider with a vegetarian meat loaf, rich mashed potatoes, and roasted brussel sprout all slathered in mushroom gravy. That sounds pretty good right about now.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Less than a month till CiderCON 2015!

I woke up on a recent morning to a most amazing email. My request to cover CiderCON for this blog and to photograph the event was accepted! Best news of 2015! I cannot even imagine better news yet.

So, what is ciderCON you might ask? It is the professional gathering of cider folks in the United States and this year it is happening in Chicago from February 3rd-6th, 2015. This event comes to us through the hard work of the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM). Read about the organization, its programs, goals, and achievements on the website: http://www.ciderassociation.org/

The USACM describes CiderCON by saying, "CiderCON was created to offer the commercial cider industry an outlet to meet, share ideas, collaborate and effect positive changes in cidermaking and cider fruit production best practices, the cider market and cider regulations.  CiderCON is organized by the United States Association of Cider Makers."

Obviously this is important and interesting stuff. There look to be fantastic panels on orchard processes, cider making, business issues, marketing, pairing, and who knows what else. We'll be tasting and talking and analyzing cider for four straight days! Mind you, it is in Chicago, in February. Whoa, cold and windy. But, I'll take the dubious with the fabulous.

You can follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cidercon
 If you cannot come to this gathering but want to keep up with our shenanigans from afar, keep your eyes peeled for a twitter hashtag related to CiderCON. I know several folks will be doing their best to livetweet the whole experience.

Immediately following the conference, Chicago will be hit by the largest cider tasting event in America: Cider Summit Chicago. This event for the public brings together more than 150 different ciders from around the world. Obviously, this amazes me to my very toes. I so wish I could be there, but I must be back home serving cider myself by that day. You guys still in Chicago, go for me! tell me all about it. Take notes! Take pics. Make me super jealous. It won't be hard. The details: This happens on Saturday, February 7, 2015. You can taste deliciousness either from 11am-3pm or from 4pm-8pm in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier.

The rest of the details can be found here: http://www.cidersummitnw.com/chicagoeventinfo.html
(You can even see who some of the folks pouring cider will be! I can see 8 favorite producers already!)

My excitement goes beyond all bounds. You see, I am a huge nerd, and nerds love cons. So this, a con about cider, is basically the best thing ever. I always enjoy getting together with fellow cider freaks, but doing that with this much serious learning. Be still my heart.

I'll try to post a few more real reviews before then, but, basically, I'll just spend a little while jumping up and down in pure joy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cider Review: Distillery Lane Ciderworks' The Jefferson

Casual at-home dinners with friends are the mainstay of my social calendar. I prefer them to most other kinds of hanging out year round, but I appreciate them even more when the weather is cold and going out just sounds uninviting. What could be better than a nice meal with wonderful people? With cider. And dessert. And more cider with dessert. Besides, I think cider pairings are much easier to coordinate this way. So, before I get cooking for tonight's dinner, I though I'd post about another cider that I've only experienced as my contribution to a friend's little supper gathering.

This is yet another of my Mid-Atlantic ciders shared with me by Patrick Huff, writer of Cider Nation (http://cidernation.wordpress.com) and Crafty and The Beast (http://craftyandthebeast.com). He also coordinates regular cider chats on Twitter under the hashtag #ciderchat. These happen most Thursday evenings; he often hosts cidermakers or other field experts for good times.

For my preview run-ins with Distillery Lane Ciderworks and an introduction to their cider business and identity you can check out my review of Distillery Lane Ciderwork's Kingston Black:

And here's a link to my review of their Traditional Dry Sparkling Cider: 

I'll let Distillery Lane Ciderworks introduce The Jefferson themselves:
Thomas Jefferson was a renowned cidermaker and orchardist in his time. One of his favorite apples was the Newtown Pippin, an apple first grown in New York. Historically, this apple was exported in large quantities to Great Britain (the Queen liked Newtown Pippins so much that British Parliament lifted the import duty only on this apple variety). It is no surprise that the Queen liked the Newtown Pippins so much: on a trip to Europe, Jefferson once notoriously declared, “they have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin!” For our hard cider, The Jefferson, we press Newtown Pippins, along with other vintage cider apples, to create an off-dry cider. The cider is also aged with American oak to achieve an old-time flavor, reminiscent of the oak barrels that Jefferson would have used when brewing his ciders. The Jefferson is perfect with smoked fish and meat. 2014 GLINTCAP gold medal winner.
One last fact to note before we get started; this cider offers up a hearty ABV of 7.5%.

Appearance: brilliant, brassy, mellow

At first I thought the color was copper mixes with grass, but my dinner companions questioned this. More yellow and less orange, they said. We thought some more and agreed on a mellow brass color. It doesn't show any bubbles, which indicates to me that this could be a still cider. Brilliant with zero haze.

Aromas: boozy, butterscotch, oak

None of us smelled very much fruit on the nose of this cider. I smelled butterscotch, which most folks found as well. Someone said it smelled like booze or like a heavily-oaked chardonnay. The aromas aren't particularly strong.

Dryness: off dry/semi-dry

Now that we're all tasting this, a few people are getting more fruit, but the oak and tannins dominated the experience for me and a couple of my fellow tasters. The official description of off dry is arguably accurate, but I feel like it would be just as fair to nudge that up to a semi-dry. There is some sweetness, but not very much.

Flavors and drinking experience: green apple, vinous, butterscotch

Wow! Such an interesting experience! This is 98% still— the petillance is almost like a very weak 9 volt battery on the tongue, just a tingle and no more. The primary flavors different folks observed were minerals, green apple, vinousness, butterscotch, and popcorn. The mouthfeel was a touch light and thin, which I only notice particularly because the oak flavors don't seem to combine naturally with such a light mouthfeel. The booziness does warm the mouth but that's the primary tactile sensation.The Jefferson provides lots of different flavors, light and dark, pleasant and interesting enough, but they don't really interact in a way that offers up totally coherent complexity. It tastes toi me like the tannins could be from oak chips or rods, and not the more mellow oak of barrels. I'm not 100% certain though.

We shared this with a homemade pasta dish with cream sauce, broccoli, and mushrooms. Meat eaters added some roast chicken as well. I do think the seasonality and warmth of everything paired well together. The Jefferson certainly does strike me as a winter cider.

Though I'd love to ramble more about the pleasures of ciders and dinners and good company, it is time for me to get up and go to the kitchen to prepare for tonight's dinner party adventure. Cheers! Here's to a happy and tasty 2015!