Monday, February 23, 2015

My Cider Event Calendar: Cider and Beer Together At Last, Gathering of Farm Cideries, & GLINTCAP

Just a quick post while I'm still going through my notes and photos from CiderCon. (Don't worry, those posts are coming.)

These are some of the awesome cider events coming up on my calendar!
Cider and Beer Together At Last in Ithaca, NY
February 26th 5-9pm Free Entrace (but cider and food cost $)
Hosted by Ithaca Beer Company (

Cideries Attending
South Hill Cider
Bellwether Cidery
1911 Cider

Nine Pin Anniversary Party and Gathering of Farm Cideries in Albany, NY
February 28th 11am-4pm Tickets are $10 ahead of time and $15 at the door

Hosted by Nine Pin Cider Works (

Cideries Attending
Sundog Cider, Chatham
Blackduck Cidery, Ovid
Cider Creek Hard Cider, Canisteo
Fishkill Farms, Hopewell Junction
Bad Seed Cider Company, Highland
Kaneb Orchards, Massena
Descendant Cider Co., New York City 
Maplestone’s Cider, Maspeth
(and possibly more!)

In addition to cider, there will be music, speakers, and food available from a beloved local food truck.

And a little bit later, but perhaps the most exciting of all, is the 10th Annual Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. This is one of the two largest cider competitions in the world. And I'll be attending as a judge for my second year in a row!

The event takes place April 10-12, 2015 in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Interested folks should read more about the organization and the upcoming competition here. It is not too late to volunteer as a judge, steward, or to find out about submitting your own ciders to the competition.

Here's the site with the info:

As I find out more, I'll be sure to post it here.

Basically though, I'd love to see friendly faces at all of these events. Come on out if you can and if you do, say hi!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reviewing Ciders for Winter: Schilling Spiced Cider

Welcome to my series of posts reviewing ciders especially suited to winter! Though February is more than half over, I feel like much of the United States is buried deep in a winter. Right now winter feels so deep that it makes many of us think of Westeros and that Winter has finally and actually arrived. Anyhow, geeking out aside. It is cold and snowy and for some folks very cold and very snowy.

We need ciders that can somehow complement this insanity. Hence, I've looked through my collection and identified a handful of ciders that for one reason or another seem like they are best enjoyed in winter. I'll be reviewing through these types of ciders: spiced, oaked, things with flavors of bourbon, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. etc. and saving my summery stuff for later.

My first winter-friendly cider is Schilling Spiced Cider. This is one my amazing husband brought back from his trip to Oregon last fall. The company is not from Oregon, but from Seattle, Washington. They also make a point to use only Washington State apples.

Since I didn't know very much about this company, I visited their website:

The site has plenty of information presently clearly with a warm and pleasant aesthetic.I actually found far more interesting material than I can use in one post, so I though I'd start with Schilling's first statement about themselves, "Here at Schilling Cider, we believe in minimizing our impact on the environment." First statements make first impressions and tend to show a company's primary focus. In this case, Schilling identifies themselves as a cidery invested in sound environmental practices.

The other thing I like to include is a company's last statement about themselves because it often underscores something of particular importance in a clear way. Schilling's final statement on their about us page says, "We founded Schilling Cider to bring great cider to the masses by crafting high quality cider in affordable packaging and offering it at a fair price." This presents a very different identity than one solely based on environmental concerns; it taps price, value, and, oddly enough, packaging. (Side note: if I'm not mistaken, I think this refers to their use of cans in addition to bottles. Lots of people have opinions about cider coming in cans. They fuss about it. Eh. That's not what we're talking about today.)

More interesting to me and perhaps to other cider geeks, this is what Schilling says about their cidermaking process:
We believe the yeast selection and fermentation processes play a major role in the characteristics of the final product. We focus our energy accordingly. We use several yeast strains across our different ciders, sometimes multiple in a single batch. We carefully select the highest quality and most unique adjuncts for recipes that call for them. We also always choose quality ingredients including local hops, raw ginger puree, and American white oak. We don’t believe in following tradition. We believe in innovation.
Sounds like they focus on yeast choice and creative additions. They aren't as focused on apple varieties. Good to know and very logical for their location.

One last thing I learned is that Schilling both sells their own cider and runs a cider tap room in Seattle seven days a week. If you want to learn more about their tap room as opposed to their house brand, their Facebook page is the way to go:
Schilling Spiced Cider

Here's some more specific information from Schilling about their Spiced Cider
  • Our “taste of the holidays” cider!
  • Warming notes of cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom
  • 6.9% ABV
Appearance: brilliant, lots of visible bubbles, persimmon

It looks very deeply flavorful and spiced in the glass because of its intense color. I can see through the cider easily, so I'd call it brilliant. As the photo shows, we can see some small bubbles but no foam or head.

Aromas: Maple, oak, apricot, dust

Frequently when I smell dustiness in a cider I also smell cooked apples and stones. Not so for the Schilling Spiced Cider. I can smell mostly maple, molasses, oak, and apricot. I don't really smell apples much at all.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet, especially at first

This cider hits with an immediate sweetness that backs off as I can taste more of the spices.

Flavors and drinking experience: mace, allspice, nutmeg, a bit of ginger; some bitterness

First and foremost this cider gives me a progression from sweet to spicy. At first it can taste that maple sweetness that comes across in the aroma, but it is quickly replaced by a strong blend of wintry spices. Next, the cider tastes oaky, boozy and lingering. It stays more than a little spicy. I can detect shades of minerals.  Big sips give complex notes, with nice bitter, almost leafy, papery back-end bitterness.  This isn't the smoothest cider, but it is so far from boring.

This cider is entirely appropriate for winter. The spices are enticing and exciting. It doesn't feel sleepy. As my photos reveal. I enjoyed this cider while playing Scrabble. The pairing worked well. I tried it also with two desserts, first chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting and then cranberry oatmeal cookies. It paired much better with the oaty and hearty cookies that offered up their own dose of wintery spice. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cider Review Roundup: Virtue, Slyboro, William, Aspall's, Kettleborough, and Bad Seed

Whew! Back from Cider Con in Chicago (posts coming soon) and covered in yet more snow! Winter is very...real outside of Florida. But it is beautiful and snow days give me unexpected chances to write, so I'll take advantage while I can.  Today I've continued the process of going through my computer, phone, email, etc. to find sets of abandoned cider notes and photos. Since these reviews are varyingly complete or incomplete I though I might share a whole batch of them together.
Please consider most of these pictures representative of the appearance and style of the ciders in this post; I'm doing my best to match things up but these are found notes and found pictures from various moments in 2013 and 2014.

Virtue Cider's The Ledbury

This is how Virtue describes this particular cider, "The Ledbury Cider is an English-style medium cider crafted by Virtue with Tom Oliver. It's not too dry, not too sweet. A blend of old world bittersweet apples and new world heirloom varieties are fermented with native yeast, adding a bit of farminess to the ripe apple nose."

In appearance, this cider is relatively light and just a bit cloudy. It tastes bright and peppery with an almost spicey aftertaste, high tannin high acid, medium level of bubbles; not a lot of body, but would go well with swordfish. Smells like honey. At first, sweet melon, but not too gentle. Interesting and dynamic.

Slyboro's Night Pasture

On the Slyboro website, this is what I could find about their Night Pasture: "Subtly complex, dry, with hints of spice and caramel, made from Golden Delicious, English Bittersweet varieties and Northern Spy apples. Named after our oldest orchard, where earlier farmers once turned out their livestock at the end of the workday. Now a favorite spot for painters, dancers, apple pickers, skiers and red foxes. Serve chilled. 8% alc/vol 0% residual sugar. 750ml"

In appearnce this is very bright and clear; it looks still. While big gulps can allow me to detect a little fizz, this cider basically still as it appears. The Night Pasture tastes lightly but decidedly oaked, not a long finish, super clean. Bright and uplifting but very little acid with medium tannins. It tastes more minerally and stony ot me or like very green underripe grapes. Somehow the whole flavor is green.

William Premium Cider

This cider has a notably low ABV of 5.2%. It is made in Quebec and sold in cans. The brief official description says this about the William Cider, "pale straw colour; delicate green apple aroma; off-dry, soft spritz with balanced acidity."

I enjoyed the nice burst of bubbles on pouring. Smells like sweetened apple chips. Tastes like a drier caramel apple. Very fruity, semi-sweet, drinkable, easy, and pleasant with tiny note of bitterness like hops or something beery. I tastes it as lemon but two of my companions definitely interpreted this note as more reminiscent of light lager. It tastes like approachable English pub ciders in the best way. This cider doesn't take itself too seriously and is all the better for it. 

Aspall Grand Cru

I could not find very much information on this cider aside from the fact that the apples used are organic and the ABV is 6.8%.

Lots of funky notes in the aroma make this cider stand out. The taste is similarly sharp, barnyardy, and tannic. I cant taste wood, sweetness and complexity with some phenolic notes that at first tasted just lovely and astringent to me. But once one of my fellow tasters suggested that they reminded him of olive juice, I couldn't get that thought out of my mind. Yes, the tannins and vegetal notes plus sweetness somehow come across like olive juice. Still a great cider though.

Kettleborough Cider House

"Our flagship cider.  Dry Cider is a departure from sweeter run-of-the-mill hard ciders that have always dominated the market. Our Dry Cider is made from a blend of Northern Spy and Granny Smith apples to create a balanced acidity and fresh green apple flavor.  Think 'Dry Apple Prosecco.'  It pairs well with many foods, especially white meats, cheeses, fruits and especially any spice-forward dishes."

Tim Dressel makes this cider in the Hudson Valley of New York. The appearance of this cider surprises me because it looks nearly white in color. The cider smells wonderfully like Northern Spy apples. Cider is very acidic, a little meek but bright. The apple smell seems to presage more than the flavor actually delivers. I get quickly dissolving tannins that give it minerality. One note stands out agressively with lime and tropical fruit.

Bad Seed Dry Cider

Here is how Bad Seed rather cheekily introduces their Dry Cider, "Each bottle of Bad Seed Dry Cider is hand crafted in small batches never filtered, bottle conditioned and made from apples grown in the Hudson Valley. A Dry Cider that's really dry. Yeah that's right buttercup this isn't your little sister's sweet cider. What's more, each cider has been carefully tasted, tested, and then tasted again by our cidery team. Lucky bastards!" 

I got a big honey smell that goes positively florid after repeated sniffs. In appearance it looks hazy and light yellow. The Dry smells much sweeter than it tastes. The cider is high tannin with medium aid. It tastes just a little chemically but more than that I taste dry papery pineapple. The mouthfeel has medium astringence and a light body. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cider Review: Castle Hill Cider's Celestial

There's time for one last cider review before Cider Con 2015, and I have just the cider for it: Castle Hill Cider's Celestial. Many thanks for my enthusiastic friends who took me cider hunting for the entirety of my vacation because this find surprised me in a Florida grocery store wine shop( in Gainesville, FL for those who care). Especially surprising because the cider itself is not from Florida but from Virginia. Thanks so much, guys!

 In looking up the company, I noticed how beautiful the Castle Hill Cider website looks:

Mind you, I could be feeling pretty biased towards seeing beautiful summer views of trees, apples, and green grass. Things are pretty chilly in upstate tonight (predicted windchill is -15). But more seriously, the page is helpful, clear, and filled to the brim with gorgeous photographs. This is what the folks behind the cider say about themselves, their cider philosophy, and what sets apart Castle Hill Cider.
We take an apple-centered approach to cider making. The aim of our technique is to bring out the best of each year’s harvest. Utilizing both tradition and the cutting edge, Castle Hill Cider strives to bring you the highest quality and most enjoyable ciders. From fermenting the Levity in buried kvevri, the world’s oldest known fermentation vessels, to arresting fermentation of the Serendipity with cross flow filtration; from working with growers of varieties truly suited to cider, to renovating an 80 year old orchard, we strive to bring you the best cider to share with meals, friends, and relaxing moments.
 This set of claims comes across as fairly lofty but incredibly interesting, especially when paired with cider names like Celestial, Serendipity, Levity, and Gravity. I admit that my curiosity is more than piqued. I also love that they distinguish between high quality and enjoyable; that's funny and unexpected but not without truth. Castle Hill Ciders have a tasting room and, for seven special states (of which New York is not one), a cider club which offers steady good discounts for quarterly three-bottle shipments of cider. Why no New York, friends?

In looking at the descriptions both online and on the bottle of the Celestial, I found quite a bit of information. Here's the online description, "This cider has firm tannin structure that exhibit notes of earthiness, spice and citrus.This comes from a blend of Ellis Bitter and Albemarle Pippin apples. Celestial’s finish is enhanced by a touch of Winesap apples that offer a bright clean finish. Pairing this cider with dishes incorporating rosemary or lavender will pick up on its aromatic notes." The ABV hits right above average for artisanal ciders at 8.1%. 

Reading from my bottle, "Made from classic Virginia cider apples and English bittersweets, Celetial shimmers with layers of apricot, citrus, and melon over a generous balance of tannins and bright acid. Star kissed."

These share quite a few similarities but one emphasizes tannins more and the other fruit and acid. We'll see how the cider actually tastes.

 Appearance: straw, small visible bubbles, brilliant

Though I see some bubbles, I don't see too many. The color looks like a shining pale straw and it simply sparkles with brilliance in the glass. Very lovely.

Aromas: cooked apples, yeast, minerals, rich

The primary aroma is one of a wonderful home-cooked apple sauce. If you read this blog regularly, you know this is one profile of cider aroma for certain heritage apples. Secondarily, I get nice yeasty dry minerally notes. The holistic impression is of rich blended fruit. It is very natural to smell and gives me the expectation that this cider won't be particularly sweet.  Lastly my companions and I could detect green walnut and ripe pear. Smells yummy.

Sweetness/Dryness: Off-dry

The Celestial is a very acid-edged off-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannin, very high acid, medium sparkle

To be fairly factual at first, both descriptions are correct. This cider offers high tannins and even higher levels of acid. I think they use Champagne yeast. I would not describe this cider confrontational. Pleasant. My only critique would be that the finish fades quickly. I can detect some warmth from the higher ABV, but the cider is not hot. The Celestial tastes very clean with notes of underripe peaches, green wood, and spice. Definitely Mid-level sparkling, and bottle conditioned.  The bright citrus gives what little sweetness I can detect some character. Almost more twiggy than fruity, like an apple stem. I would call this cider very North American in style. I do get the tiniest phenolic note when it warms up more. A cider for committed cider lovers but friendly enough for anyone who likes white wine or champagne. Two thumbs up!

I think the Celestial would be delightfully drinkable with nearly any food. We had it, oddly enough, with local Florida tortilla chips and special Austin, TX salsa. I found it very good that way, but I would also have been well pleased to serve it with crab cakes and asparagus. My firmest recommendation is to serve this cider with warmth and conversation. It can support both beautifully.