Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Reviewing Ciders for Winter: Tilted Shed's January Barbeque Smoked Cider

For some folks in the United States, we're getting the first hint of a thaw we've had in more than two months. It is easy to forget that we're even still having winter because we can see the sun and because it appears that underneath the piles and piles of dirty white snow, we have real dirt and grass. But not everyone is thawing out. Plus we do still and piles of dirty white snow everywhere. So, the ciders for winter series continues.

This review is my first review of anything by Tilted Shed Ciderworks. I thought it might be best to see how they introduce themselves on their website.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks is a small, Sonoma County-based cidery founded in 2011 by the husband-wife team of Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli. Famous for its wines, Sonoma County also has a rich apple heritage, and our mission is to elevate the apple to greatness through cider. Our heirloom apples are locally grown in old, organic, dry-farmed orchards. At our Sebastopol farm, we grow dozens of rare, traditional tannic cider apple varieties, which, like winegrapes, provide the structure and depth that common table fruit cannot. For us, apples hold secrets. They persevere through drought and pestilence, and every year they show us new ways to experience them. We are on a quest to explore their mysteries by making beautiful, nuanced ciders that reflect our principles, place, and point of view.
All of that sounds tremendously committed to cider specific apple varieties and a style of cider making that I really like. It doesn't sound typical for California apple growing, but we'll see what the cider says about their apples. I encourage you to visit their lovely website and learn more here: And if you (like me) are curious about their apple selections and how they source antique, heirloom, and cider apples in Sonoma County, you can find some further information on this page

Here's a more succinct statement about their house style: "At Tilted Shed, we make mostly dry, tannic, nuanced, lean ciders that defy most Americans' expectations. We love Old World-style ciders made from traditional cider apples, and our style reflects their rich heritage but with a decidedly Californian edge." I wonder what that distinctly CA influence means?

The specific cider I chose for this winter series is Tilted Shed's January Barbeque Smoked Cider.

This is how Tilted Shed describes it and how they recommend serving it.
We first sampled this cider on an unseasonably warm winter day while grilling. This is one of our experiments gone awesome. We smoked a few apples from our farm over oak, pear, and apple wood, then fermented and aged them with a base blend of fresh-pressed Sonoma County–grown traditional cider and heirloom apples. This is a dry, astringent, slightly austere cider, with a mellow smoky finish. Imagine drinking a brut champagne near a bonfire. Pour into a flute, tulip, or pilsner glass to experience its aromatics. Pair with aged cheeses, grilled meats, and seafood. Nice apertif!

Appearance: Hazy, bubbly, banana pudding

I love how a hazy cider gives me a whole different set of associations for color. This cider is decidedly hazy and somehow that means that its golden yellow looks glowy rather than shining. It really does remind me of banana pudding in color (not just because I always start wanting banana pudding at the first hint of spring). As the photo shows, we get plenty of bubbles all along the glass.

Aromas: smoky, fresh apples, cherry pits

Even at the recommended temperature there isn't a lot of aroma going on. I can smell a few notes; the strongest of which is a bit smoky. It also smells a bit appley with an echo of fruity wet cherry pits. My husband and co-taster thinks that it smells vinous. tastes stronger on the first sip and gets calmer.

Sweetness/Dryness: Dry

There's so much going on with this cider, that I had a much harder time than usual deciding on its level of relative sweetness and dryness. I think it is a dry cider but if you wanted to argue with me and call it an off-dry, I'd understand where you were coming from. It hits dry at first and has relatively dry finish, but the midpalate is fruity and not quite as dry.  This cider is obviously complex and that's a good thing in my book.

Flavors and drinking experience: multiple stages of flavor, savory, meaty

The January Barbeque tastes much stronger than it smells. Let me amend that. It tastes stronger on the first sip and then gets calmer. It tastes both meaty and fruity, like bacon jam. Mind you, that' largely theoretical having had faux bacon jam and never actual bacon jam. It also tastes chocolatey. Almost a like the flavor on really good BBQ chips. I get hints of salt that are really pleasant. It tastes warm and not just because I'm serving it warmer than I do most ciders

The experience happens in stages. At first, the cider offers up a quick bitter shock and then replaces it with fruity smokey spicey cake. Overall it is a fascinating blend of savory and dessert like. The experience is perfect for winter because it is both warming and particularly interesting. It sets up the expectation that it will be rather challenging and bitter, but it's actually very forgiving. My one caveat is that smaller sips are better; this isn't really a gulping cider. I recommend enjoying it with homemade baked macaroni and cheese and a really crisp romaine salad. As far as activities that pair well, drink this cider while watching a movie filmed somewhere beautiful and far away.