Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cider Review: Doc's Draft Hard Cassis Cider

The day that this post goes up, I'll be flying back hom from London after walking many many miles and drinking a few ciders around Cornwall. So, I'm sharing a review from notes taken on a previous trip: my winter escape vacation to Gainesville, Florida. The cider we notated that day was Doc's Draft Hard Cassis Cider. This is another one that as soon as I drank it, I knew I'd want to save the review for warmer weather.

As always, you can find there website here: http://wvwinery.com/cider

I've reviewed most releases by Doc's Draft. Here's a quick list of the reviews with links:

Apple: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/01/cider-review-docs-draft-hard-apple-cider.html

Hopped: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/07/cider-review-docs-draft-hopped-cider.html

Pumpkin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/10/cider-review-docs-draft-pumpkin-hard.html

Cranberry Spice: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/05/cider-review-docs-draft-cranberry-spice.html

Peach: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/04/cider-review-docs-draft-peach-hard.html

The only ones I'm missing are their Pear, Raspberry, and Black Cherry and some special releases that aren't on the main website. We'll see if I get to them all eventually, but I might have to beg the skills of a guest reviewer for anything black cherry. Any volunteers?

When Doc's Draft says Hard Cassis Cider, they mean cider that somehow uses black currant in addition to apple. While cassis has generally come to mean a liquor made from black currants, that term is technically Crème de cassis. That is made from soaking crushed black currant berries in a neutral spirit and sweetening the mixture before straining it. This is a dreadful oversimplification, but it covers the basics. To get even more basic, black currants are a very tart berry common in European and UK foods and beverages as a fruit flavor. Due to various quirks of botany and history, currant have become, at various times, illegal or  uncommon in North America. They have been legal in New York state since 2003, so don't worry; Doc's Draft isn't skirting the law by making a cassis cider!

Doc's Draft's official Description reads, "A unique, hand-crafted black currant hard cider, made from pressed NY state apples and fresh black currants. (6% alcohol)" What this definition doesn't tell me is how and when the black currants and apples were combined, but I'm guessing taste will tell me some of that.

 Apologies for not having a picture of the cider in the glass. Perhaps the cuteness of my husband and his appearance making a funny face in the photo will compensate. ; )

Appearance: dark rose, brilliant

This cider looks jeweled to me because it is so brilliant. I'd call the color dark rose. I've seen other black currant ciders with darker colors, but this particular shade of pink is appealing and lovely.

Aromas: apple skin, grape jelly

The aromas coming from this cider are fascinating. I smell grape jelly with bits of apple skin, but primarily I just smell lots of grape jelly.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet

Like most cider's from Doc's Draft, this cider has a fair bit of sweetness to it. I like it with this cider, and, in my opinion, a black currant cider needs a certain amount of sweetness to balance the tartness of the berry's flavors.

Flavors and drinking experience: interestingly complex, bitter, sweet, smokey, juicy

Doc's Draft deserves a round of applause for making this cider so approachable yet so multi-faceted. It is interesting and delighful. First, I can taste a bitter front edge, then the cider goes sweet quickly and then comes the woodsmoke after swallowing.  It tastes like a crushed handful of real currants with that same balance of bitter and sweet. I love the rustic woodsy flavor. The finish is sweet at first but a second later, the alcohol hits with a solid aroma of woodsmoke. Doc's Draft ciders are often a hint yeasty and this is pleasantly no exception. This quality works well with the juiciness of the currants. I like that it is decidedly sweet and bubbly and dark, but not sticky or dumb. Apple is still markedly present at the base, with the currant as a flourish atop it. Clean and piney finish along with the woodsmoke.  

I had this cider on a picnic with wonderful much-missed friends. We had brie and grapes and strawberries and hummus and cucumber sandwiches. That was the perfect way to enjoy this cider, if you ask me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cider Review: New Day Craft's Johnny Chapman (Hard Apple Cider Sweetened with Sorghum)

It feels a little strange to be writing for the future like this, though I know that nearly all bloggers do it. So, when this goes live, I'll be in England with my fantastic husband Alex soon to meet up with his wonderful mom Ginny. The plan is to explore a bit of cider tourism followed by many days of hiking in Cornwall. But, I don't want my faithful readers to forget about cider while I'm gone, so I've left a few posts to take care of the blog in my absence. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers to avoid technical difficulties!

New Day Craft is a small company that makes cider and mead and operates a taproom in Indianapolis. Here's a link to their website: http://newdaycraft.com

 Here's how the company describes itself on the about page of its site: "New Day Craft specializes in craft mead and hard cider. Light, refreshing and full of flavor, our products are easily enjoyed. New Day Craft is the brainchild of Founders Brett Canaday and Tia Agnew. Starting in 2006, they have grown their business to provide the exciting, and tasty, line of beverages available on tap and in bottle today."

A dear friend of mine passed through this area and shared with me a bottle of Johnny Chapman Sorgum Cider by New Day Craft a few months ago. Many thanks to Kristen for the cider and for giving me access to a cider maker I've still never seen on store shelves.

Just as an aside, I want to make sure everybody reading know Johnny Chapman is also known as Johnny Appleseed. He is a hero to America's cider making and orcharding communities, but he was a lot weirder and more complicated than the cartoon image most of learned about as children. I like this article on him and his legacy: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/?no-ist

That said, I like the idea of playing into the rural historical roots of Johnny Chapman by using sorghum as a backsweetener. I have no idea how that will taste, but I am ever so curious. This is all of the information I was able to find on New Day's website about this particular cider,"Johnny Chapman: Fill $12/Glass $5/Bottle $6.99, 4.5% Sugar, 6% ABV:  Rich hard apple cider sweetened with sorghum; caramel and malt notes with a sweet cider finish."

 Appearance: Intensely pumpkin orange, brilliant, so many visible bubbles

This deep coppery pumpkin color is an immediate signal that there is something unusual going on in this cider. I can see enough bubbles and even a lacey mousse such that I anticipate a whole lot of sparkle in the Johnny Chapman.

Aromas: malt, rich, sweet, dusty

The Johnny Chapman smells malty. Somehow that aroma also comes across as both dusty and rich and gives me a few hints to expect some sweetness in the beverage.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

This has a fabulous balanced maple, caramel, sorghum sweetness that is anything but overpowering. Instead it is drinkable without being boring.

Flavors and drinking experience: malty, tangerine, strong carbonation, long finish

Wow! I love how Mapley and malty this cider tastes. It seems straightforward but not simple, in fact some of the richness almost crosses over into being both sweet and savory. In terms of fruit, I actually
get notes of tangerine or the sweeter sides of citrus. The low ABV is reflected in how not boozy this tastes. All of the flavors appear very integrated. It comes across as a well balanced sweet cider with a long narrow finish with lingering aromas of caramel.

The sorghum does give the cider a certain molasses old timey vibe that is consistent between presentation and taste. It is no secret that I'm more than a little bit fond of ciders that are strongly carbonated. This cider makes no exception.  So enjoyable.

I paired this with a light vegetable soup: one with more tomatoes, carrots, and celery, in a thin italian-esque tomato basil broth and slices of Colby and homemade wheat bread. The full-bodiedness of this cider made it perfect for a lighter spring soup while the sweetness brought out the sweetness in my homemade bread. I could also see having this with fried catfish and beans and rice to use the sorghum sweetness to balance out some spice. You could do a lot of different things with this cider; New Day Craft did something very right with their Johnny Chapman.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cider Review: Tandem Cider's Smackintosh

I love that Tandem Ciders has a section on their website labelled "Cidery Philosophy." That's something I want to know from every cidermaker I encounter, but usually I find it by bits and pieces gleaned through reading their histories, cider descriptions, about sections and social media presence. Usually it is gleaned between the lines as much as by direct statements. But Tandem is making it easy for me, which says to me that they care about having and sharing a cider philosophy. Here's the opening sentence, "The intention at Tandem Ciders is to produce ciders that reflect the beauty of the apple." Very direct and bold. Much of the following section is a loving paen to apples and their mythos, but the last paragraph begins to get specific, and I love that.

Here's what Tandem Ciders say about their cider philosophy.
As with any craftsman, the ability to transform raw materials into a composition requires patience, passion, and a little elbow grease. With these ideals in mind, Tandem Ciders strives for culinary artistry in its ciders. Our products will begin with superior apples that will echo farmers’ time and hard work. Each small batch of fruit will be turned into juice with a traditional rack and cloth press. The juice will then be fermented using standard styles, and the resulting cider will be bottled ‘straight’ or blended with a little Leelanau County imagination. As we keep on fermenting, we hope to keep on improving with each passing season.
You can read much more about them at: http://www.tandemciders.com

I was given a bottle of the Smackintosh at GLINTCAP with only the context that it is one o their sweeter and more popular ciders. Fair enough, but I wanted to know more, so I found their official description.
POW! Right in the Kisser
McIntosh, Rhode Island Greening, and Northern Spy. Everything's better with a little Smack. This crowd pleaser is sweet and tart with full apple flavor.
Apple Growers: Smith-Omena Heights Farm, Steimel Brothers, Christmas Cove Farm, & Schultz Orchards
These apples are classic varieties. Northern Spy have been popular for pies and baking for decades, and Rhode Island Greening has been a sauce apple for longer than most of us have been alive. The McIntosh serves as a fantastic apple in a number of contexts: raw, cooking, and processing. There's so much neat history there that I recommend reading the Wikipedia article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McIntosh_%28apple%29

What I can surmise though is that this blend of apples will offer more sweetness and less acidity and virtually no tannins. I'm curious about what "full apple flavor" means in this context, but I'm hoping for a nice rich mouthfeel. The ABV for this cider is listed as an unusually low 4.5%. 

Appearance: straw, tiny visible bubbles in the glass, clear

This cider looks lovely with its mellow straw color and unusually tiny bubbles. It appears clear rather than brilliant.

Aromas: fresh apple all the way

Just smells exactly, almost freakishly, like an apple. The aroma is so fresh that it seems luscious and wet.  How a smell can seem wet, I don't really know, but that's how it was.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

This is going to get repetitive, but I must emphasize how much like eating a fresh apple this cider tastes. The sweetness is the sweetness of fresh pressed juice, and there's plenty of that sweetness present.

Flavors and drinking experience: apple, apple, and more apple and relatively low level of carbonation

The Smackintosh tastes like a dessert apple, rather specifically like a McIntosh or a Golden Delicious. It's nearly goofy to me how much this tastes like an apple; partly I attribute this to halted fermentation and a relatively low ABV.  It tastes great with pieces of real apple. The taste feels low in the mouth in a way that reminds me of many French ciders. The mouthfeel is not super crisp or tart but rather soft and mellow. The cider is juicy iwth low acid, making it not bright but nicely minerally. Very low level of sparkle. I find it very pleasant and natural for its type of a cider: arrested fermentation, low abv, and sweet. 

I enjoyed this cider with a little picnic on my porch: fresh mozzerella, lemon and raw garlic hummus, cucumbers, carrots, grape tomatoes, apples, and fresh brown bread. Perfect balance for the sweetness.

Last blog post before England! I've stored a few entries and set the blog to post them automatically, but I still feel like I'll miss this (and all of you) while I'm gone. Drink some tasty ciders for me! I promise that's what I'll be doing in London and Cornwall.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cider Review: Portland Cider Company Kinda Dry

Portland, Oregon is the location for next year's Cider Con, and while I'm excited to satiate my curiousity about the Pacific Northwest cider scene then and there, I cannot wait that long. Hence, I'm breaking out one of the bottle my wonderful husband brought back from there. Let's find out what Portland Cider Company is all about. 

Here's a link to their website: http://portlandcider.com

This is how the company introduces themselves: 
What do you do when you’re frustrated by the quality of the commercial cider available?  You start making your own!  What do you do when friends and family keep telling you it’s the best cider they’ve ever had?  You start a business!  That is the essence of how the Portland Cider Company got its start.  Founded by Jeff Parrish, an Oregon native, and his wife Lynda, an ex-patriot from the Somerset region of England (the Mecca of cider), the Portland Cider Company is based on the belief that good cider comes from good fruit, honest practices, and attention to detail.
Our cider starts with fresh pressed juice from Northwest grown apples.  We then carefully ferment it using yeast that protects the delicate characteristics of the fruit.  The results are cider blends that are easy to drink, refreshing, and downright delicious.  Drink it, it’s good!
I appreciate their friendly and approachable tone. Their claim that many folks have preferred their cider to all others sets my expectations fairly high, especially given that they are using a range of apples that many cider makers find somewhat challenging when attempting to make their ciders inspired rather than competent.  Many modern breeds of dessert fruit work just fine, but they don't often do the heavy lifting for the cider makers therefore it is up to the fermentation process to make the cider shine.
Since this is my first review of anything by Portland Cider Company, I want to start with their flagship cider called Kinda Dry. I admit that the unpretentious name is completely charming to me. Here's how Portland Cider Company describes it.
Traditional English cider is dry, lightly carbonated, has very subtle apple flavors, and a lingering fresh finish. It is in the spirit of this traditional cider that we blend our Kinda Dry. We use fresh pressed juice from a blend of NW grown culinary apples such as Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Gala, Golden and Red Delicious, carefully ferment them with a yeast that preserves their subtle characteristics, give the cider time to develop to its full potential, then bottle or keg at just the right time. Just off dry, light, clean, refreshing, with a pleasant finish, Kinda Dry is the cider to always have on hand.

 Appearance: lots of visible bubbles, brilliant, warm, golden peach color

This pretty cider looks simply enticing with its brilliance and bubbles. I found it challenging to decipher the color precisely, but after weighing half a dozen different shades of yellow, I think the color of golden peaches captures it reasonably well.

Aromas: soft apples, stones, followed by a edge more green and tart

This cider smells stony first then softly appley. I anticipate based on the aromas that it will have some tart green apple sweetness and a sharp barely bitter edge. Breathing in this cider deeply is richly rewarding. It smells pleasantly vinous as well. My mouth waters.

Flavors and drinking experience: Dry

At first, the Kinda Dry's taste comes across as acid puckering tartness. Very Low sugar. I'd actually call this dry rather than off dry, but the acid could be affecting my experience. The cider offers a lingering finish with a little goodbye twist to the salivary glands. The acid is not especially citrusy or bright: too dry to perceive the acid that way perhaps. I enjoy this level of carbonation which is neither too much nor too little.

Right now, I'd pair this bone dry cider with the last few episodes of Mad Men. That intoxicating world will only be with us for two more episodes. The characters are already slowing and stumbling in their interaction in the strange world of the 1970s. I think a super crisp high acidity cider is just the thing to keep us from feeling to maudlin or bogged down. Even as I love that show, though it sometimes gives me way too many feelings. I think this particular cider is enough to wake us up and keep us in 2015 even while we watch this show's surreal descent. 

In terms of food, I'd pair this with a gourmet grilled cheese (the internet is full of these recipes and variations) and fresh cucumber salad. I want to pair this cider with tastes both seasonal and exciting!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cider Review: South Hill Cider's Hypothesis (available only at Cider and Beer Together At Last)

This review is a little different than most that I written. Mostly because this cider was served only for one evening. The cider maker described it as basically impossible to replicate, at least with any expectation of consistency. So, instead of telling my wonderful readers about what I thought of a cider they might choose to drink, I'm instead describing an experience I shared with those us who were at the Ithaca Beer Company and tried South Hill Cider's Hypothesis. 

Photo Borrowed from Ithaca Beer Company

I apologize in advance because this cider was really really good.

Because this is the first time I've reviewed a South Hill Cider here's a bit of background. South hill refers to a specific part of Ithaca and South Hill Cider went professional in 2014 though they've been making cider for far longer. Here's how South Hill Cider introduces the cider maker and the company. 
Steve Selin, the cidermaker, apple picker, and community orchardist has been bottling his own cider since 2004.  Collaborating with neighbors to help maintain and reclaim wild trees and forgotten orchards for use in cider making has been a labor of love for years... The apples from these trees, plus bittersweet and heirloom apples from other small orchards, enable us to give every bottle of cider the solid foundation needed for world-class ciders. I made around 200 cases in 2013 and am making around 600 in 2014.
Photo borrowed from South Hill Cider
and here's the larger philosophy behind South Hill Cider:
At South Hill Cider, our apples come from wild trees, abandoned orchards and orchards of high quality cider apples. Using traditional cider-making techniques we create timeless well-balanced ciders. We are planting our cider orchard on a peaceful hilltop to be part of a harmonious ecosystem that relies on diversity and fertility as its foundation.  South Hill Cider produces ciders with individuality, quality, and elegance reflecting the terroir of our beautiful Finger Lakes region.
You can read about the ciders you can buy of theirs here on the website: http://www.southhillcider.com

South Hill Cider's Hypothesis: This is a single cask cider made from a blend of wild fermented cider, pitched yeast cider, hops and whole tart cherries. 

Appearance: cloudy, peach nectar

This looks like the fancy peach or apricot nectar at fancier grocery stores. It is completely cloudy and shows a small ring of bubbles at the top edge of the glass.

Aromas: Barnyard, leather, wood, fruit

I love how much barnyard and fermentation comes across here. I can smell leather, barn wood, and only a ghost of fresh fruit aroma remains.  There are milder notes like honey and overripe cherries, but also a bit of shoe polish. It rather works together almost like a warm peachy musk in scent.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

Dry, but so much more than simply dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: sour, bitter, astringent, exciting, petillant

This cider, though unique, tastes very British to me but also like a sour beer. The cherries were entirely subsumed by the fermentation process, so they add fresh tart fruitiness but not specific cherry flavor. The connection to Flemish-style sour beer comes through clearly. With its decidedly beery slant, I can't help tasting sourdough bread. All in all the flavors are very wild. Like the cherries, I think the hops contribute to the overall impression but don't really have their own distinct voice, at least not until the finish.

The astringent qualities wow me by being so through the roof yet so delightful. I love how very funky and bitter this cider tastes. Wow. The finish cleans up with piney hops. Of the fruit notes, I tastes grapefruit the most. This cider does remain balanced despite its bitter wildness. I get the same effect in small and large sips alike. Rather mild bubbliness, such that I would call this petillant. Too much would overpower the complexity of the flavors. I can taste some yeast, but not it is not overly yeasty.  Both the levels of tannins and acid are relatively high. The the cask conditioning has a lot to do with the tannins, but I know Steve Selin uses some very tannic fruit as well. I heard wildly positive comments from everyone I spoke to who tried the cider. I loved it!

Here's the menu from Ithaca Beer Company's event, Cider and Beer Together at Last. I had a fantastic time. I tried more than just the South Hill Ciders and enjoyed everything I had. The turnout impressed everyone, proving that cider, beer, fun music and delicious food go very well together indeed.