Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cider Review: Cider Creek Hard Cider's Cascade Hopricot (Pt 1 of the Hops+Apricot Cider Showdown)

After writing for a while about my faraway travels, I feel like I need to return to my cider home of New York state. We've got the most cideries of any state in the United States of America! Recent I visited a newer cidery called Cider Creek Hard Cider in Canisteo. 

Read about them on their website: http://www.cidercreekhardcider.com  Several weeks ago, they invited me to go out and visit their production facilities and the site of their future tasting room. Though it is just a couple hours away, it was a perfect late spring thrill to attempt to befuddle my phone's GPS and go out into the country to see where this cider is made.  

When I made it out there, I got to meet everyone Melanie and Kevin Collins (Necessary aside, I feel so proud to see my own last name representing in the cider world!). The assistant cidermaker Marty Kelleher, and yes, I did get to meet Rocky the adorable cider dog.

Kevin and Melanie were so welcoming! They shared so much of their time and story, and I got to see their facilities from top to bottom. Homemade kegs washers, beautiful rum barrels, gleaming tanks filled with cider, hops, pineapple juice. Wait a moment...pineapple juice? Yes, part of what makes Cider Creek different is their drive to try new and exciting ways to make cider. They are the opposite of traditionalists; Kevin and his cider making crew want to change preconceived notions about cider by making new and different ciders.

And for more up to date news, you can always visit with Cider Creek on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/cidercreekhardcider?fref=ts

Today, I'm reviewing their Cascade Hopricot, a special release for spring 2015. Here's what Cider Creek Hard Cider has to say about this one.
6.5% ABV, 500ml bottle, Gluten free.

Our unfiltered Cascade Hopricot Hard Cider is a blend of our sweet cider made from 100% New York State apples and all natural apricot puree. It's fermented with a West Coast Ale Yeast and finished by dry hopping with New York State Cascade Hops. This yeast strain allows the tangy citrus hop flavors to really punch through. Enjoy the complex fruit profile and semi-dry, crisp, finish. Available in limited quantities in New York and Massachusetts.
 Appearance: cloudy, peachy, with suspended dots of color

Wow! The Cascade Hopricot looks very cloudy and opaque. The color is peachy pastel orange, with dots of darker orange made visible when I hold my glass up to the light. Because it is unfiltererd, I expected a significant amount of sediment, and I wasn't surprised. The Cascade Hopricot shows as much as any cider I've had. 

Aromas: Belgian beer yeast, orange, herbaceous

Smelling this cider is like experiencing one hundred tiny breezes: some from citrus groves, others from herb gardens, and some from Belgian breweries. The overwhelming impression is one of cooling fruitiness. My favorite part is the frisson of herbal notes which is likely the hops. At first I smell fruit, but then herbal and yeasty notes overtakes the citrus. 

Dryness/sweetness: quite dry

This dryness struck me as a big surprise given how fruity the aromas are. 

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity yet dry, high acidity, complex

Very fruity—very strong apricot notes but not much apple. This cider is decidedly tangy and cleanly sour with crisp finish. It has low to no tannins. I tastes loads of citrus, melon rind, a little bitterness and wet coolness but it remains fruity. I can compare it eating watermelon rind soaked in apricot juice and mint leaves. There's also one tiny hint of rubber tire as the glass approaches and the cider hits, but not too much to be anything other than interesting.  I get a little yeast in the flavors but the cider tastes much less boozy than its 6.5 ABV. I love how cooling and pleasantly hoppy it tastes. The cider offers medium high carbonation, which is always a plus in my world. Overall it is fruity, cooling and complex: really neat and different. This probably won't be a favorite for traditionalists, but that just leaves more for the rest of us.

I had the Cascade Hopricot with the best corn on the cob of the summer and veggie chicken nuggets (don't judge me!).  Coming soon will be my encounter with the only other cider made with hops and apricot (Rev. Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot) and we'll see how the two compare.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Along Came A Cider Goes to England Pt. 3: The Cider Tap

Here comes the last post about my glorious trip to England and the ciders consumed there. By the time we rode the train out of Cornwall, we'd walked more than one hundred miles. My husband and I had about a day to enjoy London before flying home, and I hoped we could manage one more cider adventure. Luckily we were able to find The Cider Tap.

You can read about the place at their website: http://www.eustontap.com/pages.php?navid=9

On my way in.

 The building is a victorian gatehouse, making it very small but tall, which gives the place a snug and intimate feel. The cider list was too big to fit easily into one photo, so I took two to capture the whole range of cider chalked up on the board.

I started with a half pint of Severn's Kingston Black. (To read about Severn, check out their website: http://www.severncider.com) I chose this one because the Kingston Black is one of rare apples with all of the necessary characteristics to be wonderful single-varietal cider. In the glass, this cider looks hazy and dark. It smells horsey and tannic with hints of bruised grapes. Once I actually started drinking the cider, I was struck with its amazing mouthcoat. My amazing cider helper/husband and I noticed hints of cucumber, pea shoots, and honeydew melon through an intense dryness and tannin blast. It is a challenging and exciting cider that shows its characteristics best in big draughts rather than delicate sips.

Next, we really wanted something sparkling after the severity of the Kingston Black. I chose Orchard Pig's Reveller. (http://www.orchardpig.co.uk/index.php) I noticed lots of fruit and vanilla in the aromas. It reminds one of citrus and fruit salad. This makes for some extremely easy drinking. Tasty! On the finish there is a subtle edge of bitter strawberry that makes the whole thing more complex and interesting. Medium tannins and medium body and relatively low acid.

In my other hand, you can see the Hawke's Urban Orchard Medium. This cider has a fairly low abv of 4.5%. (Their very attractive website is here: http://wearehawkes.com/hawkes) I can tell from the number of exclamation marks on my notes and my own memories, that this was our favorite of the evening. It smells yeasty and almost yogurty but also bakey and bready. It does not smell like fruit. The taste develops really interestingly. At first it is funky and salty, but after those flavors start to intensify it goes into its medium sweetness. I get notes of banana and caramel in this phase; it just reminds me of Bananas Foster! But that's not all; it also shows off some leafy tannins, notes of blackberries, and medium sparkle.

We finished our cider exploration for the evening with one last half pint: this time of the Sheppy's Oakwood. (http://www.sheppyscider.com) It smells tannic and oaked immediately and mouthwateringly. It also smells like overripe apples. I get some leatheryness and fresh bread as well. Tastes were dominated by tannins; it's sweet at first and then there is a quick tannic burst. The bigger the drink the dryer it tastes. I get some nectarine, pineapple and a subtle sugarcane finish. It is tart and zingy with some spice on the palate. Very very interesting and good.

This was a great evening and a simply fantastic way to end our trip!

Oh, British ciders, how I do love you!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Along Came A Cider Goes To England: Pt 2 "What ciders do you serve here?"

This post documents the ciders I found along my travels mostly without making special side trips just for proper cider. I knew almost nothing about most these ciders before trying them, and I had a wonderful time just asking people about cider wherever we went. Turns out that this is a fantastic ice breaker question with B&B owners, drivers, bar tenders, servers, and pretty much anyone I met. Folks seem universally pleased to recommend ciders and most fancy that Americans have never had cider before. We are evidently a nation to be pitied in this regard.  A few folks also wanted to tell me that American beer is "very poor." I'm afraid news of our craft beverage scenes, either beer or cider, has not hit the mainstream in Cornwall. Alas.

There's a mix of very small orchards and cider companies to very large industrial operations. Most places had one or two cider choices, and I always opted for the cider I had not tried before. When I did have more choices, I consistently aimed for the most local and the driest cider. Here's what I found in the order I found them.
Northcoast Apple Cider http://ncwine.co.uk/collections/cider
I found this at a tiny wine shop called Moreno Wine Merchants in London because it happened to be across the street from the Air Bnb room we rented. it has the most beautiful label and I wish we'd had more light to capture it properly. 
The Northcoast smells like bruised apple, a little phenolic, sweet. I love the dark copper color. This cider has only very light carbination; the sparkle is barely there and presumably entirely natural. Immediately, I notice tongue-drying tannins, but this cider is not sour. It has very low acid. It tastes sweet, warm, tannic, astringent, a little phenolic, a little acetificed. There's a very small hint of sweaty olive in the phenols I noticed, but not much and not bad. This is how I imagine English craft cider tastes. I especially like the long minerally finish. 4.5% ABV There's quite a big different between sips and quaffs: sips are a distinct, puckering and relaxing with its thornier characteristics, and a big drink brings out the apples more, especially in the aroma—whatever freshness and malic acid seems only available in this way. Not a clean fermentation. Complex while still quite sweet.  Unlike any American cider we've had. Allegedly aged in bourbon barrels, according to the wine store gent, but I can't taste it or smell it.

Healey's Cider Rattler Original http://thecornishcyderfarm.co.uk

I had this cider at a pub in Penzance with a seafood-oriented menu and I had it with whole makerel. I want to note that the Rattler was offered at more places than most other ciders I saw on this trip, and I've learned since that it is more an industrial offering. My tasting notes definitely reflect that. It tastes very sweet and bubbly, far more soda like than most English style ciders. It wasn't bad but goodness is it a sweet one that tastes more like a pear and apple carbonated juice than anything else.

Cornwall Cider Co. Lyonnesse http://cornwallciderco.co.uk

This cider had the best context of any of the entire trip because I found it at a little snack shop about three quarters of the way through one of our first full hiking days. I'd been expecting a nice little afternoon pick me up in the *cough cough* hot english sun of ice cream, but I was able to choose between 4 different ciders instead! The Lyonesse has great deep burnished copper color, and very French-cider-esque aroma with sweetness and darkness. It smells a little soft, like cooked apricots and stones. I was thrilled to find that this cider is indeed a semi-dry! I'm afraid many of the semi-dry ciders I taste on both sides of the Atlantic are more sweet than dry. This one is a little acetic. The bubbles clearly come from force carbonation; the Lyonesse has a higher level of carbonation than most UK ciders. It tastes best to me in larger drinks. I am just endlessly impressed with its bright, high-acid, medium high tannins; this cider is really balanced. It's full mouthfeel is almost oaty while being fruit-oriented and so drinkable. Extremely well balanced with rich mouthfeel. Nice rounded extended finish with hay and tropical fruit notes. The Lyonesse is definitely the best drink of my vacation to that point.

Shane's Cider from the Seven Stars in Penzance (no official website)

I had Shane's Cider at the Seven Stars in Penzance. This is one pub that is decidedly NOT run by regional chain St. Austell. The Seven Stars pub plays a fascinating range of music: the Cult, Giorgio Moroder, Village People, and Christina Aguillera. The decor is similarly eclectic and campy but more homey. Now for the cider. It's colour is light polished brass but distinctly hazy. It is served cold and bubbly with a big head that dissipates quickly. It smells dusty, cheesy, yeasty and subtly perfumed. The first flavors I get are so interesting: bright, pear and peppercorn, zesty green apples. Med to high levels of sparkle, tastes only mildly alcoholic, offers medium tannins, semi-dry, and medium high acid. Overall, the cider strikes me as mild, well balanced, with quick finish a little enjoyable bitterness. I spoke with Shane about his creation and here's what he told me. The apple blend varies on season. It is fermented in oak vats. Shane mixes in something special that he won't reveal! Curious! The ABV is unknown. I really enjoyed this one and stopping in at the Seven Stars was awesome.

Norcott's Cider Original http://www.norcottscider.co.uk

In terms of aromas, this cider offers up yeasty, soft scents with a few sharp notes that strike me as clean, like aftershave, with spice and menthol. The cider is sweet with high acid and medium tannin levels. It reminds me of some French ciders, especially with the honey flavors. One neat note of funk on first impact keeps it from being pedestrian. I do enjoy its clean bright flavor though it could be more distinctive. The Carbonation consists of many small bubbles that are not too intense. The bigger the sip, the faster it all disappears. Take small sips to maximize the funk and interest, since the big sips go so fast. Balanced-ish, but one notch sweeter than is strictly necessary. The ABV is 4.5%. We enjoyed this one with wood-fired pizza.

Thatcher's Gold Draught Cider http://www.thatcherscider.co.uk

On at least one night of vacation in the UK, I have to have fish and chips. This was my cider for fish and chips night because I expected a crisp and bubbly easy drinking semi-sweet cider from Thatchers.  And my expectations weren't far off. The cider smells to me like a dry well powdery, minerally, stones. It smells very little like apple. In terms of taste, the Thatcher's Gold was indeed semi-sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. Comparatively, it isn't very tannic. It reminds me of spicy warm applesauce. Big sips are more like applesauce. Tannins become more apparent if you chew it a bit. I'm also noticing lots of notes of orange juice with a slight malt aftertaste. Not bad with fish and chips but not the most interesting either.

Symond's Founders' Reserve: http://symondscider.co.uk

When I sniff this cider, I smell yeast and mild tannins along with understated fresh apples. The flavors when I taste it are more varied: underripe strawberries, red bell peppers, and nuttiness. The Founders' Reserve offers high levels of acidity and tannins in a very balanced and pleasant way. This cider definitely strikes me as off-dry. Like most of the ciders I've tried on this trip the level of sparkle is gentle and medium to low. This one was a big hit with everyone at the table! It paired well with fish pie, Sunday roast, and pasta with brandy cream sauce.
My ciders were varied, but largely tasty. I enjoyed checking out what is easily available when walking the Southwest Coast Path in Cornwall. I wish I could have had car access to visit orchards and cideries, but that will have to wait for another trip. Keep your eyes peeled for my last England post about my trip to the Euston Cider Tap in London. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Along Came A Cider Goes to England: Scrumpstock!

At last the time has come, and I get to write about my trip to England! I knew when we planned a hiking trip on the South Coast Path in Cornwall, I wanted to find a way to include at least a bit of cider adventuring. My first discovery was a cider festival going during our trip called Scrumpstock. 

For my readers unfamiliar with the term scrumpy, the festival is likely called Scrumpstock as a way to combine the cider term scrumpy with a hint of a reference to Woodstock, hence Scrumpstock. Scrumpy references a particularly English style of cider, but one without a clear and agreed upon definition. Wanna start a fight? Get a bunch of folks together and ask them to define scrumpy. It might mean unfiltered cider. Or cider made from apples allowed to fall on the ground before being harvested. Or cider made from juice pressed with layers of hay. Or cider only from a particular region of England. Or craft cider made in small batches with no big industrial shortcuts. And I'm afraid all of these characteristics only scratch the surface. I'm happy to hear other scrumpy characteristics in the comments; I dare you to find one I've never heard before. I'm sure they exist.

Here's a link to the festival's homepage, where one can read more about Scrumpstock: http://www.scrumpstock.co.uk

This is how the organizers succinctly explain the festival.

The Scrumpstock festival at the Exmouth Rugby Club in South Devon took place from the 15th to the 17th of May, with a wide range of quality Cider from carefully selected producers, excellent live music and much, much more.
Festivities run from 6pm Friday, until 6pm on the Sunday.

This was our weather for Saturday at Scrumpstock. I could barely believe it! Gorgeous brilliant blue skies, warm sun, and crisp breezes. We couldn't have asked for better. Enough about atmosphere and context, bring on the ciders. But how was I to choose amongst this bounty? I decided to stick to only dry and medium and only apple, no other fruits added. Mind you, this was still going to give me far more ciders than I could easily try in a day, especially when the smallest serving size was a half pint.

This is the view from behind the bar; the cider choices stretched from wall to wall, all guarded by stuffed scarecrows. My first for the day was Tricky Cider Dry. (http://www.trickycider.com/about-tricky-cider/)

The cider smells yeasty, appley and a bit bruised. I also get a ton of farmhouse and fermentation aromas. Wow, they aren't kidding to call this dry! This cider is still, dry, and astringent! I wanted to enjoy what's different about English ciders while I'm here and this is a great plunge into that territory. It looks hazy and rich in the glass and tastes leathery, citrusy, woody, grassy and farmy. Awesome.

Next, we tried Red Hen, a medium still cider from Worley's (http://www.worleyscider.co.uk). This is what they say about it:
A blend of early-season bittersweets and sharps at ABV 6.5%. Offered as a Medium, the two main characteristics of this cider are fruity apple and spice. This is a very similar blend to what we use for our popular bottled Premium Vintage cider.
A powerful fruity character is ensured by using only 100% apple juice in every batch. As always at Worley's, the freshly pressed golden cider apple juice is run into vessels and allowed to slowly ferment under the action of natural yeasts in a cool, dark barn before racking off and maturing for several months.

 This was one of my favorite ciders of the day. I got some familiar homemade apple sauce aromas along with some intriguing tart/sour notes. This cider had great balance and awesomely rich mouthfeel. It was a true medium, which is a good bit drier than many ciders labelled medium in the United States (and England too, as I was to learn later). This had a lot more acidity than the Tricky cider and some fun floral components while being cleaner than average. Simple but pleasing.

At this point, it was time for food and my husband and I shared our first Cornish Pasty: a cheddar, potato, and onion pasty. The angels sang. The earth stood still. Perfection had been reached. The combination of cider and pasty make everything wonderful. Read about them for inspiration; eat them and change your life: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasty

After that, and some fantastic trampoline bouncing, we were ready for another round of half pints. We chose  Devon Mist (by Sandford Orchards) and Venton's Skippy's Scrumpy (dry).

You can read about Venton's Devon Cider here: http://www.ventons.co.uk  and Sandford Orchards here: http://www.sandfordorchards.co.uk

The cider on the left is the Devon Mist, and I chose it because I was ready for a sparkling cider. Most of the ciders on offer at Scrumpstock were still (non-sparkling). It smells grassy, fresh, cold, with notes of both apple and tropical fruits. This tastes more like a sweet than a medium to me with relatively low acid and surprisingly low levels of tannins. Sweet and lightly and lightly sparkling it has notes of fresh apple and pear and asian pear aplenty.

On the right, we have Skippy's Scrumpy by Venton's. this cider smells a bit salty, earthy, sweaty with some apple skin notes. I love the creamy mouthfeel caused by the combination of high tannins and high acid. It is a bit leathery and not completely dry. This didn't have barnyard in the flavor, though the smell led me to expect it. I like the orange peel bitterness and subtle sparkle.

After these, we had some delicious cupcakes and walked around town a bit before returning in time to see The Go Go Cult (http://www.thegogocult.com/GoGoCultSite/Welcome.html). While it was a bit surreal to enjoy gothabilly music at a daytime outdoor festival; I enjoyed them tremendously, and I know I wasn't the only one.

Our last cider of the day of was Hunt's Farm Cider Medium (http://www.huntscider.co.uk) . It smelled barny, nutty, and mild, and like freshly washed apples. Another still cider, but this one more clear than many. I noticed huge levels of tannins and flavors like maple, oak, burnt matches, with some tartness and good body. Really interesting thing about this cider is that it is a completely wild ferment that gets aged two years before release. This couldn't be more different than a lot of the ciders here, and both styles have their distinct advantages.

There were so many great ciders and vendors, I truly wish I could have tried them all. Scrumpstock was a fantastic day filled with good tastes and glorious sunshine.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cider Review: Eden Sparkling Dry Cider

I'm home from England! But I'm still doing vacation laundry and sorting photos, so England posts will have to wait just a little bit longer. For now, my first not-ice cider by Eden Ice Cider Company from Vermont. 

Eleanor and Albert Leger bought a farm in northern Vermont and started making ice cider about 8 years ago. I first encountered their ice ciders at NYC cider week's salon in 2012, and I've followed them since then.

You can read about the company, their apple varieties, and about the process of making ice cider on their website: http://www.edenicecider.com

But, I'm not reviewing an ice cider; I'm instead reviewing Eden's Sparkling Dry Cider. Frankly I don't think I've tasted enough ice ciders to even attempt reviewing one, so I'm thrilled to have access to something by Eden that I know enough to approach and review.

This is how the company describes their first non-ice cider: Eden Sparkling Cider Dry.
Eden Sparkling Dry Cider is made with locally grown apples, including traditional heirloom and cider varieties. 50% of the blend is Kingston Black, a classic British cider variety.

The cider is fermented and aged in French oak puncheons for a year, then bottled with a secondary fermentation that is created with additional juice rather than sugar. After another 6 months each bottle is hand-disgorged in a careful process that removes the yeast but retains the vibrant natural effervescence of the in-bottle fermentation.

The finished cider has 8.5% alcohol as a result of using true cider variety apples that have higher beginning sugar levels than typical dessert apples.

Eden Sparkling Dry is full-flavored, tannic, clean and very dry with a champagne-like mouth feel and bright acidity. It is a wonderful accompaniment to food, including barbecue, cheeses, grilled fish and especially oysters!    

Appearance: brilliant, active bubbles, rich deep gold color

The bubbles I can see the glass appear tremendously active, and I can see them well because this cider is so brilliant. Beautiful to behold.

Aromas: overripe apples, wood, minerality

This cider smells rich, sweetly tannic, with a hint of wood phenolics. But it also smells clean. The way my husband described it that it has aromas of barn but not horse.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

This is seriously dry. Dry and tannic. Dry and tannic and flavorful. Whoa.

Flavors and drinking experience: astringent, herbal, tannic, bubbly, exciting

Eden's Sparkling Dry Cider tastes serious astringently dry. Wow! It almost removes the moisture from your face. It's also barny, almost medicinal but more herbal in a rosemary way. The cider tastes rich and like green bitter herbs. It also offers tons of fine and intense bubbles; it is very bottle conditioned. I love how very tannic, but not phenolic this cider tastes. It is really good,but not crisp and refreshing, more severe and thoughtful. The flavors feel saturated and concentrated. Take big sips—the balance is better this way.

To get a big more specific, it has high tannins and high acid; they keep each other in check. The cider sweetens very gently in the finish, which is broad and lingering, but clean. In a rare way, it shows both an extreme of its style and a sense of balance.This is not a cider for beginners or soda-drinkers.  8.5 ABV, British style, and with a decidedly rustic kick. I love it!