Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cider Review: Nine Pin Cider Blueberry

I know that summer is on its way out: grass has gone to seed, spiders are going web-crazy, and insects will my mellow evening with songs. Or, more realistically, because all of the college students have come back. This is nature's reminder for me to drink fruity summery ciders while I can. These go so well with hanging out on my screen porch and eating all of the summer vegetables.

Hence, Nine Pin Ciderworks Blueberry. Which I feel super excited about right now while blueberries are actually in season in upstate New York.

You can read all about Nine Pin Ciderworks in Albany, New York on their Facebook page. If you live in the area, I'd especially recommend checking it out because Ninepin keeps a busy social calendar and their events are super fun.

I've reviewed a few Nine Pin Ciderworks Ciders before.

My first taste of Nine Pin Cider, the Signature Blend:

Here's my review of their very tasty Ginger:

But today is all about Nine Pin Ciderworks Blueberry!
Here's how Ninepin introduces it, "This is a blend of apples co-fermented with blueberries from Indian Ladder Farms. It has a dry, complex, and integrated flavor and is rose in color" This cider comes in with a nice round 6.0% ABV.

Appearance: brilliant, bubbly, blush

What a fun color! This cider looks a blushing pink or even delicately  lilac. It's brilliant such that we have no trouble seeing hundreds of very active bubbles in the glass.

Aromas: Very little aroma, dust and mineral, no apple

Even when poured into one of my mini-widemouth jars, I don't get a lot of scent from this cider. What I do smell reminds me of earth and dust and wet limestone more than fruit. Hrm. Interesting. Perhaps this will fall more to the tart and dry side of the spectrum.

Sweetness to Dryness: Semi-Sweet

Nope, I wasn't getting all in the smell that comes across in the drink.  This is a very melded fruity sweetness and decidedly a semi-sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: tart, green apples, blueberry, clean

I can taste just the tiniest bitterness but tons of tart malic and citric acid. It creates a very pleasant salivary reaction. Rather like very tart and nearly sour green grapes. I'm loving the strong carbonation, which is predictable for me. Love those bubbles. In this semi-sweet cider, the blueberry fully melds with apple. I can totally see the co-fermentation described in Ninepin's description. Even if I hadn't read it, I would have guessed that the blueberries were added early in fermentation. Not a long or complex finish but brilliantly clean from start through finish.

I had this cider with homemade fisherman's pie and the pairing was incredible! Of course this acidity of this cider goes with a rich pie crust, creamy liquid, tender fish, and piles of vegetables.  I'll also recommend this as cider in sips. Big gulps don't show off its best characteristics. 

Ninepin Cider makes a number of limited runs with different styles and additions, and I consistently enjoy them. So, if you like cider adventures, check out these seasonals!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cider Review: Angry Orchard Summer Honey

Our summer got off to a beautiful slow start this year with plenty of breezes and green and flowers and rain. That was lovely. Many thanks to Mother Nature. But it didn't inspire me to get all of my hot-weather-summer-coping activities going until the start of August. Yes for seven miles of walking every day! Boo for not needing gorgeous floats, watermelon, and cold noodle salads. But, let me tell you, August has made up for that. Hot, check. Humid, check. Just humid but not actually raining, check. But now we've had that for going on three weeks now. I've really needed those coping strategies.

One of my experiments in this vein has been ciders sold as summer seasonals. I'm not straight up calling them summer seasonals, because that's in the taste buds of the drinker. These are ciders intended to compliment the season well.

Today it's Angry Orchard's Summer Honey, but here's some background.

The Angry Orchard website:

Here are my previous reviews of Angry Orchard Ciders:

A Roundup including two of their Cider House Series:

The Elderflower:

The Hop'n Mad Apple:

Angry Orchard's official description reads, "Our Summer Honey cider is a light and refreshing cider with subtle notes of wildflower honey, perfect for those warmer months." 5%ABV sold in 12oz. bottles and 16oz. cans.

Appearance: medium aged gold

I didn't expect quite this deep a color. It looks brilliant and intense.

Aromas: sweet, honey, candy

It smells a bit dusty and stony but mostly like honey and various kinds of sweetness.

Sweetness: Sweet!

Yep. Fruit and honey all the way.

Flavors and drinking experience: orange blossom honey, honey comb, raw apple, nice acidity

The candy from the aroma is decidedly present in the taste, as is the honey. It tastes somewhat like a raw apple slice slathered in tangy orange blossom honey. I'm pleased that it offers reasonable acidity. The cider features medium light carbonation and a long aftertaste. The most interesting element of the flavors was that after a few sips it seemed to tranform from honey to honeycomb. Not sure there's a logical explanation for that part. It's too sweet for me, but I'm guessing it's a real crowd pleaser. I know my tastes are well dry of center at this point.

Foodwise, pair this with with a chilled peanut noodle salad: the kind with cucumbers and a little bit of spiciness. I'll also recommend it with the perfect perfect music of Father John Misty. But that may just be me

It is appropriately seasonal, but I think the honey doesn't have to go with summer. I could also see it with raw early spring when everything sweet sounds oh so good.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cider Review: Farnum Hill Extra Dry and my experience thus far with Protocol Wine Studio

As summer has turned from balmy to doggedly hot, I've been grateful to have a cool evening activity to look forward to once a week. I've been participating in the Protocol Wine Studio ( conversation on cider. Every Tuesday evening, several folks from the curious to the extremely knowledgeable chat about cider using the hashtag #winestudio.

The neatest part for me is that this whole month of August is not only cider themed but further focused on Farnum Hill Cider. When I agreed to participate, I was sent a box of four of Farnum Hill's Ciders, two of which we cracked open last week. The remaining two will likely have to wait until the last night, August 25th. The actual name of the event series is:

 Drop that Axe! Cider Then, Now and Future –
A Cider Comprehensive with Farnum Hill Ciders

You can read more about the ongoing event here:

We talked so far about terroir, cider apples, minimal use of sugar , bold embrace of high tannin, high acid, super dry, slightly funky ciders and many many larger questions about the current world of cider. I'm really enjoying it. Please join in the conversation and check out what's going on with the hashtag #winestudio this Tuesday and next Tuesday at 9pm EDT.

Beyond wanting to share the cider conversation on Twitter, I wanted to share my more in-depth review of the 2013 Crop Extra Dry Cider.

As always you can go visit Farnum Hill's website and learn about their farm, their history and their ciders here:

As far as my own history with Farnum Hill, I've enjoyed their ciders since 2002 and reviewed a few of them.

Here's the Farmhouse:

And the Summer Cider:

And they frequently make my 10 Favorite Ciders list for any given year:

 Here's the description that I received along with my sample bottle (it's different from what appears on the website):
Unlike wine language, our "extra dry" means this cider contains zero sugar,  residual or returned. But it sports mad fruit from citrus to mango, a real example of the different between 'fruit' and 'sweetness.' Many apple varieties combine in this blend, principally Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Chisel Jersey, Harry Masters' Jersey, Wickson, and Golden Russet.
I love this description. It gives me apple names, sweetness/dryness level, and some expectation of what to look out for in terms of flavor. And it isn't over inflated. Perfect. 

There were some great aroma and flavor notes noticed by different folks. I'm definitely going to benefit from tasting in a group of several folks rather than my usual experience of tasting mostly by myself.

Appearance: deep butterscotch gold

Everyone noticed how rich a color this cider has. Most ciders look much paler in the glass. When asked, Farnum Hill's cider blender Nicole Leibon, attributed the color to oxidation of the fruit. Interesting! 

Aromas: Spice, orange peel, summer flowers

Different folks noticed a huge range of aromas everything from sweet floral aromas, to baking spice, other variations on spiciness, lemon, citrus, other fruits including both stone and tropical fruit.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

We agreed on the dryness of the cider but it came across differently to different drinkers.

Flavors and drinking experience: bottle conditioned, slightly funky, high acid, high tannin

Aside from those broader descriptions all manner of more specific notes stuck out to diffent people. Lot of fruits were noticed, mostly citrus. I tastes lots of orange and orange peel. For me, what stood out the most (and in a very positive way) was the balance of both high acid and high tannins.  For folks perhaps more surprised by cider's funky side, people noted cheese, leather, butter, mushrooms, yoghurt and earthy flavors. I can taste them, but they don't stand out to me. I find the Extra Dry beautifully balanced.

We also talked about mouthfeel. You have to when a cider does mouthfeel this perfectly. Seriously. The cider is taut, sharp, but also velvety and rich. I'd call all of that relevant to the high acid plus high tannin factor. We also discussed the bubbles and bottle conditioning of this cider. What was interesing to me were the more abstract words that came up like intense or focused.

I had my ciders with an heirloom tomato pie with a cheese crust followed up by a dark chocolate bar. Both pairings worked with not only this cider but also Farnum Hill's Farmhouse cider. 

Needless to say, I love this cider. I also really enjoyed talking about it with a wide variety of other interested folks. Please join us next week and learn more about cider and Farnum Hill!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cider Review: Cider Brothers Pacific Coast Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider *plus* a Fun Twitter Event Tonight

I've never before reviewed anything by Cider Brothers, but they were kind enough to send me a few sample bottles for review. This is especially lovely, because I could not have found their ciders easily around here. So a bit about the company, they are based out of Lodi, California and took their ciders onto the market in 2014. Beyond that I don't know a tremendous amount about them, so I'll look to the internet for more and start with the Cider Brothers website.

Present themselves and their ciders with a very personable tone. I've quoted here and there to capture some information.

"We bring a winemaker’s approach to producing small batches of handcrafted hard apple ciders. It starts with cold fermenting small lots of fresh apple juice to capture the delicate flavors and complex balance that makes this Mother Nature’s most refreshing adult beverage. The result is our refreshing, lightly carbonated artisan cider, produced at our Lodi winery."

I see a few key words and ideas here: winemaker, cold fermenting, delicate, refreshing, and carbonated. These things form the basis for my expectations.

You can visit their website here:
or their Facebook page: 

Because it is so different, I feel the need to share the entire description of the Pacific Coast cider from the Cider Brother's website.
It was a typical weekend – grilling, sipping cold ones and watching the game with friends. Just after halftime, I started thinking it would be great to find a beverage we could enjoy all afternoon. Something satisfying like craft beer but not as heavy, and refreshing like good wine, but with less alcohol. The idea of a clean, fresh hard apple cider crossed my mind, and the whole gang liked the idea (especially the ladies).

Monday, I tracked down my winemaker brother Paul. I harassed him for weeks. It took some persuading, but eventually he caved, and we set out together to craft the perfect hard apple cider.
I’m not exactly sure how many batches we tried, because I was nearly burnt out tasting Paul’s experiments. Then in February, he nailed it and Pacific Coast Hard Apple Cider was born! Not only is it refreshing, it has the same subtleties and complexities as some of Paul’s award-winning wines. It goes down clean and smooth with less than 7% alcohol, so we can all enjoy it from kickoff to the final whistle.
Again, the focus is on a personal (and personable) narrative, but we can tease out a few potentially useful details here. The goal was a session-able cider with a light texture, fruit forward character, and share some common features with both wine and beer. I'm curious to see what this will mean in the cider itself.

Appearance: palest white gold, totally brilliant, beautiful bubbles

This cider has a subtle pale gold color, and it looks so very pretty in the glass. I love how I can see so many bubbles in that brilliant shining cider.

Aromas: green grapes, champagne, yeast

I notice very little smell in the Pacific Coast ciders some green grapes, champagne, and yeast. Notes of pears and floral soap waft in the distance, barely discernible but present.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet

The sweetness is a fruity one; it really reminds me of the sweetness of wet cold table grapes. I've read a few other reviewers calling this dry, but only in comparison to the very sweet cider produced by the largest producers of hard cider. Taken outside of that context, it is sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity, bubbly, sharp

The predominate flavor expresses itself to me as fresh wet grapes, which is remarkably different in a cider. I like the level of carbonation. There's a sharp note in the mix that reminds me almost more of sharp cheese or dijon mustard than typical cider notes. This hit first followed by perfume and pineapple with a degree of pleasing minerality. The flavors and texture present best in big thirst-quenching drinks. I'd call the levels of acidity low to med with a particular apple skin character. I'm not sure that I'd consider this a session cider in either simplicity or ABV, but my companion and I disagreed about this cider for session enjoyment. He found it better suited to that purpose than I did.

Instead of a session cider for enjoying with sports, I'd instead recommend trying this with a summer squash casserole and garlic bread.

**Twitter Event with #WineStudio about Cider**

So tonight, cider fans, there will be a live Twitter discussion with the fine folks of Farnum Hill. Several cider makers, aficionados, bloggers, and wine folks will be joining in with the hashtag #winestudio. The fun starts tonight at 9pm EDT and we'll be meeting every Tuesday at that time to address different cider topics. Please join in!