Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cider Review: Left Field Cider Company's Big Dry

Apologies for the brief absence. Somehow my birthday and Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year, and all of a sudden I was in the mountains of Vermont with internet or phone signal. But, now I'm well fed and back in town with some exciting new ciders to try over the next several months.

But that's not the real story today. Canada is the story for today. Specifically, I am thrilled to have found a cider from British Columbia! I took myself to The Cellar D'Or for my birthday shopping, and I found so many things I'd not seen before. Among them a cider with a moose on its label, which had to be a sign as I'd be spending Thanksgiving at Wandering Moose Ridge. It's by Left Field Cider Co. out of British Columbia.

Left Field Cider was founded in British Columbia in 2011. Their tasting room this time of year is by appointment but hold regular hours in summer.

The website talks about how the cidermakers Kate, Gord, and Theresa all learned to make cider and places them in a specific lineage. This matters because the lineage is such a stellar one: Peter Mitchell's cider making course for all three and then an apprenticeship for Kate in England with Mike Johnson from Ross-On-Wye. These folks are superstars in the cider world, so it is a big deal to have trained with them. Left Field Cider Company is making a smart choice to highlight this, if you ask me. 

My source for this information and for what's below, is the Left Field Cider Company's website:

The site has great photography and a simple layout that is not overly stylized.

Their section called "Real Cider 101" makes a basic and unvarnished statement on an ongoing discussion in the cider world. Is there such a thing as real or fake cider and if so, what is real cider? Here's what Left Field Cider Company says:

With a young market there is a huge opportunity to educate consumers about ‘real cider’ and what makes it so special. There are many definitions of what makes a ‘real cider’ but for us at Left Field Cider Co. it’s all about the apples.

If it’s made out of fermented apples, it’s "real cider," if it’s made with artificial flavours, fruit juice concentrate and who knows what else, it simply is not "real cider."

Good to know!
Today I'm reviewing Left Field Cider Company's driest offering, the Big Dry. This is how Left Field cider describes their Big Dry, "Dry Sparkling Cider 500 ml — 7.2% alc. Our driest cider will attract those looking for a more traditional style cider. The blend is dominated by bittersweet cider apples whose rich tannins are balanced by the fruity aromatics of Okanagan dessert apples."

Appearance: light greenish gold, high clarity, plenty of bubble action

In the glass, this cider looks very light and almost greenish. It reminds me of the first shoots of green plant life in spring with that brightness of white and yellow alongside the green. As the photo shows, lots of bubbles appear to play in the cider.

Aromas: lemon, dust, apple 

This cider shows a medium intensity of aroma. Left Field Cider's Big Dry gives off notes of lemon, apple, dust, and a hint of grainy yeast aroma. The most specific smell reminded me of
apple slices rubbed with lemon. 

Flavors and drinking experience: peppery, lemon, very light mouthfeel

The Big Dry brings a lot of lemon flavor, but its not too sour. It tastes pleasantly peppery, with some mineral water flavor. This is strongly sparkling, definitely as a result of forced carbonation. The cider has high acid, but remains surprisingly smooth. The flavors round out nicely in a clean clean finish with a little apple "goodbye."  There is one odd grainy note in the breathe just before the first sip: someplace between smelling and tasting, but it isn't too distracting. Overall, I find this cider pleasantly dry with a very light body but not more than a little bitterness.

My husband and I shared our 500ml bottle while eating our last plate of Thanksgiving leftovers: my own vegetarian dressing, Gardein Beefless Tips, and some green bean casserole (don't judge me) followed by the best pumpkin cake ever created.

These dishes would have been a little on the heavy and salty side, expect that this cider not only complemented it, the cider improved the overall meal substantially! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cider Review: Aspall Imperial English Cider

 Finally November! This has to be one of my favorite months because it means my birthday and Thanksgiving and all this nesting! Right now, it gets dark just before 5pm, and I'm so ready to be at home with my darling cats and goofy husband. Yes, I am a hobbity nesting type and not at all ashamed of it. 

In fact, I'm celebrating with some warming and extra luscious ciders, at least I hope so.

You've not heard much about Aspall cider here, though they've been around since 1728. Yes, that's not a typo. 1728.This is the year James Cook was born and Cotton Mather died. The world was a very different place, and the original Aspall family is still making cider and running the business eight generations later. Let that blow your mind for a moment.
While you're contemplating all of that, load up the website with all of its lovely photographs and enticing recipes:

All of this cider love happens in Suffolk, starting with Clement Chevallier and continuing today. Aspall ciders deserve more time and attention from this blog, as they is one of the core cidermakers in my cider history, and one I still like frequently. On my first trip to England as a devoted cider fan, I was in the midlands and Aspall was the cider most often on tap. So, I spent a lot of time with it early on.

My brief review of the Aspall Grand Cru appears in this roundup along with a few other ciders: 

Tonight I'm reviewing the Aspall Imperial English Cider, but I cannot explain that name. Sometimes Imperial means higher ABV, but I associate that with beer and not cider. Mind you what confuses me is to see the words Imperial and English right next to each other without really meaning that the cider has anything to with England's empire either now or in the past.  But that's me have a lit major digression on a cider blog, so my apologies!

Anyhow, The Imperial English Cider is call the Imperial Vintage on the website and has a subtly different label, but it is clearly the same product. My info all comes from the Aspall website.

This cider has won many awards in the UK between 2013 and the present. Here's how Aspall describes it.

Taste descriptor

Rich fudgy, tantalising flavour enhanced by bitter-sweet apples from a single year’s crop. Notes of raisins, dates and prunes. Sweet mellow finish. 

Serving suggestion

Delightful with lamb & casserole dumplings, pheasant, and strong cheeses such as Brie de Meaux, Stinking Bishop and Blue Stilton.

Appearance: dark topaz, visible bubbles, brilliant 
This dark color color represents higher alcohol, higher tannin, barrel aged UK ciders very well. I'd call it dark topaz. The cider shows visible bubbles because it is totally brilliant.
Aromas: mellow, caramel, yet piquant

What tantalizes me in the Imperial English Cider's aromas is the dual presence of both piquant notes that make me anticipate a reasonable level of acidity, but also the dark caramel and mellow scents that I associate with rich tannic ciders. It has some raisiny, boozy dark notes as well.

Sweetness/dryness: semi sweet 

This cider would be called a semi-dry in a pub in England, but I call it a semi-sweet. The subtle bitter and astringent notes only complement that. These flavors are so much more than just the level of sweetness though; its dark and rich and well balanced.
Flavors and drinking experience: semi sweet, naturally sparkling, intense mouth coat
The Aspall Imperial English Cider offers up some coffee bitterness right at the start. But then it expands, becoming so rich and big. A lot of this comes from both the high tannins and higher than typical ABV. It warms the mouth and the tummy. I find this cider extremely well balanced, truly something to write home about. It tastes like cider first and foremost but there are notes of toffee and popcorn and barrel. The profile is just so classic. A dessert cider for sure. That higher alcohol of ABV 8.1 numbs the tip of the tongue. 
Not very fruity; it tastes more of fermentation than fresh apple, which I appreciate so much right now. The Imperial English Cider is a mature cider for those who still want some sweetness. It has medium low levels of acidity but still enough to stimulate the salivary glands. What I simply cannot get over is this amazing texture. It's so creamy! That creaminess reminds me of brie with a teeny bit of chalky finish.
This is more than good with nuts, or a very late waffle breakfast in winter. Or creme brûlée, but it already practically *IS* creme brûlée.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cider Review: Blake's Hard Cider Company's El Chavo

Wow! Mother Nature gave us a great post Halloween gift of nearly a week of unseasonably nice weather. This is November disguised as September, and I'll take it! What this means for Along Came A Cider, is one more chance for a warm weather friendly cider before things turn a bit more autumnal or even wintry around here.

And I have just the cider for it! Tonight I'm reviewing Blake's Hard Cider Company's El Chavo. I cannot forget to say that they sent me a six pack of this intriguing cider and a bottle of something that I look forward to tasting once the snow is on the ground.

Before I introduce El Chavo, we should learn a little bit more about Blake's Hard Cider Company. This is an orchard based cider company and everything happens on the farm in
Armada, Michigan. You can visit their ciderhouse which has food and wine in addition to hard cider.
You can find lots of interesting fact tidbits on their website: 45,600 apple trees in their orchard, 19 kinds of hard cider! Cute videos with history, verve, and vintage flair. Even a jokingly patriotic bit. I enjoy their fresh and immediate aesthetics that verge on hipster irony without ever losing a sense good taste. I love the beards, guys. Don't lose them. We'll need you when we make the Awesome Beards of Hard Cider Calendar someday! (Although the amount of destruction in the 2015 State of Cider Address gave my cider loving heart palpitations!)

Find the videos and learn about many of their ciders here:

You can also find out more up to the moment news and info on the the Facebook page:

To start with, in Spanish, El Chavo means the kid. I wonder what that means for this cider?

Here's how Blake's introduces it, "We like spicing things up. That’s why we put dimmers on the lights in our Cider House. And it’s why we created this sweet, heated blend of habanero pepper, mango and out famous Blake’s apples, Experience a hard cider that’s really, honestly, truly like no other. Experience El Chavo." 6.5% ABV.

Appearance: brilliant, lots of bubble activity, lemon color

When I poured from the can into a jar, this cider formed a quick mousse that did not stay. The El Chavo's color looks like the flesh of a perfect Meyer lemon. I could read thought it easily.

Aromas: stone, peach, mango

The stone and fruit notes approach subtly. Once I took a big sniff it made my nose all tingly; I think this hints at spice to come. Lot of interesting details here, but the smells don't leap out. Drinking straight the can, I think they'd be harder to find.

Dryness/sweetness: semi-sweet

The El Chavo strikes me as far too complex and multifaceted to easily reduce to this measure. Nonetheless when pressed, i'd describe it as semi-sweet. The sweetness is tropical and fruity but never appears without spice.

Flavors and drinking experience: peach, pineapple, spicy, warm, complex

The first edge is bittersweet. There's a lot of fruit in here while the cider is on the tongue: peach, pineapple, and mango. I actually taste fruity veggie pepper flavor as well as the spice of the Habanero. It really tastes in stages. The funny thing is most of the complexity arrives in the finish. After I swallow, three distinct tastes parade across my perceptions. First a spicy kick that swifly changes into a round fruity note and on the exhale warmth. A bit smoky as well. This means taht a big gulp and small sip are wildly different experiences.It actually reminded both my husband and myself of mango salsa. Yum!

The description reinforces the identity of this cider as unique and I'd totally agree. But what's more important to me, and I think to many cider drinkers, is that it is good and enjoyable as well as interesting and unique. There are a million ways to make previously unheard of ciders, the key has to remain in making them delicious.
Back to thinking about the El Chavo; the spiciness is very round and full rather than burning and spiky. That's key to enjoyability for me.

I enjoyed one of these with pineapple pizza and my new TV indulgence: Jane the Virgin. A week ago, I had one with homemade burritos on my screen porch. It worked tremendously both times. If you have even one day of nice weather left, give this a try with something hearty and cheesy to eat.