Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My 10 Favorite Ciders of 2015

Thank you! Along Came A Cider has had a fantastic 2015, and I am so grateful. I tasted cider in England, at CiderCon, at GLINTCAP, and in kitchens, tasting rooms, and restaurants everywhere I went. Thanks so much for each glass, each apple, each conversation shared this year.

Cider itself also had a great year in the United States and around the world. Many new cideries and cider bars opened their doors. Others grew in taste and reach. My favorite news though has to be the CIDER Act. This act makes cider more comprehensible to the United States Federal Government, and begins to support this internationally popular agricultural product. Read what the United States Association of Cidermakers says about it here:

To share my joy and gratitude, I want to share which 10 ciders have thrilled me the most this year. At this point it's a tradition for the blog. 

(my 2014 list: and my 2013 list:

To borrow from last year, I have two rules: I'm not listing more than one cider from any company and I am going to limit myself to ciders that have a review on the blog. Beyond that, my only caveat is that these are my personal favorites that I reviewed in 2015. These may or may not be your favorites, but I encourage you to taste them and make up your own mind.  

10. New Day Craft's Johnny Chapman

I love how this cider—made in Indiana—smells malty and tastes fabulously balanced yet sweet. Its character of  maple, caramel, and sorghum charmed but did not overpower.

9. Rev Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot 

This west coast cider not only struck me as super tart, bitter, hoppy and mildy fruity, but it also made a major impression with its creativity and innovation. This, to me, is the most outstanding contribution of American west coast ciders in 2015.

8. Awestruck Premium Hard Cider Hibiscus Ginger 

Staying with my theme of exciting ciders, I was amazed by how developed and balanced this adventurous offering the taster. It looks beautiful in the glass, but is so much more than that. Awestruck, a young New York State cider company, really has something to say with this zesty blend of apple, hibiscus, and ginger.

7. Cornwall Cider Co. Lyonnesse 

My review of Lyonnesse was part of a longer entry on all of the ciders I found and tried during my trip to Devon and Cornwall this May. This cider smells like cooked apricots and is semi-dry. It stood out because it offered great bubbles and a higher level acidity than most UK ciders. I was just endlessly impressed with its bright acidity and medium-high tannins. Its full and oaty mouthfeel kept it uniquely English and decidedly special.

6.Good Life Cider's Barrel Rye

This is my most recent addition to the list, and it's a special one. I tasted this New York state cider a few times before reviewing it, including on the night the CIDER act was passed. What a perfect celebratory drink: bright with acidity yet deep with caramelly oxidation. It's recalls maple and coconut, uniquely combined with clementines. Very yummy indeed.

5. Castle Hill Cider's Celestial 

This high-acid off-dry cider from Virginia was a special treat found in a Florida grocery store. I have the highest praise for its clean fermenation and stone fruit notes.

4. Eden Sparkling Dry Cider

Now we've crossed into the rarefied terrority of the top four. These are the ones that start to reveal my preferences and biases as a cider drinker. Vermont's Eden Sparkling Dry Cider hits all of the notes I enjoy: great mouthfeel, high tannins, enough acidity to keep things firm, and gorgeous sparkle!

3. AeppelTreow Winery's Appley Brut Sparkling Cider

And now for the second appearance of an AeppelTreow Cider in my favorites list. This year I loved the Appley Brut, and previously I adored their Kinglet Bitter (which I just tried on draft for the first time at a top notch beer store in Louisville and loved again). But this Wisconsin cider offers a crisp, very bubbly, and cracklingly sharp experience with great balance.
2. Aspall Imperial English Cider

My choice here cannot surprise anyone who knows me. I love English ciders of the particular type Aspall offers—what can I say, we get along well.  Their sense of balance is difficult to beat and the mouthfeel is nearly always outstanding. This particular cider is smooth, dark, rich, and just cuddly.

And now, drumroll please...

1. Farnum Hill Extra Dry Cider

Farnum Hill, based in New Hampshire, is the only cider company to have made all three of my yearly favorites lists.  (Previously, I'd nodded to both Kingston Black and Farmhouse.) That might tell us all something about their quality, or maybe something about my tastes. I tried this as part of Protocol Wine Studio's month of Twitter discussion amongst wine and cider folks. It was really a great time.

What I love about this cider is its complexity and controlled funk. Yes, the Extra Dry was earthy and mushroomy, but it still offered loads of fruit. A cider that gives me orange, leather, and butter is doing something right.

With that, I wish you all a safe and happy New Year! Let's enjoy cider together in 2016!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cider Review: Good Life Cider's Barrel Rye

One of the biggest cider stories in my neck of the woods this year has to be the Finger Lakes Cider House. This shared tasting room and cider shop lays just a little way back from Cayuga Lake on Good Life Farm. When driving up to the building, you’ll see crops, geese, greenhouses, and horses, making it farmy and comfortable. Several local brands can be tasted and purchased there, but the in house brand is Good Life Cider.

Good Life Farm produces a wide range of crops on Small organic plot. Garrett Miller and Melissa Madden own the farm while the cider comes from the hands and brains of Garrett and Jimmy Miller. Don’t let that make you think that Melissa is any less a part of Good Life Cider; I can assure you that she’s involved in the whole process from apple to glass to sales and events. Good Life Cider has been selling their own commercial ciders for a relatively short time, starting just this year.

Here’s how they describe their mode of cider making.

Our ciders are distinctly American in style, which means we’re not afraid to borrow from the world of traditions and styles. Good Life Cider creatively blends international influences with a taste of the Finger Lakes through our mineral-rich, acidic apples. Our cider line ranges from tannic and dry to bright, fruit-forward and sweet; in sparkling, champagne and barrel-aged styles.  Our range is based on traditional bittersweet apples and sharp, acidic heirloom fruits.

They don't have a dedicated website but you can read about their cider on part of the Finger Lakes Cider House website:

And if you live in driving range of the Finger Lakes, I highly recommend finding The Finger Lakes Cider House on Facebook. That's where they announce cider releases, musical performers and all of their events: 

Today's cider is their Barrel Rye. While I could not find much information about the process going into this cider, here's what I could find on the back of the bottle.

The Barrel Rye bottle says "Pair this cider with a friend." What a lovely sentiment. Here’s the whole description.

 “Buttercream with a backbone. Oak and smoke and shalestone. Pair this cider with a friend.”

“Good Life Cider is a family of farmers and cider makers. Hard working dreamers touched by more than a little madness. Our focus is the growing of a living soil, to feed a wildly diverse ecosystem of fruits, animals, microbes and ideas. We are increasing in resilience, diversity, and health each day. Come visit us. Learn more:”

Aside from this sounding a bit more like health and farm evangelism than like most cider bottles, I can appreciate the sentiment and it does resemble what one sees on a visit to the Finger Lakes Cider House.

More interesting to me is their graphic of a sweetness to dryness scale, with the particular cider’s spot indicated by an adorable bee. This cider shows up at nearly dry on that scale.

Appearance: clear, almost no visible bubbles, golden

The color is more like a deep flaxen hue but still brings a warm tawniness to mind. In terms of clarity this is clear leaning into hazy, but that’s not uncommon with barrel-aged ciders. I can see almost no bubbles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Aromas: grain, booze, wet fruit

The first smell, I notice reminds me of when I toured a bourbon distillery with my grandma. I loved that warm mash smell that marries graininess and barrel. With the Barrel Rye I also smell lots of wet fruit like apple and peach. Last of all there’s a note of caramel to the assembly that I look forward to tasting. 

Dryness/sweetness: semi dry

I find this a bit more semi-dry than the little bee told me that I would, but that is often the case when I see similar indicators on wine bottles. The Barrel Rye’s semi-dry is complicated by really nice dark and light notes at the same time.

Flavors and drinking experience: coconut, acidity, clementines, barrel

I enjoy this cider’s bright acidity with caramel oxidation. In terms of specific flavors, I can taste maple, lots of coconut, and sweet clementine. Booziness lingers with a low bitterness comparable to grapefruit. The Barrel Rye is both mellow and complex. All of us tasting around the table found it really really good.  

In terms of texture, the Barrel Rye is enhanced by many light small bubbles. When drinking, big sips reveal an oakiness that borders pleasantly on funk.  What's really impressive is how clear all of its disparate notes are. This cider is complex but not muddy. That alone is an accomplishment and overall, I find it drinkable and lovely.

And this is the cider to wrap up in and wrap up on for 2015. For my next post, look for my top ten ciders of 2015. I look forward to sharing that with you just before the New Year. Happiest, bubbliest, and tastiest of holidays to you!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cider Review: Sweetland Orchard's Roundabout Batch #4 English Farmhouse

I finally woke up to a dusting of snow some of the fluffy stuff flying through the air. After the past two winters, I'm ready for a mild one. I don't want to be ungrateful for December days spent hiking without needing to wear forty layers of wool and down and bubblewrap and who knows what else. At the same time, I'm preparing for holiday parties, finding gifts, and listening to seasonal music without feeling ready for the winter solstice and Christmas and the new year. So I love this little bit of snow.

 Which leads me to a cider Gretchen Perbix gave me at Cider Con last year in Chicago. We had plenty of snow then! I was attempting to roll a suitcase full of cider through about 2+ feet of it pretty much every time I left the conference. It was lovely meeting Gretchen of Sweetland Orchard, and it has taken me too long to finally crack open this bottle of Batch #4 that she shared with me.
Here's a little about Roundabout orchards. In Webster, Minnesota Sweetland Orchard is owned by Mike & Gretchen Perbix and operated with the help of their families and friends. They've been selling cider since at least 2011 (apologies if I have the date wrong) and experimenting with various apple blends and some fruit blends.

You can read about their ciders, the orchard and see recent press about Sweetland Orchard at:

One element of their website that I found particularly interesting was their stance on integrated pest management. More and more, this is the preferred way cider-oriented apple growers are handling the tricky world of apple growing. What it means (as far as I understand it) is a commitment to low intervention techniques that rely on a variety of solutions to various pest problems treating the trees and fruits with chemical pesticides as a last resort. The preferred methods include fencing, biological controls, companion planting, grazing livestock, accepting blemished fruit, and treatments derived from less harsh sources. Its a crucial topic to the cider world and it affects what goes into the bottles of cider we love, so I recommend all cider drinkers learn about the various ways apples can be grown! I love that Sweetland Orchards is so upfront about their practices. 
When I met Gretchen, we discussed our cider style preferences and when she learned that I love the tannins and funk of UK ciders but tend to enjoy bubbles more, she gave me a bottle of their Batch #4 in the Roundabout series.

This is how Sweetland Orchard introductes the line and the cider that I'm reviewing tonight.
Roundabout is our batch-numbered cider that changes every season, and sometimes more than once a season depending on our other fruit harvests (like berries and currants) and how inventive we’re feeling. Bought a bottle of Roundabout for home? 
#4: English Farmhouse
Released December 2014

We used the most tannic apples we grow at the orchard for this cider. It also involved our tallest apple tree, our tallest ladder and a tarp to collect as many apples as we could. It came out dry, tart, tannic, and incredibly well-balanced. We love it.

Appearance: saffron, brilliant, lots of bubbles

I appreciate how intense yet bright the color looks in the glass. Deciding what to call this exactly color was difficult; it seems to fall someplace in between saffron and mango. Warm shades of both orange and yellow come to mind. Looking at this many visible bubbles leads me to anticipate some intense sparkle.

Aromas: yeast, ripe apples, vinous

By association, what I smells in this cider leads me to expect something dry and tart. But what the smells remind me of in an of themselves is bread yeast and a firm underlying base of ripe apples. Smells a touch vinous as well.

Dryness/sweetness: Semi dry

The #4 English Farmhouse is a semi-dry cider with lots of fruit elements for its relative dryness. I think that's a great combination for interest and approachability.

Flavors and drinking experience: tropical fruit, med. tannins, med. bubble, nice mouthfeel

Let's start by talking about the mouthfeel on this cider because its amazing! It offers great texture and mouthfeel because it feels so rich and creamy. The cider tastes big and full, which sounds weird, but what I mean to say is that it isn't hollow or thin. Definitely a semi dry, but one that is extremely fruity! The fruits I taste include stone fruits like peach, tropical fruits like pineapple but also some raw strawberry. 

Part of what I like about the English farmhouse is that it offers both tannins and acid. Unlike many english ciders it is not barrell-y though I love a good bit of oak in my cider. Though I expected more from the cider's appearance, it contains a moderate number of bubbles. 

Continuing to enjoy my glass, I notice more maple on the nose after a sip or two. Interesting. Overall, I find this cider wonderful: quite refreshing and a very pleasant meeting of the good qualities in both North American and English ciders!
How would I recommend you drink this cider? After watching Star Wars of course. Or, if you can manage it, while looking outside onto a snowy landscape. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cider review: Eve's Cidery Albee Hill Cider Still & Dry

I love my regional Finger Lakes Ciders! Though they are not allowed to describe themselves as Finger Lakes Ciders on their labels because this area is an American Viticultural Area(AVA), we have a region that produces some really thoughtful and interesting ciders. Weather, soil, orchard history, and fermentation knowledge come together in the Finger Lakes like nowhere else in the world. Eve's Cidery has been a part of that since 2002, making orchard ciders heavily indebted to the special character of the region. I'm excited to share my review of their Albee Hill Cider Still & Dry.

When I say that Eve's Cidery makes orchard ciders, I'm using a relatively young term that some cideries are using to mean that they view their role as cider makers more like facilitators of the apples' show. They grow and press apples first and foremost, and the ciders that come out of this process reflect the orchards rather than the fermentation process. Eve's Cidery places the apples at the center of their process and product.

You can see lots of orchard and harvest pictures on their Facebook page:

My previous reviews of Eve's Cidery beverages number only two, but hopefully I can cover more of the lineup next year.

Here's my take on Beckhorn Hollow Dry, a naturally sparkling cider, from just before my first Finger Lakes Cider Week.

You can also look way back to this review a previous batch of Autumn's Gold. I think this one is fascinating as Along Came a Cider was still based on New York City and did not yet know the apples or terroir of the Finger Lakes region at all.

From the Eve's Cidery website I found their statement on still ciders:
Still cider is cider unadorned by bubbles. Ciders made from true cider apples have an ideal balance of components for pairing with food. Cider occupies a unique place in the beverage spectrum: It has both the tannins to cut through and dissolve fat from food and the acids to clear, refresh and renew the pallet. Our still ciders, one from a single orchard and the other from a single esteemed cider variety, showcase the quiet, unassuming way that cider can enhance and synergize food to make flavors pop and sing. These ciders are best consumed at cellar temperature in order to allow the tannins to open up.
Read more at: 

The following description is from their 2012 Albee Hill. Each year varies tremendously, and if you're shopping out and and about for a specific one, you can judge by the ABV. Different years have gone as low as 6.9% and as high as 9%. I had a 2012 on my shelf. I'd love to hear your thoughts on other years.
Still, dry. This single orchard cider is made entirely from English and French cider apples grown in our Albee Hill Orchard where shallow shale based soils, low fertility, and no irrigation result in concentrated tannins and acids. Bottled still and dry, Albee Hill is minimalist cider, which embodies true cider apple character. Austere mineral flavors, elegant tannins and a lively acidity make this a serious food cider. Serve with seafood chowder, smoked sausages or Spanish blue cheese.

Appearance: brilliant, totally still, burnt orange

This color reminds me of the recent harvest moons of autumn. It's just that deep burnt orange that says warmth. I love how brilliant and clear it is. And of course, no bubbles.

Aromas: brown sugar, overripe apples, dust

It smells like texture as well as flavor, if such a thing makes sense. I can smell dark crystallized sugar and the yielding mash of overripe apples. Dust and subtle oxidation. It smells like richness warmth and comfort. I anticipate tannins and dryness, based on these aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry but not harsh

Okay folks, I need to level with you. This is not a sweet cider. It's dry and complex, but I think a fair number of semi-dry drinkers could really love it. And here's why. It offers so much fruit that though its dry its intensely flavorful, exciting, and well balanced. I love dry, so maybe you won't believe me. read more about the tastes

Flavors and drinking experience: very smooth, earthy, apple finish

This cider is deeply congenial What I find so pleasing about the cider is the balance, richness, and seeming contradictions it holds. The Albee Hill manages to be so richly fruity with notes of pineapple and tangerine.  Now for the facts. this is extremely tannic, medium acidity. It keeps enough acid to maintain a firmness to the texture but not much more. It's very earthy, mushroomy, very pleasant finish.

Usually I am a bubble person. I love the excitement of bubbles. I love what they do for aromas. But this cider does not need them. Its very much like a well-balanced English cider, and bubbles would harsh its mellow vibe.

This is the perfect time of year for this cider. Use its peaceful smooth earthiness to ground yourself during holiday preparation madness. Take time to just be and enjoy. This cider can help.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Cider Review: Craigies Irish Cider Dalliance 2012

The time has come in my cider calendar to seek out the ciders I think will taste darker, richer, and more tannic. Though technically it is still fall, and our weather in Ithaca has been suspiciously mild, once we're past Thanksgiving to my my mind winter is here. So, to the winter ciders I go. For the most part between now and spring I'll go looking for the many ways a cider can suit this darker colder time of year.

That means that tonight I'm sharing my notes on something by Craigies Irish Cider. I found their Dalliance 2012 locally.

I had not heard anything about the company before seeing the bottle, so before opening it, I found their website:
In my reading there, I found out a few things about the company. This seems to be their primary introduction, very focused on place and apples, "7 varieties, 6 growers, 5 counties: 100% Irish. From seed to tree and from soil to season our aim is to express the unique characteristics of Ireland’s magnificent apple orchards. No added water, no added sugar, just pure apple juice, passionately crafted into fine, complex ciders." I have no argument with either their method or their resulting goal of ciders with character and complexity. 

Looking deeper, I was able to find more specifics on Craigies goals and practices.
Craigies only use Irish apples, sourced from dedicated growers in counties Waterford, Tipperary, Cork and Kilkenny. The team at Craigies believe that Irish cider achieves its greatest complexity and expression as a blend and that each apple should reflect its regional origins as well as its specific fruit characteristics. Craigies also strongly believe that their ciders should reflect the year in which the fruit was grown and so only produce vintage ciders. Over the years Craigie have developed close links with the apple growers and select from individually chosen orchards.
I love the notion of cider vintages, and I wish current United States regulations allowed the listing of vintages on ciders. Interestingly, Craigies makes a point to describe their ciders as not only gluten free (which is typical) but also vegan. Hey! Animal free people rejoice! 
What charms me most on the website is the individual descriptions of many of the individuals involved in the compny, their relevant backgrounds (frequently in the wine world) and their current role with the company. This kind of detail gives the impression that they appreciate the skills and talents of these folks which makes me more inclined to think well of them as a company. Simple but true.
The cider of theirs I'm reviewing is their Dalliance from 2012. On the bottle, it describes a secret three apple blend. Intringuing indeed, but a little digging online revealed that blend to be: 60% Falstaff, 30% Elstar, and 10% Jonagold. I only know Jonagold of the three, so I'm pretty excited to taste apples I don't know. 
This same source of detailed information also describes the vintage information: "2012 was a very difficult vintage with a wet spring resulting in a very poor flowering. Summer continued to be cool and wet although conditions improved in the month of September."
And the process of production, 
Each variety was harvested separately, brought to the farm and then milled. The pulp was pressed and the resulting juice was allowed to settle for 24 hour before being racked into fermenting tanks. Alcoholic fermentation lasted for three weeks with malolactic fermentation taking place in spring 2013. The ciders were then allowed to rest on their fine lees for 15 months before being blended and bottled in 2014.
Finally, after all of this preparation and context Craigies gives some tasting notes, "Dalliance is pale straw in color with aromas of fresh green and red apples and fennel. It is light bodied and has refreshing acidity. The finish is very long and the overall impression is more like a sparkling white wine than a cider." 
Hrm, I love some wine like characteristics in my ciders, but that seems awfully vague. Sparkling white wines can take on as many forms as a cider.

Appearance: hazy, the color of home cooked applesauce, no bubbles
To look at this cider in the glass is to immediately separate it from most North American ciders. It looks so much more still and hazy than most ciders made near here. I do not see almost any visible bubbles. Instead this appearance is far more about soft richness implied by the haze applesauce color.
Aromas: green apples, pear, stone, grapefruit, very bright and sweet

Oh my goodness, I love how this smells! I get apples and pears and peaches all over the place. It also has citrus notes like grapefruit. My one worry based on the bright fruitiness of this smell is that this might taste more sweet than I like. There's an easy way to find that out!

Dryness/sweetness: Semi-dry/semi-sweet

This cider is not as sweet as its aromas implied to me. And I am so pleased! There are a lot of flavors in the cider beyond the fruit notes apparent in the aromas. Yet it isn't dry or bitter or astringent either. I'd call this a fairly sweet semi-dry, or a fairly dry semi-sweet. Very moderate in terms of sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: powdery, citrus, leather, mild and balanced

Whoa. The aromas did not adequately prepare me! Complex indeed. It tastes  powdery, leathery and very citrusy. I'd say its not bourbon-y or barrel-y in its leatheryness, but I find it pleasantly and calmly musky. I get sparkles of bright pear and grapefruit that taste like they're floating above the leathery taste. The Dalliance offers gentle bubbles; more petillant than truly sparkling. When I take bigger sips, the ciders gives cocoa notes

This tastes really lovely, but subdued despite its high acidity. It is not really like a lot of British isles cider, but a little like Shane's in Penzance. I love how the malo-lactic fermentation brings in a creamy mouthfeel and hints of fresh mozzerella. Craigies rounds out in a gentle lingering finish.

I'd have this with a mushroom tart or fisherman's pie. Bring in richness to  balance the acid with whatever you choose to pair it with and you'll not go wrong. This is a lovely cider; consider me impressed. I look forward to trying the 2013 vintage when I see it. I wonder how different they will be.