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.