Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My 10 Favorite Ciders of 2016

Alrighty. We are almost through with the super terrible, very no good, rather awful year that was 2016. Personally, it was the hardest and saddest of my adult life, therefore, I'm pretty excited to observe its demise. My favorite cider list has become an important part of wrapping up a year and getting ready for the next. I've never been good at New Year's Eve, but I do love lists.

For context, here are the previous years' lists: 

2015 list: 

2014 list: 

2013 list

As in earlier years, 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 coverage in the blog. Beyond that, my only caveat is that these are my personal favorites that I wrote about in 2016. These may or may not be your favorites, but I encourage you to taste them and make up your own mind. 

I'll end with a confession. This list has turned out quite revealing of my own tastes and predilections. Oops?

10. Woodchuck's June and Juice: 

I can sense the scoffing, but I won't apologize. This is a tasty cider and one that surprised me. The herbal elements play well together and don't totally dominate the apple.

9. Shacksbury Classic 

Here's where I started to feel some pain. This cider could be at the top of a lot of lists, because its very good. Then again, all of these ciders have been favorites. But, if you see this one, try it.

I mentioned that the list might be revealing, and this counts. I do love herbal infusions in cider when balanced well. This is a great example. I only wish I had the chance to buy this cider regularly. 

7. Left Foot Charley Henry's Pippin:

This cider was going to be good, so I waited for just the right moment for it. Zesty acidity and clean flavors sold me on this cider instantly.

6. Cornish Orchards Vintage 2013: 

Here's another cider that checks all of my boxes in specific. I love the high tannin, rich qualities of many English ciders and that's precisely what the Cornish Orchards Vintage 2013 delivers.

5. Good Life Cider Hickok:

This cider changed my mind! Often still ciders don't strike me as very exciting, but this is a total showstopper. Its complex, dry, and fruity in the perfect combination. I adore it.

4. Number 12 Ciderhouse Sparkling Dry:

Startling! I really didn't know what to expect from this cider and it wowed everyone who tasted it with me! Really great tannic structure.

3.Black Diamond Hickster:

Something about the fermentation methods and and the apple varieties Black Diamond uses sets their ciders apart in terms of mouth-watering richness. Everything they make is special.

2. Foggy Ridge Serious Cider:

Here's a classic that has deserved a spot on my favorites list for years. I so enjoy Foggy Ridge ciders. I had this one with my mid-winter holiday feast and I know I'll have it again as soon as I have the chance.

And, my number 1 favourite cider of 2016...

1. South Hill Cider Stone Fence Farm

South Hill makes some spectacular ciders; there's no denying that, but this one is really something. This single farm cider sings with its perfect blend of high tannins and high acidity.

What a wonderful cider to be ending my top ten with. I cannot say very much positive about 2016, but I've had amazing cider experiences and I count myself so lucky to know the friends I have within the cider world. And we'll get to join up in Chicago soon for Cider Con! I cannot wait.

Amazing people bowl me over with their knowledge, generousity, warmth and humor again and again. Thank you for letting me join in. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cider Review: Left Foot Charley's Henry's Pippin

Today, I'm sharing my last post before holiday travel.

Left Foot Charley started as a small winery in Michigan in 2004. The website offers more information on the winery and tasting room than the cider. What I do see mentioned is a very tempting cider club that includes two cases of cider a year and ongoing discounts and fringe benefits the rest of the year. If folks reading know more, please chime in!

What's there is accessible at

My access to Left Foot Charley hard cider is through a bottle swap I did with wonderful Darlene Hayes of Turn them All Into Cider. She visited them and had great things to say. Thanks again for the trade, Darlene.

I had a little bit of a hard time finding copy that describes the Henry's Pippin, but one one reseller page I did find plenty of information.
Apple Varieties: Northern Spy, Smith’s Cider, Arkansas Black, Greening, Winesap, Jonathan, York Imperial, Baldwin, Ida Red, Golden Delicious

Pippin is an old word for apple. It was also used to describe someone or something that is excellent. We think this cider is pippin indeed. We blended several different fermentations from our multitude of options in the cellar. Some were fermented in barrels, some in oak tanks and some in stainless steel tanks. Months after fermentation and settling we tasted through and found this blend worked very well.

One of the lots had stopped on its own and we used that tank to add the volume in the palate. Another had a whiff of wild fermentation and we thought that brought great complexity. The rest were chosen for their aromatic and textural contributions.

We use a Solera Method to blend this cider. This means portions of the blend are also from different vintages. This allows us to maintain a complex profile in the cider that combines the freshness of a new fermentation with the aged mellowness that only time brings. Because we have already aged the cider it is ready to drink today. 
I found the above at:,475 but if my information is incomplete our out of date, my sincere apologies!
One tidbit that intrigued me is the mention of Solera Method, which was not a term I had heard before. Aha! A little research shows me that this is a method by which a beverage is blended with other iterations of the same beverages such that effects of aging are very adjustable in the finished product, but I admit this concept is more common in brandies and mistelles than in ciders. I have no idea what effect this will have, but I am curious.

Appearance: brilliant, pale gold

The Henry's Pippin pours with a quick to dissipate head. The color makes me think of many of my favorite heritage fruit ciders because it is a restrained pale gold. The clarity is brilliant, showing off lots of active bubbles in the glass.

Aromas: ripe apple, dusty, citrus just a hint of spice

Oh! This smells familiar. Lots of ciders that I really like start off this way. I do enjoy that spicy, appley, mellow dusty smell. Lots of my favorite heritage apples (often sharps) give these sorts of aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

The Henry's Pippin is a relatively straight forward semi-dry in perception, but based on the intensity of the acidity I'd be curious to learn what the residual sugar actually is.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, fruity, balanced

This cider struck me first as an acid bomb, but it remains well balanced none the less. It did cause quite salivary reaction as it tasted so very fresh and tart. The fruitiness came across as both green appley but also like fresh ripe peaches. Overall it was very tart, very bright.

The cider has medium to medium-low tannins; the taste reminds me of a few other ciders made from american heritage cider varieties. To use GLINTCAP terminology, this is a fine example of a New World Modern Cider. I found Henry's Pippin noticeably crisp and refreshing, partly because of the combination of strong bubbles and high acid. And I looove strong bubbles. Let me emphasize, this cider is super tasty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cider Review: Black Diamond Cider's Hickster

Outside, its snowing and has been for hours. I've been bonding with my cats and my couch and some pretty fantastic fantasy novels. I switched over from long walks to hibernation mode after the nights started arriving earlier and the wind began getting colder. My cider choices changed too. Tonight I want to review a cider chosen for the season: Black Diamond's Hickster.

Folks around here who care about cider know of Ian Merwin's works in Pomology, and locals flock to the Black Diamond stall at the Ithaca Farmer's Market for interesting apple varieties. In 2014, this apple legacy expanded to include hard cider. They use their own apples which means they have access to mature trees that grow some fascinating apples: both those traditionally grown for cider and other heritage varietals.

I reviewed the Rabblerouser back in September of 2015:

But today I'm considering the Hickster. This bottle was shared with me for review by the kind folks at Black Diamond, but I've tasted it and formed my impressions from a handful of tastings. Here's the official description. "Estate grown. Semi-dry. Sparkling. A blend of heirloom russet and bittersweet apples. Bold tannins and sharp acidity on the front. Smooth, yet complex finish with hints of vanilla and fresh apple. (7.4% ABV, 1.5% RS)"

Appearance: brilliant, dark intense color,

This cider looks very harvesty in color, like autumn leaves against a bright yet cloudy sky. Thankfully my picture shows the brilliance of the liquid. One could easily read through the filled glass. What the photo does not show as clearly are the active bubbles. They are present: trust me.

Aromas: cooked apples, stony, rich, dusty,

Wow! The Hickster offers up so much amazing scent! I love how this cider smells. First, I can smell cooked apples, but something about them makes me think specifically of deeply flavored russet-y apples. The aromas enforce a sense of richness, and I anticipate tannins based on what I smell.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry to semi dry

This is a fabulously rich not-quite-off-dry but more towards off-dry than semi-dry cider. What a funny mouthful. I'm meaning to say that the cider isn't austere and has both fruit and a pleasant hint of sweetness. I'd not quite call it semi-dry, but that's where the official description places it.

Flavors and drinking experience: mellow acidity, high tannin, balanced, rich

The thing I want to note first is that the anticipations I formed based on the official description and the aromas were largely correct! Hooray! How rich. The Hickster tastes mellow and warm in flavor. Some specific notes i can taste are warmed apples, baking spices, pears, caramel, vanilla, and biscuits.

Overall the impression I get is gently roasty. high tannins, mellow acidity. Overally, its just shockingly good and balanced. This is a fantastic cider.

Recommended pairings from me include the Hickster with Cranberry Wensleydale and wheaty crackers or a harvesty soup with big chunks of butternut squash. The cider is balanced enough that one doesn't have to create a contrast to make it work. You can also just enjoy this cider with a cozy view or a good book. I've had this cider a few ways and every time it wins me over. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cider Review: Stormalong's Legendary Dry

This cider has been waiting its turn for sampling for too long! The Legendary Dry by Stormalong was a gift from the cidermaker at CiderCon this past February. Stormalong Ciders come from Sherborn, Massachussetts. The cidery is inspired by the history of the town both in terms of professional cider making history before Prohibition and legends of the New England region including a Captain Stormalong after whom the cidery is named. Not only was he a famed Captain but also a fan of hard cider.

Find out more about the company on either their Facebook page or website.

Tonight, I'm trying the cider I was given: the Legendary Dry. Its a good place to start for me as its very apple-centric and dry. Here the official description:
A delicious blend of Redfield, Calville Blanc d’hiver, Ananas Reinette, Ashmead’s Kernel and Jonagold apples. In homage to America’s hard cider history and the larger-than-life Captain Stormalong, our flagship cider is name "Legendary Dry". This cider is a crisp, dry blend of heirloom and common apples with hints of oak and citrus implying a slight sweetness. A rich acidic backbone rounds out the flavor palate.

Further description on the website mentions partial malolactic fermentation and an alcohol by content of 6.9%.

One element I cannot resist sharing is the cheeky ingredients list. I'll quote it in its entirety:
ingredients: Ashton Bitter, Ashmead’s Kernel, Dabinett, Ellis Bitter, Esopus Spitzenburg, Northern Spy, Idared, Pinova, Golden Delicious, Wickson, Yarlington Mill, Redfield, Calville Blanc d'hiver, Ananas Reinette, Jonagold
That's their apple blend and nothing else. Please take note of all the really interesting heritage and cider apples in that list. This really increases my anticipation!

Appearance: intense gold color, brilliant, bubbly, head

The cider pours with a head, rather a lofty one at that, but it dissipates quickly. The color is highly saturated and intense yellow. I can see the bubbles so quick and nimble very clearly, marking this cider as brilliant.

Aromas: apple skin, lemon

The Legendary Dry smells tannic in a lasting way. I also get some of the home cooked apple notes that a lot of heritage fruit can add to aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

There's no mistaking this cider for anything but dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: tannic, high acid, touch of bitter

Let me re-iterate that I like a dry cider with lots of tannins and acid and this cider fits that description note for note.

Russety and spicy Further f
ruitwise, I taste lots of lemon, green apple, pineapple, and bitter grapefruit. Something about it feels cold and not just in a temperature way, somehow the flavors themselves feel cold. Apologies that I cannot articulate that part of the experience better. There's one small dairy note, like a clean young cheese: almost certainly from the malo-lactic fermentation.

I had this cider with the most amazing grilled cheese sandwich with scallion potato bread and smoked gouda. If you can do better than that for a pairing, I encourage you to try. Getting your hands on this cider will be a great first step for a lot of delicious pairings. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Happy to #PickCider for Thanksgiving

I enjoyed hosting Thanksgiving and birthday dinner and putting 4 lovely ciders on the table. The day was remarkably stress free and the food came out deliciously. I thought I'd share some pictures of the feast! I shared my plans for the day in this recent post:

As promised, we started with Eden's Sparkling Dry Cider. It remains crisp, austere, extremely bubbly and delicious. I simply love this cider. If you have any chance to try it, you should.

After a glass of this, we were ready to fill our plates. Here's the breakdown: sweet potatoes with pecans, dressing, Brussels sprouts with faux bacon, biscuits, mushroom gravy, corn pudding, mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, cranberry relish, and two vegetarian centerpieces. The picture cannot come close to the wondrous reality.

I offered two cider choices for the main meal. The first was a black currant cider from Number 12 Cider House. This ended up being amazingly tart and quite dry. If we worried that all of the carbs could put our palates to sleep, this cider was the cure.

I also wanted to share a still cider, but not just any still cider, something I knew would still have substance enough to stand out. I chose a Finger Lakes option from Good Life Cider, their Hickok. As I hoped this had plenty of fruit and richness while still remaining refreshingly dry. It had a subtly herbal aroma that really did complement my dressing well. This is a very savory cider with notes of black pepper along with well balanced minerality. I really like this one a lot. 

Here's a view of my plate before the destruction began.

Last I'd like to share pictures of our dessert course: two pies and Slyboro's Ice Harvest Cider. A nice long meal like Thanksgiving strikes me as the ideal time for an ice cider because one can really take the time to savor it. And this is an ice cider worth savoring.

The first dessert was for my birthday: dark chocolate tart with a gingersnap crust. 

And for our Thanksgiving pie we had apple pie with walnuts and blue cheese. The little twist on a classic was perfect and this pairs exceptionally well with Slyboro's Ice Harvest Cider.

All in all, I could not have been happier with my cider picks. Folks had choices and variety. Several of the pairings brought out an extra element in the food successfully. And I got to share some really special ciders with special people in my life. This is what I'm thankful for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cider Review: Vermont Cider Co.'s Addison

I got an exciting package in the mail recently from Vermont Cider Company; they are a n
ew cider brand releasing two ciders only in the northeastern United States (at least for the moment). This is a new brand put out by the owners of Woodchuck and Wyders, but it appears to be aiming for a different style and segment.

Vermont Cider Co. appears to be more active on social media than on a self-owned website. This is certainly the direction of much of the internet these days, so feel free to check these folks out on Facebook (, Twitter(, and Instagram (

This is how Vermont Cider Co. introduces themselves on Facebook:
Crafted here in the Napa Valley of cider, we are pleased to introduce Vermont Cider Co., a cider brand that stands for everything we love about our home state – beautiful mountains, clean lakes, friendly people, and what we believe to be the best apples in the world. Enjoy our traditional ciders, crafted using only fresh pressed juice from Vermont and other Northern apple growing states.
Today I'm reviewing their first flagship cider, Addison. I found a few snippets of information about it, plenty to help set my own expectations for the beverage. Here's an introduction of sorts from the press release,"Named for Addison County, where it is produced, Addison is crafted from 100 percent fresh pressed juice sourced only from Vermont and Northeastern orchards."

Other facts from material about Addison include that it is a semi-dry cider, fermented slowly at relatively low temperatures, and it does not contain added sugar.

I asked for more information about the apple varieties that go into the Addison, and this is what I found out, "The juice is a combination of standard VT apple varieties including McIntosh, Cortland, Liberty, Paula Red, and Empire." These are United States dessert varietals many of which were grown at Sunrise Orchards, one of the places I stayed on my recent Cider Tour of Vermont.

Back in August, I documented all of that day's adventures in this post: 

But now, for the cider itself.

Appearance: Bright gold, brilliant a few visible tiny bubbles

I can see some intense color, especially for cider from dessert fruit. There are plenty of tiny visible bubbles. It goes almost without saying that the cider is brilliant. It just shines.

Aromas: cooked fruit, pastry, stone, and dust, 

In addition to the cooked apples, dusty and pastry, I also smell some light notes of tropical fruit. These notes make the cider immediately appealing. Behind these more obvious smells, I can detect some more subtle notes of lemonade and shaved metal. Interesting!

Flavors and drinking experience: clean, caramel, tart, some tannins, and echoes of funk 

The first notes are a tiny bit astringent with a ghost of funk that quickly disappears. There are some good tannins, but I notice more zippy acidity. This cider offers up a clean finish with nice caramel and brown sugar as the last note s(and good ones to end on). Little sips bring out acidity more. I found the cider to have a subtle warming effect. The fruit notes I get are pineapple, lemon, and orange.

Generally, I'd say this cider exhibits a ripeness that so much cider can lack. Relatedly, the acidity doesn't taste green. The Addison is tremendously balanced and it tastes somehow golden. This mouthfeel reflects light carbonation; it's enough to have the feel linger as long as the taste. It isn't light and disappearing; there's body here.

Let's pair this cider. I had it with: curried butternut soup followed by homemade applesauce bread and cheddar cheese when I reviewed it. That was lovely. It went well the the gentle curry spice, the creaminess of coconut milk, and all the savoury and sweet notes that butternut brings to everything. I also paired this cider with feeding dear friends and talking about how we can work to make the world a kinder place. Most ciders go with that.

And don't forget #pickcider for Thanksgiving! Read about my picks here:

And if you're in the Ithaca area, we're doing #ciderMonday on 11/28!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pick Cider for Thanksgiving! And my Birthday!

I am so excited to share food and cider with my husband, my mom, and two of my very dear friends this year. Everyone is coming to my house. And how did I get this lucky? By having my birthday on Thanksgiving. Yep! I find that folks are plenty amenable when you get to double up on holidays like that. So consider all of these choices picked to go with a vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast that is also my Birthday Dinner!

I like to start with a welcome glass of cider when someone either walks in the door for Thanksgiving or when the emerge from the kitchen into our part-time dining room. This is the cider that comes before introductions, before sitting down at the table, before anything really.

Eden Sparkling Dry

Yes, this is a known choice. I have reviewed a previous iteration of it before: And it was my #4 cider of 2015. But its just so so good! And it really is the perfect cider to stimulate both conversation and appetite.

Find out more about all of Eden Specialty Ciders here:

Here's the description of the Sparkling Dry.
Champagne-style cider made from heirloom and bittersweet apple varieties grown in Vermont. 50% of the blend is the famous cider apple 'Kingston Black'. It is naturally sparkling and clean - we hand-disgorge the yeast from every bottle! Goes well with oysters, seafood and vegetable dishes.
My choice to go with something known at the beginning of Thanksgiving is far from arbitrary. This is the only known choice of the four, but it guarantees that the meal will start deliciously. I know this cider doesn't need food to balance it out. The Eden Sparkling Dry can stand on its own.

I have chosen two ciders for the main event as it were. They can be taken as an either/or recommendation if you have a strong preference for sparkling or still cider. Alternatively, You can have some of both. I'm always a big fan of choose both rather than either.

Number 12 Cider House Black Currant Dry

I reviewed the Number 12 Cider House Sparkling Dry this Summer:

And you can learn more about all of their ciders here:

Here's the description:

Number 12 Black Currant Dry begins with aromatic notes of jam and rich black currant followed by a crisp, dry cider finish. Once considered the “forbidden fruit” due to a 100 year ban, the black currant is now experiencing a resurgence in America’s conscience. It pairs beautifully with locally grown apples by providing a tannic structure needed for depth and complexity. This is the cider that will change your perspective.
Here's why I'm choosing the Black Currant Dry. There will be plenty of creaminess at my Thanksgiving table. I want at least one dry bubbly option, but one with enough flavor that the food will overpower it completely. The currants should add pleasant tannins and acid. This would also be great for folks who have the traditional turkey as a main dish, but at my house it will be pair with something vegetarian along with sides of dressing, pumpkin mac and cheese, green bean casserole, and Alex's fabulous mashed potatoes.

Also on the table...Good Life Cider's Hickok Dry Still Cider

My previous review of a Good Life Cider is of their Barrel Rye:

Here's the Good Life Cider's page (on the Finger Lakes Cider House website)

The official description reads simply, "Still and dry Aromas of damp earth and dark fruit. Pair this cider with the good life." The ABV of this cider comes in at 8.5%.

This is specifically to off set my other favorite Thanksgiving recipe: cranberry relish. I want a still dry cider with some rich mellowness because my cranberry relish is tart and raw. I use the food processor to blend cranberries, eating apples, oranges, and pecans and this year I will skip the maple syrup to sweeten and instead borrow just a little from my last course cider. 

And with dessert...Slyboro Ice Harvest Cider

I got to visit Slyboro on the way back from our Vermont Cider Tour this summer. Previously, I reviewed the Black Currant cider: 

And back in the early days of the blog, I reviewed a now sold out cider, the Old Sin:

Slyboro's website can be found at:

To share the official description: 
Fresh, artfully blended apple cider is pressed in the depths of our North Country winter and tucked outside to freeze. At the first thaw, a rich apple essence is drawn and slowly fermented till summers end. The resulting ambrosia is redolent of tropical fruits and warm baked apple with hints of spice. For dessert, as an aperitif & very special occasions. Serve slightly chilled. 11% alc/vol 11.5% residual sugar. 375ml
Here's the mystery though, will dessert be traditional pumpkin pie, the glorious looking cranberry curd recipe I found online, or a birthday cake? I think this cider would accompany all three beautifully as I tend to prefer desserts that emphasize richness over sweetness. I want most of the sweetness to come from this enticing ice cider. 

And if you're planning on serving or drinking cider for Thanksgiving, share your choices on Twitter with #pickcider! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cider Event: Twilight Walk, Talk and Picnic Dinner with Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s Cidery and Steve Cummins at Indian Creek Farm *PLUS* Cider Monday in Ithaca

Today, I want to talk about a highlight of the recent Finger Lakes Cider Week. Of course, I love the tastings and the pairings and hearing folks thinking seriously about cider, often for the first time. But, this was something altogether different and very special.

I was invited to join a group, drawn from both home orchardists and cider lovers, to tour Cummins Nursery and talk about apple choice and apple growing for cider. And the orchard happens to share a site with my favorite local U-Pick spot, Indian Creek Farm. Thanks very much to Autumn for the invitation.

This was the official description:
Twilight Walk, Talk and Picnic Dinner with Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s Cidery and Steve Cummins at Indian Creek Farm

With the American cider revival well under way and hundreds of new ciders finding their way to market each year, folks are making cider with whatever apples they can get their hands on. But is it good cider? In this interactive tour/talk tasting we’ll take a look at what makes a good cider variety and why. 
4:00pm -5:00pm – We’ll tour Cummins Nursery and learn why you should plan 3 years ahead of planting your cider orchard and just what goes into propagating apple trees. We’ll also take a look at various planting systems and tree sizes from modern slender spindle to 100 year old full size trees and discuss their implications for cider quality. 
5:00pm – 6:00pm – We’ll sit down to discuss cider apple characteristics and how they translate into cider while tasting cider varieties like Kingston Black and Ellis Bitter and cider made from these apples. Where does a cider get it’s structure, finish and balance? Which cider varieties best represent Finger Lakes terroir? 
6:00pm – 7:00pm – Dinner and drinks! Picnic dinner by the Piggery plus a glass of Eve’s cider, family style in the orchard. Farmer/Chef Heather Sandford will give a brief introduction to her famous Finger Lakes charcuterie and why it pairs so well with local cider. Make sure you RSVP – This event is $15 per person and includes dinner and drinks.
I know Autumn and ciders from Eve's Cidery well ( My respect for the cider and Autumn's knowledge were a huge draw for me. I've been hearing about Cummins nursery ( moving to Ithaca more than three years ago. But enough foreword, let me share a bit about the event itself. 

This picture is some of the group leaving the young section of the nursery. Steve let us know that right now there's a three year wait to even get many varieties of cider apple trees. Their orchard has been growing these varieties for more than 16 years ago, but back then they couldn't sell them. This reminds me of my own thought that so many cidermakers right now just long for a time machine, so they can go back 7, 10, 15 or more years ago to plant European cider varietals, heritage apples, and interesting crabs. 

As we moved through the orchard, I could hear folks crunching on apples and stepping on a few drops as well. But drops don't necessarily mean the same thing to a cider maker. Autumn took the lead on this topic, sharing what she's found effective for her cidery. She emphasized that there is not only one way to go but many. She wants apples with the most possible fermentable sugars, so she wants really ripe apples. Apples picked too early have more starch and less sugar, so when they are ripe enough to drop onto the ground, that's when they have the most sugar. With a little preparation on the ground, they can be cushioned safely. In cider, we have no need for a firm or crisp texture for an apple; bruising is okay. Its all getting milled and pressed.

As I was listening, I also observed the crowd. We had a wide variety of backgrounds repsresented, from folks who never drink cider and only know orcharding to folks like me who have never tended an apple tree or fermented a cider. There were also some hospitality industry folks, serious cider people, wine-oriented individuals, and attendees just eager to learn and enjoy the picnic. 

One of the elements that helped a lot of audience members understand the translation from fresh apple to finished cider were the plentiful comparisons to Finger Lakes wine region. Lots of drinkers still don't expect the power of fermentation to change flavors in cider. This was a major takeaway message and one worth keeping close. Cider isn't apple juice with a kick. Cider is as different from fresh fruit juice as wine. And that's a beautiful beautiful thing. 

Which leads us into the discussion and tasting of different apple types.  For cider, there's not any benefit for maximizing yield for quantity; grow for quality. And we were tasting for specific qualities of: tannin, acid, sugar, and aroma. These are the raw ingredients that can be most directly traced from juice to cider.

 I would need video and several apples to accurately express this chapter of the experience. Lots of apples that make great cider, so not make for tasty raw treats. But its worth it to taste a few spitters to get an idea of what just tannin, just sugar, or just acid tastes like in an apple. Its also fun to see other folks make crazy faces when they taste bittersharps and bittersweets. This section also really brought home the importance not only of having good fruit, but creating good blends both at the press and again after primary fermentation.

Then we got to tasting ciders by Eve's Cidery and picnicing. She shared with us several ciders and described her whole portfolio of ciders in a striking way. These are six different ciders for six different uses. I love it. I've always approached cider not in a quest to find my one true favorite, but I love sharing ciders with people and with moments. 

And for me, this was one of those evenings. The October light was lovely. Steve and Autumn shared their knowledge and also their honest and well-founded opinions. I felt surrounded by people who really care about apples and cider. The picnic was great (I was impressed that The Piggery can put together a lovely spread even for vegetarians). And I got to enjoy Autumn's Gold from a Magnum. But more seriously speaking, I appreciated getting to taste the Eve's Cidery lineup with simple fare and time to focus on the flavors and textures brought by very special apples.

And stay tuned for Cider Monday in Ithaca! We'll have cider makers sampling and selling all kinds of awesome Finger Lakes Cider in locations all over downtown Ithaca on Monday 11/28/2016. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cider Review: Tieton Ciderworks' Spice Route

I know I get fewer chances to review ciders from the western portion of the country, but this Washington State cider struck me as just the thing recently. Tis the season for spicy ciders. Tonight I'm returning to Tieton Ciderworks to try their Spice Route.

For a little bit of background, Tieton Ciderworks grew out of Harmony Orchards. The company makes it very clear; they make cider because they grow lots and lots of apples; the family has been orcharding in the region since the 1920s. tThey have  been growing cider specific varieties since 2008. Here's the quote I found most interesting online, "
We now have the largest acreage of cider apples and Perry pears in the state of Washington with 55 acres." Dreamy to hear, isn't it?

You can find out lots more on the web at:

This bottle came from a pleasant and well-stocked bottle shop in Lakewood, Ohio. I found it while visiting friends when a spicy cider was far from in season, so I've been saving this for a bit. 

I've reviewed two of Tieton Ciderworks' offerings previously, both relatively seasonal but very tasty.

Smoked Pumpkin:

Yakima Valley Dry Hopped:

Tieton's official description is short and sweet, "An exotic and fresh cider. Expect a medium straw with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, clove and allspice. Reminiscent of a fresh baked apple pie. 500ml – 6.9% Alcohol."

Appearance: brilliant, big bubbles, bright intense gold color

This cider pleases me so much to look at it. The clarity can only be described as brilliant. I can see lots of big bubbles clinging to all of the inside surfaces of the glass The color reminds me of buttery corn, all freshly shining gold.

Aromas: caramel, clove, apple

This smells like an autumnal dessert. I am so fond of that caramel apple scent, strongly accompanied by clove. I can also get some of the asllspice from the description.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry but complicated

I think spiced ciders add a real complication to the basic spectrum of sweet to dry. The spices, especially in this cider, add some sharpness and bitterness that call out for a balance with more sweetness as well. This cider balances that well.

Flavors and drinking experience: low tannin, well balanced, integrated flavors

The first thing I noticed about this cider after the presence of spice was how nicely integrated the acidity feels to the whole experience. There's no real tannin to speak of, but this wouldn't be a cider variation I'd choose for much tannin.

Spice ciders  are really seasonal but this cider is far from the overly sweet "pumpkin spice" trend or even "apple pie spice/" more cold and spicy than that I found this cider pleasing, balanced and full bodied with medium bubble.

I had the Spice Route with macaroni and cheese made from scratch with a mix of bechamel, Vermont white cheddar, and Emmentaler topped with garlicy breadcrumbs. I know a lot of folks will be watching election returns tonight with some sense of urgency. Take care of yourself with something grounding and delicious to eat and cider worth relaxing with while you wait. This might be just the ticket.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cider Review: Shacksbury Classic

Autumn is well and truly here, even Halloween has recently come and gone. With the cold nights, my cider cravings tend toward darker and richer flavors. So, I'll be hunting around my cider stores for the beverages that might fit such a desire in the coming weeks and months. This is how I ended up choosing the Shacksbury Original for today's review.

During my trip to Vermont this summer, I had the pleasure of wandering around Windfall Orchard with David Dolginow of Shacksbury Ciders. You can take a look here:

As far as learning about Shacksbury from the website, I think the most direct way is to let these folks describe themselves.

Far from ordinary, apples are the most diverse food plant on earth. Unfortunately, only a handful of varieties are cultivated at scale in America, and all of those are designed for eating, not cider making. 
At Shacksbury, we believe cider can, and should, be daring and complex. From gnarled trees on New England farmsteads to Old World orchards in England and Spain, our cider will change the way you think about this amazing fruit.
Find out more at the website:

Let me just take a moment to appreciate the crisp and lovely photography on the website. It takes time and effort to share high quality photos like these, but what a difference it makes!

This official description is presented on the website as a series of bullet points. 

Bold, earthy, lightly sparkling, and dry
The best pizza cider, ever
Apple varieties - Browns, Ellis Bitter, Dabinett, Michelin, Jonagold, McIntosh, Empire, Spartan, and Somerset Redstreak
Apples grown by Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, Vermont and Dragon Orchards in Herefordshire, England
Slow, partial native yeast fermentation in stainless steel and aged for 9-12 months
500ML, 6.0% ABV
Produced and bottled by Shacksbury Cider in Shoreham, Vermont
Based on what I'm reading about the Shacksbury Classic, I expect high tannins, plenty of aroma, good body, and possibly bits of funkiness. The anticipation is real.

Appearance:brilliant, harvest moon, lots of bubbles

This certainly looks more like an English cider in color compared to most of what I see in my glass. This color looks just like a harvest moon low in the sky. The picture reveals a totally brilliant cider with loads of visible bubbles.

Aroma: overripe apples, golden raisins, petrol

Gracious goodness, this has all the richness in aroma I could have asked for. Primarily I smell golden raisins and delightful overripe apples. Secondarily I detect some sappy green freshness, citric acid, petrol, rubber, and steel (!) Totally complex.

Sweetness/dryness: Off dry

This was a little more difficult to parse than usual. Different folks tasting together disagreed on whether this was just off dry but with lots of fruit characteristic or if it was sweeter. The sweet folks argued that the sweet perception was blunted by acidity. I say off dry. If other folks have tried it and want to weigh in, please feel free!

Flavors and drinking experience:high acid, high tannin, UK influenced, mild to medium funk

This cider offers up LOADS of flavor; its very very good. My first surprise is how high acid and high tannin it is—like a high acid UK cider. I taste lots of fruit with the tiniest petrol funk, but really pleasant and understated. Some of the sharpness reminds me of Spanish ciders but none of the volatile acidity. There's plenty of both tropical fruit and lactic acid playing together. This cider has great rich mouthfeel with honey and leather aromas in the finish.

Overall the Shacksbury original is golden and rich. high tannin. It is off-dry, but really drinkers can perceive the sweetness. They really get glorious high tannins, lingering flavor, and depth.

I enjoyed this cider with a warm pecan apple crisp after trick or treaters took every bit of the candy at my house, but I'm sure you could pair it with a lot of other foods and experiences. Because it has so much of  both acid and tannin, I'd let it be the centerpiece and not choose a food that goes heavy on acidity. Let this tasty cider be the star!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cider Review: E Z Orchards' WIlliamette Valley Cidre

I guess in some ways this post is my last little ode to summer. I had this just as the seasons were turning from spring to summer

Tonight, I'm sharing my first review of an EZ orchards cider. I can scarce believe my blog has made it this long without one! I hear consistently fantastic things about this cider and the people who make it.

E. Z. Orchards has been growing apples since the 1920s in Oregon. They are still a destination for fresh apples, shortcakes, seasonal produce, and delicious-sounding events. According to their website, they started producing apples specifically for cider in the year 2000. Now they are known for not only producing quality cider but also being a fantastic community resource in their region for growing quality cider fruit.

You can find out some more here:

Tonight's review is their 2011 Cidre Willamette Valley.

The official description reads:
E.Z. Orchards Willamette Valley Cidre is the culmination of 10 years effort to develop our orchard and refine our fermentation technique. We grow a selection of French, English, and Early American apple varieties. The fruit contain essential characteristics, necessary to impart structure and aroma in our Cidre. The predominant characteristics are attributed to French varieties (85% of the blend) contributing tannin for structure, fermentable sugars, and aroma. We use one low acid English variety with similar dynamics. The balance of the fruit is tart to achieve the acidity necessary to complete the structure and provide stability.
The only fact this leaves out is the 6% ABV.  

Appearance:  Hazy, warm brass color. Few visible bubbles.

This cider looks very rustic. I'd call it hazy to cloudy, but I didn't follow the special pouring instructions to get a clearer glass of cider. It isn't a priority for me. The other thing to note is that I'm drinking a 2011 cider in 20016, so its no surprise really that its a gusher. Interestingly, though the cider seems to have plenty of bubbles, they aren't really visible.

Aromas: Berries, pears, phenolics, acetic acid

Primarily, I think the Willamette Valley Cidre smells like pear juice and berries, but the phenolics aren't too far behind. I can also detect a slight acetic acid edge.

Dryness/sweetness: off dry

There's a ton of flavor here and almost no sweetness

Flavors and drinking experience: funky, tannic, fruity, sharp

This cider is a complex journey that starts with high acidity then adds high tannins, and some decided funky flavors. Whoa. I like it, but I like lots of my ciders on the earthy, and this fits that bill.

Lets get specific about flavors though: I can taste pineapple, apple, melon, pear and all manner of light fruit. But that's not all I taste. Surprisngly some notes remind me of nachos or perhaps spicy peppers with a little creamy sweetness. 

Part of what makes the drinking expereince so complex is that the pepper-related flavors and the fruit-related flavors do not combine. Over all, I get an impression of high spicy notes and down low on the palate this feels like a medium bodied off dry cider. 

It hits more sweet and high and then rapidly spreads over tongue and gets spicy. I cannot get over the notes of jalapeƱo and orange peel. 

The finish and aftertaste stay with the acidity of and off dry cider mixed with sweet bell pepper flavor. I find the cider entirely likable, partly become the experience requires thought and focus. Though I've hung on to this bottle too long to consider this, my experience offered up moderate carbonation; the bubbles are part and parcel of the pleasant assault on the tastebuds. Its hard to imagine what it would be like without carbonation.

It tastes seemingly different with every sip. I found the Williamette Valley Cidre sensitive to other foods, so I'd recommend eating something gentle with it. Watermelon was especially good in my experience.