Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cider Review: Original Sin Extra Dry in a can

Original Sin celebrates its 20th anniversary, with its first can release! This excites me because its not just a can release of a cider that already exists, but a can release of an Extra Dry cider! I want a cider that's extra dry and as accessible and portable as the can format offers. Plus, I tend to like Original Sin significantly more than most readily available ciders. 

You can check out all of their releases on the website: http://www.origsin.com/

Before we get to the review though, one thing to note is that all of the apples for the Extra Dry come from New York state. Local apples are a big draw for many cider drinkers, whether that fruit is dessert varieties or heirloom types or cider specific apple varieties. We know that Original Sin is growing some of each of these types. 

One of the most interesting things about Original Sin for me is that despite being internationally distributed and stared in a distinctly urban space, is that Original Sin has been developing an orchard in upstate New York for years. As the website describes it, "Original Sin started a New York State test orchard five years ago, which now features over 100 rare, cider and contemporary apple varieties. Each year, the company adds interesting  and historically significant varieties."

I've tasted several Original Sin ciders while writing this blog and reviewed three of them. Here are my previous entries on Original Sin Ciders, some of which include additional background on the company.

My review of their Original: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/02/cider-review-original-sin-hard-

Original Sin's official Description reads:

Original Sin Extra Dry Cider contains a distinct blend of New York apples including Ida Red, MacIntosh, Cortland, and several russeted apples. The cider is complex, balanced, and sessionable with a minimal level of residual sugar.

Appearance: barely green, total clarity, almost no visible bubbles 

In terms of color this is nearly translucent, with just a hint of honeydew melon green. Great clarity. Very few visible bubbles.

Aromas: floral, tropical fruit, and surprisingly, salt

I love what a floral nose this cider has; it honestly smells like green and white flowers. This doesn't come out when drinking it from the can. I poured it into a small chalice glass and got much more aromatic action, as one might expect. I also smell a little tropical fruit—lychee and banana. Perhaps I'm crazy but amidst these more expected notes I also detected hints of salt and corn muffin.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

It doesn't feel totally dry; I'd put at the more austere end of a semi-dry. Great fruit character, more details below.

Flavors and drinking experience: prominent acidity, tropical fruit, great bubble

Tasting the extra dry is an experience as much about mouthfeel as flavor. This cider hits the palate with tons and tons of tart acid. I can taste low levels of tannins, but they are present. I love how it puckers along my jawline with curly-Qs of salivary response. Thinking as I'm tasting, the  acid profile is increased by the strong carbonation. This cider makes sense in a can, and I like it! This is a truly easy drinking cider for when you want something on the drier tart side.

More specifically in terms of flavors, the tropical fruit notes dominate. Overall, the experience is a little austere and yet zesty. Very enjoyable, with just a little note of bitterness hiding in the fruit character. It finishes with a long flinty swoop.

Original Sin's "Devilishly delicious with Ripe Camembert, roasted oysters, and anything else you might enjoy on a back patio." 

My recommendations are a little different. I just came home from watching The Witch (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4263482/) at the theater. I really enjoyed sitting down with my husband and unpacking that folkloric explosion with an Extra Dry in my hand. Something about 1630s Puritans and an Original Sin cider just feels right. The film even mentions apples.

 If that's not your flavor of old school horror, you could enjoy your Extra Dry at home while watching the Christopher Lee Hammer Studios gem The Devil Rides Out (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062885/?ref_=nv_sr_1) from 1968. Its a feast of dapper archness dealing with the supernatural. 

Mind you, this cider doesn't have to go with anything macabre. I'll likely be buying it all summer when I want cider in a can-friendly setting. Its a lovely beverage and I quite enjoyed it! Keep it up, guys! And keep using that gorgeous cheeky art that I love so much.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cider Review: Strongbow Honey Hard Apple Cider and my 33 Book Co. Cider Tasting Mug

About 14 years ago, I tried my first cider. It was a Strongbow, consumed at the Uni Pub at the University of East Anglia. I had a taste of someone else's cider and then chose to have mine adulterated...ahem with black currant squash and cheap lager. Not my proudest moment, but I'm glad to say that my tastes and cider experiences have expanded greatly since 2002. Yet I owe so much to that first taste and therefore to Strongbow. Yet this is my first Strongbow review.

Bulmer's has been sellling Strongbow cider since 1962, but the product I first tasted, the dry can no longer be bought in the United States. They replaced it with a number of sweeter alternatives. Some fans are concerned.

You can visit the Strongbow website at: http://www.strongbow.com/en-us

When visiting the website, I watched and abrupt and strange advertisement that shows an exageratedly American announcer firing Patrick-Freaking-Stewart (<3) because the only thing Strongbow needs is ice. This preceded the slogan "Bestest over ice." My reading between the lines (rudimentary though it is) reveals a connection to the bottled cider poured over ice boom in the UK in the early 2000s and targeting of internet-familiar millennials. 

But let's zoom in to tonight's review; I'm reviewing Strongbow Honey Apple Cider. This is one of the sweeter ciders that first replaced the dry for the United States market.

Here's how Strongbow describes it, "Honey on the nose and sweet on the tongue with a refreshing, fruity finish. 5% ABV. Gluten Free. 100% Kosher. 195 calories per 11.2 fl. oz.
Available in 6-packs and our 12-pack Variety Pack."

But going beyond those basics were a few more interesting descriptors

Underneath a nose icon in the experience heading: "An aromatic array of crisp-tasting apples, which mingle with the scent of other fruits before returning to hints of apple, honey and flowers."

White the text under the mouth icon: "A smooth body and a length on the palate that develop around a wealth of aromas and flavors to reach its peak before gently fading after each taste."

Now the time has come for me to find out for myself.

I poured my Strongbow Honey Apple Hard Cider in a tasting mug by 33 Books Co.  

If you want to check out the mug, please look here: http://www.33books.com/collections/tasting-tools/products/the-original-cider-tasting-mug

Appearance: tea, brilliant, plenty of bubbles creating a ring

Poured into the cider mug, it appears much darker and richer than it looks in the clear glass bottle. Instead of looking a dark straw color it becomes the color of a well steeped black tea. Both was the clarity is brilliant. I can see a pronounced ring of bubbles at the top of my mug.

Aromas: pureed apricot, black cherry, pineapple

Whoa. This cider smells so much like puréed apricots that I can scarcely believe it. Secondarily I smell ripe black cherries and pineapple. All of these juicier showier fruits hide any hint of apple.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet

The sweetness would be pointless to deny in this cider. It simply is sweet. Its a very fruity kind of sweet rather than caramelly, boozy, or chemical.

Flavors and drinking experience: tropical fruit, peach, medium sparkle, good mouthfeel

The Strongbow cider tastes very much like it smells. My overwhelming impression is one of tropical fruits.  The cider is sweet with a pleasant kick of fruity acid. In a way I'm reminded of fancy peach sodas. It offers a nice level of bubble. The cider rumbles over the palate with a full body because of the sweetness. I paired my glass with a flavor bomb: I chose a Mexican jacketed potato because of the powerful flavors and spicy food, turn the sweetness into pleasant relief.

This doesn't taste like a typical English cider, but also its not quite like a mainstream commercially produced American cider in style either. The Strongbow Honey offers something different and in some ways in between. The mouthfeel is fully and the acidity less biting than american, but the base of tannins usually so key to English ciders is overshadowed by the tropical fruitiness.

The website offers some pairing with snacks including goat or blue cheese, meals including meatballs, or salmon, or a dessert including either honey or pair. I ignored these suggestions going with my own rule of thumb for sweet ciders, pair with highly flavored spicy foods. So I had a big bowl of mexican veggies with queso over a baked potatoe  (so many veggies and so much queso that you cannot see the potato). That works. I'll stick by my rule rather than pairing like with like or even some of the nice suggestions by the Strongbow folks. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cider Con 2016: My Personal Highlights

Usually in winter, I travel with my husband to Florida to see friends and thaw out a little from the upstate NY temperatures. But at last year's Cider Con in Chicago, we learned that this most amazing of cider gatherings would be happening in February in Portland, Oregon. I knew I had a different sort of escape from winter.

Though the sign seems more Vegas, this is a lovely welcome to Portland
Not only did I get to attend Cider Con, I got to present! This was a huge honor for me because I have so much appreciation and respect for the cider community (and the beverages produced thereby). Eric West (of Cider Guide http://www.ciderguide.com)


While many folks were out touring orchards and ciders, I didn't arrive in time for their early departures. Still, I had an excellent time walking around Washington Park (http://explorewashingtonpark.org/) which is home to the International Rose Test Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, and my favorite: Hoyt Arboretum. Just seeing so much green in February is good for my soul. 
You cannot know how much I bemoaned baggage check fees when I saw this

But I had plenty of time to check out the cider selections at a grocery store or two and still make the 2 Towns Ciderhouse(http://www.2townsciderhouse.com) Tap Takeover at Cider Bite (http://ciderbite.com/). It was a casual gathering, but I saw so many unfamiliar ciders. Tasting in a different region than your own is an exciting experience. Plus, I ran into a few cider luminaries which never hurts an evening, particularly when they are as charming as Tom Oliver (https://oliversciderandperry.co.uk/) or as welcoming as Dave Takush (of 2 Towns).

And we were glad to be there!


The start of my official day wasn't until the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) business meeting. While I am not a voting member of the USACM, I alway relish the chance to meet with members and learn about what the organization has been up to. In 2015, the big headline was the CIDER Act.

I volunteered at Bill Bradshaw's session on UK Cider. Bill is an amazing archivist and photographer of ciders and cider cultures both in the UK and all over. If you're a cider lover you simply must get your hands on his book, World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir. You can see some of Bill's photo and read about this IAMCIDER project here: http://billbradshaw.co.uk/photography/iamcider

The Crowd for Bill Bradshaw

This led smoothly into the Cider Con Reception with tacos, pizza, tapas, and countless ciders all served in the in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. What a setting and what a party! They completely turned us loose in a museum while letting everyone taste ciders from all over the world. I have almost no photos because I was simply too enthralled by this night. I'm sorry. Kind of.


We stated the day with one of my favorite activities from last year's cider con, the Clicker Survey. What I love about this is we were all asked pretty basic questions about who we are, what we do, where cider makers get fruit or juice, who is planting orchards, who is getting fruit from their orchards, and whether or not we want to support academic research or apples or cider. 

I got a similar takeaway as I did last year too. If you are growing apples, don't start a cider business on your own; partner with a fermenter. If you love to make cider but have no apples, don't just go on the market; find a grower or three and work with them for the long run. I think a lot of business strength can be gained by folks working together on all steps from sapling to glass.

Next came the General Session, or as I like to think of it: "The Big Talk with Grocery Store Cider Purchase Data." I don't find that data nearly as complete or representative of my cider life or even my cider region as some, but its heartening to see cider growth in every region of the nation.

Ian Merwin and Greg Peck: Two Fabulous Academic Advocates for Cider

But my day was not so secretly about my session with Eric West: "Engaging Your Core Audience Through Writing." We had a packed room and an appreciative audience who asked great questions. Our topic ranged from online brand presentation to working with mailing list applications and many places between. It all came down to communicating effectively online and why using the writing and internet is so potentially helpful for cider companies. 

Giving the talk was a great experience, and it started many conversations for the rest of the conference. Consider me completely grateful. 

That evening we had the first meeting of Pomme Boots (https://www.facebook.com/pommeboots) a new professional organization for women who work in the cider industry in one role or another. Meeting everyone was inspiring; there are so many awesome women making, selling, and promoting cider. 


With the talk over, I could focus more completely on the session I attended as an audience member. And I got to spend a lot more time just relaxing and meeting awesome folks  One stood out for me on Friday. The first was "Finding Your Brand Strategy - West Coast Perspective" by Alan Shapiro. What he brought was not only a west coast perspective for understanding how folks understand and buy cider, but also the historical context of his decades distributing wines and beers. As soon as links go up to his presentation, I'm sharing them!

At lunch, Congressman Earl Blumenauer spoke with us about the CIDER Act, and he was the warmest and funniest politician I've ever seen speak. He earned two standing 

We ended Cider Con with the Grand English Cider Tasting, easily the most socially invigorating part of Cider Con for me. The photo below shows the ciders that were shared at each table in the ballroom. We tasted through together with the guidance of Tom Oliver, Neil Worley, and Bill Bradshaw. They brought insight and crackling personality such that folks were nearly falling out their chairs laughing (and it wans't just the cider).

These UK Cider made my evening, and shocked several palates


Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip for me happened after Cider Con. The USACM is developing a Cider Certification Program along with interim program director, Eric West. I signed up eagerly to be part of the inaugural class for Level One.

Eric West talking about cider styles

We had a slew of experts presenting material about apple growing, cider making, cider tasting, and other topics on Cider Certification Program Level 1. This inaugural class also got to learn about storing, serving and pairing cider: all topics close to my heart. The day was long but fascinating. I look forward to the progress of this program and hopefully participating in all coming levels.

Our messy table of learning

It was a long trip and a fabulous one! The education, the ciders, and most of all the people made it a delight each and every day. We grew the event by more than 450 attendees (by my unofficial observations) this past year, and I think its going to continue to grow and improve. If you care about cider and want a educational, enriching trip in February consider joining us next year!

Read more about Cider Con returning to Chicago in 2017 here: https://ciderconference.com

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cider Review: Seattle Cider Company's Gin Botanical Hard Cider

Usually, I'm not a spirits person. Not meaning that I don't enjoy haunted houses, but that I rarely go to the cocktail list when I'm out. My own liquor cabinet doesn't get much love either, sadly. But for gin, I occasionally make an exception. There's something about its zest and bite and heady aromas. Thus, when I learned that Seattle Cider Company makes a Gin Botantical Cider, I knew I had to try it. Trouble is, Seattle is far away from Upstate NY.

I could not buy it locally, so when I got a box in the mail with not one but three Seattle Cider Company offerings, it made my day! (You can look forward to the Basil Mint and Three Pepper reviews in the spring.) I knew I had to try the Gin Botanical, preferably with my favorite gin fan, Phil Sandifer (He writes strange and significant things here: http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/author/phil/). So when he put together a vegetarian cider pairing feast, we chose Seattle Cider Company for one the early courses.

Seattle Cider Company has a great website. I love the process pictures to illustrate the processes of cider making and the clean layout. Great work. Check it out:


When I look at the presentation of cider companies, I want to learn about their priorities. Its inherently intesting, and it sometimes clues us in to what we can expect about the cider. Here are a few tidbits that Seattle Cider Company on their website. 
Their Mission: "Produce, package, sell, and promote the finest quality craft cider by cultivating a work environment of innovation and exploration."

Their Vision: "Be a national leader in the transformation of the cider industry, admired for our dedication to real ingredients and original products."

While those statements are their most clear and identifiable statements of identity, I don't see as much content in them as I do in other parts of the website, "Seattle Cider Company is Seattle’s first cidery since Prohibition, bringing true craft cider back to Seattle and across the country. Bridging the gap between wine and beer with flavorful, small-batch cider, Seattle Cider’s initial offerings – Dry and Semi-Sweet – break the mold of overly sweet cider, bringing the natural flavors of Washington apples to the forefront" and "Naturally gluten free and made from a custom blend of fresh pressed, locally grown Washington apples, Seattle Cider’s products are handcrafted with real ingredients, successfully distinguishing themselves from the mass market cider found in stores today."
From these descriptions I infer that Seattle Cider Company's will use culinary fruit because they focus on the locality of their apple source. I also see a nod to wine which doesn't come up as often as it should in cider promotion, if you ask me. A nod to wine could mean a still cider, a drier cider, or a more understated presence of yeast compared to other profiles of cidermaking. Or it could not. We'll have to taste to know.

First a few facts about the Gin Botanical Hard Cider from Seattle Cider Company

ABV: 6.5% 
BRIX: 1.8 
APPLES: Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala 
TASTING NOTES: Fermented with spent gin botanicals from Batch 206 Distillery, our Gin Botanical is a semi-dry cider showcasing lemon, orange rind, juniper, cucumber and verbena. Like the spirit that inspired it, this cider is complex, clean, aromatic and refreshing. 
FOOD PAIRINGS: Herbed Chicken,Fresh Melon, pickled ginger

Appearance: palest white gold, like morning sunlight in winter

The color of this cider does not give away its secrets; it pale and subtle rather than blazing or warm. I can see a few visible bubbles but not a notable number.

Aromas: men's aftershave, mint gum, apples

Whoooaaaaa, I smell a blue cold mint herbal blast followed by apples. These combine to give the impression apples on a ski slope surrounded by pine trees. There's also some lychee in the array of smells.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

I noticed that Seattle Cider Company lists the brix in this cider. That's very unusual. Most places rely on more perceptual descriptors or even a graphic scale that shows a dry to sweet continuum. Almost universally these skew towards describing or depicting dry and offering a little sweeter. I'm pleased to say that this is a semi-dry that was described as a semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: herby, high acid, funky

Those gin botanicals taste immediately arresting! I get mint, basil, hops, citrus, and a hint of clean sweat. The cider activates my salivary glands intensely. Texturally, I notice big bubbles that show the cider is force carbonated: not really a surprise. The carbonation amplifies the herbal gin infused flavor in a brute force way. The Gin Botanical offers high levels of acidity but no tannin. I do get some pleasing minerality.

The cider rolls through immediate bitterness into more fruitiness. The herbal notes remain present throughout the experience. It tastes like you'd hope gin and cider would taste together—as much a funky gin cocktail as a cider. They use spent gin botanicals for it: juniper, orange peel, coriander.

If memory serves, we paired this cider with the sun-dried tomato flatbread course. I could see pairing this cider in a number of ways though. right now I'd like to pair it with herb and lemon coated baked salmon. I think keeping something juicy but not overpowering is key. This cider has a lot to say, and I wouldn't want it to get lost in something too sweet or spicy. For activities, drink this cider while playing a board game with friends, perhaps Dixit or something equally dreamy.

This is a fun and delicious cider that pairs its creativity with successful execution and balance. I'm hoping to taste it again when I'm nearer the west coast for Cider Con!