Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Experience at GLINTCAP 2016: The World's Largest Cider Competition!

I hope you guys had great weekends, I know I certainly did. This was my third year trekking up to Michigan to judge in the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. The competition has been going on for eleven (11!) years now, growing exponentially. Reading back to Old Time Cider's coverage from 2012, only 299 entries made up the entirety of the competition. (You can read the full entry here: Its mind boggling how much this has taken off!

This year we crossed a major threshold; more than 1,000 ciders and perries were submitted and judged. Also, it was my first year as a featured judge, whoa. I cannot say that wasn't a complete honor.

You can see the web presence of GLINTCAP here: 
Right now, you can see the Best in Class winners front and center. All of these ciders are exceptional and not to be missed should you have the chance to try them!

As this was my third trip, I've written about my wonderful experiences at GLINTCAP before:

Just before my first GLINTCAP, I started my apple branch tattoo:

Here's my write up of attending GLINTCAP in 2014:

This review from 2015 also includes the GLINTCAP results:

And now for GLINTCAP 2016!

One of the major draws of GLINTCAP for volunteers is getting to take a tasting seminar by Gary Audey (an amzing Indiana cider maker) and  Charles McGonegal (cidermaker of his own Wisconsin cider company Aeppeltreow). The seminar covers styles, common fermentation flaws, as well as a careful breakdown of the aroma, mouthfeel, and flavor elements of tasting cider.

Its a wonderful workshop that McGonegal describes accurately when he calls it a "Sampling of the cider experience." But, lest ye think it all fun and games, some of the flaws are unpleasant and the whole seminar takes about 5 hours. I wrote up an earlier version given at Cider Con 2015 (

This year, the modifications to the workshop focused on volatile acidity, acetic acid, and the nearness in style of some French and English ciders. As always, it is a great tune up of the palate and taking of the pulse of the cider world. Then we were all supposed to go to bed, but most folks went out in search of food instead. I sought sustenance in the fine company of fellow cider writers( and award-winning home cidermakers (who make super weird things sometimes) and found awesome macaroni and cheese with roasted red peppers. 

Saturday started early with an oatmeal breakfast at 8am. Not glamorous but necessary ballast for the cider tasting to come. Everyone was encouraged to spit rather than drink their samples (and most of us complied) but even so, tasting three flights of 10-12 samples is a long slog of a day.

I got got serve as table lead for three very different commercial categories: New World Heritage, Fruit Cider, and Barrel Aged Cider and Perry. I am not going to say much more specific than that, as I feel discretion is a valuable thing in a judge. But, the range went from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our tables kept focus and gave honest feedback, including our email addresses in case any cider makers want to contact us for follow ups. There's a tremendous sense of responsibility in the competition. I respect and appreciate the sense of accountability instilled by the GLINTCAP organizers. 

The illustrious Eric West (of Cider Guide: organizes the competition with incredible care and devotion.  Long-standing pillar of the cider community Mike Beck (of Uncle John's Cider Mill also shares generously of his time, knowledge, cider, and hospitality to make GLINTCAP happen). There are so many more who work tirelessly to bring together this many people and ciders together with a minimum of mayhem. My warmest thanks to all of them!

What a great event. Stay tuned for when the full results will be announced in the coming weeks.

Then we finished up with a pizza party sponsored by the Michigan Cider Association. There, I was encouraged to plant apple trees, get a dog, make my own cider, and otherwise make life more awesome. And we talked about our favorite cider events around the country and who we missed seeing this year (Rex Halfpenny! Dick Dunn!), and why cider folks just love plaid so darn much. Plus there was cider, pizza, and cornhole. 

At this point, I'd be hard pressed to say what my favorite part of GLINTCAP is. I love learning more about cider through the seminar, tasting seriously with other folks keen to articulate what they experience in a cider, or getting to see the the friends I've gained through my time in the cider world. All of these are invaluable! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cider Review: Cornish Orchards Vintage 2013 plus leading up to GLINTCAP

I found a bottle of Cornish Orchards cider in a surprising little bottle shop in Lizard. They had an extensive and varied selection, but this bottle stood out. The cider comes from Duloe in Cornwall. I am still pulling these little vacation treasures out of my cellar every few weeks, both as a way to deepen my understanding of English ciders and remember my trip to Cornwall and Devon.

Find out all about Cornish Orchards online at:

This website is fabulously clear and direct. I love that it mentions specifically that the ciders are vegan and that all of the farm's products remain free of artificial sweetening, coloring, or flavoring. Hopefully, that's true of most ciders, but I like knowing for certain.

You can read this page to find the story of Cornish Orchards:

Here's how Cornish Orchards introduces itself.

Our business is all about respect and balance. We create our award winning, premium ciders and juices, using traditional craft practices, produced to modern, exacting standards. 
Each autumn, the apples arrive, full of flavours, sweetness and juice. It's our job to ensure all this goodness is captured, fermented and blended into our delicious range of ciders and juices. 
Our master blenders demonstrate their skills by creating products that are not only refreshing, but bursting with outstanding flavours and fruity aromas.
Though many of the ciders I read about on the website intrigue me, the one bottle I allowed myself to carry from Cornwall to Ithaca was their Vintage 2013. Here's how the back label describes this particular cider:
A connoisseur's cider, medium dry and lightly sparkling. Created from apples selected for their soft tannins and traditional flavour. This classic cider is matured over the winter months, to bestow vintage qualities. 
Serve cool to enjoy the full flavours. Ideal partnered with a roast or a hearty platter of cheese.

Appearance: brilliant, few visible bubbles, chamomile

I'm still absolutely loving my Cider Tasting Mug from 33 books and how this mug shows off ciders so beautifully (
). The color looks chamomile with just a few visible bubbles and great clarity. 

Aromas: overripe apple, vanilla, leather, brine

Oooooooh, the Vintage 2013 smells of deep deliciously mushy apples, just a little olive brine, lots of vanilla. I'm guessing the cider will be high levels of acid and high levels of tannin, based on the smell. It seems distinctly autumnal, and reminds me stone, salty leather, lots of smells—poured into my tasting mug, the aromas fill the room!

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

Though the bottle calls it a medium dry, to my palate this cider tastes semi-sweet. The flavors come from so much more than the sweetness, but it certainly adds to the mouthfeel and flavors with a mature rich sort of sweetness. I think many American cider drinkers would really go for this.

Flavors and drinking experience: botanical, savory, fruity, great mouthfeel

These tastes are out of this world! As I said before though this cider is ultimately a semi sweet, its flavors go wildly beyond that. I find the cider deeply pleasing, but with genuine complexity. I get good notes of olive brine, bitter greens like cooked herbs, indeed quite high acid and high tannins. The mid-palate is very botanical (some root-y flavors like in cream soda or homemade root beer) with some savory notes. 

I taste bitter orange essence, rosemary, and hay. It feels almost a bit salty and yeasty like focaccia bread, except also a semi-sweet cider. I love this! The cider offers up great bubbles that deliver all of that intense flavor. All of the wild notes in it lean (if just barely) toward a dainty sense of restraint that keep the whole experience in balance. Its a wild ride and an enjoyable one! I had mine with a veggie chowder on a cold night, but you could have this cider with anything simple and hearty. 

And on a more personal note, the countdown to GLINTCAP has begun! The Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition will be running in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the 11th time. I'm thrilled to be returning as a judge for the third year. 

Its not only the largest cider and perry competition on this continent, but its also a wonderful educational opportunity for folks who want to volunteer as stewards and judges. We learn about cider styles, mouthfeel and flavor characteristics, fermentation flaws, and how to put our sensory impressions into words. I cannot overstate the value of this competition to me as a cider writer. Plus, its a friendly crew who always has a grand time together. I've made some of my best cider friends through GLINTCAP.

If you'll be there, please say hi!

Feel free to find out more about the competition here:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cider Review: South Hill Cider's 2014 Pack Basket

My thoughts lately keep going to all of the worried apple growers and cidermakers I know. These last crazy bursts of winter after what seemed like a mild year and early spring are putting the 2015 apple crop at significant risk right now. Spare a good though if you can for the apple buds and blossoms that we need for our favorite beverage. 

Among these local cider companies facing late freezes is South Hill Cider. So, while I root for our apples, I want to review one of these ciders. You can read about the ciders, the orchard, and the process right on South Hill Cider's website:

or get updates on the Facebook page:

My only previous review of South Hill Cider is one of the hyper-limited Hypothesis:

My review for today is South Hill Cider's 2014 Pack Basket. Here's how the official website describes it.


2014 yielded a very light crop for wild apples and pears across Central New York. However, with a bit of luck we found one stand of wild trees in a high valley with a good crop. These hidden trees were far enough from the dirt road that we could only retrieve the fruit by hauling it out on our backs. Hence the name, Pack Basket.
Naturally Sparkling. Complex, fruity, toasty, bone dry
100% wild pippin apples and pears
Bottle conditioned sur lie and undisgorged
28 cases produced
500 mL, 8.3% ABV.

Appearance: brilliant, few visible bubbles

This is a pale brilliant cider; I'd call the color green-tinted gold. There are just a few visible bubbles, and those I can see are very very small. 

Aromas: overripe apple, pear, stony, and spicy

I love how this cider smell spicy sweet. The Pack Basket definitely smells like pear. I also get some of the stony dusty notes that somestimes come with a rich tannic cider.

Dryness/sweetness: dry

Ooooh! What a true dry cider this is. This is so exciting! It has tons and tons of flavor (keep reading) but no residual sweetness at all.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity, spicy, balanced, fine bubbles

What defines this cider for me is that it manages to offer Eextremely high acid, dry and yet remain fruity. The balance is quite frankly amazing. I love the mouthfeel with its super fine bubbles. I think the presence of the pears keeps the fruitiness going because not all sugars in pears can fully ferment away. 
The apple varieties make the cider softly spicy with medium tannins. I cannot say enough about how decadent the Pack Basket tastes. Its amazing!

Yes, I'm a sucker for dual presence of tannins and acids. And yes, I tend to love ciders that include a fair number of crabs. This cider fits those elements of my profile really well, but its the richness and balance that wows me. This cider is special. 

I paired this with a yellow cake with dried cranberries and caramel frosting. Yes, it was a very sweet cake. I'd absolutely pair this with dessert again. But that's far from the only possibility. One could also enjoy it with soft cheese and berries or some toasted nuts. I'd keep the food flavors simple to better showcase the cider's complexity. Glorious!

I also paired the Pack Basket with warm and relaxed conversation with a visiting friend. And that part was absolutely right. Definitely try that if you can. Also, next year's packbasket blend is coming soon, and I heard from Steve Selin himself that this one is going to be sill and 100% apples, no pears. Something nice to look forward to.

Speaking of looking forward! GLINTCAP is coming up! We're less than 2 weeks away! I'm thinking about doing a few bottle trades. Let me know if you're interested. Also, I'll be driving back, so if you'll be there and want your ciders reviewed, its a great time and place to pass on a review bottle and avoid paying for shipping...just a thought.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cider Review: Jack's Hard Cider Original

We've had days and days of April, yet it snowed all day yesterday. Where did spring go? And more importantly, is this cold snap going to hurt all of the tender buds on apple, peach, and cherry trees? What is going to happen to the fruit? Sadly, I cannot give anyone answers to these questions, but I can sit back and wait it out with a cider. And that's exactly what I'm going to do. Spring will come back. It always does. In the meantime, can you please forgive my super messy candid pictures?

So the cider that's coming to the rescue today is Jack's Hard Cider Original. I met some of the lovely folks behind Jack's Hard Cider at Cider Con 2015 and they were kind enough to send me home with a couple of cans. Thanks, guys!

Here's how the folks at Jack's introduce themselves on their website: 

A lot is read into the word craft or micro-produced. But how many cider companies have been growing apples for over 50 years? Not many.With Jack’s Hard Cider, we pride ourselves in the fact that we produce a hard cider from the ground up – literally. We grow the apples, press apples, ferment apples, and package the final product all from our facility located in one of the Apple Capitals of the World, Biglerville Pennsylvania. In a town that claims some of the biggest brand names in Apple Products, Jack’s Hard Cider was inspired by “Jack” Hauser, who led Musselman Foods into national recognition in the 1950s, and who is the patriarch of the Hauser Family, makers of Jack’s Hard Cider.
You can find out more about Jack's and the ciders at:

Let's start with the obvious; this cider comes in cans. Both Flagship ciders, the Original and Helen's Blend are sold in cans. This is a growing trend in the cider market for reasons of portability, packaging cost, and the popularity of a single-serving sized container. I usually pour my canned ciders into a glass, because I want better access to my ciders' appearance and aroma. But that's me.  

Here's the official description of the Original: "Dry, crisp and refreshing; like biting into the perfect apple. Food pairings: Blackened Fish, Citrus Salad, BBQ, Spicy Salsa, Pumpkin Pie."  The alcohol content is on the lower end of the specture at 5.5%, but there are lots of ciders in that range. Though the description doesn't say, on the website I found an image of a dry to sweet spectrum, showing the Original as just off dry.  Let's find out how it tastes!

Appearance: brilliant, old gold, plenty of visible bubbles

As my silly picture above reveals, this is a very pretty cider. I love the intensity of the old gold color and all of those visible bubbles.

Aromas: powdery, stony, just a hint of funk, cocoa powder?

This smells so intriguing. The original offers up a dry, powdery and cottony smell, like a dry creek bed. It really reminds me of the dry afternoons of summer. I can also detect one tiny bit of funk in the mix, and oddly enough cocoa powder. 

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

In terms of sweetness and dryness, this cider is representing fairly accurately in the spectrum graphic. It isn't bone dry, but its closer to dry than to medium or sweet. 

Flavors and drinking experience: Yeasty, clear apple flavor, nice finish

So here's how I taste the Original. There's an initial bready bitter edge that rises at first and then fades into a mellow,appley semi-dryness. I'd bet that the company uses a beer yeast based on the smells and initial tastes. In the mid-palate, I enjoy how this cider achieves a rounded fruity sourness. though it maybe a tad heavy on sulfites. I can absolutely say that the finish is nice; it only disappears in a springy, spritely, zesty way. Categorically this is a  fine sessionable cider, well-suited to a six-pack. 

I'm guessing because of the apple varieties there's not much presence of tannins, semi dry, medium high acidity.

I drank mine with veggie-loaded nachos. I know. That's one of my go to pairings for a cider I don't know. Perhaps I just eat vegetarian nachos too often, but is there really any such thing? The Original works well with cheese like many other relatively high acid yet balanced ciders. Its a nice cider to keep company with while waiting for spring to return. Cheers!