Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cider Review: Number 12 Cider House Sparkling Dry Cider

Summer officially begins here with the solstice, but summer feels like it has been here far longer. Upstate isn't known for dry rainless stretches and 90 degree days, but we have them. Orchardists, my thoughts are with you. Personally though, I've been curious about expanding my notions of the right ciders for warm weather. Since Number 12 Cider House from Buffalo, Minnesota sent me two bottles of their cider, I thought I'd try one with a porch picnic last week to see how that works.

The identity that I see in Number 12 Cider House is very oriented towards quality. The name comes from their twelfth formulation of their cider, from back in 2011. They kept experimenting in order to develop a cider they loved. I know that sounds obvious and perhaps even universal, but it isn't. Many brands present heritage or regional identity or apple growing rather than focusing on the taste and quality of their cider. I appreciate that companies share their own set of values and priorities, but I admit I get extra excited when the final fermented beverage takes center stage.

The charming website has more information here:

Usually, I turn to hopped ciders for warm weather, but I chilled and served a bottle of Sparkling Dry Cider in hopes it would be refreshing for a picnic on my porch. Here's what Number 12 Cider House says about this cider.          

Number 12 Sparkling Dry is a truly dry, English style cider with a slightly tart finish. It has just the right amount of dry and tart, with an appley bouquet and a champagne-like sparkle. Sparkling Dry is blended with over 10 varieties of apples, picked and pressed and fermented to goodness. It is the culmination of 17 years of experimentation. And we're ready to share.
 This cider has an ABV of 7.4%. I'm curious to see what this Minnesota cider inspired by English ciders will actually taste like!

Appearance: brilliant, active visible bubbles, old gold

As the picture shows, this is a lovely cider with lots of active bubbles and fantastic brilliance. It looks like a champagne in a deep gold color. Very heartening.  It pours with a lacy mouse of bubbles and at the tale end of the bottle a good bit of cloudy sediment. 

Aromas: fermented fruit, caramel, yeast

The Sparking Dry smells fermented first and foremost. I can scent yeasty ripe apples and dust maturity. Everything about the smell points to mellowness, richness, and ripeness. The smell is appley but not like fresh fruit. I can also smell a bit of caramel. 

Dryness/sweetness: Decidedly dry.

Finally! They said dry and dry it is.

Flavors and drinking experience: citrus, sharp, rich, tannic

Wow! The first thing I notice about this cider is how it stimulates a salivary response. This cider has a lot going on. It is both high acidity and high tannincs. It tastes dark, and rich yet firm and sharp. The first hit of flavor is bitter, fruity and astringent at once. The acid lingers and creeps up tongue to salivary glands. I get a curling sensation below my ears! Wow! 

I just keep noticing the acidity plus tannins over and over. I love how the cider cuts through fatty food. In terms of mouthfeel, there's lots of sparkle, this cider is bottle conditioned for certain. I find it very wine like as well as being influenced by english cider making. There's just a little gentle funk, but not enough to scare anyone.  I like how this cider tastes spicy, with  a bit of black pepper flavor. In terms of fruit, I get lemon, quince, and crabapple. One of my tasting companions thought it tasted like a sharp and tart apple peel. Everyone found it *Very* good. 

For this porch picnic, we had cous cous with sun dried tomatoes, caramelized Vidalia onion, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. The cider worked well with this, as well as a veggie loaded green salad with avocado. Try your own pairings, but keep it simple so that this complex cider can get the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cider Review: Angry Orchard's Knotty Pear

Today I'm sharing my review of Angry Orchard's  Knotty Pear. This is my first review from Angry Orchard's Orchard's Edge series. This is how the brand introduces it, "Our cider makers are excited to continue expanding the idea of what American cider can be. Orchard’s Edge is our innovative line of ciders developed at the orchard." One of the facts I find most intriguing about this line is that they have been developed and produced at the R&D center, The Innovation Cider House in Walden, New York.  Some kind folks at Angry Orchard sent me two bottles of this and the other Orchard's Edge cider, the Old Fashioned (expect that review in August).

I've review other lines and ciders from Angry Orchard before. Here are just a few.

A roundup of Strawman, The Muse, and Traditional Dry:

Most recently, I review the Stone Dry:

"Knotty Pear’s main ingredient is juice from American apples, and also features pear juice, which adds a new dimension to the cider, creating a pleasantly dry flavor. Cardamom imparts a slight spicy flavor. With subtle notes of citrus and mint. This cider and showcases fresh acidity, lasting tannin, and a pleasantly dry finish from oak aging." There are a few references to dryness and one mention of tannins in this description; these will be features to look out for.

Beyond the description, the website also gives some facts. I love having these here to anchor my expectations.
ABV: 6.5%

Culinary Apples: Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith

Special Ingredients: Juice from culinary pears including Bartlett, Doyenne de Comice, and Bosc, D’Anjoucardamom. Cardamom

Gluten Free: Yes

Packaging Options: 12oz bottle (6-pack)

Availability: Year-Round

Appearance: bright brass, brilliant, few visible bubbles

This is a shockingly bold color. I never know what to expect colorwise when I'm pouring from dark glass bottles, but this was a lovely surprise.

Aromas: Powdery zingy fruity smells, Citric acid

Wow, I can smell so much tart acidity in this. It really reminds me of citric acid plus some extra zingy tropical fruit smells.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

Though the profile of this cider mentions dryness, I found this cider decidedly sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: dried apricots, sweet spice, green apple candy

The Jolly Rancher green apple flavor comes through the most clearly, but I can also taste rich sweet dried apricots, super ripe peaches, and tropical fruit. This cider offers up notes of pineapple as well. There's no getting around that sweetness, even with the cider's medium acid.

Here's where it gets interesting though. I do notice some astringency and fun mouthfeel. That's not from the pears, but it could be the oak aging. I'm also surprised by how relatively low profile the pear was in this mix.

The strangest thing is I had this cider twice and formed relatively different views of it each time. The first, I had it after eating far too much movie theater popcorn and watching X Men Apocalypse. Then, it tasted sweet yet invigorating and different. I think the sweet & salty contrast served it well. When I had it most recently, it was as an after dinner cider. Dinner had been amazing grilled pizzas and salad made by my friend Phil Sandifer (of Eruditorum Press The pizza had plenty of savory and salty flavors being topped with homemade sauce, feta, mozzerella, roasted red peppers, basil and sun dried tomatoes. But after this, the cider felt much more like sweet apple candy and didn't unfold in quite the same ways it had before. 

If you're interested in trying this cider, I'd go for an intense salty and sweet pairing. The popcorn really did show it off well!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cider Review: Cidergeist Semi Dry Hard Cider

Last weekend, I travelled down to Ohio for the College of Wooster's alumni weekend. So, I wanted to keep my that little memory glowing by sharing my review of an Ohio cider. Cidergeist is from Rheinegeist out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Rheinegeist is primarily a brewery, and they've just now started releasing a couple of ciders.

One surprise I found when reading on the website is that they use Washington state apples. That's pretty far to go for mostly dessert apple varieties, but there are a lot of apples up there.

For a little background about Rhinegeist, I went to the website, "Our name, Rhinegeist, translates to "Ghost of the Rhine" and refers to our place in the historic Over-the-Rhine Brewery District in Cincinnati. Built within the skeleton of the old Moerlein bottling plant (1895), we brew batches of beer that sing with flavor." Let's hope their ciders sing as well!

If you want to read more about Cidergeist ciders and see some pictures, find them here:

Today, I'm sharing my review of Cidergeist's Semi-Dry Hard Cider.

This is what Cidergeist has to say about their Semi-dry, "Cider fermented to amplify the fragrance and essence of the apples whilst achieving a delightful, lip-smacking dryness." zI can add that the cider has 6.2% ABV  and is available year round. The kind folks at Cidergeist sent me a mixed six pack of cans of this and their hopped cider, so I'll be reviewing that one soon. 

Appearance: hazy, deep harvest moon color, poured with a head

This looks almost like bubbled bronze in the glass. Lots of sparkling action; the cider even poured with a head. That vanished quickly, but I caught it in the picture.

Aromas: fresh apples, stone, candy

This smells like fresh apples crushed between stones. Thesre's a secondary note that smells more candied, perhaps like candied pineapple and dried pear

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

This is pleasantly semi-sweet with a real fruit character. I would not call it semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruit, fizz, balance

Fascinatingly, the Cidergeist Semi-dry tastes slightly of watermelon and cucumber. I was surprised that the level of fizz is medium; the appearance of so many bubbles made me expect something more intensely fizzy. Medium acidity and nice balance. As expected, there aren't many tannins to speak of. 
The finish of this cider transforms interestingly; it shrinks somehow and yet the acid remains for one little moment of farewell.

I had this first in a can and a few days later had one poured into a goblet. The glassware made a huge difference. The goblet caught the aroma much more. As much as I love the convenience of cans, I got a lot more flavor out of the goblet. And I'll choose flavor over convenience almost every time.

My recommendation is to free this cider from its can and drink it in such a way that you can really enjoy its aromas and flavors. The fruit be free!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Cider Review: Symond's Scrumpy Jack Premium English Cider

I still have a few ciders to break out when I'm missing England. When I was reading about The Royal Bath and West Show last week, missing England became the foremost thought in my mind. Please join me in being fascinated by learning more about it: This year a few of my American cider friends including Eric West of Cider Guide ( were there, and I look forward to reading about their experiences. But, enough of my jealous and longings, that's just how I choose Scrumpy Jack for this week.

Symonds Scrumpy Jack is a brand that was acquired by Bulmers, but dates back to 1727. Now, since Bulmers is owned by Heineken, that makes Scrumpy Jack a brand owned by them, but the cider is still made in Hereford, England.

My own experience with the cider was finding it on a late night snack run to a corner store when I was in London last May. I hadn't seen many canned ciders in the UK, so I picked it up. It doesn't hurt that a B&B owner tried to nickname me Scrumpy on a previous trip to Norwich.

I cannot find a complete webpage about Symonds as a brand or Scrumpy Jack. Unfortunately, all of the URLs I can find simply time out. I did find subpage on Heineken UK's website.

Here's what that page has to say about Scrumpy Jack, "Scrumpy Jack was first produced in 1727 by Symonds Cider and appeals to the discerning drinker who enjoys a refreshing drink with flavour and strength. It is made entirely from locally grown bitter-sweet cider apples, including Dabinett and Chisel Jersey and is a premium cider with a natural fruity aroma and superior crisp taste." 6% ABV.

Perhaps, I can offer a beautiful advertisement for Symonds Founder's Reserve from 2015 instead. Its lovely.

I've reviewed one Symonds cider before. I tried the Founder's Reserve at a pub in Cornwall. You can read my tasting notes here in the second part of my writeup of that trip.

Appearance: brilliant, dark burnished gold, dissipating head

This cider stands out so much after having had mostly American ciders for a few weeks. This color is deep and rich and warm. I'm also a bit surprised by the head. This cider looks different, no question. Its easy to see that's brilliant, but those other characteristics stand out more.

Aromas: dusty, woody, sweet, sawdust, apples

Scrumpy Jack smells really dusty, a little woody and a little sweet. The smell appealingly reminds me of sawdust and apples.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

Whether arrested fermentation or backsweetened, this cider is not dry. The sweetness is married well to the rich mouthfeel.

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannin, medium acid, clean, great mouthfeel

Let me start by saying that this doesn't taste scrumpy like. I associate that term with farmy still ciders. The Scrumpy Jack instead is pleasant, easy drinking mainstream english cider from a very large company.

Scrumpy Jack offers up medium bubbles, a bit surprising because it pours with a head. More typically for an english cider the mouth feel is dominated by high tannins. I can taste low to medium acid and the cider is semi-sweet. This tastes likes a clean fermentation, maybe backsweetened. 

In terms of the more subjective perceptions, I get a gentle balsa or pine not. The finish is clean, but there's a neat note of high-fat cream (with only pleasant mouthfeel. The Scrumpy Jack recalls Thatcher's Green Goblin ( Woodchuck's Local Nectar, just a bit. What I'm noticing is that its edges have been smoothed, but it's by no means unpleasant, or even boring. just cool, solid and balanced.

Nice big drinks are refreshing. I love its sweet citrus, grape skin and Bosc pear. 

This is a pleasant sweet English cider, and I'd definitely recommend having it on its own or with cheddar. Keep it simple and full of flavor.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cider Review: Wolffer Cider's No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider

Spring does not last; I suppose that's the one thing we can count on about it. Perhaps it arrives early, or like this year seems to tease and disappear. But before we've had our fill, spring is over. Not that I'm going to complain about summer already. Oh no, not me. There are special pleasures unique to these early weeks of warmth, 
and rosé is one of them.

To continue with my ciders enjoyed at Gramercy Tavern, today I'm reviewing Wolffer Cider's No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider. This summery beverage made quite the impression, from its visually stunning label, to its interesting inclusion of grape skin extract, as well as its aromas and flavors. There's a lot to say, so I'll get to it.

This is my first review of a Wolffer Cider . To find out about Wolffer Cider, part of Wolffer Estate Vineyard on Long Island, you can read about the ciders and the vineyard here:

Here's how they introduce it, "Made from a selection of Apples grown by the Halseys of White Cap Farm in Bridgehampton, the Wölffer No. 139 Dry White and Dry Rosé Ciders make a spirited and unique entrance into the hard cider market.Through a carefully selective taste test, the blend of apples was chosen so that each variety could contribute its distinctive character."

"While the Dry Rosé is clear with a shiny, pale rose color and also has hints of honeysuckle and fine yeast aromas but with the additional hint of strawberries."

Appearance: brilliant, deep warm bronze, very obviously bubbly

The dry rosé wowed me with its bronze red copper color. I wish my photo could capture it better. The cider poured with a quickly fading head. Brilliant. Lovely. The cider gets its color from extract of grape skins.

Aromas: red fruit, apricots, malic acid

Oooh, I can smell intense fruit notes, but its not overpowering. The cider offers up dense notes of ripe grapes and tart apricots. Somehow the impression I get is of fruit bursting, but that might not make any sense. I get a bit of dusty mineral smell. I'm guessing this will feel high in malic acid.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

Wolffer's rosé cider tastes more like a semi-dry to me than a true dry. Acidity tends to enhance dryness or at least alter the mouth coating elements of a sweet cider, but I'll still stand by my perception of this as a fruity semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: good bubble, rich, bready, high acid, balanced,

This texture pleases me in that it is nicely sparkling. They seem force carbonated rather than bottle conditioned. The bubbles compliment the cider's bright acidity. There's a tiny bit of initial breadiness, but it gives way to fruit. Speaking of this cider's fruit notes, they taste deep and rich with little sparks of dark sourness. This is not a heavy beverage, more like a fruit salad with purple grapes and fresh Granny Smith apples.

The alcohol does not present very strongly at its 6.9% ABV. One of my favorite things about drinking this is the luscious mouth coat balanced by acid. I find it exceedingly drinkable and balanced. No tannins to speak of. The most distinct apple not arrives at the finish.

As the bottle seems to hint without offering; this is a lovely summer fling. Treat it like rosé wine and enjoy it with brunch, gossip, or a good view.