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.