Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cider Review: Blake's Hard Cider Company's The Tonic, Plus Data!

I'm not a gifted chef, but from time to time I get together with a good friend and we make a nice dinner together specifically to try out a fun cider pairing. I did this with my friend Phil (He's a great cook and the talented individual who runs Eruditorum Presshttp://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/author/phil/) a few weeks ago. We chose a loose concept of Asian barbecue to pair with a cider by Blake's Hard Cider Company.

You can find out all about Blake's on their website: http://www.blakeshardcider.com/

If you visit the site, you'll see that they do a tremendous number of interesting seasonal and limited release ciders. Trouble is, I cannot buy Blake's ciders within a hundred miles of where I live. Grrr! They're out of Michigan, which has a quite strong cider scene.

I've gotten a few from the company, and this was part of a trade with Darlene Hayes (who quite literally wrote the book on cider cocktails: https://www.amazon.com/Cider-Cocktails-Another-Bite-Apple/dp/0996321500/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1490665129&sr=8-1 

My first review of anything by Blake's Hard Cider Company is their El Chavo from late 2015. 


That cider is a fruit and spice blend that uses peppers and mango to create taste fireworks. I know it sounds weird and, to some cider purists, blasphemous, but it tastes fantastic. And that's always going to be the arbiter for me. Does this cider taste good? Do I enjoy drinking it?

But for this dinner, we were excited to try  The Tonic by Blake's Hard Cider Company

The official description reads, "As the first flushes of green awaken the new year, invigorate your senses with freshly picked ginger root and cool cucumber combined together to create our crisp, light elixir; Blake's Tonic." 6.5% ABV. 

Appearance: frothy, brilliant, flax yellow

The first thing that we noticed was how verrrry bubbly it was. This photo is crazy and uncomposed because the bottle was going a bit crazy after we opened it and I wanted a quite photo that actually shows a cider with a half inch of foam. It poured with even more at first. Cider is brilliant and the color is that gentle shade of yellow that seedlings have before they turn green. You could also call it flax.

Aromas: powdered sugar, cakes, apples, cucumbers

The Tonic smells sweeter than it tastes. The most striking aroma is actually like sugared cakes. I can also smell cucumber and apple.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

This is a semi-dry cider, but that's hardly the most interesting element about it. The flavors on the other hand...

Flavors and drinking experience: balanced, cocktail-like, cooling

This cider comes across as completely cool and summery. I get some ginger in flavor but not in aroma. The comparisons to a gin and tonic are obvious but apt. It's not super gingery, but just enough. The more sips I took, the more I could taste the ginger. Its far more cucumber and cool balanced cider than anything else. Lots of ciders call themselves crisp, but this one actually is.  

The mouthfeel is fizzy but perhaps not quite so much as the crazy mousse had prepared me for. I found it light and lively, its decidedly sessionable, at least for those lucky enough to have more than one bottle on hand. It sounds very daring, but this combination really worked for me. Rather like the El Chavo, it sounds crazier than it tastes.

We paired this with a really fun Asian inspired BBQ menu to do a little mental trip to summer. I made a Napa cabbage slaw with spicy peanut sauce and soy-miso-glazed Mu turnips (pictured). For the meat eaters present there were 5 Spice Barbeque Chicken Legs. And the veg folk had the same sauce on oven baked tofu. Delicious and so sticky! Blake's tonic worked perfectly though because the cucumber was so cooling and the ginger connected the flavor to our sauces, all of which incorporated elements of Asian cuisines.

Usually my pairs are simpler than that because most of my cooking is more based on ingredients than sauces, but this was a total blast. I had so much fun thinking about a flavored cider and flavored vegetables in new ways. You don't have to go as elaborate to pair this though. I still think the picnic or BBQ route is perfect, or really anything spicy. Enjoy how cooling these flavors taste.

Now, I'd like to close with a brief moment of geekery and share some really exciting cider education opportunities for current USACM members (apologies for those who aren't members). At CiderCon, there were two presentations making great use of cider sales data as gathered by Nielsen (yes, that Nielsen). I attended and got a lot out of them, particularly as I feel like my perspective is doubly skewed by living in cider country that is also wine country.

All USACM members are invited to two upcoming Webinars about Nielsen data. I know some few stats have trickled out to the news, which has unfortunately pounced on a couple of misleading numbers that make it sound like the cider market is shrinking. These webinars go so much deeper to show a rich picture of what's happening with cider sales in a variety of locations and market segments. 

The first is: "Cider Trends in the U.S.: How to Increase Your Odds of Success by Evaluating Marketplace Dynamics" on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM EDT.  You can register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/9035991447428036610

The second is: "The Apple of my Eye. How to Develop Cider Packaging that Wins with Consumers" on Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM EDT Here's the registration link for this one: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6796135628555308546


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cider Review: Blue Bee Cider Charred Ordinary

Happy Spring, everyone! We made it! *crickets* Okay, so for many of us it does not yet look like Spring has sprung. That's okay. It will. I promise.

This is my first review of anything by Blue Bee Cidery. They are an urban cidery (Virginia's first) out of Richmond. They describe their ciders by talking about what apples they use, saying, "Our ciders are made with rare and heirloom variety Virginia apples that are prized for their tannin, acidity and flavor." This doesn't denote cider varietals, but shows a focus on many fermentation qualities that make for good cider apples.

Take a look at the website. Its simple and attractive in design, describes their ciders, and allows for online purchasing. Basically, it has everything you need.


Their exciting upcoming news is the Harrison release later this week. Yes, that Harrison. The apple formerly thought to be extinct. You can read more about that here: http://www.bluebeecider.com/event/harrison-release Pretty cool.

Today I want to share my thoughts on their Charred Ordinary. Here's the official description:
Served all day long at colonial-era taverns, or ordinaries, cider was the refreshment of choice for Virginians of all classes and walks of life – man, woman, child, rich and poor. 
CHARRED ORDINARY is semi-sparkling and made from heirloom variety apples to create an old-fashioned Virginia cider, dry and sharp. It pairs well with salty hams and cheeses, rich poultry dishes, and other traditional Virginia fare. 0.5% RS, 8.3% ABV.

This might be the first cider I've ever seen that billed itself as semi-sparkling. I've heard and read lightly sparkling or petillant, but this is new. We'll see what that means. The other thing to note in particular is how high this ABV is: 8.3%. I may end up glad that I only bought a 500ml.

Appearance: visibly bubbly, vibrant saffron color, brilliant 

This cider pours with a mousse that dissipates quicky, but adding excitement to those first few seconds. I'd call the color saffron and its deeply pigmented. Though the bubbles might make the photo unclear, the cider is brilliant.

Aromas: soft mushy apples, rich, a hint of barrel, hint of citru

The Charred Ordinary is very English smelling. From me, this comes as a high compliment. I smell something that reminds me of barn wood or barrel and overripe cider apples. This aroma is extraordinarily rich: frankly outstanding. There's definitely something citrusy going on; I think I can smell lemon. Overall, this recalls the Aspall Imperial. 

Dryness/sweetness: dry

This is an unambiguously dry cider. It has just enough residual sweetness to unfold its other flavors, but dry cider fans, this is a winner.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, citrus, sparkly, dry, savory

Though this smells like an English cider, the Charred Ordinary tastes quite surprising given smell. It's 100% New World, not old. This is defined by its high acid, mid tannin, and almost no sweetness. This cider ZINGs and keeps on zinging. 

Dry. Tart. Specifically Malic acid. Agey. In terms of notes, I get lots of lime, crisp raw tomato, and a bit of raisin. It sounds like a strange combination but it works. The Charred Ordinary also shares a surprising mushroom note and savory aftertaste. The cider manages to be funky and clean at the same time. In the mid palate it tastes nearly sour, but not vinegary at all. Some might find it slightly challenging, but its decidedly rewarding. The tartness is most extreme in small sips. For mouthfeel, there are lots of small bubbles, so I'm not quite sure why semi-sparkling was the term used.

I enjoyed my bottle first with veggie chili, then a 2nd glass while under a pile of cats and watching an episode of Mr. Robot. You can go simpler with a cider this good, but a tomato dish that has plenty of Umami flavor is actually very very tasty with it. The Charred Ordinary can help keep us all in good company till Spring actually shows up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cider Review Winter Storm Stella Edition: Vermont Cider Co.'s Wassail

I thought spring was tiptoeing in last week, but Winter Storm Stella has certainly shifted my expectations! As I write, the storm is continuing to blow all around my house and all around the northeast region, and I am starting to hear comparisons to the Blizzard of '93. So, I thought it the perfect time to continue last week's trend and pick out another spiced cider to try. 

And in the name of transparency, I did receive this bottle of Vermont Cider Co.'s Wassail. for free. It arrived in November, so I'm glad to be getting to enjoy it on a perfect night for a warming spiced cider. My opinions are un-swayed by samples, but I do appreciate them. This one didn't even get to jump to the front of the review line, but I'm feeling all the more ready for it.

This is my second review of something by Vermont Cider Co. My first is their Addison, which I tried back in November. You can find that review here: 


For now, since http://vermontciderco.com/ is a landing page that's still in development, you can see tons of lovely photos and get information from Vermont Cider Co.'s Facebook page.


I do have a description of the Wassail from the press release that came with my ciders, 
Wassail is inspired by the age-old tradition of celebrating with the orchards to ensure a good crop. Wassail begins with small batch hard cider infused with traditional mulling spices, including vanilla bean, ginger and cinnamon. The cider is then aged in rum barrels to produce a unique, rich cider that is ideal for the holidays. Like Addison, Wassail is made only from 100 percent fresh pressed Vermont and Northeastern apples. 6.9%ABV.
If any readers are unfamiliar with the term wassail, it is both the name of a beverage and an activity. The drink is a warm spiced cider and the activity is the ceremonial spilling and pouring of said beverage onto the roots of orchard trees in winter amidst caroling and asking for blessings on the trees. Its a wonderfully archaic and pagan way to to carouse on a winter's night. Just not on a blizzard night like tonight.

Appearance: bronze orange, brilliant, lots of visible bubbles

This cider looks amazingly dark and rich in my glass. The color is a harvest-y orange with tones of red and bronze. The photo shows how many bubbles observable once its been poured.

Aromas: bourbon vanilla, apple, cinammon, ginger

The cider smells boozy and desserty at once: a bit like real bourbon vanilla plus cinnamon. There's also plenty of apple notes going on, but they are like roasted apples dusted with powdered ginger. This is a complex set of aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet, but only just

Yes, I'll call this cider sweet, but its closer to a semi sweet than many other mulled ciders or many others sold in this format. The 12oz bottle tends to have more sweet offerings than some other sizes.

Flavors and drinking experience: ginger, vanilla, petillant, medium acidity, balanced

I am surprised that the Wassail is only mildly sparkling, perhaps to better connote the mulled-cider experience. This cider sings with ginger and cinnamon notes as well as vanilla velvety-ness. Its not bitter but also not fake tasting; all of the flavors offer great balance with only medium acidity.

Something about this cider reminds me of a cider version of a dark and stormy, perhaps the mild sparkle, rum caramel notes, plus the forefront of gingery notes. In any case, I'm into it. The Wassail is a very very pleasant cider. I'd rather have it than most Dark and Stormys or most  available mulled ciders, so two genuine compliments. I could be predisposed to like because I like many of the notes it offers in general. I'm a fiend for both ginger and vanilla, so it doesn't surprise me that I like them in the Wassail.

How to pair this cider? With warm blankets, good company, and Jeopardy. Its perfect. The blizzard is optional.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cider Review: Angry Orchard's Spiced Apple

Last posting day, March was roaring into town and since then we've been warmed by the sun, drenched, snow covered, and blow dried. I think of Spring as a season of worry and  hard work tempered by the excitement of change and glimpses of gentleness. I feel like we've already covered that in a week.

There's a nice upside to crazy weather like this if you're a cider lover: beyond even just a good reason to spend evenings indoors with a glass of something delicious. Cider can be a strongly seasonal beverage I've talked about this before on the blog. But getting all the seasons in a week means having very different ciders in closer proximity than usually makes sense. 

It snowed twice unexpectedly in the past week, so I went back to my store of spiced ciders. Tonight I'm sharing the the most recent spiced cider a company has shared with me: Angry Orchard's Spiced Apple. This is one that can found in their Winter Orchard Sampler Variety 12-Pack, but folks were kind enough to send me one in the mail. Thanks! 

Angry Orchard has been developing in multiple directions as the cider market is maturing and changing. They've not grown in 2016 the way they did in previous years, but this is still a company that's making and selling cider on a truly massive scale. Today's review is part of push for more seasonal variety in their 12 ounce bottles. The other direction of change is higher end ciders coming out of their research and development facility in Walden, New York. 

As always, you can find out tons more at Angry Orchard's website: http://www.angryorchard.com/

I have lots of previous reviews of Angry Orchard ciders. I'm only going to share a few of my favorites because there are too many to link back to all of them.

The Stone Dry is a nice reliable cider that's notably drier than most of their offerings: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/10/cider-review-angry-orchard-stone-dry.html

Walden Hollow from the Research and Development facility: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/09/cider-review-angry-orchards-walden.html

Knotty Pear which is a blended perry and cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/06/cider-review-angry-orchards-knotty-pear.html

Back in 2014, I shared a roundup review of a few of their ciders Strawman, The Muse, and Traditional Dry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/05/roundup-of-angry-orchard-reviews.html

These new releases are designed for winter: Tapped Maple and Spiced Apple. You can find these ciders in the Winter Orchard Sampler Variety 12-Pack which is being sold only through April 2017. Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on the spiced apple; you'll see the Tapped Maple in the coming weeks. 

Angry Orchard's official description says this about it.

Angry Orchard Spiced Apple was Inspired by the spices in this classic dessert and connection to the American cider making tradition. This hard cider achieves its balanced profile by combining bright and festive warming spices and a blend of culinary and bittersweet apples. This new limited release style is perfect for evenings with friends and family during the last months of winter.
The coolest part of the description is a list of apples used in this cider: "Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Gala French." All dessert apples and relatively familiar varieties that often make for aromatic, mildly high acid ciders without much tannic presence. Though the description hints at cider apples. The ABV is listed at 5%.

Alrighty, on to the cider!

Appearance: brilliant, dark red-orange

There's no denying that this is a pretty cider with a lot of color. Its brilliant and a deep reddish orange. I don't see much bubble.

Aromas: spicy, sweet, apple 

The Spiced Apple smells very much as the name would suggest of spices and apples. The spices are the classic baking or mulling spices with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove. It smells sweet.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet.

This is a sweet cider. This makes some sense for a cider that uses dessert spices. There's plenty more going on than just sweetness, but it is there. Don't look here for dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: mellow, baked goods, lactic acid, balanced

Initial taste is sweet followed by one half-hint of bitter and a half-hint of sour. It reminds me of lactic acid. The more sips I take, the more a mellow cinnamon dough impression creeps forward. I keep thinking of a number of pleasant autumnal desserts, cinnamon rolls, apple muffins, etc.

Everything spicy happens in the middle of each drink of this cider. Now that I'm thinking more precisely, it reminds me of Apple Stack Cake, which for me is a special family recipe handed down more than three generations. Definitely notes of brown sugar But there's also some tannin, I can taste that they are now using some cider apples- maybe what I was interpreting as Gala french is Gala apples and a blend of french cider apples. It's not clear. 

The spice isn't hot. it reminds me of apple pie ice cream actually. There's enough acidity to keep things in check but acidity isn't the star of the show. I'd say the star is the long sweet  finish that just keeps rolling across the palate again and again.

 So, March, what's next? Will it be time for the Tapped Maple this week or will I get some time for springy ciders before we visit winter again?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The January 2017 Cidrbox and Eden's Imperial 11° Rose Cider

Today, March begins with thunderstorms and wind; its unseasonably warm. But I want to share a cider experience from just before CiderCon, in the first days of last month. Imagine weather like March in upstate New York is supposed to have; that was much of our February. And that's when I got my sample Cidrbox in the mail. 

Full disclosure, I got to try a free Cidrbox for review purposes. I assure you that this does not sway my opinion about either the experience of getting a cider subscription or the cider from the box that I'm reviewing here. It did get to skip much nearer to the front of the review line somewhat though, but I don't want the December box being reviewed much later!

To give a bit more background about CidrBox as a service, the business is a subscription and curation service as well as a guide to the ciders it supplies. Dayna Bateman put it together and launched the project in December of 2016. She shared some of her time with me so I could learn more about what they offer. 

Most cider fans are extremely limited in their access to high quality craft, artisan, or orchard ciders. These products tend to stay local. Shipping laws are complicated and many wonderful ciders are made in such small quantities that anything like national or even regional distribution is impossible. That's where Cidrbox comes in as a service to both cidermaker and cider lover. 

Cidrbox finds cider makers who make amazing orchard based ciders. Dayna specifically seeks out ciders made from apples cultivated especially for cider. Things are very place based and the whole service gives cider lovers a window into a different cider terroir than the ones they might be able to find at home. 

I want to emphasize the reduced shipping rate. Each Cidrbox ships for ten dollars. That means you can get a box of cider from across the country for less than the cost of one bottle of good cider. The price applies to all three sizes of Cidrbox: three bottle, six bottle, and 12 bottle. Most bottles will be the 750ml size but a few, like the ice ciders in this box, will be 375ml.

You can read much more about this subscription service here: http://www.cidrbox.com/

Then the actual unwrapping experience, my ciders were packaged securely and neatly. I've gotten perhaps more than my fair share of cider arrivals in the mail, so I've witnessed a large range in how cider can be prepared for transport. Each bottle came in an individual protective box within the larger package.

Here's how they all look freshly unboxed on the piano bench.

Another fun part of trying a new cider is tasting with others, so Cidrox includes recordings of tasting sessions, extensive shared notes, and pairing suggestions. 

Here's a link to the material accompanying the Eden box:  http://www.cidersessions.com/eden/

There's both plenty of helpful information to contextualize these varied ciders and a ton of personality here. I love the photos and videos. The layout is clear and approachable. It certainly made me feel like i could open any one of these ciders and drink with Eleanor and David and the Eden crew. 

One of the other really social feeling and enjoyable elements is the feeling that getting a Cidrbox from a company starts an ongoing connection to that cidery. Cidrbox makes it easy to order more ciders from them after you've enjoyed learning about them and drinking everything from the box. That contextualization and ongoing flow of information and connection really makes it feel like more than the other subscriptions I've tried. Instead it feels more like an introduction at a small party with really good cider.

From my Cidrbox today, I want to review Eden's Imperial 11° Rose

Eden Sparkling Cider's Official description for the Imperial 11° Rose reads as follows, "Imperial 11° Rose Cider - New! Heirloom apple cider made with red currant and lightly dosed with ice cider. It is just off-dry and gently fizzy, with bright acidity and chewy tannic structure. A perfectly refreshing summer sipper!" The ABV is listed as 11% and the cider comes in either 750ml or 375ml bottles. My Cidrbox came with a full size 750ml.

Appearance: brilliant, deep fuchsia pink hedging into the red of rubies, few bubbles

I cannot overemphasize how pretty this cider is. I cannot do it. This red brilliance is lovelier than both rose and rubies to me. Perhaps, I am sharing too effusively, but many rubies do not have perfect clarity and many rose wines are not so intense in their color. The color reminds me of the dark pink of peonies, one of my favorite flowers.

Aroma: red currants, dust, cranberries

Apples do not come to the forefront of these scents. Instead, I am met with red currants, cranberries and that familiar dusty smell that has come (at least to me) to predict the presence of tannins and astringency.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry and tart

This tastes extremely tart, enough to make me question how much sweetness I perceive in this cider. It comes across as off-dry, but I'm guessing the measurable sugar would be slightly more than it seems.

Flavors: tart, fruity, vinous, bubbly

The Imperial 11° Rose cider is fruity and tart and extremely pleasantly balanced. The balance isn't an easy one, but more the dymanic balance of a tightrope walker, and my sense of excitement is only supported by how bubbly it is! The cider tastes far more vinous than most and reminds me of black currants, though the currants in the beverage are the more unusual red currants. The whole experience is deliciously mouth-puckering, jammy, nearing a hint of solvent, but ending up estery instead.
This cider is so very zingy, it reminds me of the letter z, the zest of fruit, and the feeling of a stretched string (back to the tightrope image). 

But, I am going to disagree with the official description. I think calling it a "summer sipper" undersells the complexity and flexibility of this lovely beverage. The Cidrbox folks are genius to pack this bit of flavorful intensity into a winter box. Right now is when we need the pop and zing of red fruit. Winter can be worrisome, disappointing, and glum (sorry winter lovers), so each moment of vibrant awesomeness should be seized. That's what this cider is all about for me.

And as for the Cidrbox experience, I could not be happier! The ciders were packed securely, shipped promptly, presented contextually, and best all well chosen.