Monday, November 27, 2017

Cider Review: Blake's Hard Cider's Snapdragon

I feel that hibernation season and the holidays are both upon us. Perhaps, I am not alone in feeling like we’re living in the land of eternal 9pm, and more offers for ways to spend our time than we have time to spend. This time is chaotic and demanding, but it’s also full of surprises and little lights in the cold dark. I'll take all the brightness the world can muster, even if I'm run off my feet. On one such a night recently, some friends and I took a breath and quiet night for ourselves to drink cider, catch up, and generally be cozy.

One of the select ciders that evening was Blake's Hard Cider's Snapdragon. Blake's Hard Cider comes from Armada, Michigan, where the company produces 19 varieties of cider, runs a taproom and restaurant, and grows 45600 apple trees. I found out these little nuggets of information on the website, and there are descriptions for all of their ciders there also.

You can learn more about the company on the website

My previous reviews of Blake's have included:

I got my bottle in a cider trade with an illustrius friend (Hi Darlene!) who was travelling that direction. 

Blake's official description from the website:
Intentionally burning your mouth by plucking a molten hot raisin out of a fire and eating it used to be considered a fun game enjoyed all over the world, in fact people would do it in an attempt to mimic the face of a dragon. Snap Dragon, a game played only by the brave for centuries has now been captured in this handcrafted concoction. Enjoy the warm taste of burnt rum-raisins with the crisp taste of apples from Blake’s. 6.9% ALC. BY VOL.
and from the bottle:
Here at Blake’s Hard Cider Co. we’re steeped in tradition and as such our games are a bit old fashioned, but no less sophisticated. Our own version of the famous Snap-Dragon game involved the blue flames of rum from which the raisins used in our cider were skillfully procured. With their plumpness regained, a prolonged cider bath developed a lingering rich finish with just the right hint of warmth as though the flames were clinging to the fruit all along.

Appearance: hazy, warm straw, no visible bubbles

I don't see any bubbles in this slightly hazy cider. It looks warm and lazy like the color of warm straw tinted by the afternoon sun. 

Aromas: honey, flowers, sweet, fresh apple

The Snapdragon smells floral, with lots of honey notes. I find the aromas pleasantly sweet with just an edge of bite to the smells. I’m guessing that comes from the rum, but I’ll know more once I taste it.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

I found it sweet, but among my fellow sippers, there was some disagreement between sweet and semi-sweet. I think the rich boozy notes and the hints of rum might affect how we perceive what sweetness is there.

Flavors and drinking experience: Raisins, concord grapes, bruised apples, booze

Tasting makes everything clearer, yes, we absolutely tasted raisin notes and a bit of booze, Concord grapes, and bruised apples. The most pronounced notes include honey, caramel, and flowers. Everyone did agree on how nicely balanced we found the cider.

The Snapdragon isn’t subtle, but its complex and I think pairing rum and raisin together did more for the cider than either of those additions would have done on its own. The mouthfeel is decidedly thick, to the point of feeling a bit syrupy after a small glass. It has enough acid to keep one going back for more sips, and the rum notes bring just a whiff of bitterness which helps that crucial balance. It’s a fun cider, and a perfect one for winter nights. 

We paired it with goat cheese, crackers, and conversation. You would have to look long and hard to do better. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#PickCider for Thanksgiving, Vermont Cider Co.'s Ingrained Review

My last review before time to #PickCider for Thanksgiving! I wanted to choose a cider both seasonal and food friendly, so I'm taking a chance on the new Vermont Cider Company offering, Ingrained. This is a barrel aged cider, and those tend to have enough mouthfeel to be great food pairing ciders. We'll see if my suspicions are correct.

In the past, I've reviewed two ciders by the Vermont Cider Company.

Find out more about Vermont Cider Co. on the web:

The official description  tells us something about how Ingrained was crafted.

Ingrained uses 100% local apples from Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, VT.  After fermentation, this cider was aged for nine months in WhistlePig Rye Whiskey barrels from Shoreham, VT for an incomparable taste experience. Ingrained has balanced botes of American oak & rye whiskey over a crisp New England apple backdrop.

Appearance: shining, bright gold, few visible bubbles

This color is intense! The shining gold is just riveting to look at. Of course its brilliant. There aren't many bubbles to see either, just shining color.  

Aromas: vanilla, barrel, booze, and ripe apple

This smells mouthwateringly of vanilla, barrel, and rich booziness. I get secondary notes of caramel, apple, and spice.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet

This is a sweet and rich cider, redolent with dessert qualities.

Flavors and drinking experience: sweet, complex, thick mouthfeel

This cider has a nice balance of body, sweetness, and acidity, but in an equilateral way. This is a pyramid with a strong base of sweetness, lightened by medium acidity, topped of with some barrelly tannins. The flavors are complex and roll through a bright sweetness through a mellow mid-palate and long luxuriant finish.

Ingrained has a thick mouthfeel and a sweetness that remind me of an ice cider, but it has an ABV that allows it to be consumed very differently. The Ingrained is easy pleasant drinking, perfect for an evening by the fire with a good book or a riveting movie, something scary or with lots of action. I really enjoyed Atomic Blonde, especially with that soundtrack. Let the holiday movies wait another week. 

My food pairing recommendations would be glazed carrots, vegetarian roast, and mashed potatoes. This is a great choice to #pickcider for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#PickCider Review Wild Hare Hard Cider's Hopscotch, & I'm off to judge cider again!

Its time to start thinking about how to #pickcider for Thanksgiving, and I wanted to challenge myself to think about taking this really delicious easy pairing and give it a fun challenge. I want to find out if a hopped cider can work for the Thanksgiving meal, so I'm trying Hopscotch by Wild Hare Ciders out of Virginia.

Based on the way that Wild Hare introduces themselves, I can see that they also care about variety and challenge in their ciders. This is what Wild Hare says by way of introduction, “From classic dry ciders to more modern ciders infused with hops and herbs, we craft cider with a variety of personalities. Throughout the year we will have our standard offerings, and also seasonal batches and experimental flavors. Come in to find the cider that is the perfect match for you”.

I also found out online that this micro Virginia cidery sources apples from the Shenandoah Valley. They pride themselves on producing ciders different from folks will find on grocery store shelves. This boutique micro-cidery talk about both modern fermentation techniques and the long history of cider. The founder is Jay Clement, and the cidermaker is Nathan Briggs. They do have a tasting room where visitors can try their current selections.

Find out more on the web at:

Today's cider is their Hopscotch; it's label describes it as “a lightly dry-hopped cider.” This grammar nerd found that an interesting order of modifiers. In the end it looks like the level of hopping will be light and the method of hopping is dry hopping, but we'll see whether or not tasting the cider bears this out. As for a Thanksgiving pairing, I tend to think the fresh lightness of a hopped cider, provided it is a balanced beverage, would complement many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, including sweet potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts.

The full official description reads,

This small batch cider gives a nod to beer making and does so by dry hopping a special blend of finished cider. With a variety of aroma hops, the process imparts a floral & citrus aroma, creating a truly unique product that is not bitter, but has the spirit to stand up to beer and wine.

This cider is a 2017 GLINTCAP Bronze medalist. Its ABV is 6.9%

What I don't know about Wildhare Cider's Hopscotch is much about the apple varieties used to make it. But the best way to find out more about this cider will be to taste it.

Appearance: hazy, vibrant straw, no visible bubbles

This definitely looks like a hopped cider. They are more likely to be hazy and appear less bubbly. 

Aromas: mildly hoppy, sweet, fruity, lychee

I'm digging the mildly hoppy cider aroma; its pleasing and mellow. The notes are sweet fruity with lots of lychee smell. I'm anticipating a bright cider based on these smells.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry

You could call this cider medium dry or more precisely off dry. The sweetness is balanced by acidity and fruitiness. Yes, I'd definitely call this balanced. The Hopscotch tastes less sweet than it smells.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, green fruit, spicy,

This cider tastes like green or light fruits: pears, lychee, and golden apples. I'd say its surprisingly less sweet than I expected based on the aromas. The Hopscotch offers up plentiful acid and a very nice amount of hop flavor. There are no tannins to speak of.

I found its light body and medium sparkle very appealing. One of the more exciting flavor notes for me in this cider is the subtle spiciness. The hops are indeed aromatic hops but there's just enough bitterness to remind me of a fresh tonic with apple and Quinine. Its pleasing and not as cooling and summery as some hopped ciders. I do think it would pair well with some vegetable sides for Thanksgiving.

Also, I will be judging at the Pennsylvania State Farm Products Show (or just the PA Farm Show) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania later this month. And its not too late to enter!

Their cider entries must arrive by November 17th, so the deadline is coming up very soon. Read more here:

This is a first year for this competition, so I’m super excited to be judging. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cider Review: 2 Towns Ciderhouse's Cidre Bouché French Style Keeved Cider

Today, I want to raise my glass to a cidery stretching its own boundaries and doing a lot with its multiple different lines of ciders. To this end, today's review is of 2 Towns Ciderhouse Cidre Bouché from the Traditions line.

2 Towns Ciderhouse is a cidery based in Oregon, started by Lee Larsen and Aaron Sarnoff-Wood . They've been producing ciders since 2010. Their focus is very local and process oriented. I've had the honor of meeting lots of folks from 2 Towns at various cider event over the past five years. When describing their approach to making cider, the website emphasizes that 2 Towns Cider house does not use any artificial flavors, concentrates, or processed sugars. 

To focus in a bit more on the Traditions lineup, I read more about it on the company website, learning that it focuses on heirloom apples, barrel aging, and other historically inspired cider-making techniques. I received this sample of the Cidre Bouché for review and didn't pay for it. But, when i get the chance to buy 2 Towns Ciders, I also do.

Find out more about the Traditions line, as well as their Flagship and Seasonal ciders online:

My previous reviews for 2 Towns Cider House have included:

and the Brightcider was part of my roundup of vacation ciders:

To be prepared for the Cidre Bouché, I read the official description to see exactly what french style means to 2 Towns Ciderhouse. Here it is:
Inspired by the bittersweet ciders of France, Cidre Bouché is made using an old-world process called keeving. Starting with 100% traditional cider varieties like Kingston Black, Michelin, Reine des Pommes, Dabinett and Muscat de Lense, we let the fruit ‘sweat’ and intensify in aroma. The apples are crushed and left to soak on the skins before the juice is fermented slowly over the course of a year, and aged in French oak casks. When finished, this keeved cider is rich, thick, and brimming with overripe bittersweet apple character. 6.9%ABV

Appearance: dark red, hazy, very very bubbly

This photo is totally unfiltered. The cider really is this dark and intensely autumn colored. The shade reminds me of strong tea and falling leaves. I'd call the cider slightly hazy and very very bubbly, which I hope comes through in the picture.

Aromas: overripe apples, leather, hay

I smell those bittersweet apples like whoa. Notes include leather, overripe apples, lemons, hay, and something woody. You could also say applesauce and a cedar aftershave. This is a gentle mellow and rich set of smells. Holy anticipation.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

This semi-sweet cider still has bitterness, and in the best possible way. I think folks who like semi-sweet ciders will enjoy it, but as a habitual dry drinker, I also find it very satisfying.

Flavors and drinking experience: rich overripe apples, bubbles, full mouthfeel

Wow! Wow wow wow. I know, that's not terribly informative or articulate, but I need to lead with that holistic first impression.This cider offers up high tannins, medium low acidity, and a rich full mouthfeel. The Cidre Bouché is very much like a french cider, but somehow just a bit more balanced with acid and very freshly bubbly.

I paired this cider with a rustic bean and vegetable stew topped with fresh green onions. The stew emphasized acidity and strong salty, earthy flavors. The rich and sweet cider made for the perfect counterpoint. To say I recommend this pairing, or something like it, would be an understatement.

This is without any doubt my favorite cider from 2 Towns Ciderhouse. They consistently make innovative and drinkable ciders, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. They really knew just what to do with those bittersweet apples. Yum!