Thursday, December 28, 2017

My 10 Favorite Ciders of 2017

This is my fifth annual roundup of favorite ciders for the year. Wow! That's 50 favorites recorded here, and my heart knows that there are many more. 2017 was a challenging year; I don't want to understate that. For me, though, it was also a healing and exploring year. I did more with cider than ever before: volunteering, pouring, teaching, writing, speaking, and consulting. I'm so grateful for all of those opportunities.

My cider highlight had to be judging two more cider competitions for the first time: The Pennsylvania Farm Show Competition ( and the cider category at the Good Food Awards (

But one of my favorite at home cider activities each year has to be compiling this list of my 10 favorite ciders of the previous blogging year.

For context, here are my lists for the previous four years:

And I'll quote my own rules. “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.”

10. Virtue Percheron

Virtue Cider was started in 2011 by Greg Hall; This cidery is based out of Fennville, Michigan. They use a lot of international inspiration for their ciders and aren't afraid of a little funk.

My tasting notes include leather, dried tropical fruits and raisins, all as an overlay to overripe apples. The scents include something a little floral and a little spicy. The french oak barrel aging gently steers the flavors of the Percheron. The definites are high acid, medium high tannins, with a low intensity of bubble. What I especially like about this cider is the mutually supportive spice and richness.

9. Dunkertons Dry Organic Cider

Dunkerton's Cider is the only English company to have made the list this year. They make cider in Pembridge, Herefordshire and have done so since 1980. That has allowed them to see a lot of changes in the cider market both in the UK and abroad in that time.

The cider looks like dark tea but hazy; it had only a few visible bubbles. Gorgeous. When I first tasted it, I said the drinking experience like getting mildly whacked in the head, but assuredly in a good way. This is so dry and tannic that its level of bitterness was almost provoking, but since it offered up medium acid to go with those tannins, it brought me round. The aromas bring richness, and the whole experience is heavenly but this one is not for beginners.

8. E.Z. Orchards Poire

E. Z. Orchards has been growing apples since the 1920s in Oregon. Now, they make Cidre and Perry as well, in a style much inspired by French ciders and perries. With the Cidre part of the business founded by Edward Zielinski, E. Z. Orchards has made a name for itself in the region for trees, fruit, Cidre, and shared knowledge.

The first thing I noticed after pouring this cider, is how it was ambiently sizzling with effervescence. The Poire reminds me immediately of French ciders and perries in its farmy yet fruity aromas. The keeving fermentation process can create some reductive notes in the aromas like fallen leaves, warm wet wood, and farmy scents. After the funky aromas, I was shocked by how cold and clean tasting it was. Sweet and distinctly like fermented fruit sweetness; its the only perry on this list, but it's here for a reason.

7. South Hill Prelude 3

I know, perhaps it seems unfair for them to get the stop spot last year and yet still appear on this year's list. I can't help it. I like South Hill's ciders. These are simple apple-centric ciders that only tweak or adjust in ways that I tend to enjoy. This cider is from a single tree, yet it still tastes great.

The Prelude #3 is dry and sparkling, but it's so much more. It smelled honeyed and floral. Other aromas include orange, but concentrated like Seville oranges or tangerines. The Prelude #3 offers up a strong tannic presence, but overall the cider is round and soft. The tannins are beautifully balanced with bright golden acidity. For flavors, I taste vanilla, citrus, ripe apples, and just a bit of soft leather.

6. 2 Towns Ciderhouse Cidre Bouche

2 Towns Ciderhouse has been operating as a cidery in Oregon since 2010. 2 Towns was founded by Lee Larsen and Aaron Sarnoff-Wood, focusing on local fruit and innovative cider processes and experiments.

This is a French inspired cider through and through. Its semi-sweet, smelling of overripe apples, lemons, leather, hay, and wood. I love this ciders fine bubbles and full mouthfeel. It's my absolute favorite from this producer!

5. Champlain Heirloom

The Heirloom comes from Champlain Orchards out of Shoreham, Vermont. This cidery is truly a fruit farm that happens to make really great cider, among other things, on stunning land. All of the stages--growing, milling, pressing, fermenting and bottling--happen right there. They grow many fruits and more than 100 varieties of apples.

This semi-dry cider smells bready and tart but tastes stony and grassy with notes of green grapes. It absolutely wowed me. I love the light and vivacious body on the Heirloom. The esters from the smell remain as pleasant and clean flavors, and I find the acidity bright and high without ever being sharp or pointed. This is fruity sort of acid, balanced with medium tannins. Such a pleasurable and drinkable cider.

4. Blue Bee Charred Ordinary

Blue Bee is Richmond's first urban cider--in fact, it's Virginia's first. They focus on heritage fruit, incorporating varieties that can bring both acidity and tannin to their finished ciders. You can visit their tasting room year round.

The Charred Ordinary's aromas remind me of barn wood, barrel, and overripe cider apples. This aroma is extraordinarily rich: frankly outstanding. There's definitely something citrusy going on, specifically lemon. Once I tasted it, I could tell that the Charred Ordinary is 100% New World in style and not old. This cider is defined by high acid, mid-level tannins, and almost no sweetness. This cider ZINGs and keeps on zinging. And that's a very good thing.

3. Quebrada del Chucao Sidra Espumante Brut Nature

The company, Quebrada del Chucao, has been around since 2010 in Chile. It is a collaboration between a fruit-producing family and a university-trained winemaker. The back of the bottle describes the orchards from which the apples came as being more than 60 years old.

Though I expected sweeter, this cider is on the dry side of off dry with 7.5%ABV. I love how bubbly it is, and we can thank bottle conditioning for that natural sparkle. I'd expected it to be sweet because the sidra smelled both sweet and briney reminding me a little bit of both French and English ciders.

2. Black Diamond Solstice

Another strong cider maker from the Finger Lakes Region, Black Diamond is the small family cidery of Ian and Jackie Merwin. They have had a cidery since 2003, and a 150+ variety strong orchard near Trumansburg, New York since long before then. Cider is a natural focus for Ian Merwin as a Pomology Professor Emeritus at Cornell.

In this cider, the aroma notes included overripe apples, sun-warmed rocks, late-summer dust, and caramel. The Solstice tastes fruity, beautiful, and complex while also being uncompromisingly dry. The mouthfeel is fully and boozy. The Solstice's high acids are balanced with high tannins, making the Solstice come across as astonishing and rich. This is a mature and balanced cider, an absolute favorite.

1. Eden's Imperial 11 Degree Rose

Their logo reads “Unique expressions of extraordinary apples,” and Eden Specialty Ciders certainly supports that by making some of the finest cider I have ever tasted. It's astonishing to me that this is their first appearance in a top 3, but it wasn't hard to choose this cider as my absolute favorite of the year. Eleanor and Albert Leger have been helming their cidery since 2007. But for this year, I have to pay homage to the Imperial 11 Degree Rose, which is a blend of heritage apples and red currants.

This cider is off dry, dripping with fruit, and 11% ABV, making the Imperial 11 Degree Rose a big big cider. It's zesty, sprightly, tart and extremely bubbly. I love its flavorful intensity, and I know I'm a sucker for really good bubbles. High acid ciders with lots of fruit and some tannic structure are often among my favorites, so my love for this cider should come as no surprise. I could drink this all the time and never be sad about it.

But most of all, I want to end this post with gratitude for the cider experiences and people. From farmers to restauranteurs and every flavor of cider maker, cider writer, cider seller, and cider fan in between, you all enrich my life so much with your ciders and your stories. Here's to even more in the coming year! Cheers!