Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cider Review: Dunkerton's Black Fox and Old Hill Cidermaker's Barrel

Good morning, cider-loving friends! This past weekend, Spring finally arrived. We had some glorious sunshine, gentle breezes, and warmer temperatures over the weekend. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more grateful for any break in the weather. I walked trails, watched a marching band, and participated in one of my favorite seasonal traditions: spring cleaning! I cleaned up my screened in porch, so now I have my favorite cider drinking spot back. Picture happy tired people drinking these ciders on a screened-in porch on sunny afternoon.

My first review for today is Dunkerton’s Black Fox Organic Cider. I did receive this sample for review from the american distributor for the Dunkerton’s brand. As always, this does not sway my feelings or writing on a cider. This Herefordshire cider maker uses only organic local fruit, supports many environmental causes, and consistently wins prestigious awards for making delicious ciders.
My previous reviews of Dunkerton’s beverages include

Dry Organic Cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/10/cider-review-dunkertons-dry-organic.html This cider achieved gold and then first in class in the traditional cider, dry category at GLINTCAP in 2017.

Organic Perry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/05/very-perry-may-pt-2-woodchuck.html This perry also won gold at GLINTCAP 2017 and took first in class in the traditional perry category.

You can find tons more info on the website: https://www.dunkertonscider.co.uk/
Today’s cider is their semi-dry Black Fox Organic Cider and it too did well at GLINTCAP, earning a silver medal.

The cider’s official description reads, “Dunkertons Organic Black Fox cider has fragrant notes of traditional cider apple varieties which we have carefully blended together to give a deliciously robust cider leaving your mouth full of lively sweet and tangy after tastes. Translucent in colour with light golden honey hues.” 7% ABV

The site also lists all of the apples in the cider, something that always makes me happy! The apples listed include: Brown Snout, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Balls Bitter Sweet, Stoke Red, Dabinett, Court Royal, Breakwells, and Yarlington Mill.

These exciting cider apples make my expectations quite high, perhaps dangerously so.

Appearance: transparent, harvest orange, some visible bubbles

This cider looks so traditionally english with its deep orange color and slight haze. I’d not call it brilliant but rather transparent. I can see some bubbles at the base and surface of the glass.

Aromas: cooked apples, tea, leather, salt

The Black Fox smells salty, leathery and slightly sweet.

Dryness/sweetness: semi-dry or a solid english medium dry

This is exactly what is called a medium or medium dry in UK cider parlance. It translates roughly to a semi-dry in the language I see more often on american cider labels.

Flavors and drinking experience: tannic, fresh peach, caramel

I love how tannic and rich this cider tastes! It’s absolutely brimming over with ripe fruit character including notes of peach, citrus, and overripe apple. But’s not simple; the Black Fox is also a little funky and spicy. The spice notes are more gingery and zesty rather than like baking spices.

The cider mellows through the mid palate. It offers up lots of traditional UK cider features like flavors reminiscent of barn wood and clean sweat along with medium acidity. The gentle level of oxidation does impart a caramel sheen to the whole drinking experience. It’s remarkable, and it’s lovely.

Up next is Old Hill Cider’s Cidermaker’s Barrel.

This is my first review of anything by Old Hill Cider. My charming partner Alex picked it up for me on a trip to Virginia. The cidery was formed eight years ago, but the orchard on which it is based, Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse, has been in operationg for more than 50 years. Old Hill seems to take its sense of history and local food very seriously, offering up a cidery history segment on the website and partnering with farm-to-table endeavors.

Find out about the company online at: http://www.oldhillcider.com/

Here’s the official description.
Cidermaker’s Barrel 
This reserve cider boasts our most complex flavor profile. Natural yeast fermentation lends layers of flavor including vanilla and fruit sweetness. A tannic, charred-oak finish enhances this traditional Shenandoah Valley Farmhouse style cider. 
Serve and enjoy this Virginia indigenous cider with salty pork, VA ham, aged cheddars, sheep’s milk cheese, rich, spicy stews and foods equal in complexity.

Appearance: brilliant, bright straw, no visible bubbles

This cider has a shining bright color with total brilliance. I don't see any bubbles, and I don't know how much petillance to expect.

Aromas: Barrel, grain, vanilla

This is going to be so very much about the barrel; I can tell! The aromas are vanilla, barrel, grain and booze. I don’t get any fruit on the nose.

Dryness/sweetness: dry

This is a very dry cider with lots of barrel character.

Flavors and drinking experience: tart, sour, petillant, barrel-y

This cider is extremely tart! I’d go so far as to call it sour; this is not an uncommon profile for wild fermented ciders. The sparkle level is petillant, or only mildly bubbly. The Cidermaker’s Barrel does come across as more boozy than average.

The barrely flavors make this woody and drying in addition to tart and wild. It does have a very rustic character. I like that the vanilla aromatic notes give a gentle counterpoint to some of the more rugged flavors. This one is an excellent sip and read or sip and think cider. I think that’s how I would ideally approach it more than as a food pairing cider.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cider Review Slyboro Cider House's Hidden Star and Starcut's Pulsar

I am a broken record these days. When will it be spring? I want to see the sun. I apologize for my repetitions of this theme, but it’s as true as I can be to this year and the context of my cider tastings of late. I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to desire hints of green and warm in mid-April. Besides, complaining about the weather unites people. Feel free to add your own grousing in the comments.

As satisfying as it might be to fuss about the lack of spring, that’s not why I write. I write to share my thoughts about new ciders each week. I had a lot of fun choosing my ciders for today’s reviews. I picked two companies, Starcut Ciders and Slyboro Cider House that focus on local apples from two different prominent apple regions of the United States: northern Michigan and New York just on the other side of the Vermont border. Then I realized that both ciders have the word star in their names, so I’ll drink these two ciders and look to the heavens. Or something.

Slyboro Cider House’s Hidden Star

Of the two companies, I am more familiar with Slyboro Cider House. It operates out of a many generation orchard with many varieties of heritage and cider apples. You can visit their orchard and tasting room seasonally, as well as join in on pizza or paint and sip nights.

You can find some additional information and see some gorgeous photographs on the website:

Here’s a little list of my previous reviews of Slyboro Ciders.

I also used their Ice Cider in my Thanksgiving lineup last year: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/11/happy-to-pickcider-for-thanksgiving.html
In 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting the orchard and tasting room: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-3.html
And when this blog was new, I first reviewed Slyboro’s Old Sin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/06/cider-review-slyboro-ciders-old-sin.html
Here’s the official description for Hidden Star.
Hidden Star Semi - Dry Cider 
Discover the secret in the apple! Cider from historic, hearty Northern Spy apples blended with ecologically grown Liberty apples, brings a deeply rooted American tradition to the modern table for your enjoyment.
Made from apples grown at Hicks Orchard, a family farm in the Adirondack foothills and New York?s oldest U-Pick orchard. Clean, crisp, aromatic and refreshingly smooth, like a ripe apple just picked from a tree. Hidden Star pairs well with Summer barbeques,Autumn picnics,Winter festivities, and Spring frolics. Serve chilled. 8% alc/vol 2.5% residual sugar. 750ml

Appearance: brilliant, bubbly, straw

This cider has tantalizingly visible bubbles in a warm straw color. As the picture shows, it's brilliant with nary a hint of haze.

Aromas: tropical fruit, applesauce, peaches

Nice and fruity, Hidden star smells like tropical fruits including pineapple, homemade applesauce, and ripe peaches.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

This semi-dry cider has a little sweetness that reminds me most specifically of powdered sugar.

Flavors and drinking experience: citrus, spice, balanced

Though the smell was all fruit, the taste of Hidden Star shows even more complexity. I do get lots of citrus; if pressed, I’d describe it as crystallized citrus peel. There are some baking spice notes, like a gentle hint of cinnamon. The tropic fruit from the aroma isn’t entirely gone though as I still get suggestions of pineapple in the cider.

In terms of specific qualities, I’d call this medium acidity cider that exhibits great balance. The body of the cider is moderately full but very zesty. The Hidden Star offers up some subtle wildness, but it’s not funky. One of the things I notice most about the cider is how great the finish tastes.

I tend to love those Northern Spy heavy ciders, and this is no exception. Brilliant. I had it with homemade veggie and pineapple pizza and it was simply delicious.

Starcut Pulsar

This is my second review of a cider by Starcut. They are a relatively young company out of Northern Michigan, founded in 2014. The company is the cider arm of Short’s Brewing Company. They focus on using local Michigan apples and combining them with fruits and using inventive fermentation techniques.

My first Starcut Cider review was of the Immortal Jelly: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/01/cider-review-starcut-immortal-jelly.html

Read all about the ciders at http://starcutciders.com/

The Pulsar’s official description reads,
Pulsar is a semi-dry Modern Cider fermented with Michigan apples and Pinot Noir yeast. Golden in color, Pulsar has soft fruit and white wine-like aromas. Mildly acidic, this cider has a bright and tangy sweetness that dries the palate before a clean and crisp finish. 6.4% ABV
This is one of Starcut’s Flagship ciders. I need to take a second for this phrase, “has a bright and tangy sweetness that dries the palate.” I’m not sure I understand what Starcut is claiming, but dry is more often used as an opposite idea to sweet such that I’m not sure how sweetness can be drying. That said, I’m curious about this cider.

Appearance: brilliant, some visible bubbles, tea

The color reminds me of tea; it's brilliant. I see some visible bubbles in a ring at the top of the liquid and at the bottom of the glass.

Aromas: Pixy Stix, berries, dust, and apples

This is such an interesting set of aromas! The cider smells distinctly sweet and fruity, and when I break down those smells, the Pulsar’s aromas remind me most of apples, berries, and Pixy Stix!
Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

I thought it would be sweeter based on the aroma, but the cider is an approachable semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: bright, tart, beery

I know that the Pulsar’s official description calls out wine yeast and vinous flavors, but I found a lot of beer characteristics in this cider. This semi-dry cider is medium acid, which translates to pleasantly tart and bright. It’s very bright in flavor. The fruitiest note when drinking the cider comes across as fresh green grapes.

Something about the cider tastes a little bit darker and yeastier than many ciders I know. It almost reminds me of a  briney English cider in a way, but its easy drinking and friendly. It has a light body with plenty of zip and moderate rather than intense carbonation.

I had this cider with a homemade black bean and corn burrito. Anchoring this light cider with a hearty meal smothered in chipotle sauce was a grand choice. The cider brightened the food and the burrito balanced this cider as well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cider Review: Weidmann + Groh: Cydonia Apfel Perlwein, Art + Science West Valley Cider plus News!

Chances are, if you are reading this page, you love cider. That’s why I write here week after week. But last year, I set aside a whole month to learn about perry: Very Perry May. I took that deep dive by writing five weeks of perry or pear cider reviews. Next month, I’ll be doing it again, but pears and apples aren’t the only pome fruit. I don’t want to forget about quince!

Today, I’m sharing my thoughts on two ciders that blend apple with quince. For a bit of background, quince is in the Rosaceae family but it’s the only member of its genus: Cydonia. The primary taste attribute of quince is its tartness. It can be cooked and eaten; some varieties are even palatable raw, but quince jam is far more common. Not very many cider makers use quince, and these blends still draw primarily from apples. I’m drawing from two very geographically disparate makers here: Germany and Washington State. Let’s see what quince adds to what we know about cider.

The first comes from German beverage producer Weidmann + Groh. The name of the drink is: Cydonia Apfel Perlwein.

Weidmann + Groh makes fruit wines and distilled spirits. The company has been selling fruit spirits since the late 1980s out of Friedberg. Before distilling, the company had an orchard and fruit farm in the location, hence the start of a very locally oriented agricultural business. I apologize that I don’t have a more complete picture of them to share, but I’m hesitate to paraphrase from a Google translation of the webpage for my only direct source of information.

Feel free to explore here to find out more and see some lovely pictures, but the website is in German: https://weidmann-groh.de/
Official description (again translation provided by Google.)
Variety: Our Cydonia is made from different apple varieties. Friedberger Bohnapfel, Landsberger Renette, Goldparmäne, Boskop, Kaiser Wilhelm, Gewürzluiken and of course quince. 

Production: We place special emphasis on the correct maturity of the quince. They ripen after harvest for about 2 weeks before they are processed. About 25% quince must is then added to the cider and fermented. After the fermentation of the must, the wine is taken from the Hefedepot and then stored for 8 weeks. This clarifies the wine and is then completely clear. Now it can be filled. Compared to still wines, endogenous carbonic acid is added to our Cydonia just before filling. This gives a sparkling fresh taste experience, which is particularly popular in the warmer months of the year. 

Taste profile: Fragrant, fresh, typical Quittentuft, fruity tart, with fine Perlage and a slight residual sweetness.

Serving suggestion: Best in a tulip-like glass. Serve chilled, between 4 and 7 degrees. After opening, keep the bottle cool to avoid carbon dioxide loss through heating. Use emergency bottles at the latest the next day.

Appearance: brilliant, corn kernel, some bubbles

This is a lovely cider. The color reminds me of unpopped kernels of popcorn with that intense warm yellow. I can see some bubbles such that I anticipate a bubbly cider, and it’s totally brilliant.

Aromas: juicy apples, wet grass, floral

The Apfel Perlwein smells juicy and appley in a very immediate way, but there are lots of other layers as well. The cider smells herbal, floral, and aquatic: the image that comes to mind is a swift moving creek in a wild forest. The wildness hints at what might taste a tiny bit like Spanish French cider styles. 

Dryness/sweetness: semi-sweet and honeyed

This has a notably honey like sweetness, that feels totally natural. It does remind me of some french ciders.

Flavor and drinking experience: tart, medium bubbles, herbal, briney, tannic

Wow! This does taste a little different and I wish I knew if this was the German cider making style, the unfamiliar apples, or the quince. There are too many unknown factors here! There's a pleasant high herbal note of rosemary in a generally herbal field.

The Apfel Perlwein offers up gentle to medium carbonation, a nice wet mouhfeel, and a friendly balance of sweet and salty elements. This cider speaks with high lingering tannins, lots of malic acid, and a little funk. I’d definitely describe it as briney. In terms of geographic and historic styles, it's like Spanish and English ciders had a sweet French baby. I know that’s far from precise, but that starts to paint the picture.

We drank this cider with sweet cake, which overrode the sweetness and brought out the tannins. I’d definitely recommend this pairing! 

Art + Science West Valley CiderThis is my first review of anything by Art + Science. The company was founded in 2011 originally as a winery in Oregon. Soon after, Art + Science branched out into cider. Dan Rinke and Kim Hamblin founded the small company and have an orchard featuring not only apples but also pears and quince in addition to making their biodynamic ciders.

Read more about this cool company on the website
: http://www.artandsciencenw.com/
The official description reads, “The apples (90% of the blend) and quince were foraged from friends, neighbors and strangers in the Oregon countryside. With no sugar or sulfur added, the cider is dry and tart, with a lively sparkle in its eye.” ABV6.5%.

Appearance: hazy, sunset orange, visible bubbles

Such an interesting appearance! I am not surprised to learn that this is a very natural cider as its both intensely colorful with a sunset orange tone and solidly cloudy.

Aromas: peach, pear, quince

This cider smells very fresh, immediate and fruity, with specific notes of pear, peach, and quince. Something about the nose of this cider tells me that this is going to be seriously tart.

Dryness/sweetness: dry

This cider comes across as dry but super fruity.

Flavors and drinking experience: rustic, tart, fresh, tropical

I like this funky, fruity, dry cider! It tastes tropical and just a little sour/acetic but mildly so. The natural fermentation shows with a fresh yet rustic character. When I say rustic, I do not mean barny; this cider is instead very fresh and wild. I’d even call it tangy in a citrus way. I don’t get much of a tannic presence from the West Valley Cider but the acid is powerful enough to make it feel like the cider is curing the insides of my ears and causing a salivary reaction! Whoa tart!

Overall, the West Valley Cider was a fun cider to have with gourmet grilled cheese and salad. It could also go with some fun pinxtos bites. I think the quince really pushes that tartness to an intense but really tasty level. I know fans of natural cider styles or sidra would absolutely adore it.


And we’re just over a month until GLINTCAP and Cider Week Grand Rapids! The Michigan Cider Association will be putting on the annual
Cider Week GR, happening May 13-19. The week will feature tap takeovers, cider tours, and Gillett Bridge Festival. Be sure to check out the website to learn more: https://www.experiencegr.com/cider-week/. I know I can’t wait!

If you want to submit your ciders to be judged at the world's largest cider competition- register your ciders here: http://glintcap.org/register/. You have until April 30th.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cider Review: Blake’s Hard Cider Black Philip and Ploughman Cider’s Pinot N’Arlet

April has arrived! We may still get snow in upstate New York later this week, but I’m determined to see spring. This week, my plan to experience more spring than the weather allows, I’m going to share my thoughts on two fruit ciders. What could be more springy than fresh fruit flavors?
My Cideries for the week start with Blake’s Hard Cider out of Michigan. This cider makes a number of lines of ciders; that’s one of their key characteristics. They have a year round selection, seasonal ciders, and two different high end limited release lines. Additionally, they have a tasting room that’s also a bar and restaurant in Armada, Michigan.
Read more about all of the endeavors at: http://www.blakeshardcider.com
My previous reviews of Blake’s ciders include:
Today I’m sharing my review of Blake’s Hard Cider Black Phillip. This was shared in an array of samples from Blake’s Hard Cider. I’ve been looking forward to this cider for a long while because the name is inspired by a character in one of my favorite films, The Witch (2015). And I am a sucker for those rustic gothic stylings on the can.
Any film buffs or New England folklorists that haven’t seen this yet should stop reading immediately and watch this movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4263482/)
Blake’s Official Description reads: Our award winning semi-sweet hard cider infused with an array of cranberries and blood orange. Permeate your favorite autumn nights with our newest creation, Black Phillip; the question is, would you like to live deliciously? ABV 4.5%
The connection between the cider’s style and its name, at least for my guess, has to come from the cranberries due to their New England connection.

Appearance Hazy, peach, few bubbles
Wow! I don’t see very many hazy ciders, but that’s the only way to describe this one. It’s not cloudy. There aren’t many visible bubbles. I’d describe the color as peachy but warm.
Aromas: orange, fruit punch, spicy, dust
This cider smells like oranges and peanuts and fruit punch and sweet tarts; dust, spiciness
Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet
This is a semi-sweet cider. It doesn’t go overboard with sweetness, but its also
Flavors and drinking experience: twiggy, blood orange, cranberry
This cider tastes more mild and woody or twiggy than I was expecting. The most prominent flavor is the blood orange but the cranberry does play a crucial role for balance. Yes, I do taste some apple; that's the question most cider aficionados ask about any fruit blended cider. The goal is for the beverage to achieve a balance of apple and other flavors and not for apple notes to disappear entirely. As I said, this surprisingly gentle—especially when i think of the film and the character that name it.

The Black Phillip has medium acidity, low tannins, and a relatively mellow level of sparkle. I find it very refreshing and easy drinking. It's absolutely pleasant if not shocking and striking. It's quite hard to think of another cider that tastes like this. I enjoy its appealing sense of restraint. Perhaps that's the New England character coming out after all.

I'd not pair this with anything too overpowering. I want this cider to shine, so I'd serve it on its own or with something relatively easy going like a mushroom sherry soup or a spinach salad.

Ploughman Farm Cider

I was introduced to Ploughman ciders when I judged at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last year, and I was mightily impressed. I’d really like to visit the Farm Cidery in Adams County when I can. The company only sources their apples from one place, the local Three Springs Fruit Farm; I can’t think of a much greater commitment to local cider. The selection varies seasonally.
Visit the website to learn more about this up and coming cidery: https://www.ploughmancider.com/

I got my bottle of Pinot N’Arlet as an remainder from the competition.

Here’s the official description: Apples were our first love, but when a neighbor offered us a batch of Pennsylvania-grown Pinot Noir grapes, we couldn’t say no. This wild yeast fermented cider combines the elegance of these grapes with the ruddy, rustic sweetness of Macoun and Arlet (hence the name) apples. Dry and blush-colored, it’s extremely food-friendly. ABV 7.5%

Appearance: brilliant, bubbly, pink

This has the most lovely rose color and many visible bubbles. Its completely tantalizing. 

Aromas: dust, stones, red grapes

The Pinot N’Arlet smells dusty and grapey. Specifically it smells like apples and fresh red grapes.

Sweetness/dryness: Off Dry

This is a just off dry cider, but one that packs a lot of fruit intensity without much sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: Balanced, just a little sour, fruity
The Pinot N’Arlet is just a little bit sour, but not too much. It does bring that tangy high acid throughout each drink. I love how its stony at the same time as being fruity. The fruit notes are mostly berries with strawberries dancing to the forefront of my mind as I sip.

One thing I definitely noticed is that this cider tastes more clean than wild fermentations usually do! It has a nice balance between fruit, acid, and body. I had this with wonderful homemade japanese food and dear friends, but I could see pairing this cider with a diverse range of dishes. I would be thrilled to try it with a leek and asparagus frittata or with roasted salmon and pasta primavera. When Ploughman describes it as food friendly, I think they are onto something.

I enjoyed both of my fruity ciders very much. Hopefully soon we can be sipping these things outside in the spring sunshine!