Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cider Reviews: Big Hill Ciderworks Little Round Hop and Black Diamond Cider's Slatestone

My weekend started with some surprise snow on Saturday morning! One moment, I’m admiring the sunshine and sipping coffee, only to look up again and see swirling snowflakes on a cold wind. As much as it feels like a surprise, it is time for the approach of winter here. Thanksgiving is next Thursday! I can barely believe it. I hope you’ll be setting your holiday table with some ciders. I have two very food-friendly ciders to share this week to lead us closer to the dinner table. 

We’re starting today with a hopped cider from Big Hill Ciderworks. 

This Adams County Pennsylvania cidery was started in 2013 by two men who met years earlier in a very different industry but who both dreamt of farming. Therefore the cider company makes very clear that farming is the priority. That doesn’t mean it’s all they do. They grow their own apples, make and bottle the cider as well as doing their own sales and distribution. That’s quite a lot ot master in 5 years, and yet the company has a fantastic reputation, even outside of the state. 

I got to take my sample bottle home after a cider competition when I was judging. Sometimes we get lucky like that. I cannot buy most Pennsylvania ciders anywhere near Ithaca, so I was very excited to get to try this one a while ago. 

You can learn more online about Big Hill Ciderworks here: http://www.bighillcider.com

Here’s the official description for the Little Round Hop, “To elevate this cider’s bright, citrusy personality, we’ve dry-hopped it, using a blend of whole leaf Columbus, Centennial & Cascade hops – the legendary “three C’s.”  Organic lemongrass focuses the hop overtones and adds a citrusy finish to this light and effervescent cider.  Available year round.” 5.5% ABV

Appearance: Brilliant, bright corn, no visible bubbles

This cider offers  such a lovely brilliant clarity. I don’t see any bubbles when I pour it, and the color is a like ripe bright corn on the cob.

Aromas: pear, piney, grapefruit, ripe apple

The Little Round Hop smells fruity, juicy, like pear and ripe apples. But it also smells like hops peppery, piney, grapefruit rind—a little sweaty. I love that the ripe apple notes come through alongside the hops. 

Dryness/sweetness: semi-sweet

You’ll find out a lot more about this cider from the tasting notes, but I taste this one as a semi-sweet in a pleasant balanced way.

Flavors and drinking experience: bubbly, fruity, high acid, sweet finish

The Little Round Hop makes a big impression with its strong acid and citrus flavors. These notes are accompanied by some dark cooked apple presence and a maple finish. The cider delights me with intense bubbles! Two thumbs up for a very clean fermentation and good balance overall.

 Though the cider is fruity, it’s also hoppy but not overly so. I detect a notes of pine and green tea. The fruit reminds me of ripe apple at the start. Very little yeast characteristics is separately distinguishable. I enjoy the round and notably pleasant mouthfeel. As my tasting companion noticed; this works well  in big drinks.

I had this cider over the course of two nights. The first glass was simply paired with good conversation after dinner and the second night I had a glass with a brownie. I think you could pair this cider with a wide variety of foods, including a number of comforting Thanksgiving-appropriate side dishes like savory dressing or honey-butter carrots. 

One of my absolute favorite cideries in the Finger Lakes has to be Black Diamond Cider. If you aren’t already familiar, here’s the briefest of backgrounds  Ian and Jackie Merwin, long-term home cidermakers, orchardists, and farmers, founded this company in 2014. Dr. Ian Merwin is a Professor Emeritus at Cornell University in Pomology, specializing in cider. He and Jackie founded their own fruit orchard in the finger lakes, near Trumansburg, New York. These apples go into Black Diamond Cider. 
You can read much more about them and their ciders at Black Diamond Cider's Website: http://blackdiamondcider.com

I'm concluding this week’s reviews with the Slatestone. This cider was shared with me for review by the generous souls at Black Diamond. I've tasted it many times and taken my impressions from more than handful of tastings.

I have reviewed a couple of the company’s ciders previously. 

This cider was my #2 favorite cider of 2017!

The Hickster:
This was my #3 favorite cider in 2016

And the Pommeau made an appearance at the Locavore Birthday pairing dinner in 2017:

The Slatestone’s Official Description is helpfully complete. 
2017 SlateStone Cider is our “terroir” blend made from heirloom apples, fermented slow and cool, and bottled without filtration or preservatives. This cider is crisp and completely dry with no residual sugars. It has aromas of russet green apples and limes, and can be paired with many different foods. It tastes best when chilled before serving. 
Tasting Notes: Soft tannins, minerals, limes, and tart green apple with a dry, sharp finish 
Alcohol: 7.5%  Residual Sugar: 0% (Dry)  PH: 3.6  TA:  7.5 g/L 
European Bittersweets  – 40%             North American Heirloom Sharps – 60%
2017 Harvest: Goldrush, Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey, Zabergau Reinette
The other background that’s really amazing is not only the Gold Medal from GLINTCAP in 2018 but that this cider made #3 best in its category, Heritage Dry. This is a big deal!

Appearance: deep butternut color, transparent, no visible bubbles

Oh my, my mouth waters just as soon as I pour this one. The color on the Slatestone is so deep and vibrant. In this season it reminds me of a just peeled butternut squash. I don’t see any bubbles, though I know they will be there. This is an unfiltered cider, and I’d not call it brilliant or hazy. It’s simply transparent. 

Aromas: soft overripe apples, Meyer lemon, Persian lime

Luscious aromas are the number association I have with Black Diamond ciders and the Slatestone exemplifies this beautifully. This one smells like overripe apples softened by the warm afternoon sun. But it also smells like a zest of bright citrus, like Persian Lime and Meyer Lemon. I get a strong salivary response just from smelling the Slatestone.

Sweetness/dryness: dry

What a lovely dry cider! It has so much flavor and intensity while remaining unambiguously dry. Some of this is the decadent big blend of apples, but I think it’s also in how Black Diamond crafts the cider.  

Flavors and drinking experience: intensely sparkling, pointed acid, round fruits

Use this cider for Thanksgiving. Just do. It’s a high acidity cider with strong sparkle that will lighten heavier foods. These bubbles also help carry and expand flavors, giving it a lot of flexibility for pairing. I’ll have it with a Celebration Roast, but one could serve it with the more traditional turkey for Thanksgiving. 

The same apple and citrus flavors that were evident in the ciders aromas come through for flavors as well. The scintillating freshness comes with the citrus and minerality. That wasn’t as present when only smelling the cider but the flavors do include sharp minerals and even peppery notes. These sharp flavors are balanced beautifully with the richness of ripe fermented apples.  

The overall impressions of this cider are sophistication, balance, and lightness. The Slatestone makes some big promises with its gorgeous aromas, and, thankfully, it delivers.