Thursday, December 27, 2018

My Favourite 10 Ciders of 2018

As I’m about to close the books on 2018, I’m startled to realize that this is my 6th year collecting my top 10 favorite ciders of the year! Wow! There is something different this year though; I reviewed almost twice as many ciders. I had some encouragement to switch from top 10 to top 20, but I think the cider world is ready for more competition. ; ) I reviewed more than 95 ciders this year!

But that’s not all that happened! I’m so happy to say that I continued learning and teaching about cider, giving talks, consulting, and I wrote more about cider for venues beyond the blog than ever before. 

Just in case folks want to take a peek at last year’s and those that came before. 

2017 List:

2016 List:

2015 List:

2014 List:

2013 List:

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 201[8]. These may or may not be your favorites, but I encourage you to taste them and make up your own mind.”

With no further addendum or caveats, let me show you what ciders I loved most this year!

10. Australia Peckham’s Wild all the Way

I tried this intriguing blend of wild fermented cider and perry at CiderCon, and I managed to sneak a can back home with me to enjoy months later. I was surprised by the awesome tartness of this cider. Many international ciders do not have the same focus on acidity that American ciders do, but I loved this one. It had great mellow fruitiness and some tannic heft too!

9. Tieton Ciderworks Sparkling Perry

When visiting friends after GLINTCAP, I got the chance to share a very special perry. I wanted to treat them to Tieton’s Sparkling Perry because I knew it would have some sweetness, some bubble, and tons of fruit character. These were all perfect as accompaniment to two vegetarian curries; and this cider wowed everyone! We loved the bright acidity and nuttiness.

8. Number 12 Cider House: Chestnut Semi-Dry

Number 12 Cider House just opened their Minnesota taproom this year, and they continued to put out totally delightful ciders including this rich and fruity semi-dry cider filled with buzzy zestiness. The barrel characteristics took this cider from tasty to really special!

7.  Descendant Cider Company: English Kills

This cider is described as and English Bittersweet Dry, all magical words to my ears. This cider delivers on lush aromas but keeps the taste cleanly austere. It tasted more savory than fruity but kept some tannic wow factor and a light enough body to be perfect with summer barbeque and corn on the cob. It was a delight.

6. Angry Orchard Cider's Understood in Motion 3

This collaboration cider between Ryan Burk and Tom Oliver has so many of my favorite characteristics. I knew it would take a place in this list the moment I first caught of a whiff of those mouthwatering leather and cooked apple aromas. The taste didn’t disappoint either. I like my tannic ciders to maintain balance with acidity and the Understood in Motion 3 really managed that beautifully. Yum!

5. Snowdrift Cornice:

Washington state’s Snowdrift Cider Co. put out a supremely wintery cider in the Cornice. It has body from barrel aging and enough tannins to really feel substantial in mouthfeel. I loved the acidity and plumminess. This cider was one to savor.

4. Whitewood Cider Company’s Kingston Black and Wickson Apple

This cider was part of a very special birthday dinner my friend Elizabeth prepared. I chose this cider for the pesto and homemade pasta course, because the cider was going to offer up more herbal notes (to pair with pesto) due to some time spent aging in a gin barrel. The pairing worked splendidly, and everyone noticed this cider in particular. It was just so aromatic and botanical and delicious!

3. Big Fish Highland Scrumpy

This is another treat, I got to take home from CiderCon 2018; it’s a big blend of apples shared for a local community event. The final result is mellow, fruity, balanced and beautifully semi-dry. I especially enjoyed the burst of grapefruit: bitterness tempered with citrus fruit notes.

2. Eve’s Darling Creek:

This was my Thanksgiving cider this year. I’ve had the Darling Creek for years, but this particular vintage came out drier and more balanced than any previous. I just love how the aromas reminds me of autumnal apples and oak.This cider is funky, tart, substantive, and super bubbly. I absolutely adored it.

1. Castle Hill Cider's Levity

This is just a fantastic cider. In a list this good, that almost feels like an understatement. The cider has body but lightness, structure and playfulness, balance and sophistication.I simply adore the richness and baking spice notes that manage to do so much in a completely dry cider. The Levity is bone-dry, beautiful, and bubbly. The apple varieties and use of terra cotta fermentation vessels combine to create a truly magical cider.

Let’s end this list with what I feel most: gratitude for cider people and the wonderful experiences we’ve had together this year. I appreciate the orchardists, restaurant folk, cider makers and cider geeks of all stripes. I raise my cider glass to all of us, loving, learning, and promoting our favorite beverage. Here's to even more of the good stuff in 2019! Cheers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Cider Review: Prospect Ciderworks Missing Link and Stormalong Mass Appeal

We are so unbelievably close to the end of 2018, cider lovers. Whether you’re ready to see the tail end of 2018 or not, we’ve only got two more weeks of it. And for me, that means I’m readying my top ten ciders of 2018 list. (Consider me excited!) But, that’ll come next week as my holiday gift to cider nerds. Until then, I was able to sneak two little evenings of relaxation in the past few weeks in which I could enjoy a couple of canned ciders; they are the simplest way enjoy a single serving of cider. You get every excuse not to share.

I started with a cider that’s been waiting far long that I picked from cider makers at Prospect Ciderworks when we were all hanging out at Cider Con 2018. Prospect Ciderworks was founded in 2015 and is based in Boston, Massachusetts. What’s interesting about Prospect is how prominently the website highlights the use of Belgian beer yeasts for the cider making. It is featured alongside the orchards (Doe Orchards) and apples (culinary). It’s a strong identity choice, and all the more unusual for a north-eastern cidery. 

You can visit the website and see more info at:

I’m starting with a cider called Missing Link.

The official description reads,
Hopped Session CiderMissing Link greets with a bloom of citrus-forward Mosaic hops. We love this cider for its ability to ease the drinker into a hop-forward beverage while retaining the subtleties of our fruit. The semi sweet cider finishes with a soft bitterness, unmistakably different than the dry hopped ciders in its category. 4.8% ABV
I’m curious about a cider that’s this hop oriented while maintaining some apple sweetness and a low abv. I also appreciate that the description includes which types of hops:  Mosaic and Cascade.

Appearance: cloudy, lemon curd, not visibly bubbly

This cider barely looks like a cider, it's so completely cloudy. Instead being a shade of gold or amber this is an opaque yellow like lemon curd. 

Aromas: citrus, pine, apple, herbs 

Oooh The Missing Link smells so hoppy! I love it. That fresh citrus plus pine is just enticing. I know I’m more enthusiastic about hopped ciders than lots of cider aficionados. I like that hoppy ciders can smell herbal, citrusy, fruity, clean and sweaty all at the same time. This one is very much on the fresh air, citrus, pine, and clean laundry, but it makes my mouth water. 

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

This is an interesting one in terms of sweetness. It’s there, but the fruity sweetness is sandwiched between an initial bitter note and a strongly hoppy finish. Many fans of sweeter ciders are likely find that challenging.

Flavors and drinking experience: hoppy, grapefruit, bitter, sweet

This is a beverage of rolling waves. The Missing Link tastes bitter at first, but then it mellows out. The mid-palate is all fruity grapefruit and apple, but soon the wave hits again and we’re on to a bitter and herbal finish.

The whole cider is vivid and zesty, juicy fun. I find the progress through stages extremely pleasant and fresh. There are no tannins to speak of, but the acidity is punchy and active. The Missing Link refreshes by being so green, sticky, juicy, and fruity. It all works together to be a very session-able cider, exactly as designed. 

And now for Stormalong Mass Appeal

I know I started my tasting of Stormalong ciders with the flagship cider, The Legendary Dry. They weren’t kidding; it’s a dry one, but the Mass Appeal almost certainly the first favorite for many fans of the brand. Stormalong cider is based out of Sherborn, Massachusetts in a hot-bed of orchard and cider history

Find out more about Stormalong CIder on Facebook or the Stormalong website, including some very interesting history indeed.

I have previously reviewed two of Stormalong’s ciders and give more brand backstory in my earlier reviews. 

I started with the Legendary Dry:

And earlier this year I enjoyed Light of the Sun:

Here’s the official description for the Mass Appeal: 
This cider is easy-drinking with just the right amount of tart and sweet.  We blend the pleasantly sharp bite of Macintosh apples with the honeyed, pineapple characteristics of Golden Delicious.  The classic Macintosh flavor is prominent, reminiscent of fresh New England farm stand cider, while Golden Delicious adds a tropical layer to the finish.  A highly drinkable and perfectly balanced cider handcrafted 100% from the finest quality locally sourced apples.  Our ciders are gluten-free with no added sugars, water, or concentrates.  Only the good stuff. 5.8%ABV
The page goes on to list the only apple variety in this cider as Golden Delicious, which strikes me as odd based on the heavy use of MacIntosh in the description.

Appearance: brilliant, warm straw, very few visible bubbles

This cider looks just lovely and elegant in the glass. It’s totally brilliant with just the sort of warm straw color that fits its category as a modern cider. I don’t see many bubbles in the glass, but we’ll find out more about sparkle level later. 

Aromas: apple juice, sweet pastry, cooked apples, 

My oh my! The Mass Appeal smells astonishingly like fresh unfermented apple juice and pastry. It’s like walking past a bakery. 

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet

This is a sweet cider. There are no two ways about it. It has more going on than simply sweetness but it’s very fruit forward and sweet. 

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity, sweet, tropical, cherry, medium acid

This is a super fruit cider that just wants to have fun! The Mass Appeal is named that for a reason. I can see so many folks flocking to it’s fruity party vibes; the cider tastes tropical like pineapple and cherry and apple.

The Mass Appeal brings medium acidity and no tannins, so it’s the sweetness that gives it some body. It shows off a clean fermentation using culinary apples. I knew it would be sweet, so I paired mind with a homemade mixed berry cobbler. Not the most wintery dessert, I know, but sometimes I need berries. It complemented the super fruity dessert really well. There is definitely a place for sweet ciders, because they can help lift the flavors of a rich sticky dessert without themselves turning bitter or flavorless in comparison. The Mass Appeal performed this delicate job beautifully.

And for anybody in the Burlington area, I hope to see you at the Cider Tasting at the Eden Boutique Taproom and Cheese Bar Wednesday evening at 6:30!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cider Review: Angry Orchard's Wooden Sleeper and Weston Cider's Mortimer's Orchard Original

Snow happens here as often as it doesn’t snow these days. Winter may not be official for a couple more weeks, but the season has started. For this week, it means cozying in during the long dark evenings to write and cuddle with my cats and people. It also means choosing and reviewing ciders that I think match the new season, things with some tannin and a little bit of sweetness. At least that’s what I’m going for.

At the end of November, I had to chance to travel down to the Hudson Valley for a couple of days. I knew I’ve wanted to visit the Angry Orchard Innovation Cider House in Walden for years, so I took the opportunity. I was able to meet Ryan for a tour and taste through of several of the special ciders only available from Walden. I’ll be sharing my travel experience in the coming weeks.

For now, visit Angry Orchard online:

Today, I want to start out with Angry Orchard's Wooden Sleeper. I’ve reviewed many Angry Orchard ciders: too many to post all the links here, so I’ll share some the more recent ones.

Most recently, I enjoyed the third of the Understood in Motion collaborations, this one between Ryan Burke of Angry Orchard and Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider:

I tasted the Angry Orchard Spiced Apple this past winter:

This past May, I reviewed the new Pear as a part of Very Perry May:

Earlier, in March, My review of the category-exploding Rosé came out:

A bit longer ago, I reviewed the Walden Hollow which was an early release from the Innovation Cider House in Walden:

Here's the official description, "Wooden Sleeper is a part of the Orchard Collection which is available in bottles and on-draft at Angry Orchard in Walden, NY. Using both culinary and bittersweet apples, the cider is aged in bourbon barrels, which makes for a delicious, warming cider." ABV of  9.5%-10.5%.

Appearance: pumpkin, transparent, ring of bubbles

The cider nearly glows with a deep pumpkin color. I don’t see any bubbles within the cider but there are a ring of fine ones where the cider meets the glass. It’s transparent but that doesn’t fully come through in the pictures because of condensation.

Aromas: ginger, bourbon, caramel, cookie

Holy heavenly coziness, the Wooden Sleeper smells like ginger, baked apples, and bourbon barrel. Secondarily I get lots of other notes I associate with barrels like caramel and cookies, but there’s something more, perhaps a hint of orange?

Dryness/sweetness: semi-dry

I expected a sweeter cider based on an earlier incarnation I’ve tasted of the Wooden Sleeper, but this batch tastes semi-dry. What it might be in terms of actual residual sugar, I cannot say.

Flavors and drinking experience: hearty, warm, petillant, tannic

What a hearty cider! I knew it would be based on the ABV, barrel aging, and the sweetness of previous batches. I chose it because of winter weather and a very wintery meal. The cider started with a gently bitter first note, but that was followed quickly by mellowing body and warmth from the ABV.

The Wooden Sleeper is tannic, medium acidity, and petillant, meaning it is only mildly bubbly. The flavors swirled and expanded generously. I could taste caramel, cooked apples, but other more savory notes like wood, wild rice, and mushrooms. It came back around to harvest richness that reminded me of pumpkin and brown sugar.

We paired this with a very traditional Sunday roast type meal with roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed purple potatoes, a green salad and a beef roast for the meat eaters. What a wonderfully appropriate choice. For a meal that most folks would use a red wine to pair, the Wooden Sleeper held up admirably and deliciously. It was fit for a winter feast.

Next, I want to travel back to my summer trip because I think I had a very winter friendly cider while I was in Glasgow. I had a Mortimer’s Orchard Original by Westons Cider.

I don’t know much about Mortimer’s Orchard, but you can visit the website here:

The official description reads, “A fresh medium-dry cider with a light sparkling finish. Made from 100% fresh English apple juice.” 5% ABV. 

I had this by the half pint which is a very civilized tradition that I wish could be imported more widely to the states. A half-pint is an eight ounce pour, just perfect for many ciders.

Appearance: brilliant, warm straw, pours with a mousse

This cider has a quickly disappearing bubbly mousse, but it remains very active in terms of visible sparkle. It’s transparent and a warm straw hue.

Aromas: lemon, sesame, fresh apple

The aromas from the Mortimer’s Orchard Original were not too intense. I could smell fresh apple, lemon, and sesame.  

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet to sweet

This has a very classic cane sugar, crystalized white sugar sweetness. It perceives as sweet to me, but I could also be responding to a lower level of acid than I’m used to from American ciders. 

Flavors and drinking experience: medium-low acid, cooked fruit, tannins, sparkly

I had this cider after dinner and a long day of walking over and through Glasgow. The flavor reminds me very much of cooked apples. It’s mellow and sweet, offering up medium-low acid. I was surprised to find medium high level of sparkle.

I enjoyed the warm fruit flavor, also the notes of grain and the nice tannic mouthfeel. These elements balance one another reasonably well. It was relaxing and refreshing on its own. I think this cider could pair well with a number of spicy foods because sweetness can be the perfect antidote to spice. I enjoyed it in summer, but I think this sort of profile would taste even better on a cold winter’s night. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cider Review: Eden Cider's Siren Song and 2 Towns Easy Peasy

Happy December, Cider Lovers! We’re entering the last month of the calendar year, and I’m so excited about a cider event I have coming up!

I’ll be leading a talk and tasting at the Eden Boutique Taproom and Cheese Bar in Winooski, Vermont on December 19th! For those who don’t know, Winooski is just barely outside of Burlington. I know Vermont is filled with cider lovers, so I want to see you there, so we can taste great ciders from all parts of the United States and talk about different cider styles!

Read more about it and get tickets here:

Today, I’m starting with my notes on a cider by Eden Specialty Ciders Cellar Series Cider: #9 Siren Song, but I do want to share my previous Eden Ciders reviews first.

Let’s start with my number one cider of 2017: the Imperial 11 Degree Rose:

This year, I reviewed the Heritage canned cider:

Back in 2015, I reviewed the Sparkling Dry, and it also made it into my top ten that year:

I relished the 2016 Sparkling Dry for Thanksgiving and my birthday celebration in 2016.

Here’s the coverage:

The Brut Nature got a mini-review in my Cider Con 2018 coverage:

You can learn about all of Eden’s ciders on the website:

And here’s the official description for the Siren Song. 
In Greek mythology the songs of the Sirens were enough to entice a Mariner to jump off his trireme, only to meet his end in the depths of the Adriatic Sea. This cider will beguile you with fruit, spice and smoke, cradled in an illusion of residual sweetness. As you follow it down to the depths of your glass, the tannins reveal themselves in astringency rather than bitterness. The complexity derives from a mix of over 20 apple varieties, harvest-pressed and fermented slow and cold as are all our heritage ciders. The curvaceous balance derives from skillful blending by our enraptured Cider team. Another glassful calls. 7.5% ABV.
This won gold in its Heritage Dry category at GLINTCAP 2018. 

Appearance: copper, brilliant, bubbly

This has the deep coppery color that tells me to expect richness and tannins. I can see the generous smattering of bubbles that whet my appetite. The cider is also completely brilliant: no haze here.

Aromas: warm applesauce, white grape, ginger

I love the warm applesauce scent that dominates this cider. There are lots of other fruity and spicy notes like white grape, ginger, and pineapple. They are lovely, but it’s the richer warmer apple notes that I find most enticing.

Sweetness/dryness: right on the Semi-dry/Semi-sweet line

As promised by the cider’s description, the Siren Song has some sweetness, but there’s not too much. I’d call it a semi-sweet, but I have a feeling that for many drinkers this would be the perfect semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: rich, medium tannins, fruity, firm acid

All of the fruity and tropical notes from the aromas definitely translate to the flavors of the cider. That means lovely presences of ginger, pineapple, white grape, and homemade apple sauce. These tastes are driven by very pleasant and not-biting acidity. 

But that’s not all of what’s going on in this cider. What’s more difficult to articulate is the sense of richness and decadent mouthfeel. It’s a creamy, caramelly, cider with medium-high tannins.

The bubbles add great crispness and really transmit the flavor well. This is a sophisticated and satisfying cider. I paired it with spicy buttered popcorn and episodes of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, but I would also love to serve it with homemade gingerbread and lemon sauce or with blended mushroom bisque. I can’t wait to get my hands on more. 

2 Towns Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Cider

2 Towns Ciderhouse out of Oregon shared the Easy Peasy with me, and I was happy have something a little sunny and summery to try on a rainy cold night recently. 

For background, 2 Towns Ciderhouse is based in Corvallis, Oregon; the company has been operating since 2010. 2 Towns has grown to two production facilities and a taproom. It is Oregon’s largest craft cidery. The company makes many different groups of ciders, including flagship ciders, seasonal offerings, limited releases, and collaborations.

Here are a few of my previous 2 Towns Ciderhouse reviews.

I loved The Cidre Bouche, and it made my top 10 of 2017:

Earlier this year I tried the Pineapple:

The rhubarb and hops of The Hop and Stalk was delightful:

Back in 2016 I tried the Bright Cider along with a travel roundup:

And earlier this year, I tried the Pearadise as part of Very Perry May:

You can visit 2 towns online:

The official description reads, “Citrusy and refreshing, Easy Peasy will have you leisurely drifting your way through summer. Crafted with fresh-pressed Northwest apples, Meyer lemon, raspberries and soured with lactobacillus, it's summertime and the livin's squeezy!” ABV 5%

Appearance: hazy, watermelon, bubbly

This bubbly cider has the color of beauitfully ripe watermelon flesh. It’s decidedly hazy and just looks juicy! 

Aromas:Raspberry, grapefruit, lemon, creamy

This cider smells fruity. I can smell raspberries immediately upon opening the bottle. Secondarily, there are ntoes of  grapefruit and lemon also. And there’s something about this cider that smells just so creamy.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

This cider is sweet but also tart, like lemonade. 

Flavors and drinking experience: tart, bubbly, pink lemonade

Summer indeed! This is the opposite of Christmas in July because this tart fresh fruit bomb just breathes summer atmosphere and relaxation. This is a gently boozy pink lemonade with a little apple on the side.

I appreciate that the Easy Peasy has a sharp acidic finish but an easy first hit of flavor. There’s lots of Citric and malic acid in this bubbly, zesty cider. It has a medium body especially for a cider with an ABV on the lower side. A night blast of sunshine and fruit.