Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cider Review: Stem Cider's Banjo and Grand Illusion Cider's Blue Illusion

Before I get into this week’s reviews, I do want to remind folks of two upcoming cider competitions for which I’ll be volunteering. I admit my bias freely, but I’m excited to be involved with both of these competitions, and I hope cider makers of all styles and categories will enter their favorites.

 New York Cider Competition through the Raise a Glass Foundation: https://cider.raiseaglassfoundation.com/

GLINTCAP (still a few more day for discounted registration): https://glintcap.org/register/

This week, I have two fun and different ciders. Before I start my reviews for the week, let me mention that both ciders were samples shared with me for review. A free cider doesn’t sway my opinion; I review based only on my perceptions. Both of this week’s are on the more inventive rather than traditionalist side of the spectrum. The first is Stem Cider’s Banjo

Stem Ciders is a company out of LaFayette, Colorado. The company dates back to 2013, but the flagship cider Real Dry Apple Cider was born even before the company in 2011. The company’s philosophy section of the website identifies a clear focus and mission within the cider world: one that straddles experimentation and apple-focus. (Read it here: https://stemciders.com/philosophy/). 

 I have reviewed two Stem ciders before. 

I tried the Pear Apple in 2017: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/06/pickcider-review-stem-ciders-pear-apple.html

And I enjoyed Stem Ciders’ Perry last year during Very Perry May: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/05/very-perry-may-tieton-cider-works.html

You can find out all about the company online: https://stemciders.com

Here’s the official description, “Crisp apple melodies and smoky undertones come together to create Banjo. Carefully picked apples are fermented dry and aged in bourbon barrels to smooth perfection. Pour a glass, find a band and marinate the day away.” 6.9%ABV.

Appearance: hazy, no visible bubbles, pale honey

I know it’s a cheat to call a cider honey colored because honey comes in as many colors as cider does, but that’s what looking at the Banjo makes me think about. It’s pale and nearly transparent but not bubbly, not golden, and not quite brilliant. Instead it looks like a mild pale honey. 

Aromas: Alcohol, bourbon mash, vanilla, smoke

Almost all of the Banjo’s smells relate to the barrel aging. It’s scent pours forth with notes of  bourbon mash, alcohol, corn, smoke, wood, steel. Secondarily, the cider smells of sour and sweet apple notes, but then we return to barrel qualities with sweet creaminess and vanilla. This collaboration is going to be very barrel forward, I predict.

Sweetness/dryness: off dry

This cider is mostly dry and has lots of different moments of flavor, but sweetness only makes a fleeting appearance at the beginning and end of the cider’s flavors.

Flavors and drinking experience: whiskey, hot, astringent, tannic

This is almost certainly a divisive cider for Stem fans. It tastes overwhelming of whiskey and barrel notes. I imagine whiskey drinkers and barrel fans (perhaps even stout drinkers) like it very much but those who want a more fruit forward cider might be less into it. I can see both sides of the story; for me, this has to come down to how such a cider might be best served.

The Banjo’s first note is grainy and intriguing, following instantly by a big wave of astringence sweeping the tongue front to back. It feels a little hot despite the perfectly reasonable ABV.  The wave dissipates, and what comes after both feels and tastes lighter. The barrel contributes corn, toasty, vanilla, and smoky notes.  

Somehow this cider can swing between cool and then warm all in one sip. I’m glad that there’s plenty of acid, which serves to deliver the bitterness in a more balanced way. Though I couldn’t see them, the Banjo brings  plenty of fine bubbles. It goes all over the place, but averages out to mildly more than  medium mouthfeel. Yes, it’s  tannic but only in a barrel way.  I got into its groove, but as a whiskey collaboration, it's definitely heavy on the whiskey end. I had this cider with veggie barbeque, corn, and cheddar. It could have handled even heartier foods. I’d love to try it again with a rich and smoky bean chili and cornbread. 

Grand Illusion Cider’s Blue Illusion

Grand Illusion Cider comes from Carlyle, Pennsylvania. The company has a restaurant and makes cider. You can also find a variety of beers, wines, and special events at the location.

Visit Grand Illusion’s website to learn more : https://www.grandillusioncider.com

A few months ago, I shared my first review of a cider by Grand Illusion Cider: Mystic Citra Pineapple: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/08/cider-review-grand-illusion-hard-cider.html

The official description of the Blue Illusion is short and to the point, “This well-balanced blueberry-lavender cider offers a pleasant sweetness and a light berry fruitiness; it finishes with a touch of English lavender.” 6.5% ABV I’ve not had very many lavender ciders, so I’m curious to see how that flavor profile will blend with apple and blueberry.

Appearance: Cloudy, magenta, bubbly

This cider bubbles excitingly, just as the color strikes an intriguing ambiguous place  between red and purple. Let’s call it magenta, but I’m hard pressed to know if it’s more like red grape or a plum color. What I can tell is that it’s not filtered; this cider is cloudy!

Aromas: yeast, lavender, acetic acid, blueberry and apples

There’s a rich fermenty note that starts off my experience of the Blue Illusion; I think this comes from the yeast chosen. The Blue Illusion smells very much of both lavender and blueberry, with some tart acetic acid thrown into the mix. While there’s not a lot of apple in the aroma, I do smell some, blended with the clean yeast to remind me of apple pastries.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

This is a semi-dry cider but one kept there by acidity rather than by austerity.

Flavors and drinking experience: Blueberry, lavender, lemon curd, high acid

The Blue Illusion tastes of lavender but most of its character can be traced back to blueberry; it’s not very apple-forward. The acidity in this cider is high and reminds me of lemon curd. That’s a flavor I love! This cider tastes enjoyable in an easy-going and approachable way. 

The mouthfeel is wet and full. The whole experience reminds me of blueberry muffins; that could also be the yeast notes from the smell coming through in a new way with all of the fruity notes.  The Blue Illusion boasts high acidity but no tannins. I’m guessing the apples involved are eating varieties, though I cannot be sure. 

I had this cider with some some pineapple pizza! Two fun easy things together: both fruity and flavorful.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cider Review: Angry Orchard Super Natural and Eden Cider's Extra Sec

Lots of exciting cider events are approaching in the next few months (GLINTCAP, NY Cider Competition), but they aren’t here yet. I don’t know about you, but patience isn’t my most developed quality. I like the fun thing to be happening today or if not today then very soon. I needed some extra fabulous ciders to help me wait out the next several weeks until I can count down till the fun starts.  

I’m starting with the Angry Orchard Supernatural: something I picked up when I visited the Innovation Center for Angry Orchard in Walden, New York. 

Here’s what I wrote about that visit for Cider Culture: https://www.ciderculture.com/angry-orchard-innovation-cider-house/

You can also visit Angry Orchard online: https://www.angryorchard.com/

Here's a quick list of some of my previous Angry Orchard reviews (this is not all of them!)

Wooden Sleeper: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/12/cider-review-angry-orchards-wooden.html

Understood in Motion 3: this collaboration with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider (this was my #6 cider of 2018): http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/08/cider-review-angry-orchard-ciders.html

Spiced Apple from March of 2017: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/03/cider-review-angry-orchards-spiced-apple.html

I reviewed the new Pear as a part of Very Perry May: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/05/very-perry-may-review-of-greenwood.html

I reviewed the Rosé last March: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/03/cider-review-angry-orchard-rose-and.html

I did get to try an early release from the Innovation Cider House: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/09/cider-review-angry-orchards-walden.html

Angry Orchard's official description reads, “This cider is pet-nat and also unfiltered so sediment is natural. It will absolutely slay at your dinner table. Enjoy.” What it doesn’t mention is that pet-nat stands for Petillant Natural, also known as Method Ancestrale. What it means is that the bubbles in the bottle come from the primary fermentation finishing up in the bottle so that the Carbon Dioxide produced by fermentation stays trapped in the bottle. This method has been used for both cider and wine for a couple hundred years at least.

The label also lists the apples included, “40% Dabinette, 34% Gold Rush, 11% Marie Menard, 11% Muscadet de Lense, and 4% Northern Spy.”  I love love love that this label includes the apple varieties! This one even introduced me to an apple I’d not heard of before: the Marie Menard. This is a french bittersweet variety.

Appearance: dandelion yellow, lightly hazy, bubbly

This does look like pet nat. Because the sediment created by fermentation (the lees) is never filtered out or disgorged, the cider cannot be fully brilliant. It does however have lots of bubble and a cheerful bright yellow shade. 

Aromas: sour apple, volatile acidity, sour, grain, ripe apples

I can smell lot of dynamic and exciting fruity, sour, and grainy notes in the Supernatural. There’s definitely some funk to these aromas! The fact that this is a wild fermentation is not at all surprising.

Dryness/sweetness: Semi-dry

This cider is semi dry but it might come across as completely dry, depending on the drinker’s habituation to high acidity. 

Flavors and drinking experience: finy bubbly, juicy, fresh sour

Ooh! I like Angry Orchard’s Supernatural, even though I am often not the biggest fan of Sidra style ciders. It’s more than tart, but only has a little acetic acid and volatile acidity. The cider is semi-dry with very fine bubbles. I find that Pet Nat textures can be so very exciting and fresh; this is no exception! 

The supernatural manages to be juicy and fresh without being sweet or tame. The whole drinking experience is very raw and sour- it’s vivid and exciting. My co-taster called it a cider with bite, and I think they’re right.

Eden Cider is a small specialty cidery operating in Northern Vermont. Eleanor Leger runs this inventive cider house that not only produces heritage orchard-based ciders but also fine ice ciders and infused cider blends for cocktails. You can find out more background on Eden Specialty Ciders in early reviews.

I tasted the Ezekiel most recently: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2019/01/cider-review-eden-specialty-ciders.html

Over the summer, I was able to sample the Eden Heritage Cider in a can: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/06/cider-cans-crush-it-eden-heritage-and.html

My number one favorite cider of 2017 was the Imperial 11 Degree Rose: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-january-2017-cidrbox-and-edens.html

I relished trying Eden’s Sparkling Dry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/06/cider-review-eden-sparkling-dry-cider.html

And I included it as part of my Thanksgiving and Birthday celebrations in 2016: 

Visit Eden Speciality Cider website to find out more, including new releases: https://www.edenciders.com/

Eden offers so much more than just an official description for all of the ciders. I’ll give what info I can, but do recommend checking out the webpage: https://www.edenciders.com/store/detail/?item=2016sparklingextrasec750ml

The description reads.
Champagne-method cider made from heirloom and bittersweet apple varieties grown in Vermont and at Poverty Lane Orchards in New Hampshire. It is naturally sparkling and clean - we hand-disgorge the yeast from every bottle! Beautifully balanced between fruit, acid, and tannin. The barely perceptible dosage serves to bring forth the fruit character of the cider. Perfect with roast pork, turkey and vegetable gratin dishes.

Appearance: honeybee gold, fine bubbles, brilliant

This brilliant cider has the deep gold I see on honey bees for color. The Extra Sec shows off a beautifully fine bubble. It’s easy to wax ecstatic about this how lovely this cider is to see.  

Aromas: Overripe apples, honeydew, peach, pine

There are more fruity aromas than savory ones in the Extra Sec, but this cider does include both. I can smell overripe apples, peaches, honeydew melon, and a waft of pine. 

Dryness/sweetness: Off dry to sem-dry

This is an interesting one. This cider is described and even named for a being a bit sweeter than many of Eden’s Heritage style ciders, but the residual sugar is still at .9% which would be called dry by some other cider makers. For me the result tastes not quite dry but certainly not semi-sweet; it’s more of that gentle slope from off dry to semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: rich mouthfeel, tea, leather, bright, steely

I love how rich the Extra Sec tastes; the cider offers up a viscous mouthfeel from the ice cider backsweetening. That doesn’t take away from the little bit of steel I can taste on the front. Melon sweetness in the middle palate balanced by tannic tea notes and leather on the finish. This cider surely is bright and bubbly, but the acid makes it feel bubblier than it looks (and indeed may be).  

I love how the Extra Sec’s finish rolls in waves of strong aromas, a little astringence, sweetness and bitterness alternating. Factually speaking, the cider leverages medium high tannins, high but not extreme acid, while remaining off dry. This beautifully balanced cider is refreshing for every moment of the experience, but it’s also thoughtful. 

The Extra Sec paired well with homemade pesto pizza and wonderful company. I couldn’t have asked for a better cider to share with the best of friends. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cider Review Black Diamond's Geneva Tremlett's and Farmhaus Cider's Sweater Weather

Everyone hates on Daylight Savings Time, unless they are hating on Standard Time. I try to avoid the internet on the day after the switch just because I am so tired of seeing the same thing every year. Personally, I’m a fan. I love looking out my windows to see sunset after 7pm, and I know that soon enough the mornings will be bright again. But, I’m here to talk about cider and not just pick fights about things beyond my control.

Black Diamond remains a absolute favorite cidery in home region. And I don’t think the competition for the title of regional favorite gets much more competitive than it is in the Finger Lakes area of New York. For a touch of background, Ian and Jackie Merwin, started as long-term home cidermakers, orchardists, and farmers. 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. They founded Black Diamond in 2014 and use primarily the apples they’ve been growing for years. 

You can read much more about the Merwins and their ciders on Black Diamond Cider's Website: http://blackdiamondcider.com

I’ve reviewed several Black Diamond Ciders before.
Most recently, I checked out the Slatestone: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/11/cider-reviews-big-hill-ciderworks.html

Black Diamond’s award-winning Pommeau made an appearance at the Locavore Birthday pairing dinner in 2017: https://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/09/finger-lakes-cider-week-and-birthday.html

I reviewed The Solstice; this cider was my second favorite cider of 2017! http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/08/cider-review-black-diamonds-solstice.html

My first review of a Black Diamond cider is the Rabblerouser: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/09/cider-review-black-diamonds.html

I did receive my bottle of Geneva Tremletts for review just after its release. Full disclosure, many  ciders I review are shared with me for that purpose. I do not promise a review for every cider received, and I certainly do not allow the origin of a bottle to sway my thoughts on it. 

Here’s the background information on the Geneva Tremletts' as provided by Black Diamond Cider. 
Our version of a sour cider  
The identity and origin of Geneva Tremlett’s Bitter is unknown. It was imported from England for the Geneva, NY apple collection in the 1960s, thought to be the English cider apple Tremlett’s Bitter. Whatever its true name may be, Geneva Tremletts has established itself as one of the few bittersharp cider apples that can stand on its own in the bottle. This single variety cider is cold fermented and then bottled conditioned using both wild and cultured yeasts.  
Tasting Notes: Complex and austere with robust tannins and aromas of citrus and spice with a lingering finish. 
Predominant Apples: Geneva Tremletts (80%), Mixed Sharps (20%)

Appearance: warm straw, transparent, bubbly

This looks like a bubbly heritage cider. I see plenty of color in it’s warm straw hue and bubbles in my glass. I’d not call it brilliant, but it is transparent. I apologize for no good picture of the poured cider. Sometimes my photos just don’t turn out, so here’s the cake I paired the cider with.

Aromas: very aromatic, cooked apple, pear

Here’s exactly what I love about Black Diamond ciders. They smells luscious, rich, and intense. The Geneva Tremlett’s smells of apple, particularly cooked apple, pears and baking spices. 

Dryness/sweetness: off dry

I think this cider is an off dry, but I’m fairly confidently it would be perceived as dry by many drinkers. It has both high acidity and high tannins, without a lot of sweetness, pulling it towards a semblance of dryness.

Flavors and drinking experiences: high acid, high tannins, pointed tartness

The pointed tartness of the Geneva Tremlett’s is the most notable feature. Yes, the cider has tannins and some fruit notes. I love some of the mellow fermented flavors. What keeps sparking to the front of my mind though is that tartness on the very of being sour. 

I’m glad this cider isn’t fully dry. The sweetness that’s there does bring out the cider’s fruit notes, namely in a tart tropical fruit direction. The sweetness also helps bring it some heft (though it’s still lithe), just enough to pair with a chocolate spice pound cake. It’s a complex cider; one well worth trying if you ever see a bottle! 

Next up something spiced by Farmhaus Ciders!

Because I knew the spring is coming, I didn’t want to wait any long to enjoy  Farmhaus Ciders’ Sweater Weather. Even so, I’m read to trade in my tights and sweaters for sundresses and sandals!

Farmhaus cider comes from the fifth generation of a Michigan farm family. The ciderywas founded in 2015 in Hudsonville, Michigan. Not far from Grand Rapids you can try Farmhaus Ciders in the tasting room and a cidergarten I met the founders Megan and John at GLINTCAP years ago; it’s been fun to watch their progress. This is a sample shared with me for review. 

Find out all about the company on the website: http://farmhauscider.com/

I’ve reviewed a cider or two by Farmhaus Cider before. 

Last year, I tried the Crushable a canned cider with cucumber: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/09/cider-review-farmhaus-crushable-and.html

My first Farmhaus review is of The Classic: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/06/cider-cans-crush-it-aeppeltreow.html

Here's the official description of Sweater Weather.
Chai. Spice. Cozy.
Throw on your favorite sweater, it’s about to get cozy in here!  Snuggle up and sip on this delicious chai cider.  Unlike anything you’ve tried before,  cardamom, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger meet their soulmate in a blend of sharp and sweet apples.  Not too sweet and not too dry, this is the cider for you.  So settle in, get comfortable and most importantly bundle up – because it’s sweater weather time!

Appearance: morning sunshine, brilliant, mildly bubbly

This cider just shines in the glass! It's color is like a wintry morning sunshine, it's bright but not too warm. I don't expect a strong sparkle based on how it poured out of the can, but I can see some bubbles. 

Aromas: cinnamon, clove, vanilla, nutmeg

Sweater Weather smells just exactly how I want a spiced cider to smell. I get notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla. I’m hoping for a cider that’s going to balance sweet with spicy and a hint of tartness.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet
This is a sweet, spicy cider. It doesn’t want to be anything else, and I’m glad for that.

Flavors and drinking experience: full bodied, mildly spicy, acid, sweet

Yes, there’s a lot going on in this cider. Sweater Weather feel full bodied with rich maple heaviness. It’s Mildly spicy and mildly sparkling. Something about this cider reminds me of Chocolate and tea berry gum that I haven’t tasted since high school. What a wave of nostalgia! 

All of the spices that I smells are still present in the flavors of the cider. Sweater Weather brings medium high acidity and some savory and fruity notes as well. I feel most surprised to taste little hints of cherry, concord grapes, black tea and not at all surprised to taste ripe sweet apples in the mix. This cider is just a little bit funky, but not enough to be distracting from the spices.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cider Review Seed + Stone Cidery Heritage Traditional Dry and Portland Cider Co.'s Cranberry

It’s March! The turn to Daylight Savings Time is almost here, and I will start looking for spring shortly after. Living in upstate New York might mean that I’m looking for a long while, but I’m ready to start!  

This week I want to share a cider that I bought back in the summer when visiting Rochester. I happened to be touring the Black Button Distillery and saw an unfamiliar cidery name in the tasting room. I sampled from Seed + Stone Cidery and was happy to purchase something new to save for a winter’s night. The company is Rochester, New York Based and relatively new. This is how the cidery describes itself, “We  are dedicated cidermakers and we create small batch traditional ciders from exceptional apples from local orchards.”

I am starting with the Heritage. Here’s how it is described online.

Learn more about this urban cidery online: https://www.seedandstonecidery.com

Our flagship cider, a traditional dry cider fermented slowly and aged over six months. Bottled without filtering and bottle conditioned for a light effervescence.  A mix of American Heirloom and English Bittersweet apples. This cider promotes clean aromatic characteristics and intensifies mouthfeel and lingering flavors, while encouraging the fresh aromas of tropical fruit, cream, vanilla and spice.

Seed+Stone Cidery: Heritage Traditional Dry

Appearance: brilliant,  popcorn kern, light mousse

What a pleasing deep color. I enjoy it when ciders bring some harvest hues to my glass, and the Heritage does just that. I’d call the color popcorn, but not for the popped variety. It looks like the warm yellow of an unpopped kernel. It’s brilliant bubbly, pouring with a fine mousse that boils up and vanishes. 

Aromas: Stony, citrus, grain, powder 

The Heritage smells stony and powdery and very much like citrus. It reminds me of certain other upstate NY ciders that use heritage apples heavily. I do get apple notes as well, specifically crisp grainy apple flesh. Something about the aroma is crystalline. I smell the barest hint of sweetness, but I don’t expect it to translate into taste. 

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

This is a dry cider! There’s no second guessing that one. 

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, black walnuts, herbal

Tasting the Heritage cider is intense; there are so many flavors here! I get notes of black walnuts, anise, and savory herbs. There are some vegetal notes, but ultimately this is a dry crisp apple cider with a strongly astringent first note. Yowza! 

This cider brings high acidity and a light body. The Heritage can also boast of high but not overpowering tannins. Again, I get lots and lots of herbal notes. And the cider finishes austerely;  it’s a long stony finish—but then it's stony everywhere.

My next review is a return to a company that often makes approachable fun fruit-blended ciders: Portland Cider Co. I was lucky enough to get a review sample of the Cranberry. This cidery was founded by fans of English cider in 2012. You can see more company background in my earlier reviews. 

Here are my previous reviews of Portland Cider Co.

First, the Kinda Dry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/05/cider-review-portland-cider-company.html

Then the Pineapple: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/02/cider-review-portland-cider-company.html

And the Pumpkin Spice: 

Visit the website to see what all Portland Cider Company has going right now: https://www.portlandcider.com/

Portland Cider Company Cranberry has a full page of info on the website; I’ll start by sharing  the description, “Our cranberry cider is a blend of fresh NW grown cranberries & apples, Slightly tart & semi-sweet, with a rich apple taste at its core. Tastes like fresh cranberry relish!” 6% ABV

There’s also a complete listing of ingredients, including apple varieties, “Cranberries, Orange zest, Gala apples,  Honeycrisp apples, Pink Lady apples, Golden Delicious apples, Fuji apples”

Appearance: true ruby, brilliant, few bubbles

As the pictures makes obvious, the Cranberry is a GORGEOUS color. I don’t see many visible bubbles in the glas, but the cider is certainly brilliant. 

Aromas: grapes, citric acid, cranberry

The Cranberry cider smells of grapes immediately! What a surprise. I also get some of the lemon and dust notes I associate with citric acid or Pixi Stix. It also smells like fresh cranberry juice. I anticipate a very high acid cider! 

Sweetness/dryness:  Semi-dry

The Cranberry’s tartness is so strong that it's hard to say how sweet or dry it is. 

Flavors and drinking experience: Tart, full bodied, cranberry, tannins

The Cranberry Tastes very much like cranberry! It’s full bodied mouthfeel suggests that the cider has more residual sweetness than one perceives because the tartness is so very substantial! The cider brings much more cranberry flavor forward than apple, but the apple is here. There’s also a very little bit of mapley booze flavor, especially in big sips. The alcohol and any fermentation related notes are relatively downplayed in relation to the fresh fruity notes. 

How I taste apple most is in the mid-palate to the cider’s finish. The Cranberry does relish in it’s very high acid. It’s puckering but pleasantly so! The cranberry also brings Medium-high tannins to the overall experience. I love the nice long dry bitter cranberry finish. Yum, what a fun and approachable cider.