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.