Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Cider Review: Virtue Cider's Pear and Woodchuck Cider's 802 Collection Lil' Dry

The first heat wave of the season has hit the Finger Lakes, and I’ve gotten am ambitious sunburn. While the calendar still says Spring, it now feel like Summer to me. With Summer, comes a whole new set of foods for cider pairing. My drink preferences change as well. I’m more prone to reach for a hopped cider, lower ABV canned ciders have extra appeal, and I’m still looking for perries when I can. Luckily, I have one for this week and one for next week too! 

This week the folks at Virtue Cider were kind enough to send me some review samples of the new Pear cider. For those who don’t know. Virtue Cider was founded in Michigan in 2011. The company is now owned by AB In-Bev. Reading on Virtue’s website, but the focus remains on Michigan apples. 

Here’s a fun section of the website that I recommend checking out. It’s Virtue’s guide to cider making and cider history:

Several Virtue ciders have made it onto the blog before. Here’s the list. 



The Mitten Reserve:



The Mitten:

Red Streak:

You can find out more about any of these ciders on Virtue’s website: 

Here’s how Virtue introduces and contextualizes the Pear cider.
Virtue Cider Pear is a blend of hand-pressed heirloom apples and pears. Drinks like a Sauvignon Blanc, appeals to all. 
STYLE: Semi-Sweet Cider with Pears 
INGREDIENTS: Apples, pears, and yeast 
ABV: 5%  
TASTING NOTES: Our pear cider is made with hand picked heirloom Michigan apples that are pressed and fermented on our solar powered farm. That cider is blended with the finest pear juice for a soft, semi-sweet flavor. Notes of mellow apple up front with a soft pear finish. Zero sugar added. 
FOOD PAIRING: Enjoy Virtue Cider Pear alongside a chopped salad, pretzels, or vanilla ice cream.

Appearance: brilliant, pale straw, few bubbles

The Pear looks a cooler tone of straw than most ciders. Its a bit silvery rather than very golden, but I’ll call it pale straw. It’s completely brilliant, and I can see a few bubbles but not many.

Aromas: sweet, tropical fruit, cooked fruit

The Pear smells sweetly tropical like pineapple, mango and starfruit. At the same time, there’s something about the sweetness and concentration of the fruit aromas that comes across as either overripe or cooked fruits. Everything in the aromas comes across as intense and soft.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet

I’m so glad that this pear cider is exactly as sweet as I expected it to be from both the description and it’s aroma. I knew this would be sweet and fruity, and it is!

Flavors and drinking experience: very apple and pear, full bodied, mildly bubbly

Virtue’s pear cider tastes very much like apple and pear, but it’s also gently nutty. Perhaps because of the sweetness, this feels full bodied and lush. The pear cider is only mildly bubbly.

There’s no funk here; it's a clean fermentation. That’s interesting because Virtue’s lineup runs the gamut in terms of the squeaky clean to fun and funky. I get medium acidity and no tannins.

I had mine with soft tacos and chips. The sweetness goes very well with a kick of spice!

Now, for Woodchuck Cider’s 802 Collection Lil’ Dry!

I received this cider from Woodchuck for review. Woodchuck has been part of my blog coverage since the very beginning. The company was founded in the late 1990s in Vermont. Now, Woodchuck Cider is owned by Vermont Hard Cider LLC which is in turn owned by C&C Group. 

You can visit to learn about all of Woodchuck's ciders.

Here are some of my previous reviews include the following (there are many more):

Odd Crush (Collab with Farnum Hill):

802 Kinda Cloudy:


Bubbly Rose:

June and Juice:

The Local Nectar:

Pear Ginger:

And I loved visiting them on my Vermont Cider Tour:

Here’s the official description for Woodchuck Cider’s 802 Collection Lil’ Dry.
SEMI-DRY CIDERA traditional cider made with only fresh pressed Vermont juice from our orchard partners. Enjoy this semi-dry cider with good friends and good company. 5.1% ABV.

Appearance: Brilliant, no visible bubbles, palest white gold

This cider looks even paler and more cool toned than the Virtue pear cider; it reminds me of white gold. It’s brilliant and reveals no bubbles.

Aromas: Baked apples, brown sugar, apple juice and Play Doh

This cider blooms with oodles of aroma. Immediately after cracking the can I could smell baked apples. I poured my cider and got juicy apple notes along with brown sugar and Play Doh.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

The Lil’ Dry is described as semi-dry in Woodchuck’s introduction to this cider. I think that’s  accurate. It has some sweetness, but that doesn’t dominate the experience of drinking this cider.

Flavors and drinking experience: Medium acidity, overripe apples, golden raisins

Woodchuck’s Lil’ Dry tastes more rounded and friendly than dry to me. This cider has medium acidity and lots of natural apple and fruit notes, but it doesn’t come across as dry. Instead, if there’s a profile difference between this cider and some others in the Woodchuck portfolio, it’s that the Lil’ Dry feels more natural and lush than many Woodchuck ciders.  It’s not dry but it does taste like pear nectar and golden raisins.

The Lil’ Dry has a full body and medium bubble. The flavor notes include soft fruit and some minerals. The whole experience is Less Jolly Rancher and more apple juice. This is a great cider for marinated tofu and broccoli slaw. Those savory and salty flavors really highlight what’s best about this juicy and approachable offering from Woodchuck.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Cider Review: Left Foot Charley's Fortis Maelum and Stormalong Cider's Peariful

This Spring feels like no previous Spring in my life. Instead of cider judging and circus performances, I’m plotting out how to portion out my perishable foods such that I can go longer between grocery runs. Some things haven’t changed though, and enjoying cider outdoors is one of them. This week, I tried two new ciders and I would recommend either of them with carrots, cucumbers, cheddar and fresh bread in the backyard, front steps, screen porch or balcony. Find your peaceful spot and enjoy it with cider. 

I’m starting with Left Foot Charley’s Fortis Maelum today. This Winery and Cidery dates back to  2004 in Traverse City, Michigan. Left Foot Charley remains an urban winery and cidery that purchases fruit and juice from Northern Michigan fruit growers to make a variety of ciders and wines.

I have a few previous reviews of Left Foot Charley’s ciders and a perry. Here’s the list.


Henry’s Pippin (it made my top 10 for 2016):

You can visit the Left Foot Charley website to learn more about the wines and ciders:

Here’s how Left Foot Charley describes the Fortis Maelum.
STYLE:Dry British style cider from heritage apple varieties 
THE LONG VERSION:This is a Heritage blend made from European and American cidervarieties. These apples are grown as part of an experimental blockon the Engle Ridge Farm that were planted as part of our quest fortrue cider apples that will thrive in northern Michigan.We made this classic beverage by isolating the specific applevarieties in order to create a dry British style cider. The cider wasthen fermented and aged in stainless steel. 
VARIETIES USED: Brown Snout,Porter’s Perfection, Wickson, BinetRouge, Golden Russett, EsopusSpitzenberg
ABV 9.6% 
I received my bottle of Fortis Maelum in a cider trade with a faraway cider friend. Thanks again!

Appearance: brilliant, rich toffee, no visible bubbles

This cider looks completely still and richly flavored. The color reminds me of an intense toffee. It’s brilliant and not at all bubbly to the eye. 

Aromas: cooked apple, minerals, barn yard

The Fortis Maelum smells of minerals and cooked apple immediately. I know I’m not going to be tasting a typical cider. It rumbles with leathery notes, making me expect a more tannic UK-inspired style. I also get some funk and barnyard notes.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

Dry and flavorful! This cider is not at all sugar powered!

Flavors and drinking experience: low acid, hot, tannic, funky

The first thing I noticed about the Fortis Maelum had to be the tannins. This cider brings powerful tannins and astringency to the drinking experience. It’s also lower acid than the majority of American ciders. These two factors, particularly when combined with the cider’s dryness and funk, create a solidly English style impression.

This isn’t to say that the Fortis Maelum isn’t also fruity. It is. I get notes of rear juice and other stone fruit, but also beets, grasses, and hay. The tannic profile reminds me of wet leaves and black tea. The finish is a gentle brush with olive brine. I enjoy how earthy and mulchy this cider tastes. It’s funky and fun.

More sips reveal more flavor notes including snap peas, edamame, even succotash? This savory cider brought so much pleasure and complexity to my glass. What a wonder!

Next up, Stormalong’s Peariful

Stormalong Cider is a Massachusetts cidery that’s been around since 2014. I first got to know some folks at Stormalong at CiderCon several years ago, and I’ve enjoyed following the cidery’s lineup grow ever since. This cider was shared with me for review.

To learn more about what Stormalong is up to, visit online:

Here are all of my earlier Stormalong reviews.

Legendary Dry:

Kingston Black:

Light of the Sun:

Mass Appeal:

Boston Heirloom:

And here’s how Stormalong describes the Peariful.
Refreshingly tart flavors of baked pears with a hint of oak and slight funk. Made with Bosc and Bartlett pears, aged in oak barrels, and blended with Dabinett cider apples for a complex, tannic finish.FLAVORTart with a Hint of Oak & Slight FunkAPPLESDabinett apples, Bosc & Bartlett pears6.7% ABV

Appearance: hazy, warm straw, no bubbles

I apologize for not having a picture of this cider poured. Here’s a picture of the hike I took that day instead. What I can tell you is that the cider had just a hint of haze, a warm straw, color and pretty much no visible bubbles.

Aromas: pears, wheat, nuts, hint of volatile acidity 

This pear cider smells nutty with lots of pears scent, and a tiny bit of volatile acidity. As I sniff again, I also get notes that remind me of wheat and rocks.

Dryness/sweetness: semi-dry

The Peariful is a semi-dry pear cider. It has a lot going on, but only a mild amount comes from cider’s sweetness.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, pear and apple, no tannins, mild funk

The Peariful tastes so much like a ripe pear. This cider has high acid, no tannins, and just a bit of funk. It has not only malic acid but tastes a bit like acetic acid. I appreciate that it’s a well balanced semi-dry in a distinctly perry-like way. The tartness is while and tangy and it finishes with a nice caramelized apple perfume. The cider got bonus points from me for being quite pleasantly bubbly too!

I had this one on a picnic before a remote hike. It went so well with red pepper hummus wraps, cherry tomatoes, and Havarti cheese.

Hang in there, cider friends! Do try to take a moment in a lovely spot with a cider if you can this week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Cider Review: Kite and String's Geneva Russet and Grand Illusion Hard Cider's Street Magic

We’re back on the spring roller coaster this week. Two days last week, I saw snow and then the day after I was mowing my yard in shorts and a t-shirt. Obviously, this means I’m still concerned for apple trees, orchards, and growers all over the country. I hope that trees can warm up and wake up slowly enough that they don’t lose most of this year’s apple crop.

As for myself, I’m still tasting in two seasons myself depending on the weather. I wanted to have one more review of something more cold weather friendly and a review of something downright springy.

To start, I got out my bottle of Kite and String’s Geneva Russet. I picked this up after a tasting at the Finger Lakes Cider House last summer. I knew I liked it then, so I felt confident that this would be a beautiful send off for big, structured dry ciders that work well with hearty winter meals.

Kite and String is the house cider brand of the Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm. The farm is just off of Route 89 outside of Interlaken, New York and on the west side of Cayuga Lake. This cidery and farm is a gathering place (when such things were a normal part of life) for local food, local music, and local cider.  The Geneva Russet is a cider from 2018 apples.  

Here is a quick rundown of my previous reviews of Kite and String ciders (some of which pre-date the name).


The Barrel Rye:

The Cazenovia:

The King of Hector:

I've enjoyed Kite and String ciders at a few special dinners including:

Thanksgiving 2016:

Finger Lakes Locavore Birthday Dinner:

I recommend read about both the Finger Lakes Cider House and Kite and String Cider on the website: You can also find out what’s on the curbside pickup menu!

Here’s the official description of the Geneva Russet: 
Dry, Traditional Method.Begins with honeyed floral notes, buttered popcorn, and campfire on the nose, followed by an evolving palate of dirty honey, fresh cut grass, smoked gouda and crème fraiche. Finishes with long and soft tannins. Alcohol 8.40%

Appearance: warm straw, brilliant, bubbly

This is a lovely, luscious, and appealing cider. It uncorked with a soft pop and sprang into bubbly action. The Geneva Russet looks like warm sun-toasted straw in color.  I’ll call it brilliant because it’s transparent and bright, but the bubbles are so active, it’s almost hard to tell if there’s any haze in there.

Aromas: overripe soft fruit, baking spices, autumn leaves, 

When I lifted my glass, I could smell overripe apples and pear long before it reached my nose. Mellow mouth watering soft fruit notes just tumble into the atmosphere. The cider also smells like spices and autumn leaves while still being primarily fruity! 

Dryness/sweetness: Dry to off dry

My tasting companion and I weren’t quite sure where to rate the dryness of this cider. Its not completely bone dry, but it's nearly there. What sweetness is present is very natural and integrated into a larger experience. For me it falls somewhere between dry and off dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: High acid, Clean fermentation, Medium Tannins, Fantastic

Oh what a treat! This cider is something special.  High acid and minerals make the cider bracing and exciting.The Geneva Russet offers a clean fermentation; it’s just fruit speaking. I love how taste after taste, the mouth popping acid just scrubs my palate.

Acid isn’t the only element of this cider though. The Geneva Russet is solidly anchored by  medium tannins and beautiful bubbles. My favorite part might be it’s soft roasted apple finish. Really everything about this cider works and works fantastically together. I had it with a simply meal of veggie sausages, peppers and onions, and sauteed  zucchini. It was perfect.

Now for my look forward to spring with Grand Illusion Hard Cider’s Street Magic.

I’ve reviewed a few Grand Illusion ciders before. The company was kind enough to send me a small sampler quite a while ago. This cidery and restaurant is based out of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Even though the restaurant cannot serve diners inside these days, you can order food and cider for delivery!

Here are both of my earlier reviews of Grand Illusion Hard Ciders!

Citra Pineapple:

Blue Illusion:

Appearance: hazy, peach nectar

This is a hazy almost cloud cider. I can see some bubbles but not much. The color reminds me of peach nectar.

Aromas: hops, grapefruit, sunflower seeds, tangy yogurt

The aromas are overflowing with lots of hoppy green notes. I also get bitterness and grapefruit smells. Like with many hopped ciders, there’s this combination of sweatiness, grassiness, and pine. This smells tangy almost like yogurt. And I’m surprised by a tiny whiff of sunflower seeds.

Dryness/sweetness: Semi-dry but only just

This cider tastes sweeter than I expected it would from its aromas. Its still semi-dry rather than semi-sweet but just by a hair. The sweetness is both fruity and like crystalized sugar.

Flavors and drinking experience: green apple, hoppy bitterness, grapefruit, hay   

The Street Magic speaks first with high acidity. This is a tart and zesty cider. It’s not one that trades on tannins but I can detect some bitterness that I associate with the hops and the grapefruit. All of the elements are present together and hard to fully tease out separately. I appreciate the integration of the drink.

Street Magic has a pleasant medium intensity of sparkle. There are all kinds of fruity notes in the mix like green apples, crab apples, and peaches. THere are other notes as well like sticky and bitter green hops, wood and hay.

This was my reward cider after my first trip to a grocery store in almost two months. I had it with cheese and crackers. It was a springy reward that I enjoyed very much along with a vintage episode of The X-Files. Yes, there’s a lot going on there, but every bit of it was good.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Cider Review: Big Fish Cider Co.'s Wild Meadow and Aeppeltreow's Siskin Scrumpy

In upstate NY, We had a teaser of incredibly warm sunny weather for two days, but now we’ve headed back into unseasonable chill and the possibility of snow this week. Spring can be so fickle. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my orchardist friends this week. We’re also still living in a strange and scary world without much certainty. That’s why I’ve been choosing to bring out more ciders that I have extra high hopes for than usual, and this week is no exception. I’m really excited to share my thoughts on Big Fish Cider Co.'s Wild Meadow and Aeppeltreow's Siskin Scrumpy.

Let’s start with Big Fish Cider Co.’s Wild Meadow. This is a small cidery in Monterey, Virginia. I’ve had fewer than a handful of Big Fish ciders, but each one has been something special. I received the kindest gift last week when a box of three ciders arrived in the mail for me along with a nice letter from Kirk.

This cidery is all about the orchard and all about apples. 

Visit Big Fish Cider online to read about the ciders and the Virginia shipping special!

Here are my previous Big Fish reviews:

Allegheny Gold (my #3 cider from 2019):

Highland Scrumpy (my #3 cider from 2018):

Church Hill Blush:

Now for Big Fish Cider Co.'s Wild Meadow.

Here’s the official description for the Wild Meadow:
Wild Meadow is one of the most traditional ciders made at Big Fish Cider, Co. because we actually forage for wild apples in the fields and forest edges of Highland County. These are apples from trees that have grown up from seed, are higher in tannins and acidity, and typically have more depth and body that commercially grown apples.  The cider goes through a slow, cold fermentation, which also helps to retain those fruity esters and tannins. While fruity, it is not a sweet cider. You’ll find that it pairs well with pork dishes and cheese, particularly blue or sharp cheese.
Because we rely on a crop of wild apples to make this cider, and most years we cannot harvest enough. We are grateful for the farmers that allow these trees to grow. 7.7% ABV.

Appearance: brilliant, bubbly intense corn color

The Wild Meadow looks very bubbly on pouring. This cider shines with brilliance like champagne; it’s so bubbly and active! The color reminds me of ripe corn kernels. It’s a vibrant shade of gold. 

Aromas: cooked apples, spring blossoms, cherry and minerals

The Wild Meadow smell good and golden, like cooked fruit and spring apple blossoms. The notes remind me of flowers on trees. As I sit with these scents a bit longer, pie cherry notes unfurl. The last thing I noticed was some good minerality.

Sweetness/dryness: Off Dry

This cider has the ideal level of sweetness for this specific cider, which is to say not very much. The Wild Meadow’s sweetness that is present serves a role in the overall drinking experience; I’ll explain below.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, high tannins, great balance, Superb

The Wild Meadow tastes amazing! It soars on ear-curling high acid but brings heft and structure with high tannins. We need this cider to remain off-dry because it's so intense in other regards. There are so many flavors dancing through the experience. I get notes of light butterscotch and a plethora of fruits including: ripe apple, peach, apricot, and raspberry.  

The bitterness and tannins are pleasantly tactile but very integrated with the acid; they hit second and fate in the mid-palate.  I love that the Wild Meadow has a great big mouthfeel.  The sweetness, though slight, speaks clearly throughout the finish (amid a bit of spiciness).  This cider is superb.

I enjoyed mine with the first take-out I’ve had in two weeks. It went beautifully with my Broccolini and garlic sauce, veggie fried rice, and homestyle bean curd. I highly recommend setting this pairing up for yourself!

Next up, I’m so excited to share my notes on Aeppeltreow's Siskin Scrumpy.

Aeppeltreow is a Wisconsin based cidery, distillery, and orchard. Ordinarily, you can visit in Burlington, Wisconsin. Now, you can call them for a pick up appointment or order your ciders and perries shipped. The company is a family business with a deep fascination with all things fermentation science. I’ve studied cider faults with Charles McGonegal and had many a wonderful meal with him and Milissa. 

You can visit the site online here and learn about all of Aeppeltreow’s products and access the online shop:

Here are my previous reviews of AeppelTreow Ciders. There are quite a few:

Scarlett Rosey Cider:

Sparrow Spiced Cider:

Blackbird  Berried Cider:

Orchard Oriole Perry:

Appley Brut:

Sparkling Perry:

Kinglet Bitter:

Barnswallow Draft Cider:

Now for Aeppeltreow’s  Siskin Scrumpy. Here’s how the folks at Aeppeltreow describe it, 

Siskin is our flavored cider named for English-style countryside ciders. Semi-sweet with a tickle, a tang, and some smoke. 5.5% ABV.

Appearance: bubbly, deep muted orange

This cider poured with a very tall head! This is not usual for cider. The color is a deep muted orange, and I see tons of bubbles just zooming through the Siskin Scrumpy.

Aromas: leather, orange, overripe apple, twigs

The Siskin Scrumpy smells both leathery and like sweet citrus. The apple notes are overipe and accompanied by zippy woody notes. I am reminded of twigs.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-sweet 

This is a semi-sweet cider, just exactly as its official description described.

Flavors and drinking experience: low acid, spicy, oxidized, cooked fruit 

This cider has lots and lots of tannins and relatively low acidity.  It does indeed remind me of an English style cider, but the funk is milder than in some. I do get notes that remind me of apple cider vinegar. Other flavors I got include: maple, wet twigs, earth and rain. 

Somehow, this feels like a very autumnal cider to me. Like some English and english influenced ciders, it tastes caramelly and gently oxidized. This is very true to its style. I love that there’s both funk and spice. I can taste cinnamon and bacon in this cider. I had this one with a simple meal of rice and two kinds of beans with sauteed kale and cherry tomatoes. The sweetness and richness of the cider were an excellent counterpoint to the healthy and high acid meal.

Both of the ciders I tried this week can be purchased online and shipped to most states. If you like the sound of them, try them!