Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cider Review: Awestruck Cider's Sugar and Spice

The fickle spring weather is here with all of its balms and blusters. Earlier this week, I had to dig out my sandals so I could feel warm sunbeams on my toes. But today, we’re back to being bundled up, and snow could be in the forecast. This is why I’m returning back to a regional brand I reviewed only a month ago: Awestruck. The kind folks at Awestruck shared samples of their new Sugar and Spice cider with me, and I wanted to take advantage of this temporary chill for this very cozy time cider. 

Here are all of my reviews for Awestruck! Because they just came up a month ago, I’ll refer folks to these reviews to learn more about this upstate New York cidery.

Solstice: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2021/02/cider-review-awestruck-ciders-winter.html

Viking Sahti: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2020/04/cider-review-california-caboose-ciders.html

Dry Apple + Oak: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2019/10/cider-review-kite-and-strings-rose-17.html

Hometown Homicider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2018/10/cider-reviews-woodchuck-ciders-bubbly.html

Hibiscus Ginger: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/10/cider-review-awestruck-premium-hard.html This cider made my 2015 top ten!

If you check out Awestruck online, you can learn more about all of the ciders: https://www.awestruckciders.com/Index

This review is a little different. Often, in pre-Covid times, when I had more than serving of a sample, I’d have friends over and get multiple notes from friends in person. That wasn’t safely possible this time, so I did two different cider drop-offs to friends whose tastebuds I trust. Thank you Cara! Thank you Dave! I also sampled and photographed a can of the cider here with one of my go-to co-tasters. So this review is the result of four different people carefully thinking about this cider while sampling.

Here’s the official description from Awestruck.

What is really good cider made of? Apples, mostly. But we think adding just the right amount of sugary sweetness, steeping it with whole, oven toasted cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, real vanilla bean, and infusing it with edible glitter! - well, that just makes it extra nice. 6.8% ABV

Appearance: glittery, tawny, intense color, brilliant

I must say, I’ve never seen a cider like this! I’ve heard of glittery beers, but I’ve not seen it in cider. One of my fellow samplers said that its a hard thing to get right in terms of being a fun feature but not overwhelming the appearance of the beverage. This was lovely. The color is a warm tawny orange with great intensity. I can see the glitter, but it doesn’t obscure the transparency of cider or that eye-catching color. It just adds sparkle!

Aromas: cinnamon, vanilla, cooked apple

It smells like the cold version of a mulled cider. It smells super autumnal and like apple pie. I fully expect a sweet and spicy cider based on these dessert notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and baked apple.

Sweetness/Dryness: Sweet!

Holy sweetness, Batman! The Sugar and Spice is a very sweet cider. Based on the name, that’s not a surprise. This is one I’ll recommend specifically for folks who want a dessert cider or who know that they prefer the sweet end of the cider spectrum! All tasters agree here!

Flavors and drinking experience: thick mouthfeel, warm, medium high acidity, lots of spice

All of the mulled cider notes present in the aroma were back in an even bigger way when tasting this cider. It even tastes thicker than most hard ciders. Some of that is likely the sweetness; it has an almost cream soda mouthfeel. The Sugar and Spice tastes so much like apple pie!

We all got intense wafts of cinnamon and vanilla. Throughout the whole deinking experience this stays reminiscent of a mulled cider. One taster found that the ABV gave it a slight alcohol warming effect. We agreed that this would be excellent in December, perhaps as a reward for shovelling snow. The sweetness is balanced by the acidity to a degree and further aided by the mild bitterness of the spices. The Sugar and Spice doesn’t bring any tannins, but the acidity is medium high. In a can this size, it’s really best to share. There’s a lot of flavor in each sip!

I also heard the wonderful idea from one of my distanced co-tasters that one could turn the Sugar and Spice into a glittery and sweet syrup to drizzle over a pound cake or something with roasted apples. I think that’s a gorgeous idea, and if anyone tries it, please send me pictures!

I had this cider as a dessert, but I’ll show you my roast cauliflower and salmon meal that I had first! This cider could go well with many things, but I think it might be most fun with New York style cheesecake.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Cider Review: City Roots Cider's Evergreen Farmhouse Cider

Happy Spring, cider friends! I’m filled with hope today, not only because the sun shines outside on all the early spring shoots emerging from the ground, but because I was able to get my first dose of the Moderna vaccine last week! I hope your weeks are similarly filled with happiness and anticipation.

This week I’m reviewing a cider I found at my local grocery store. It's not often that they have something new, but I was happy to see City Roots Evergreen Farmhouse Cider a couple of weeks ago. When I read that the cider is infused with Juniper, I had to try it. I hope you enjoy!

We’ll start with the origins of City Roots Cider. This line of cider is made by the folks who make Harpoon Beer and who used to make Harpoon cider. That means the company is based in Boston. When reading about City Roots, I learned, “1% of revenue from all City Roots sales- whether draft or package- will be donated to nonprofit organizations that focus directly on creating greener, healthier, and more sustainable cities.” Which is a pretty cool ongoing commitment. 

I do want to link back to the one review I have of a Harpoon cider just because I remember it so fondly. 

Harpoon’s Pumpkin Cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/09/cider-review-harpoon-brewerys-pumpkin.htm

You can visit City Roots Cider online to learn more: https://www.cityrootscider.com/

As I mentioned, what made me pick up the Evergreen Farmhouse Cider, is that the label read “conditioned on juniper.” Here’s the full description.

Fermented completely dry using a Nordic farmhouse yeast strain and conditioned on juniper needles, Evergreen is crisp and peppery with notes of citrus zest, winter herbs, and cold forest air. Filtered bright, it has a pleasant warmth and bubbly effervescence while remaining remarkably light and drinkable. 6.0% ABV.


Ingredients Fermented apple juice (Late Season Blend), Juniper Needles

Appearance: cool straw, brilliant, few bubbles

This is a lovely cider to see. I appreciate the brilliance and cool straw hue. I see a few bubbles, but not many. We’ll have to see how sparkly it is or isn’t.

Aromas: Lychee, pear, basil, juniper and other herbs

The cider effuses with notable and pleasing lychee notes. I also smell pear, basil, white grape, apple, and minerals. Alongside this range juniper, peach, and pineapple appear. The whole impression is both  fruity and herbal.

Dryness/sweetness: Semi-dry

As with most ciders available in smaller bottles and cans, I need to adjust my expectation of the sweetness from what I see on the packaging. It’s called dry, but to me it's semi-dry. 

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, pineapple, juniper, tropical 

The Evergreen Farmhouse Cider brings medium intensity sparkle and ear curling acidity! Wow! I love how this semi-dry cider tastes piney, green and  underripe fruit. Notes of pineapple, spruce, apple, and mango all play nicely together. The cider reminds of herb and pine in a sappy, sticky way, but the stickiness isn’t from sugar. This cider tastes very good! The juniper notes bring subtle complexity, but speak a bit more with a larger sip.

I paired this with probably one of the last winter harvesty meals we’re going to have this season. We made a Quorn roast, air-fryer brussels sprouts and baked potatoes with cheddar. It was all quite simple, but the Evergreen Farmhouse Cider was a great complement to the experience!

Next time, I want to see how this cider will play alongside salmon burgers and grilled asparagus!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cider Review: Wayside Cider's The Underhill

We’ve almost arrived at the most fickle and longed for season of the year. Yes, I know die hard Autumn fans, and for a very long time it was my undisputed favorite as well. I think I took Spring for granted growing up in rural Kentucky. It was lovely, blossoming and green every year. Now that I live in upstate New York, spring can be six weeks of wonder or it can be a bonus blizzard in April three days before temperatures hit the 70s. I anticipate Spring for weeks, enjoying all the little previews that last for 20 minutes or a couple of days. Even the muddy messy gritty parts of Spring feel precious. And they are almost here.

To celebrate the impending arrival of this capricious season, I opened up a cider from a company I don’t see very often. This is my very first review of a Wayside Cider! Folks from the cidery were kind enough to share a couple of bottles with me for review, and this is the first of them: Wayside Cider’s The Underhill!

Reading about Wayside online paints a rollicking and very land-focused identity. The cidery is based out of the Catskills in New York; it has operated since 2014. Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson founded this small cidery out of a garage (the first home for many a cidery). The company focuses on using American apples often heirloom varietals or foraged fruit. I first encountered Wayside Cider at the Gathering of the Farm Cideries in Albany, but someday (post pandemic) I hope to make it to the tasting room!

You can check out everything that’s going on for Wayside Cider on the website:  http://www.waysidecider.com/

Here’s the official description for The Underhill.

"The Underhill Sparkling Cider is a blend of cider apples from the Fingerlakes. With floral and herbal notes of meyer lemon, tarragon, and a distinct minerality. Serve Chilled. Made & bottled by Wayside Cider in Delhi, New York. Bottle Conditioned Naturally Sparkling and Unfiltered. Alcohol 7.5% by volume.”  

The first thing that I noticed about The Underhill is the incredible design. The label and the bottle shape just help me to expect something elegant and modern yet rustic. Good design is such a treat.

Appearance: intense, lemon curd, cloudy 

This cider poured very differently from the first bit of the bottle to the last. It started transparent but ended up quite cloudy. That’s how unfiltered sparkling ciders usually go. The color reminded me of lemon curd with it’s shade of mellow rich yellow and delectable intensity.

Aromas: Mango, pineapple, minerals, sourness and nuts

I love being surprised by a cider at any stage, and these aromas did surprise me. The cider’s description led me to expect something more austere, but my first impressions of the Underhill were its tropical fruit notes like mango and pineapple. I did get some minerality and sourness, but the fruit was more prominent. I also found a surprising nutty note.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

This is a dry cider with a massively different profile. This is a dry cider that will wake you up! Keep reading to find out more.

Flavors and drinking experience: very tannic, apricot, medium acidity, astringent

Okay, I promised to explain the unusual profile on this cider. Yes, it’s dry, but it’s tannins are just ferocious! The Underhill has only medium acidity, but between that, the dryness and its very tannic bite, the cider feels and tastes austere. It’s demanding but also rewarding. 

The cider is tight and angular, but not totally without fruit notes. I can taste apricot and pear but fruit isn’t the dominant element. I just keep being shocked by the astringence. The other flavor note that surprises me is note that reminds me of almonds and cherry blossoms at the same time.

Somehow the overall impression is one of wildness. I served it chilled but the cider somehow conveyed greater coldness than just its actual temperature.

Then I paired it with spicy ginger cookies. Zing! Wow! Ginger brings out some previously hidden citrus in the cider. I love it this way. What a fun pairing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Cider Review: Urban Tree Hard Cider Harvest Apple

The snow is falling again, and later today I’m back to painting trim in my bathroom. And somehow it’s March? I don’t know if time is stretching out impossibly or just looping strangely. But I know folks aren’t here to read about my haphazard ruminations; it's my job to write about cider. Thankfully, the doldrums were broken recently when I received a very exciting package of cider from an familiar cider producer: Urban Tree Hard Cider.

Urban Tree Hard cider is based out of Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t hear often about cider from that region, so I’m extra curious about it! The cider operates a tasting room as well. Urban Tree has been around since 2015. The company was kind enough to share some samples with me for review, so those will be appearing over the next few months. For now, I wish they could have sent some warm temperatures and sunny skies along with the cider, but those will get here eventually.

You can learn more about Urban Tree Hard Cider online: https://www.urbantreecidery.com/

I want to start with the Harvest Apple. Here’s Urban Tree Hard Cider’s official description: 

Harvest Apple 

Modern, full bodied cider that is medium dry, complex and balanced with fresh apple aromas. 6.5% ABV

Appearance: warm, carrot-y peach, brilliant

The cider looks warm toned and carroty or peachy in color. The hue is only medium in its intensity.The Harvest Apple does bring brilliance to the glass with its shining transparence and very few visible bubbles.  

Aromas: Cinnamon, Bing cherry, and baked apples

The Harvest Apple burst out of the glass with surprising aromas.Fascinating! I know this cider doesn’t have any additives, but it smells so much like cinnamon, Bing cherries, and baked apples. The overall effect is very much like a fruity apple and cherry pie. 

Sweetness/Dryness: Semi sweet

While Urban Tree describes the cider as medium dry, I think it’s semi-sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: powdered sugar, ripe apples, medium acid

This makes sense as a flagship cider. The Harvest Apple has a balanced presentation of medium acidity, semi-sweetness, and plenty of fruit, but no tannins. This is a middle-of-the-road cider that’s surely a crowd pleaser.

In terms of flavor notes, I can taste hints that remind me of grapes, powdered sugar, ripe apples, and fruit danish. The level of spark is medium; it doesn’t surprise me with either strength or gentleness. The body is a bit on the fuller side, but with a semi-sweet cider that’s not unexpected.

I paired this cider with a night of Trivial Pursuit and grunge music. If pairing this cider with a meal, I’d go with something spicy or very strongly flavored. This cider will hold its own even alongside something powerful. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Cider Review: Liberty Ciderworks Major Hewes

I learned something wonderful this past week. Underneath all of the snow, we have delightful soft muddy earth! I’m hoping this change of month is bringing happy realizations or good news to all of you as well. I wanted to choose a special cider this week to go with the spring thoughts in my brain and many hopes for the future. I wanted a cider to sip while I daydream about gardening.

This week, my cider comes from the west coast: Washington state's Liberty Ciderworks. I got this cider after a mix up around Washington state’s Ciderweek. I reviewed the Wickson Crab as part of a special lineup that was originally intended to include the Major Hewes instead. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, as I love Wickson ciders. Nonetheless, folks were extremely kind and sent over this replacement bottle shortly after. 

This quote from the Liberty Ciderworks website expresses the goals of this cidery clearly, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. 

To us, cider is a form of art, expressing climate, topography and the wonders of exceptional, cider-worthy apples. We employ “natural wine” methods in all of our ferments, never filtering and allowing each orchard’s native yeast to work its magic. Our approach is inspired by global styles and traditions, but reflects our own apples, landscape and culture. It’s a philosophy expressed in everything we produce, and it’s one we think you’ll really enjoy.

I only have a couple of Liberty Ciderworks reviews. I encourage you to check them both out.

Wickson Crab: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2020/09/cider-review-liberty-ciderworks-wickson.html 

Manchurian Crabapple SV Cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/08/cider-review-liberty-ciderworks.html

Liberty Ciderworks can be seen on the web here: http://libertycider.com

This week I’m reviewing the Major Hewes. Here’s the official description.

Major Hewes 


A blend of British cider apples (Major) and one of the most storied American cider apples (Hewe’s Crab). Aged to perfection with a small amount of keeved cider added at bottling. Starchy apple and quince flavors with peaty earth, mild bittersweet funk and medium tannins. Bottled still. 

Suggested pairings: Charcuterie, Manchego cheese and baguettes; savory galletes; maple-glazed roast vegetables; cheesecake.  

Finished Gravity = 1.009 (Off-Dry)

Appearance: saturated color, transparent, butternut squash color, no visible bubbles

I love it when a cider bottle uses clear glass. Getting to see a cider’s color gives me some fun preliminary clues about what’s coming. There’s no one-to-one correlation between color and flavor, but when I see an intense butternut squash color like in the Major Hewes, I do hope for a matching saturation of flavor. When I see no visible bubbles, I don’t expect a strong sparkle. The cider appears transparent, which doesn’t tell me as much about flavor, but does add to the wine-like presentation started with the bottle and label. Let’s see what these clues lead to.

Aromas: orange, winter berry, mint, herbs 

The Major Hewes smells enticing! I love notes of leather and orange, which just jump out at me here. It’s a very UK cider profile. I also get winter berry, herbal notes like mint and lemon balm.

Sweetness/dryness:  off-dry

What a lovely resting place for sweetness. This tastes on the sweeter end of off-dry or the drier end of semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: petillant, high acid, very tanic, citrus, hay, creamy mouthfeel

Though the cider was bottled still, it felt petillant when I tasted it. I love how a semi-dry cider can show off high levels of tannins. The cider is structured but fruity with high acidity. I get citrus fruits like Meyer lemon and tart orange. I also get hints of honey, minerals, and hay.

Everything about this cider just tastes balanced and mature. The Major Hewes has a very creamy mouthfeel. I think that correlates to its higher than usual alcohol by volume. 

What a wonderful cider. I can see the UK inspiration, but this doesn’t take identical to a UK cider. There are some qualities that feel very much in line with the best American artisanal ciders. It was a lovely cider to pair with a leek and butternut squash farro risotto and black garlic puffed bread. If you have the chance to try it, you must!