Monday, May 29, 2023

Perry Review: Snow Capped Cider's Winter Pear

The weather is beautiful outside such that staying indoors to write isn’t the easiest thing this morning. My garden is growing, though I certainly lost some tomato plants to the recent overnight freeze. I did have the good luck to open up Snow Capped Cider’s Winter Pear over the weekend, so I’m reviewing a perry. 

Snow Capped Cider comes to us from a high elevation family orchard in Colorado. I’ve reviewed a few ciders from Snow Capped Ciders. I’ll link all of my reviews below; in them there’s more background on this fascinating cidery.


Jala-pear-no Cider:

Ashmead’s Kernel:

Blanc Mollet:

Gold Rush:

Harrison Reserve (My #5 favorite cider of 2021):

Snow Capped Cider’s website has plenty of info on the latest releases and awards for the cidery:

Here’s what the folks at Snow Capped Cider have to say about the Winter Pear.

Fruit growers are patient and we know how to handle late season fruit. This special cider begins by handpicking our 70-year-old Colorado pear trees. Winter pears require 3-5 weeks of cold storage to adequately ripen. After ripending, juicing and fermentation the blend is returned to cold storage for aging. The journey ends with  bold carbonation to complement woodsy notes of vanilla and winter spice flowing on delicate pear sweetness to a crisp, sparkling finish. ABV: 6.3% 

The pears used are: European D’anjou, Bosc, Comice, and Winter Pears.

Appearance: mild peach, brilliant, fine visible bubbles

This perry has such a delicate mild peach color; it reminds me of the petals on a Peace rose. My grandma had one in her backyard and treasured each sunrise bloom. The Winter Pear is completely brilliant with a miniature parade of fine bubbles rising in the glass. Beautiful.

Aromas: vanilla, yeast, ripe pear and apple, dessert

The Winter Pear smells like vanilla, clean yeasty bread, ripe apples and pears. The yeast, stone fruit, and honey notes combine to give an aura of dessert. Everything about these smells just makes me think of sunshine and happy surprises.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet!

This perry is sweet! Perries made with culinary pears are often sweet because of pears’ Sorbitol: an unfermentable natural sugar. This tastes very naturally sweet with loads of fruitiness, but I might suspect an arrested fermentation rather than just residual Sorbitol.

Flavors and drinking experience: thick mouthfeel, homemade applesauce, fine bubbles ripe pear

The Winter Pear is simultaneously playful and sophisticated with its fresh juicy sweetness and crisp light bubbles. The flavors remind me of super ripe pears eaten over a sink to deal with extreme juiciness, but also homemade applesauce. 

I also get the notes of vanilla and custard that were hinted in the perry’s aroma. One of my co-tasters noted a little fire on the palate. Over and over again, we were all struck by this perry’s fine bubbles and perfumed finish. Each sip invites the next. We enjoyed our perry with a casual al fresco dinner on our porch: roast carrot pasta salad, grilled shrimp, and asparagus. It is the time to make the most of Spring after all.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Cider Revew: Runcible Cider's Idyll Acres and Cider Awards!

It’s awards season in the cider world! At the end of this week’s review, I’ll link to the results for the Great American International Cider Competition (GA Cider), the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP), and the Cidercraft Awards. I was lucky enough to judge for the GA Cider Competition, which is part of the Raise a Glass Foundation. And I’ve enjoyed judging for GLINTCAP many times, and I hope to make it up to Michigan for next year’s competition. But since I was home this weekend, I was able to try a lovely cider from the west coast. It was a nice balm for the GLINTCAP FOMO. Here’s my review of Runcible Cider's Idyll Acres.

This is my first ever review of a Runcible Cider, so here’s a bit about Runcible Cider from the about page of the website.

Runcible Cider  is our family orchard and cidery on the rocky prairie above beautiful, tiny Mosier, Oregon. We grow over 1000 traditional cider apple trees, and we ferment these apples as well as heirloom apples grown on neighboring orchards in the Columbia River Gorge.

I got this cider as part of the Northwest Cider Club. Here’s a link if you’d like to see what the club is up to these days:

I love that Runcible Cider’s website highlights some of the cider apples grown there for the ciders. Here’s the list they share. How many of the varieties do you know?

Bulmer's Norman



Kingston Black


Porter's Perfection

Roxbury Russet

Wickson Crab

Yarlington Mill

Chisel Jersey



Golden Russet

Ashmead's Kernel

Herefordshire Redstreak

Bramley's Seedling

These are some amazing apple varieties. Five of my favorites appear, so my hopes for this cider are high! Here’s how the Runcible Cider's website describes the Idyll Acres.

Idyll Acres -- Apple Contemplation Series

7.6% ABV

Bittersweet and bittersharp cider apples have the perfect building blocks for a structured, balanced cider. This blend of French and English cider apples come from one orchard in Oregon, Idyll Acres, where we taste and blend on the fly right at harvest. This Series celebrates the potential of cider made exclusively from cider apples, aged over a year and a half. Our goal is to put it on your go-to list for bubblies!

Lightly aged in Bourbon barrels, apple and citrus peel, spicy touch of oak. Dry.

Appearance: brilliant, scattered bubbles, warm straw

The Idyll Acres looks very traditional in the glass with a gorgeous brilliance and just a few visible bubbles. The color reminds me of sunlit hay, hence warm straw.

Aromas: overripe apples, peach, barrel, icy apple slush

What inviting barrel-aged characteristics! The Idyll Acres wafts vanilla and toast along with mellow overripe apples. These are just the first layer, secondarily I scent icy apples slush, along with notes of peach, melon, and stone dust. 

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

As promised, this is a dry cider. I love a dry barrel aged cider because it's possible to have sweet associated flavors and scents without the physical taste of sweetness, and that’s a wonderfully delicate balance. Idyll Acres achieves it beautifully!

Flavors and drinking experience: tannic, muted fruits, vanilla, full bodied

My first impression is that this cider is tannic, chalky and woody. The barrel characteristics plus the heirloom cider fruit combine to enhance some astringence pleasantly. I get lots of vanilla in the midpalate and in the finish: vanilla everywhere really. Idyll Acres is fruity in a muted way; overripe apple notes predominate with secondary stone fruits.

I love that this cider is both dry and full bodied. The bubble intensity comes across as pleasantly supportive of the overall drinking experience.  My co-taster and I enjoyed this cider with a simple spring supper of blacked salmon, baby rainbow potatoes and green beans. The complexity of the cider certainly got the take center stage and deserved it!

Now for the competition results! I encourage you to visit each of these sites to find out who is winning big in the northeast, midwest, and out west. And when you get a chance to taste any of these winners, take it! 

Great American Cider Competition medals:

GLINTCAP: Best in Class and Major Awards:

6th Annual Cidercraft Award Winners:

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Cider Review: Stormalong Cider's Berry Perry

I certainly cannot say that I’m settling into any sort of routine. May is a whirlwind,  but it’s wonderful. I go from judging cider to celebrating to covering all the tender bedding plants with sheets to protect from the last few frosts of the year. If a single plan changes (and some always do), then I must play Tetris with the week to fit it all in. Surely, I’m not the only one. What’s fun though is bringing cider to many of my plans and sharing it with friends and family. Recently, I got to share Stormalong Cider’s Berry Perry with a co-taster who is occasionally a bit reluctant to try perries. 

It was Stormalong’s excellent reputation that encouraged this big of adventurousness! This Massachusetts Cider often does really fun and tasty things. Stormalong ciders often make their way to me, and I’m always glad to review them. Here’s the full list. You can find lots more background info on Stormalong in the ealier entries!

IPC Collaboration with Exhibit A Brewing:

Pearman Quince(my #10 cider of last year):


White Mountain Magic:

Bittersweet Symphonie:

Wicked Little Wickson:


Happy Holidays:

Esopus Spitzenburg:

Ashmead’s Kernel:


Legendary Dry:

Kingston Black:

Light of the Sun:

Mass Appeal:

Boston Heirloom:

Here's how Stormalong describes it, "Berry Perry is a fruit bursting collaboration of Bosc Pears, Raspberries, Blueberries and a hint of Hibiscus. It is slightly sweet, slightly tart and 100% refreshing taste bud tantalizing experience. Alcohol 6.80%"

Online you can find out about Stormalong’s current releases and full lineup:

Appearance: tawny, ochre, brilliant

I don’t see a lot of bubbles in the glass, but the Berry Perry is a wonderfully intense shade of ochre. The perry is also beautifully brilliant.

Aromas: blueberries, pears, and peanuts

What a surprising snack! The perry smells like blueberries, pears, and peanuts, so in the end I’m reminded of a peanut butter and blueberry jelly sandwich. Not a lot of hibiscus.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

I appreciate the balance of sweet ripe fruit and just enough mellow acid to keep things lively and in check. It comes across as semi-dry to semi-sweet, perhaps just a nudge on the semi-sweet end. 

Flavors and drinking experience: pronounced blueberry and blackberry, ripe pear, rounded, full bodied

I love what a surprise this cider was for me. I expected something with both more intense sweetness and acidity, but instead this feels so much more natural, floral, and true to perry. The perry’s medium acidity is helpful but never pointed or too zingy. Instead it just keeps the full-bodied perry rounded and juicy without being limp. This feels tremendously true to blue berries and pears as neither of them is the racy tart fruit that will pucker your mouth, but rather something gentle and subtly perfumed and fruity.

In terms of flavor, it’s tremendously fruit forward: very pear and very blueberry. I don’t get as much fermentation character as with some perries, but what’s here is totally delicious. I found this perry utterly magical with soft cheese. I recommend pairing this perry with gentle mellow flavors so that its nuances won’t be lost. Even my co-taster was won over!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Day in the Life of a Cider Judge

Instead of a review this week, I wanted to share an insider’s look at the process of cider judging. I get a lot of questions about it, so I thought it might be fun to share. A ton of work goes into a cider competition from a lot of different sources, and I’m not sure all of that is obvious when a cider buyer sees ribbons or medals on a cidery wall or sees an award mentioned in a cider’s description. Hopefully, I can shed just a bit of light on what the whole process looks like, at least from the point of view of a cider judge.

I’ve enjoyed judging at quite a few different competitions. Here are a few of my favorites.

Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP):

Good Food Awards:

Great American International Cider Competition:

Pennsylvania Farm Show:

To start, we have to talk about who brings together cider competitions come in the first place. These organizers are usually the folks who invite judges like me. I want to give a shout out to hard-working folks who coordinate it all (I see you, Eric and Vikki). This requires a level of skill that I can barely imagine. We’re talking about everything from wooing cider makers to participate, coordinating a venue, volunteers, judges, and making sure that all of the physical details are read to go when things finally get started. They have to think at the same time about substantial hotel contracts and making sure we have mechanical pencils. 

Once organizers have herded all the cats necessary to make a cider competition, the day-off heroes are the volunteers! These are the folks that take the plans for the competition and turn them into reality. They pour ciders in flights with the right order and labelling and deliver them while they are still cold and bubbly. They wash dishes. So. Many. Dishes. They carry boxes and find cell phone chargers and make sure there are enough score sheets. Competitions would grind to a screeching halt without them, and most of these folks sign up to put in an 8-10 hour day for the camaraderie and free cider. 

I feel like by this point in the entry, I’ve made it sound like a lot of work has been taken to spoil us cider judges. There’s definitely some truth to that, so I never want to take for granted all of the work that happens before I show up. But here’s the part I can describe with more detail: judging.

Each competition is different, but we are asked to taste groups of ciders blind and rate them according to a set of criteria. It’s nothing like social drinking and not even very similar to how I get tasting notes for the blog. Blind in this case means we only see them after they’ve  been  poured into glasses. We do not know who made the cider and do not have access to any promotional material about it. The only info is what the producer submitted along with the cider when entering it into the competition. 

Usually this means waking up our palates and judging cider starting around 8:30 in the morning. A grouping of between 5 and fourteen ciders will be lined up for each judge. Sometimes a cider is only judged by one person, but more often it will be judged by a group of 2-3 people. The order of the flight is usually determined by factors that affect intensity, so that we’ll be able to taste all of our ciders with maximum accuracy. We’ll start with ciders that are dryer and not overly tannic but by the end of a day, we’ll be judging ciders with fruit additions, hops, spices or barrel aging. 

The process of tasting for a cider competition itself is completely different from any serious tasting. We look at the cider carefully, smell it deeply, taste it (even chew it, according to some) and then spit. Yes, every time. It’s far from elegant, but it's the only way to survive and  give your clear-headed best to the job of tasting the ciders carefully. We have water and crackers to reset our taste buds, but all of our focus must remain on the cider. 

Perhaps the most valuable and challenging part is turning what we experience with our senses into a series of scores. We search out fermentation flaws or characteristics that do not fit the cider styles and dock points. Every judge is different in terms of what their body can detect. I’m spectacularly not sensitive to diacetyl acid for example, so I’m always grateful to judge with someone who tastes it more clearly. On the other hand, I can sense mouse very clearly. More pleasantly, we also reward all the things we notice and like about a cider, everything from a particularly vibrant and enticing set of aromas to the perfect ebullient fizz of a sparkling cider.  

Here are a few examples of score sheets.

BJCP Score Sheet: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

It gets exhausting both physically and mentally. Luckily, there are a few breaks in the day for socializing and meals. The day is often 5-7  flights with a morning break and a lunch, sometimes an afternoon break if the day is going to run long.  When we aren’t judging, we can relax for just a short time and catch up with our cider friends. I’m so grateful to be able to say that I’ve made some amazing friends judging cider. These wonderful folks don’t just talk amongst ourselves about cider, but over the years we’ve shared the personal stuff and really gotten to know each other. Unsurprisingly, lots of us are totally nerdy about things other than cider, so it’s fun to trade book, food, and travel recommendations with these crowds. And we all hope that the meals are filling but not too powerfully flavored. Coming back into an afternoon of judging with wafts of marinara or chimichurri aromas following us around is not ideal.

Gotta judge more cider after the breaks. Though each competition is different, I wanted to talk about categories, feedback, and building consensus. These are some of the core elements of judging outside of the sensory and scoring elements. Categories give us a standard of expectation for a cider. They vary, but examples include modern cider, fruit cider or heritage perry. These give us a sense of the profile of what materials and processes a cider maker is using and what we should expect from the cider. After all, a traditional English cider should have more tannins and bittersweet character than a modern cider. 

We incorporate these categories when we give feedback on the score sheets. In an ideal world the numbers only tell part of the story, but we add meaningful context with our words. Cider makers receive their score sheets, so our comments reach them directly: sometimes with our names and email addresses included! This is one of the most important things about judging. We aren’t trying to make anyone feel too bad (or too good) about their cider. We are attempting to judge the cider and communicate clearly and fairly about what we perceive. I love what Rex Halfpenny has said many times, “Don’t be nice but don’t be mean.” 

Beyond our individual thoughts, we also work hard to build consensus at the table about each cider. That’s not always easy, because everyone has their own palate and experience. We try as much as possible to leave our personal preferences outside of the judging space, but that can be difficult. Though I do not enjoy cherries, and therefore do not like cherry ciders, I’ve awarded gold medals to truly outstanding fruit ciders with cherries.  

Thanks for the picture, Michelle!

We try to keep in mind that our goal is to be useful and helpful to cider makers. What cider companies get out of their participation in competition varies, but always includes promotion, awards, and feedback. I’m happiest when a competition can create additional selling opportunities for cideries. That’s part of the PA Farm Show structure; participating ciders get the opportunity to sell at a giant agricultural fair that has tens of thousands of visitors. I love that! 

Each competition is different. They have their own flavor, educational opportunities, or tie-ins with outside cider events. Not much can compete with GLINTCAP in terms of having built a wonderful structure of education and public-facing cider events. Before judging begins there, there are days of orchard and cidery tours and extensive mandatory training. I also love the personal touches though, at the Great American International Cider Competition, the volunteers have created an indoor “campground” in the conference center with camp chairs, s’mores, a cell-phone charging station, all surrounding a sweet faux camp-fire. And when we do the Best-in-show round at the PA Farm Show competition, we have to have our special theme music (borrowed from a classic game show). I love what folks have done over the years to make things special for everyone involved. 

I hope this is a helpful window into the world of cider judging and cider competitions. These are big projects that represent a monumental number of volunteer hours from dozens and dozens of skilled people. Hopefully our work can elevate and promote cider!

Cider Judges for Great American International Cider Competition 2023

Monday, May 1, 2023

Cider Review: Sider Aga Boddel

I’ve been back from Norway for a few days now, thanks so much for your patience while I took a week off from blogging to see someplace completely new and different. It was a fabulous experience filled with public art, walking new neighborhoods, hearing the sounds of unfamiliar languages, and seeing many different kinds of weather over the course of four days! Of course finding a Norwegian cider had to be priority, so here’s what I thought of Aga Sideri’s Bøddel.

I found Aga Sideri’s - Bøddel Sider frå Hardanger [Pages from Hardanger] at a vinmonopolet in Oslo. (I mangle this word in my mind, because it reminds me of a combination of the app Venmo and the french word for chicken, poulet). In reality, it’s a wine and spirits monopoly owned by the government. They have fantastic labeling, and I was able to get good knowledgeable help finding a cider that’s both dry and bubbly. I did want to increase my odds of finding just the right cider for me. That’s how I chose to try Bøddel Sider by Aga Sideri.

Looking up a bit about Aga Sideri online and using Google Translate gives me this additional info. All of this is from the website.

Visit for yourself here:

Aga Sideri lies idyllically between high mountains, in the heart of Hardanger.

Joar Aga is a seventh-generation farmer at Aga, and started Aga Sideri in 2018. The garden is close to both mountains and fjords, surrounded by cultural heritage and large tei. Here in Sørfjorden there is an excellent climate for fruit growing, as well as a rich tradition for silk production. On steep slopes, we grow a handful of different apple varieties which we carefully harvest and process for use in both must and cider.

I used Google to translate the description of the cider, and this is what I got. Please forgive any imperfections here! I’m also including a brief history from the cider website about the person who inspired the name of this cider. 

Apple variety: Aroma, Gravenstein, Bramley's Seedling and James Grieve

Alcohol: 9%

Volume: 750 ml

Sweetness: Dry

Suitable for: Savory dishes (cured food, tacos)

History of Executioner

Samson Isberg (1795-1873) grew up on the farm Isberg, just south of Aga. He moved away from his father and stepmother early on, and joined the military in Bergen. In 1834 he got work as an executioner. He was Norway's penultimate executioner, and the first prince to have the entire country as his official area. Despite his gloomy professional title, Samson was portrayed as a kind-hearted and popular man. After fifteen executions, Samson retired. As the end of his life approached, he said "it will be hard to meet them again on the other side, the people I have parted with my life.

I’ll admit, I almost didn’t pick the cider with the giant axe on the bottle, but read on to find out how it tastes! But looking at the higher than average ABV, the fact that it lists specific apple varieties, plus being promised as both bubbly and dry, I had to try it.

Appearance: mild warm straw, brilliant, active bubbles

The cider is a pale shade of warm straw color with mild intensity. What’s less mild is the cider’s brilliance with effervescent bubbles.

Aromas: minerals, hint of volatile acidity, pear, salt

The Boddel smells minerally with hints of volatile acidity and salt. More persistently I detect fruit notes like pear. These aromas definitely create a salivary reaction.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

As promised, this is a dry cider! I’m so excited. I never quite know how to interpret a new description of sweetness or dryness, but there’s nothing better than accuracy! 

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannins, high acidity, plentiful fine bubbles.

I’m so thrilled with how the Boddel tastes! I love that it offers both high acids and high tannins. That’s my first impression. Secondarily, the vast quantities of tiny bubbles are just so pleasing. Yum!

The tannins hit first with this cider—these are different apples than my co-taster and I are used to. The pear notes come out to play along with pepper and vanilla. The combination warms up the whole experience. I don’t notice how powerful the acids are until almost the cider’s finish. I appreciate that even with high acids and high tannins, the tasting experience remains rounded, full, and even custardy. Could the cider be barrel aged perhaps? I don’t know, but it’s stony and soft at once. The Boddel is cleanly fermented and wonderfully nuanced. I love this super sophisticated cider. 

We had ours with delicious pizza in a hotel room while watching April snow falling outside. It’s a pairing and a memory, I’ll happily treasure.