Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cider Review: Harpoon Brewery's Pumpkin Cider


Pumpkin has become a divisive topic. I can only blame its popularity for the pumpkin backlash. Anything beloved enough to be a craze is going to make some haters. And for cider purists, the idea of a pumpkin cider is blasphemy. But I refuse to participate. I like pumpkin and I love cider, so I try new pumpkin ciders every year. Some formulas work beautifully. Others don't.

Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on Harpoon Pumpkin Cider. This is my first review of a cider by Boston-based Harpoon Brewery. They've made cider since 2007 and beer since opening 1986. They are primarily a brewery, but I can see five different ciders on the website, though I've only seen two available for sale in my travels. (Full disclosure, I did receive this review sample from Harpoon.)

Read about their ciders and beers at the website: https://www.harpoonbrewery.com

Or, take a peek at this compilation of cat pictures that feature Harpoon Beers (and one of this cider!)

Official Description:
  • Appearance: Straw/light golden
  • Aroma: Freshly pressed Northeastern Apples, traditional pumpkin pie spices and a hint of pumpkin.
  • Mouth feel: Light, crisp, tart, cleansing. Sprightly.
  • Taste: Apple forward with all the traditional Autumn flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg, and a touch of sweetness for balance.
  • Finish: Dry, light, refreshing.
Reading elsewhere on the website, I learned that some selective mixing of their Winter Warmer beer and their signature cider inspired making this spiced cider. It has a very low alcohol content with an ABV of 4.8%. That's really not typical.


Appearance: barely hazy, saffron, a few clinging bubbles

There's no mistaking this cider for beer as its poured! It doesn't form a head and instead just shows off a few clinging bubbles in a gentle barely hazy sea of saffron liquid.

Aromas: beer yeast, apples, spice

The smells of this cider aren't super potent, but what's there is yeasty, spicy, clean, and appley. All of these relatively low intensity aromas are pleasing and subtle. Reading about their ciders, My perception of a beer yeast is borne out. They use a proprietary ale yeast in all of the ciders.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

This is a straightforward semi-dry, but if folks are not used to to flavors brought by a less fruit beer yeast, this might taste a bit less sweet (even if not exactly drier).

Flavors and drinking experience: Nutmeg, balance, yeast character

The spice blend makes up a significant part of the cider's flavor; it favors nutmeg, but includes enough cinnamon, ginger, and clove to really bring out that mulled cider, pumpkin pie, autumn feeling that any pumpkin item promises. Here's what I love about it though. This cider is really pleasantly balanced. That doesn't sound like a giant high point, but trust me it is. The beer yeast is the absolute perfect way to counter the sharpness of baking spices. We get all the notes, apple, spice, bread, and pumpkin.

This is an exceptional cider both for the format and for style. Its light bodied with medium acid and no tannins. This cider is the classic autumnal flavor experience that so many things promise.



I enjoyed mine with fresh homemade salsa, black bean and corn salad, tortilla chips and the two-part finale of Twin Peaks The Return. The show may not have offered answers(to do so would have betrayed the show entirely), but the cider and snacks certainly did. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Cider Review: Champlain Orchards Cidery Heirloom Vermont Hard Cider


Apple Harvest. These two words mean more work and more joy than almost any others cider folk. This year's crop is arriving week by week, apple by apple. I'm thinking back to my trip to Vermont/New Hampshire/New York last year. Seeing those gorgeous trees heavy with fruit inspired and tantalized. Luckily, I have some bottles of cider from that trip to help me relish the memories.

Today's review is my first of a cider by Champlain Orchards out of Shoreham, Vermont. This cidery is truly a fruit farm that happens to make really great cider, among other things, on stunning land. All of the stages, growing, milling, pressing, fermenting and bottling happen right there. They grow many fruits and more than 100 varieties of apples. It is quite the place to see.

I visited Champlain Orchards on the 2nd day of my Vermont trip last year, you can read about it here: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-2.html

But, if you aren't in the neighborhood, go to the website to learn about the orchard and the ciders and to see more: http://www.champlainorchardscidery.com/ (including beautiful videos of apples).


When visiting, I picked up a few bottles to take home. The Heirloom will by first full review of anything by Champlain Orchards.

Here's how Champlain Orchards Cidery describes it:
HEIRLOOM
Heirloom Vermont hard cider is pressed, fermented, and crafted from old and new world Cider varieties. Semi-dry with balanced flavors from sweet, sharp & bittersweet cider apples. Enjoy as you would any sparkling wine, on its own or with lighter fare. Alcohol by vol: 5.8%, Residual sugar: 0.5%
Hat tip to Champlain for both describing the perception of sweetness and giving the cider's residual sugar in their information about it.

Appearance: Brilliant, straw, fine bubbles 

There's no question that the Heirloom is brilliant. I'll call the color straw, but it could also be described as an appealing custard yellow.

Aromas: tart, fruity esters, bready

The Heirloom smells bready and tart. I get more ester aromas than unfermented fruit notes. This is all whetting my appetite mightily!

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

The sweetness of this cider is minimal; its even on the dry side of semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: balanced, medium tannins, grassy, high acid

This cider delights me with how stony and grassy it is. The body is light and vivacious with just the right level of sparkle. The Heirloom is strikingly satisfying—unassuming but delicious.

The Heirloom wows me because its so very balanced. The acidity is bright and high without ever being sharp or pointed. This is fruity sort of acid, balanced with medium tannins. I can taste green grape flavors in addition to the grassy notes.

The esters from the smell remain as pleasant and clean flavors. There's no mistaking this fermented cider for juice or a punch. I adore these good yeast characteristics and malic acid. Everything plays together so nicely.

I had mine with a goat cheese and beet salad, but this flexible cider could be served with a variety of foods and activities. Its a cider made for relaxing and enjoying.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Cider Review: Angry Orchard's The Old Fashioned +Plus Ryan Burke in Wine Enthusiast!


I spent my weekend in the backyard. Our cool front has given my end of Summer gardening extra motivation. Trimming, weeding, mowing, and adding a few perennials to my herb beds kept me busy. But when you absolutely wear yourself out by late afternoon, it makes the subsequent shower and relaxation even better. And those are the conditions under which I tried this week's cider: Angry Orchard's Old Fashioned. This is part of their Orchard's Edge line.

Everyone knows Angry Orchard, so I'll just save their introduction. I'm guessing most readers have met this well-represented cidery before. But, I will recommend going to their website, even if you think you know the brand well. You can find out about their ciders, upcoming events, cocktails and recipes (my favorite): http://www.angryorchard.com/. If anyone has tried the Cinnful Pie, let me know. That's at the top of my list for Butternut Squash now.



Some of my previous Angry Orchard reviews include:

Walden Hollow: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/09/cider-review-angry-orchards-walden.html

Knotty Pear, another offering from the Orchard's Edge line: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/06/cider-review-angry-orchards-knotty-pear.html

Stone Dry:http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/10/cider-review-angry-orchard-stone-dry.html

A roundup of Strawman, The Muse, and Traditional Dry: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/05/roundup-of-angry-orchard-reviews.html

Elderflower: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/06/cider-review-angry-orchards-elderflower.html

But more about this Orchard's Edge offering,the Old Fashioned.

One of my favorite shows of all time, Mad Men, features a bartender making an old fashioned in the first scene of the show. Its the definition of a classic drink with bourbon or whisk(e)y, bitters, citrus, and sugar. This cider incorporates many of those elements. Let's take a look at the official description.

The Old Fashioned is made with a blend of American apples and is aged on oak with dried tart cherries, California grown navel orange peel, and charred bourbon barrel staves, offering citrus and cherry aromas with a a bright apple flavor and slight vanilla notes.The Old Fashioned is made with a blend of American apples and is aged on oak with dried tart cherries, California grown navel orange peel, and charred bourbon barrel staves, offering citrus and cherry aromas with a bright apple flavor and slight vanilla notes. It has lasting tannins and a full, round mouthfeel.
Other facts to know about this cider include its ABV of 6.5%. The Old Fashioned is made with culinary apples including: “Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith.” This cider is available year-round.  One last caveat. This cider was a review sample shared with me a while ago.


Appearance: sunflower yellow, brilliant, tiny bubbles

Ooh pretty! This cider poors a warm sunflower yellow. Its color is edging into peach. I'd call the cider brilliant, and I can see a medium amount of very tiny bubbles.

Aromas: bread, peaches, oranges, and apples

The aromas wafting up from my glass include lots of fresh fruit: apple, peach, and orange. Equally prominently lots of clean bready yeast aromas abound. The cider smells sweet.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

As expected, the Old Fashioned is sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruity, cherry, body, punch like

The Old Fashioned doesn't remind me of the drink (thankfully) but it does come across like a punch. There are lots of fruit notes and some real body in this cider. The fruitiness is dominated by lots of cherry. I'm not much of cherry person, but the bourbon barrel element keeps that balanced well. I love the orange, which remains easy to pick out of the crowd of flavors. No one element is too strong and instead the impression remains integrated. Best thing, there's a teensy hint of bitterness that I like.

Its not very cider like, but that's the like Orchard's Edge line. I think that's the point. Angry Orchard wants to experiment.

I can see lots of folks enjoying this on late nights while bonfire sitting. I can just imagine smelling fire and sitting on a log while sipping this. Or I can recommend it as I had it on my porch after some over-enthusiastic late summer yard work. Ouch. This cider was a relief indeed when paired with summer yard noises and a cool breeze.


And hey, good cider news! Ryan Burke of Angry Orchard just made Wine Enthusiast Magazine's list of 40 under 40 Tastemakers. They write him up with some gorgeous photos: https://www.winemag.com/content/40-under-40-2017-ryan-burk/

He totally deserves this honor, and he's bringing cider to the eye and tastebuds of new folks right and left. Kudos!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cider Review: Liberty Ciderworks Manchurian Crabapple SV Cider


Rick Hastings and Austin Dickey are the main folks behind Libery Ciderworks. They make cider, run a tasting room with bottle shop, and maintain a cider club for Liberty Ciders. All of this happens in Spokane, Washington. They care tremendously about local fruit and apple-centered cider. From looking at the website, it appears they make several single varietals.

This is how they describe themselves:
Located in the largest apple-growing region on the continent, Liberty Ciderworks is all about the apple, showcasing the diversity and wonders of locally grown fruit. From well known apples like McIntosh and Jonathan to rare, cider-specific fruit like Kingston Black and Dabinett, Liberty ciders put apples in their proper place: Front and center. 
We started Liberty Ciderworks in 2013 with a simple, two-part mission: 1) Using apples from local farms and fields to create unique, wonderful ciders, and 2) Sharing them with friends and neighbors across the great Pacific Northwest.
Read more about this growing cidery online: http://libertycider.com.

Today's review is of their single varietal Manchurian Crabapple Cider.


I've not reviewed any Liberty Cider before, but this bottle was a review sample shared with me at Cider Con. It has been waiting far too long in my fridge, but there are enough unusual things about this cider that I wasn't quite sure when to open it.

The website's official description reads, “Manchurian Crabapple SV Cider - 12.5% ABV
Tiny Manchurian crabapples deliver intense black cherry and vanilla flavors in this port-style cider. Pair with cheesecake or other creamy dessert for an OMG moment. (GLINTCAP 2015 Silver Medal Winner).”

And on the bottle I found a slightly different description, “No larger than a cherry, the Manchurian Crabapple packs a huge flavor punch. Ready for one of the most full-bodied, intensely-flavored ciders you’ll ever encounter? This semi-sweet, single-varietal cider is for you. Enjoy on its own as a digestif, with soft artisan cheeses, or with rich, creamy desserts. Still (non-carbonated).”

These features, high ABV, single-varietal, and sure to be intense are both the pull to this cider but also why I wasn't quite sure on which occasion to bring it out. I expected it would be different and exciting.


Appearance: warm sunset orange, transparent, thick

Holy unusual closure, Batman! This cider has a reusable half cork under a foil. I don't see that very often. Looking at the cider in my glass, it's dark red-orange and obviously viscous. It looks like a dessert cider. I'd call it transparent for clarity.

Aromas: cooked apple, dust, caramel

The Manchurian Crabapple smells sweet and a bit oxidized, like cooked apples. I also get notes of cocoa powder, baking spices, stone dust and— something fiery, like a tanginess, or as my co-taster suggested, something a little dangerous.

Sweetness/Dryness: semi-sweet

I know the label says sweet, but this tastes like so much more than sweet to my perception. I'd call it semi-sweet tempered by extremly high tannins. Take that as you will.

Flavors and drinking experience: boozy, tannic, complex

This cider takes a moment to speak—the first second of tasting seems preparatory, but when it hits it's EXTREMELY flavorful. I notice both very high acidity and a high level of tannins. The acidity is not a thin piercing acid, but more of a broadly ardent one, while the tannins are earthy, thick and leathery. The mouthfeel is richly syrupy, not as sweet as advertised, but still a reasonable dessert cider in that it leaves your lips sugary.

I also noticed that this cider feels a bit hot—the high abv comes across clearly. The Manchurian Crabapple reminds one of sundried tomatoes as well as cooked apples. The aftertaste reminds me much more of apple cider syrup. There's dusty graham cracker element, perhaps oxidization, that does mellow the experience. Its a still cider and one that perhaps needs to be still in order to work. Bubbles might just make it too much. Both my co-taster and I deem this a sipping cider; its one to consume slowly and relaxedly. I tried a big swallow—large sips take on a woodier note, and are more or less overwhelming! Pair with anything creamy, rich, and mild.

I had my glass of cider with dark chocolate caramel brownies and the companionship of my favorite co-taster. We had our calendars open to start planning for fall, because it's already time to start doing this. This complex cider certainly did do a lot to help me relax into that idea. 


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cider Review: Black Diamond's Solstice


Today I've a really exciting local review and some fun news! The weather is gorgeous. Apple season is starting, so its a good day to taste something grown close to home. I chose Black Diamond's Solstice. This is a still cider made from late harvest apples, so I'll consider this a preview.

Black Diamond is the small family cidery of Ian and Jackie Merwin. They have a 150+ variety strong orchard near Trumansburg, New York. This is firmly Finger Lakes territory and my own cider backyard. Though the cidery dates back to 2003, the Merwins contribution to cider goes back far longer and stretches broadly. Dr. Merwin taught Pomology at Cornell University, and I've met former students who still rave about his classes years later.

You can find amazing information about Black Diamond on the Finger Lakes Cider House website: http://www.fingerlakesciderhouse.com/black-diamond/

And even more on the Black Diamond website: https://www.blackdiamondcider.com

I give more background about this Finger Lakes Orchard Cidery in previous reviews:



But today, I'm in the mood for a still cider: Solstice. Full disclosure, this bottle was a review sample shared by the cidermaker. As always, that doesn't sway my opinions about a cider. 

Black Diamond's official description reads, “Solstice Still Cider is a blend of late harvest Golden and Roxbury Russets, Hudson's Gem, Chisel Jersey, Dabinett, Brown Snout, Porters Perfection and GoldRush apples. Its flavors are ripe and round, with aromas of roasted nuts and cinnamon, and a tantalizing complex finish. Solstice is still and bone dry (0.0% R.S.), with crisp acidity (pH=3.5, TA=7.6 g/L) and soft, dense tannins.” ABV 7.2%


Appearance: bright jeweler's gold, brilliant, still

This looks like a still cider with bright rich color and great clarity.

Aromas: caramel, overripe apple, limestone

Ooooh, these aromas give me chills. I smell overripe apples, sun warmed rocks, late summer dust, and just a hint of caramel. These are all smells that I associate with rich tannic cider. We'll see if their promise delivers.

Sweetness/dryness: Dry

Yes, this cider is dry. Its fruity and beautiful and complex. Its also uncompromisingly dry. Yes, please!

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, high tannin, rich, and complex

My nose did not deceive me and neither did Solstice. This still cider tastes acidic enough, it seems almost sparkling. But, its important to note that those high acids are balanced with high tannins. The Solstice comes across as astonishing and rich. Some flavors are darkly fruity or remind me of baking spices even though the cider isn't sweet. The ABV does impact my perception; the cider has a big slightly boozy mouthfeel. I don't know if this cider had anything to do with a barrel in its life, but something feels slightly and pleasanty barrely about the Solstice. The finish is lingering and the cider's mouth coat is decadent.

In terms of strict flavor notes, Solstice tempts us with spices and dried flowers. Though its structurally tannic, this cider also tastes warm and delicate.

I had Solstice with a modified Cobb Salad, lots of smoked salmon, and friends. It was our first dinner in their new house, and it could not have been more ideal. The cider, the food, and the company made for an entirely delightful evening. But, to be a bit more food specific, the salad was a bed of romaine covered with wedges of cut veggies and toppings: asparagus spears, blue cheese, boiled eggs, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, and smoked salmon.



So, the other thing I wanted to share today is that I'm going to San Francisco!

A vacation? Not exactly, I'm travelling to judge for the Good Food Awards.

This organization awards foods in a growing number of categories that combine tastiness with ethical and responsible production. Truly good foods as it were. I feel totally honored to be invited to judge along with some of my favorite cider friends. If you're coming, say hi!

Read more about all 15 categories here: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/

The blind tasting is September 17th, but I'm counting down the days already!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cider Review: Embark Craft Ciderworks The Crab Series Vol 1


After a week of bright heat in Ithaca, I am welcoming the shelter of clouds and the possibility of rain. August brings an unpredictability to the weather that feels a bit less risky than the ups and downs of spring. I love it. Changes in weather allow me to switch up my cider routine while still choosing my beverages to suit the season.

Today that means skipping some of the extras I've been enjoying in my cider all summer and just highlighting apples. This time, I'm after some of my favorite apples, crab apples. I want to find out if these fruit consistently bring both acidic sharpness and depth of flavor. Today's review is Embark Craft Ciderworks Crab Series Volume 1.

But, before we get to the cider, I'd like to share a bit about Embark Craft Ciderworks. This cidery grew from Lagoner Farms, now in its 5th generation of family ownership. The orchard was founded in 1909. Embark has two cidermakers: Jacob Lagoner and Chris Gowan. Their introduction talks a fair bit about apples, local food, and history, but also gives a nod to the cidery that inspired Embark: Farnum HillCiders. Their output looks to have expanded a bit beyond that inspiration though as Embark has released fruit blended and hopped ciders as well as a range of purely apple ciders.

You can read more about at their website:


Now, The Crab Series Volume 1.

Here's Embark's official description:

The first release in The Crab Series, this is a unique dry cider. It expresses flavors from three different crabapple varieties, balanced out with the sweetness of Tolman Sweet and mildness of Rome Beauty apples. It has a dark golden color and a flavor that lingers as you drink it. A nice amount of tannins and balanced acidity make this the cider makers’ drink of choice.
Awards: Bronze, New World Cider - Heritage Category, The Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition (2015)




Appearance: harvest gold, brilliant bubbly

This cider looks darkly sparkling. The bubbles glint with gold in a brilliant cider. Yes, this cider is inspiringly pretty.

Aromas: honey, red currants, fermentation, minerality

There's a lot happening in this cider when I bring my nose to it. At first the Crab Series smells honeyed but also red currants and ripe apples. Secondarily I can smell a bit of clean sourdough. Lastly, in the background, there's hints of funky minerality that almost remind me of a resting tractor on a summer afternoon.

Sweetness dryness: off dry to semi dry

The Crab Series' label indicates that the cider will be a semi-dry, but this feels on the dry end of semi-dry, even off dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, multiple kinds of fruit, some tannins

Wow! This is a fantastic cider. It tastes golden and rich but interesting and zippy. This is a lithe and active cider that reminds me of lots of summery white wines. It gives plentiful tropical fruit notes like pineapple, rich and yummy. I do so love what crab apples can do for cider.

As I hoped, the crab apples in this cider make themselves known with ongoing sharp zesty acidity and some tannic presence. As I drink this cider, there's spreading warmth and red fruit notes that just woo me. The tannins and acidity combine to great mouthfeel.


Let's keep the pairings seasonal, even knowing that with a cider like this, one has options. I'd happily serve this cider with tomato pie, corn and pepper chowder, or even just pita and homemade hummus (don't skimp on the olive oil, that's what makes it good). I had mine while watching an impressive thunderstorm from an attic window. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cider Review: Alpenfire Cider's Flame


This week's review is something a little different and a little special. Every year at CiderCon, I meet all sorts of folks who are just as obsessed with cider as I am. Its amazing. During CiderCon 2016, I was chatting with a new friend about super dry ciders when he pulls a bottle out of his backpack to send home with me. It was one of the last of a batch made a while earlier. 

I stored the cider in my cellar (dry basement) until this past winter. Now, with long days and warm temperatures, I feel the need to return to that winter night and Alpenfire Cider's Flame.


But before we get into the cider itself, I'd love to share a bit about Alpenfire. This is a small organic cidery out of Washington state and one with more history than many. Founders Nancy and Steve Bishop planted their orchard in 2003 and started harvesting organic apples in 2008, though the owners had dreamt of cider making for much longer. 

Find out more at the website: http://alpenfirecider.com

Today's review is of Flame. This is how it is described,"A true 'Methode Champenoise' cider. Made Primarily with Fox-whelp and Muscadet de Dieppe apples. We use Champagne traditions to develop a crackling carbonation with bright acidity and dryness."

Right now, this cider isn't available as it hasn't been made in a few years, but take heart. It's coming back in September. The bottles are currently awaiting riddling and disgorging. As any fan of champagne or champagne style ciders knows; there are a tremendous number of touches and steps necessary to make this style of beverage. 

I wrote back and forth with Nancy; she encouraged me to consider the age of the cider, and I think she's completely correct. Most ciders, even method champenoise, aren't meant to be aged. We don't have a ton of data about cider aging, so please keep that in mind and try the new one when it comes out!

Appearance: warm straw, brilliant, bubbly

The Flame looks bubbly like a champagne when poured

Aromas: ripe apples, boozy, wood

The aromas of this cider remind me of warmed or even cooked apples, lots of yeasty fermented notes, and some wood. The smells are also a bit caramelized and softened, like apple pie but both fresh and boozy rather than sweet

Sweetness/dryness: Brut indeed

The flame is so very very dry, it says extra brut and they're not lying. This is the sort of dryness that I get excited about!

Flavors and drinking experience: complex woody flavors, high tannins, high acid

The Flame wows the drinker right away with lots of lingering complex woody flavors, both green and smoky, hence the flame name perhaps. This cider offers up medium high acidity and very high tannins. I can certainly taste those special cider apples! At this age, the cider remains bubbly but not so much as it probably was a year or two ago.

Flame exhibits a nice wet mouthfeel that plays well with the cider's dryness. I found it a little acetic but that was more than balanced out with lots of minerals. I can certainly taste that 8% ABV. It is a boozy cider.

Eating dark chocolate mint cake with this dry tannic pleaser goes shockingly well. I'd not necessarily have predicted that particular pairing but it was lovely.