Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cider Review: Vintage Henney's Still Cider 2012

If you read here regularly, you may have come to suspect a certain style bias in my cider drinking. I love many many sorts of cider, but higher tannin ciders often with some oak and funk to them are frequently favorites. I've been teased for preferring English-style ciders as much as I love UK bands or Victorian literature. I suppose I should confess. I am, in fact, guilty as charged.

So, when I chose a cider to relax with on a dark chilly night recently, my expectations rose when I chose an English cider by a company I've never tried before. Henney's is based out of Worcester, England and the founder Mike Henney has been making cider since 1996. I got my bottle of Henney's Vintage Dry from Franklin County Cider Days last year when bottles left over from the two cider salons were sold at incredibly reasonable prices at the end of the harvest dinner. I spaced out my enjoying of these hard to find ciders, but I believe this bottle was my last of that haul.

Speaking of Franklin County Cider Days, I highly encourage everyone to go. You can read about the cider celebration here: (It just breaks my heart that I cannot go this year.)

(I wrote about my fabulous experiences there last year in this entry:

All my adoration of Franklin County Cider Days aside, it pleases me to no end to get to review something so unfamiliar and intriguing.

Henney's website is beautiful. Lots of use of illustration and clean simple graphic design. They don't go into vast detailed explainations, but they do talk about apple varieties specifically naming Dabinette, Ashton Bitter, Michelin, Yarlington Mill, and Tremlett's Bitter as varieties they prefer. Their website can be found at:

This is what they have to say about the Vintage Dry 2012

"Henneys Vintage is made from a single year’s pressing and is naturally still. It is dry in style with a rich and flavoursome palate. This vintage cider is made from a single year’s harvest. It is naturally still and has been only coarsely filtered in order to retain as much flavour as possible. Sip or quaff, we don’t mind, as long as you enjoy it. Cheers!"

Appearance: Dark reddish orange, brilliant, obviously still

I know I go rather off the charts in my associative color descriptions, but you'll find no apologies for that here. This color reminds me of certain fall leaves, dark amber grade B maple syrup, or cinnabar. This is a color for the smell of woodsmoke and the crunch of leaves already fallen to the ground.

Aromas: woody, tannic, hints of fruit
Though the primary smell is apple, it offers something more specific: the deep dark but subtle sweet aura of bittersweet cider apples. At this point that smell just means tannins to me. The fact that this comes along with hints of wood and leather, make that prediction a safe one.
Sweetness: off dry
This is not a completely dry cider, but what sweetness is there is entirely fruity and understated. I think this is a textbook definition of off dry.
Flavors and drinking experience: tannins, astrigency, farmy, approachable
This cider is so tannic that it starts to dry the mouth and cause a peculiar but very pleasant feeling of astrigency and puckering. Definitely not for everyone, but I adored it. It also has notes of rocks and mist but without tasting watery. This is a tremendously interesting cider with just a bit of farminess to it. The mouthfeel creeps up on being cottony. Very English. I appreciate that the ABV is only 6.5% which keeps it very refreshing and drinkable.
In my enthusiasm for tannins and texture I don't want to forget about fruit because this has some lovely overripe apple characteristics along with hints of jam and biscuit dough.  At one point, tasting this cider provoked me to say, "Sweet sweet Pomona, thou art good," If that helps to indicate my level of enthusiasm.
Ideally, I'd have this with something creamy and spicy with a hint of seafood saltiness, like a shrimp curry with loads of coconut milk. I'd want something with broth and liquid just to balance out the drying characteristics of the cider, but also something flavorful and stimulating. Anything bland or too mild would simply fade in the presence of so much flavor.

This is not a cider for everyone, but it is certainly one for me!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cider Review: Blackbird Ciders' Orchardist's Reserve

So, one of my goals for Finger Lakes Craft Cider Week was to try as many of the unfamiliar cideries as I could. While I didn't make it out to all of the Cider Week events, I did what I could to try new things and this is my first review from that process. I got my hands on some Black Bird Cider Works' Orchardist's Reserve. But before I dive right into the cider, let's learn a bit about the folks who make it.

This is how Black Bird Cider Works introduces themselves on their website (which you can visit here
BlackBird Cider Works is proud to be Niagara County’s sole craft hard cider producer. Nestled on a beautiful farm overlooking Lake Ontario, we produce hard ciders made from apples grown in our own orchard. We boast a variety of ciders ranging from dry to sweet, including some made from certified organic apples. Our on-property tasting room is open seven days a week, offering samples of our current craft cider selection, as well as bottle sales. Stop by the cidery for a tasting, grab some BlackBird merchandise, and discover why we’re Western New York’s premier craft cider producer.
 Their exact location is Barker, New York and one of the really cool things about Black Bird Cider Works is that the cidery and orchard are all part of one location. Black Bird grows all of their own fruit, including both cider varieties of apples and organic apples. Both fairly rare situations and quite special.

I love that Black Bird Cider Works has a tasting room. Perhaps I've become partial over the months I've been involved with one, but there's really something wonderful to say about both seeing the premises for the beverage you are trying and about seeing how customers respond to your ciders.

Now onto Black Bird Cider Works' Orchardist's Reserve!

As I often do, I think it is useful to begin with the cidermaker's official description: "A Blend of six varieties of apples including New York State favorites like the Empire, Cortland & Jonagold apples. With an apple essence on the nose & a light refreshing taste, this cider has a clean finish." To me, this just gives me a good baseline for what to expect so that I approach the cider on its own terms.

Appearance: lots of color, no visible  bubbles, brilliant

This cider shows great color, a deep autumnal gold with hidden hints of green. As the photo shows, there are simply no visible bubbles or haze. It looks so unbubbly that there might not be any sparkle in this cider at all. We'll see.

Aromas: warmed apples, wood, booze

This smells immediately of warm overripe apples, yum. I can get notes of wood shavings, things that remind me of both beer and wine, so I guess I'm just smelling a more notable than usual booziness to the bouquet. Somehow the smell also makes me think of dusty hot slow afternoons in an attic or a barn. Perhaps thats more memory than smell though.

Sweetness/Dryness: Semi-sweet

I know the bottle tells me that this cider will be semi-dry, but I don't get that at all. Semi-sweet is my official recommendation even taking into account that my personal palate is calibrated with some real sensitivity to sweetness. 

Flavors and drinking experience: petillant, fruity, green, sweet finish

As the appearance suggested, this cider is just slightly petillant. In terms of flavor, what I notice most is the fruity mid-palate. At that moment, I can taste tangerines, cucumber, all kinds of summer fruit backed with hints of green ultrafresh bitterness. Pleasantly complex. Somehow this just tastes so much like summer. Perhaps it is the hits of lake water minerality. Or somehow the combination of tannins and a sweet powdered sugar finish. I'm not entirely sure. My only real critique has to be in mouthfeel. I prefer a crisper feel with real acid but the Orchardist's Reserve offers more of a soft giving mouthfeel, especially after the initial burst of texture and flavor.

As for pairing, I'd put this with one last summery salad. Even up here in upstate New York, I can still get really good bell peppers and greens. So, I'd chop up every fresh crisp vegetable in the house into a grand finale of a salad, add a good splash of lemon and feta dressing, then drink up this cider right with it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cider Review: Nine Pin Cider Works' Ginger

Pumpkin and pumpkin spice are frequently touted as the flavors of fall, followed closely by all things apple. But I'd like to propose another contender, ginger. Especially when paired with apple, as in this cider by Nine Pin Cider Works, the balance of spice, heat, fruit, and zing is extremely autumnal. The air feels crisp; the chilly nights inspire warm fires indoors or out, and everything is bright for one last hurrah before the winter. Ginger suits this perfectly. But can bright spicy ginger combine well with hard cider? (My only previous review of a ginger cider combination can be investigated here:

This question informs my review of the new ginger cider by Albany's youngest cidery, Nine Pin Cider Works.

You can check out all of their new cider styles and their full schedule of cider happenings on their website:

It looks like they've really jumped in the cider scene enthusiastically since their relatively recent opening.  Their only previous appearance in this blog comes from my review of their first cider, called their Signature Blend:
Alejandro del Peral, Nine Pin's cider maker has expanded their lineup quickly and now Nine Pin offers the Ginger, Belgian, and Hunny Pear as well.

Here's what Nine Pin says about their ginger cider, "Ginger – A spicy yet balanced cider created from a blend of dessert apples from Samascott Orchards and infused with ginger and orange peel."

I love that Ninepin is going for something spicy and also adding the orange notes. I'm so curious to taste how it will all work together.

Appearance: pale, brilliant

Somehow this color reminds me of a certain shade of sunrise when rose and gold combine with pale delicacy. Poetics of color aside, this is a beautiful brilliant cider without a hint of haze. 

Aromas: fresh apple, some ginger, spices

When I lift my glass, I can immediately smell apple. It is a fresh clean apple scent rather than something more ripe or warm. In the background, ginger and spice both appear but remain very separate from the apple.

Sweetness: Semi-dry

Though it is a bit more difficult to assess the sweetness or dryness of a flavored cider, at least for me, this one is doubtlessly a semi-dry. It has fruit and body as well as spice but these things always function in balance. The mouthfeel and finish contribute to the cider's functioning as a semi-dry. This makes it pleasantly approachable and enjoyable for folks with a wide array of preferences.

Flavors and drinking experience: genuine ginger flavor coordinated with orange zestiness

Wow! This cider has a very real ginger taste. It drinks just a touch spicy while staying nicely balanced. The ginger does not dominate the cider completely but it is a primary aspect of this cider. Rather than tasting like a flavored cider it drinks like apple, orange, and spicy ginger altogether. I am impressed by how tremendously well these flavors combine.

The Ginger offers a good level of carbonation for me, which means it is strongly sparkling. I enjoyed this cider before reading any descriptions or notes, but once I read about the infusion of orange peel it made all the sense in the world.

For reasons of practicality, I had this with a couple of non traditional pairings because my fridge was so filled with party leftovers. I could not in good conscious cook something new, so I asked the Ninepin Ginger to work with what I had. That means I tried it with tabbouleh salad, tortilla soup, and white chocolate tequila-soaked jalapenos. Trust me it worked.