Monday, November 17, 2014

Cider Review: McKenzie's Hard Cider Pumpkin Jack

Even though I've seen snow every day since last Thursday, I want to review at least one more autumnal cider before we take the official plunge into winter. Luckily for me, winter doesn't begin technically for another five weeks. (Not that I think upstate New York is listening.) So, I'm pretending that we're still living in an autumnal wonderland for my review of McKenzie's Hard Cider Pumpkin Jack!

 McKenzie's is a widely available cider brand where I live, but I honestly don't know how common it is out of state. Commentors are encouraged to enlighten me! Their ciders are made here in upstate NY. The website has plenty more information here:

While I love learning in-depth information about fermentation techniques and apples choices, I must say that the coolest thing on the McKenzie's website is a huge and varied page of cider facts, There's plenty of party trivia here!

McKenzie's Ciders have come up in my blog a few times. Here you can read all of my earlier reviews.

But tonight, I'm not worried about anything except the Pumpkin Jack. We'll see exactly what this variation on the current pumpkin craze (and it is a craze) is all about. McKenzie's official description is a bit light on information, but it says, "Who Needs Pumpkin Pie When You Can Have This! It’s All Treats & No Tricks with McKenzie’s 'Pumpkin Jack' Fall Seasonal Hard Cider! This selective Seasonal uses only the finest real pumpkin and fall spices to enhance and excite both your nose and your taste buds!" From this, I can expect some pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices in the cider. Let's see how it looks out of the bottle, and more importantly, how it tastes.

Appearance: brilliant, pumpkin orange, a few super tiny visible bubbles

It is almost a shame to sell this in a tinted bottle because the intense pumpkin orange of the cider really supports the branding. It is gorgeous and super fall pretty in the glass.

Aroma: Nutmeg, Pumpkin, Spicy, Salty?

The smells that this cider offers are far more spice than pumpkin and far more pumpkin pie than cider or apple of any sort. Not that every cider has to taste and smell just exactly like apple. This smells more like nutmeg, pumpkin pie spices, and an odd little hint of salt.

Sweetness/Dryness: Sweet!

This is decidedly sweet with a dark raisiny sweetness. As far as the  many, nearly infinite, types of sweet out there, this is one of the best.

Flavors and drinking experience: very sweet, desserty, mild carbonation

Nuance is not the strong suite of this particular cider, but it is completely fun. If one lets go of any sense of expectation save that of pumpkin pie, this cider really delivers that. It is sweeter than many pumpkin pies, but it has a few phases of flavor. It starts with a hit of sweet, goes spicy but cool, and offers a more gently sweet finish.

The Pumpkin Jack tastes very interesting, but it is not something I could drink regularly. I think I'd be more likely to use it to make a reduction and turn it into a dessert sauce. Pumpkin Jack has loads of flavor and for those who cannot get enough pumpkin spice, it would likely be a total winner.

I paired my Pumpkin Jack cider with a spicy chili for a bit of counterpoint. Sweetness is my favorite accompaniment to culinary heat. I enjoyed it that way plenty.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cider Review: Bad Seed's Belgian Abbey Hard Cider


Though the Hudson Valley cider scene is physically close to us here in the Finger Lakes, I've felt surprised by the relative separateness of our cider scenes. Nonetheless, I always try to pick up these ciders when I see them for sale. Hence, my review of Bad Seed's Belgian Abbey Hard Cider.

The last time I reviewed a Bad Seed cider it was their IPC (India Pale Cider) back in September of 2013. You can read the review here: Theyve come a long way since then and even longer since Bad Seed was started by two friends in 2011. Now they even have website: in addition to their Facebook page:

In reading Bad Seed's website, the most fascinating writing I found says, "We seek to advance the craft cider industry through mixing both old and new cider techniques and craft beer influences. Making ciders from 100% fresh pressed apples grown by us on a 6th generation family farm with no Alchemy used, after all this is cider not science. You wont find the endless list of chemicals, artificial sweeteners, and excuses on our label because we don't use them." Alchemy, eh? I hadn't known that was a major issue in the industry, but what a fascinating idea.

This is what Bad Seed says about their own Belgian Abbey Hard Cider: "If Belgian Monks only found this the higher purpose of the apple, Crafted from apples grown in the Hudson Valley , fermented with a Belgian abbey beer yeast, unfiltered and bottle conditioned. Tart, tangy, Dry and a little off beat like a Bad seed should be." This cider has a very middle of the road 6.3% ABV, making it nice and easy with meals.

Appearance: Hazy bubbly lemon sorbet color

Aromas: beery, yeasty, citrusy

First and foremost, this cider smells like beer. Behind the intense beer smells, I can also detect some citrus and maybe maybe a hint of apple. Mostly though the yeast choice makes itself clear in the aromas of the Belgian Abbey Hard Cider.

Sweetness: Dry

Absolutely bone dry. Both from the copy on the website and the dryness of this cider, I'm confident saying that the Belgian Abbey Hard Cider has been bottle conditioned.

Flavors and Drinking experience: beer-like, bitter, bubbly

Unsurprisingly based on the aromas, this cider tastes very beer-like to me, mind you I don't usually drink beer. Somehow though, the bitterness and citrus notes just say beer to me. The Belgian Abbey is very bubbly too, but not very appley. This isn't a problem; ciders don't have to be very fruity or appley and this one is not. As I drink on, it seems almost burly and definitely burpy. I can taste hints of something savory: celery, fennel and pepper. And I get a consistent minerality. The only true fruit note is grapefruit pith. Very interesting. This cider is definitely low in tannins, medium low acid, and no sweetness.

My impression is that it is so dominated by the yeast choice that if you like that you'll like the cider and if you don't, you won't. The Belgian Abbey even pours with a lot of yeast at the bottom if the bottle when compared to other bottle conditioned ciders.

This cider made a great match with vegetarian chicken dumpling soup. I would always choose to pair the Belgian Abbey Hard Cider with salty food. Its combination of citrusy notes, extreme bubbliness, and bitter beery edge complement salt and heft extremely well. With food, I liked this one a lot, but I think it needs food: at least for me.