Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cider Review: Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider

Finally, finally, finally, after many fits and starts, spring is springing. Though we had new snow flying through the air a week ago, now all of the grass grows greenly and humans appear to be emerging from their winter coat chrysalides (yes, that is an appropriate plural for chrysalis, and yes I had to look it up). Anyhow, beyond just feeling wonderful, this change of season also means a change of cider.

I'm not sure that spring needs its own series of seasonally appropriate ciders, but I know I'm ready to move away from the warming and heavy ciders into more fruity, sparkly, light ciders. They can be as dry or sweet as they need to be, but these ciders need to pair with a whole different range of foods. I've opened up my favorite room in the house, my screened in porch, and many meals and ciders will be consumed there. Imagine semi-indoor picnics, guacamole, frittatas, lighter soups, and mighty salads. Maybe even some cider-based mixed drinks.

But to get things started, I want to try a cider that breaks the winter pattern boldly! So I'm going with Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider. I cannot imagine a fruit that piques my interest more right now, and there aren't many ciders that use peach.

Though I could find nothing about this particular cider on the Doc's Draft website, I'm linking to it anyway. It has basic information about most of their ciders and about visiting the winery.

I do recommend visiting, especially now that the weather inspires exploration and enjoyment. Spring time mini-getaways are the absolute best.

To check out my previous reviews of Doc's Draft Ciders take a look at these links. I've evidently tasted more of theirs than I'd realized.




Cranberry Spice:

Of those, I probably like their hopped cider best, but I know I've got a soft spot for the pumpkin as well. Shameful perhaps to the purists but I like it, and pumpkin such a very difficult style to make tasty. But that's a condundrum for fall and not for today. But back to today and reviewing Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider.

The official description of Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider can no longer be found on their website, but I tracked it down to share nonetheless. It doesn't say too much though, "Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider made from freshly pressed NYS apples and peaches, fermented with champagne yeast. Deliciously refreshing!" I wish I knew when the peach was added, the ratio of peach and apple, and the varieties of both peaches and apples. Ah well, I usually want to know more.

Appearance: brilliant, warm gold, visible bubbles

This color is more nuanced and interesting than my photo shows. It is a brilliant cider with one layer of visible bubbles at the bottom of the glass, but what's interesting is the color. It has a bright warmth that seems to defy most shades of gold, straw, or yellow. When looking up colors it reminds me most of a shade called Stil de grain yellow which was made historically from unripened buckthorn berries.

Aromas: roasted nuts, dust, sweetness

This ciders smells like dust and stones, a surprisingly common blended aroma. After doing the sensory analysis training, I've come to associate this smell with perceivable levels of sulfites. The Peach cider also offers up aromas reminiscent of roasted nuts. I can definitely find some vegetal notes as well. Interesting.

Sweetness/Dryness: sweet

This cider has plenty of sweetness. Thankfully it is more like a fruity but also burnt marshmallow sweetness rather than anything artificial or too sticky. The sweetness is pleasant.

Flavors and drinking experience: peach, apricot, apple, high acidity

First, I must say that this cider tastes very peachy! The intensity of flavor surprises me after the mildness of the aroma. Primary notes are apricot, peach, and apple. The other dominant impression this cider gives is high acid. The acid tastes more acetic than either malic or citric. The Peach Hard Apple Cider bursts with high levels of bubbles. The taste vanishes in a short uniform finish. If pressed to describe some of the fruit flavors in more detail, I think of cooked peaches blended with a little note of booziness. Adding to the complexity, I also get a little nice bite of bitterness at the back of the tongue.

In thinking about pairing this cider, I think it could go beautifully with a number of fruit based desserts. I actually saw a recipe for a rhubarb custurd pie that strikes me a perfect for this cider:

I could also imagine having this cider with a simple pancake brunch before going out on a long walk. All of my imaginings put this sweet cider with more mildly sweet and creamy bready foods. I think that's the best way to enjoy its high acid fruitiness. In any case, get out there and enjoy spring with any cider you can!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

CiderCon 2015: Friday and Wrap Up

Here's part three of my documentation of CiderCon.

If you want to see my earlier posts on this amazing event please follow these links:

Tuesday's Sensory Analysis Training:

Wednesday USACM meeting and Cider Swap:

Thursday Clicker Session, Keynotes, Panels and Workshops:

I started my day with a marketing and sales panel, "Cider Sales Strategies & Tactics" a shared panel with Bob Egan,Vandermill Cider; Patrick Gould, Windy City Distributing; Michelle Foik, Eris Brewery & Ciderhouse; Anthony Belliveau-Flores, Rowan Imports LLC. This group had energy to spare and so much to share with cidermakers ready to sell their products. They spoke about building relationships with the accounts (bars, restaurants, bottle shops and more) that sell the cider. Everyone emphasized both educating consumers and being educated by them. I think one of my favorite takeaway ideas was to find out where your customers are and what they are doing then bring cider to those activities whether that means bars, museum events, renaissance fairs, fine dining or night clubs.

They also spoke specifically about the cider market of Chicago, its growing pains, idiosyncracies, and educational network. I was massively impressed, and I know I wasn't the only one who really appreciated how much immediately interesting and useful information this panel had to share.

A few other useful thoughts I noted particularly:

This Multi-Step Approach
Be engaged: Talk with everyone about your expectations
Plan-not just one year but three years or more
Support- not just at the point of sale but everywhere, educate people, sales materials
Partnership- Be an advocate for yourself, make distribution and marketing and sales work together, nothing happens in a vaccuum.

Understand the law.

Don't sell to the store. Sell through the store.

There were great questions at this panel as well. I love being part of a motivated audience and CiderCON offers those consistently!

My last panel on Friday at Cidercon was a fantastic one, "Surviving the American Dream: Cider Business Startup" by Bruce Nissen. This is an anther panel to which I showed up early because I knew the room would fill, and fill it did. There are so many people who want to start cideries right now, and they are hungry for good specific information about that process. Nissen is in a great position to share good information because of his history in the industry; he started Fox Barrel Perry with Sean Deorsey in 2004 and is in the process of some fantastically interesting new projects (

Nissen's first and primary emphasis was on planning. "Have a plan. What are you doing?" he said to us.

He encouraged people to plan for scale and profitability and to be honest about the need for human capital. This is a point I've seen in action. People need to plan to pay themselves and have have enough money to hire other people. So many businesses struggle with this, especially small businesses and young businesses. Products don't look good because the company cannot afford a professional graphic designer for their packaging. Websites go offline or become outdated because a company doesn't spend the money (or necessarily even have the money) for well-supported website. Products languish because there isn't money to pay for adequate sales staff. Tax issues because no one hired an accountant who knows and understands the tax laws. I've seen all of these things mulitple times in the cider world. I hope people listened when Bruce told people to budget for all of these things before even starting.

He told folks to think about format: tap room vs tasting room? bottle size? kegging?

Who are your customers? Where are they? Can the business have ancillary revenue streams? It should.

Next Nissen spoke about timing. Many businesses underestimate how long it will take to get up and running. There will be delays and they can be expensive. When can a new cidery owner afford to quit her or his day job?  How long does the start up phase last? Things take more time than most folks expect.

But the presentation wasn't just a list of questions for potential cider owners to ask themselves. He also talked about grant opportunities.

It was a very thorough completely riveting talk. Once the materials go online, I'll link to them here. I don't have the notes necessary to completely recreate his talk here, but I wish I could, because it was that good.

Sadly, after this I had to fly home. I missed the guest speaker: Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon. But from what I understand, he appeared to discuss the CIDER (shorted from Cider Industry Deserves Equal Regulation) act, which is a bipartisan Act, HR 600. Blumenauer reintroduced this with Congressman Chris Collins from New York with the goal of improving taxes codes relevant to cider and especially small or farm based cideries.

All in all, CiderCON was a wonderfully inspiring and education experience in addition to being a fun and delicious one.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity to attend and meet so many fellow cider lovers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cider Review: Magner's Irish Cider PLUS the super exciting GLINTCAP results!

Finally, finally, finally, spring has arrived. I've seen the sky and the ground and they both have colors beyond white and gray! Skies can be blue! The ground can be brown (also kinda green, but mostly brown). It's time to celebrate with a different sort of cider! Today I'm reviewing Magner's Irish Cider.
This is actually fairly exciting for be because I'd rather forgotten about Magner's. Years ago, they were one of the handfull of ciders that any given bar/pub might have in bottles (almost no one had cider on tap back then) so I had Magner's fairly regularly. But as my options expanded, I didn't drink Magner's as much. Now, because the Magner's folks were kind enough to send me two bottles, I'm gong to revisit this cider and really get to know it within the current cider scene.

For a bit of background, I have to describe the front page of their website for folks who don't have the time to follow the link (For those who want to look for themselves: The page has a black background relieved by two glowing ciders. They look unearthly, richly colored, radiant, each glass completely covered with condensation. Other than the ice, they look mouthwatering. This is paired with the phrase, "Made in the dark for a better taste". Wha? Weirdest cider tag line ever. Despite the photos, I'm not going to try my sample bottles over ice.

Here's some of what Magner's says about their own cider-making process.
We love making cider, but we reckon there’s only one way to do it properly. That’s why we’re still taking inspiration from the historic methods we used when we started making cider back in 1935. That’s part of the Magners taste.

So in this way we use 17 varieties of apples, waiting until they drop before pressing and filtering them in the traditional way.

We take time to ferment the cider and even more time to let it mature, up to 2 years in fact, tasting it along the way. Sure, there are faster ways of making cider, but then it wouldn’t be Magners. 
I also emailed back and forth with a very helpful gentleman who told me about the apples Magner's grows in their orchards for their ciders. I've wondered about this for some some the larger companies in regions that grow traditional cider varietals for a long time. Here's what Brian had to say, "A number of varieties growing in our 150 acres of orchards include Michelin, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Bulmer’s Norman, Tremlett’s Bitter, Breakwell Seedling, Taylor’s, Harry Master’s Jersey, Bramley’s, Grenadier, Brown Thorn, Brown Snout, Vilberies, Improved Dove, Medaille d’Or, Reine des Pommes and Ashton Bitter." Now that's a list most United States cidermakers would freak out for because those include several of the high tannin apple varieties that are nearly impossible to get here. Also, I just need to take a moment to appreciate those names like Improved Dove and Brown Thorn; they are just lovely.

Appearance: Brilliant, tea, plenty of visible bubbles

This cider shows lots of color but absolutely no haze or cloudiness. I'd describe the color as either pumpkin flesh or very black tea. This is definitely a color that implies the presence of tannins.

Aromas: tart green apples, yeast, hints of bourbon

Magner's has a medium level of aroma, neither particularly shy and subtle nor tremendously outgoing. I am glad I poured mine into a glass, because I don't think consumed straight from the bottle, I would have gotten anything from it. The most interesting note is something that reminds me of bourbon aged ciders, but since Magner's has nothing to do with bourbon, I'm guess that it is something in the aging or barreling process that I'm smelling.

Sweetness: Semi-sweet

Magner's is not nearly as sweet as most six-pack ciders. Honestly, I'm shocked. I'd forgotten, or perhaps they've changed their recipe. I expected simple and sweet, but this is both more and less than that. Less sweet and more flavor.

Flavors: Citrus, cooked apples, mild tannins

I am pleased to report that as the Magner's appearance and smell led me to expect, this cider has tannins! They isn't out of control and might not even be noticeable if you drink it from the bottle or over ice, but they are there. I can also taste little bits of citrus, definitely lemon notes. In terms of the primary impression, I get applesauce-y apples loud and clear. Whatever was reminding me of bourbon in the smell doesn't really carry over  to the taste. Mixed in, I can also detect a cola note. Interesting and more varied than I expected. There's even a little brush with bitterness, but just a hint.

I definitely like this more than most six-pack ciders, but I do wish the flavor was more intense while still not being sweet. I enjoyed one of these with a fantastic sandwich with hummus and cheddar and oven dried tomatoes, and the other I had entirely on its own. It works well either way and I'm sure would also taste scrumptious with other foods.

Also, I don't want anyone to miss out on reading about the GLINTCAP results! This was the cider and perry competition that I helped to judge this past weekend. It is one of the largest and longest running in the world, and here are the results. I judged three flights in the Commercial Division: one of the New World Modern Ciders, New World Perries, and a flight of Pommeaux. The whole experience was wonderful, and I'm happy to say I have several ciders awarded silvers in my little collection and even a gold.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reviewing Ciders for Winter: Tilted Shed Ciderworks' Barred Rock Barrel Aged Cider

Perhaps this season's last review of cider that I think will be specifically appropriate for winter. Wow. We've come through a good one this year, but Spring is undeniably coming. Between snow storms things are really melting, plus I've seen both snow drops and crocus. But back when I drank this cider, Barred Rock Barrel Aged Cider, I chilled it outside in the two feet of snow on the ground, and I simply needed to serve it with cider bread and veggie chili. You can even see some snow clinging to the bottle.

I chose the Barred Rock Barrel Aged Cider by Tilted Shed Ciderworks to become part of my winter cider series because of its barrel aging. I've had a few barrel aged ciders before. What they tend to have in common is a strong sense of warmth, sometimes smoke, and interesting savory notes. It is a really neat sub-category.

Here's the list

Similarly I have a previous review of a Tilted Shed Cider that appeared earlier in this series. I sampled their January Barbeque which is a smoked cider. Here's a link to that post:

And you can read more about the company at their website:

Here's the official description with loads of info from Tilted Shed Ciderworks.
9% ABV • Only 84 (750ml) & 150 (375ml) cases produced • Released November 2014
A savory sipper, Barred Rock is a blend of late-season Sonoma County heirloom and cider apple varieties slowly fermented in the New England style, then aged for over 3 months in Tennessee bourbon barrels. Heady butterscotch on the nose, plush mouthfeel, clove, amaretto, and vanilla notes, and a long, rich finish. This cider was fermented to dryness, no backsweetening, so your palate will experience all that the barrel aging has to offer, without any cloying effects.  This is dessert in a glass, but it's also delectable with apple crisp, figs, and rich cheeses. Let this warm up to 60 degrees or more, don't be afraid. The warmer, the more decadent. Serve in a white wine glass.

Appearance: Dark red gold, glittering

As recommended, I found a white wine glass for this cider and the glass really shows it off visually. Gorgeous! Just off brilliant. The bubbles travel in the tiniest lines up to the top and mostly show just at the bottom of the glass, like someone tossed a handful of gold pebbles into the glass. The color reminds me of tangerines, orange leaves in the fall, and the shiniest of new pennies.

Aromas: barrel, sweetness, minerals

The Barred Rock smells like whiskey barrels and s'mores, so a very grownup camping trip! I also the distinct sweetness of aroma that makes me think of marshmallow, syrup, and fruity depths. Separately I can smell hints of tannins which so often come across to me as dust and minerals.

Sweetness: Dry

This is hard to quantify as either sweet or dry because it has so much going on that is neither. But I'll call it dry yet extremely flavorful.

Flavors: alcohol burn, dry, extremely fine bubbles, tannins, Very little fruit.

The Barred Rock plays all over with flavors of wood and caramel and booze notes. It has a sense of whiskey barrel burn, which isn't really a plus for me but might be for some folks. I do like the dryness and texture; dry dry bubbliness is something I dig. Whoa, continuing, I can barely get over how boozy this is. I'm glad I'm drinking it with food! My pairings are cider bread and veggie chili which I would recommend with this cider. And it is definitely warming, making it a perfect way to wrap up this list of ciders for winter!