Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cider Review: Tieton Ciderworks' Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider

In the name of seasonality, I've been focusing on fruit ciders more than usual lately. Summer suits them and in summer, they suit me more than the rest of the year. But that's far from the only direction summer-friendly ciders can take. One of my other favorites has to be hopped ciders. I love them year round, but I find they work especially well in the summer. Hence, my first review ever of a Tieton Ciderworks Cider, the Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider.

Since this is, surprisingly, my first actual blog post about a Tieton Ciderworks beverage, I'd like to introduce the company a bit. Here's what they say about themselves on their website:
Our fresh pressed juice comes from apples grown in the Pacific Northwest. We blend American heritage, English and French cider varieties with our organically grown dessert apples to capture the best of what each variety brings to the bottle: sweetness, acidity, tannin and aroma. The results are ciders with body and a depth of finish.
I appreciate how much this introduction focuses on the taste features of their cider. That's relatively rare. More commonly, I see a narrative about location, personal connections to cider, preserving heritage apple varieties, and various values that are somewhat more mediated. Mind you, those things can also anchor a wonderful cider company, so I'm not dissing that. But I prioritize taste, and when I see a cider company that speaks about taste, I have a feeling that we might speak the same language.

Taste isn't all that Tieton writes about when it comes to their history and identity. Their orchard is organic and currently worked by the third generation of this Yakima Valley farming family. And they spend a whole paragraph on the concept of food pairing with cider. 

Quick aside, the current labeling and visual branding for their ciders no longer looks like the bottle I photographed and tasted. I highly recommend taking a look at their website because the new graphic design style is simply gorgeous. I love the changes they made.

Here's the site: http://tietonciderworks.com

Tonight's cider is Tieton Ciderworks' Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider. Here's what the cidermakers say about it.
The Yakima Valley is known worldwide as a premier apple growing region and a prominent source of hops.  We have chosen a select blend of traditional and exotic hops to marry with our cider. This blend of hops produces an aroma of fruit-forward nuttiness followed by a citrusy palate.

500ml – 6.9% Alcohol

Our most versatile food cider:  it plays well with citrus; it loves dishes with lots of herbs, and blends with the diverse flavors of many cultures.   It is amazing because it pairs with pork in our Spicy Pork Stew; Red Posole and Tomato Fennel Soups and with fish in our White Bean and Tuna Salad, Raviolis with Prawns and our stunning Cider Battered Whitefish sandwich.   Keep several bottles of this cider around and make any meal special.

Appearance: brilliant, medium numbers of visible bubbles, bright straw

This is a lovely cider to look at. I enjoy the active bubbles and bright straw color.

Aromas: citrus, pine, green grapes

Primarily I can smells delicate green grapes, but spices take their role as well. Pine needles make it smell clean and citrusy fill out that classic hopped cider profile. Gorgeous smells. My husband gets notes of Lychee and a little rubber. All in all, it gives me the anticipation for apple citrus herbal hoppy goodness.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry to semi-dry

The cider tastes like a fruity citrusy semi-dry to me, but I'm guessing many folks would find it drier than that. The acidity and gentle bitterness of the finish balance out the fruit nicely.

Flavors and drinking experience: herbaceous, appley, balanced, fruity

This hopped cider tastes both appley and hoppy in that pine soap and lemon sort of way. Very pleasantly so. It has really lovely level of sparkle, just enough and not too much. Everything about this cider is a little on the gentle side. there's a quick initial taste of pine that melds into mild pear and peach. The midpalate generally strikes me as warmer. Then two seconds later I'm headed off into that lingering herbal grassy bitter finish. The body is light and lithe and summery.

We had this with both supper and dessert. Supper was a bruschetta with tomato, mozzarella, toasted walnuts, red bell pepper all chopped and macerated together with olive oil, garlic and salt heaped onto toasted baguette rounds. This works well with a hopped cider! I think the citrus notes bring it together the most.

The dessert, to my surprise, worked even better. This time the Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider complimented leftover birthday cake. That doesn't sound as epic as it tasted, because this was not just any cake. My dear friend Marybeth made a triple layer chocolate cake with caramel chocolate ganache, and, just as she promised, the cake tasted even better a day or two after it had been assembled. This is the cake that we had with delightfully light and semi-dry hopped cider. If you take any one thing away from this post; try a hopped cider with cake. You deserve it.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cider Review: Slyboro's Black Currant Hard Cider

Just over the Vermont border in upstate New York, I'm back to review a cider from Slyboro Cider House out of Granville, NY. I've not yet been to their tasting room, but I understand that it's open from July to Thanksgiving. Hopefully, the next time I'm up in the Saratoga Springs area, I can take a detour to visit these guys. But for now, I'm just happy I can source their ciders locally.

This is what they say about themselves.
 Named for the centuries-old hamlet that is home to Hicks Orchard, Slyboro Ciderhouse re-introduces the lost craft of traditional American ciders. Just as grapes are transformed into wine, our ciders are fermented from our own orchard-grown apples; unlocking the full potential of the apple by creatively blending a a distinctive range of delicious, award-winning ciders.

We at Slyboro Ciderhouse are dedicated to reclaiming cider - "true cider" - as America's favorite drink. We invite you to explore and discover the flavors and delights of Slyboro Ciders. In any season, for special occasions, or to enrich the moment, "consider cider."
You can see some additional information at their website: http://www.slyboro.com

My most completely previous review of one of their ciders is of a drier one no longer listed on their website, the Old Sin: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/06/cider-review-slyboro-ciders-old-sin.html

Today I'm reviewing their Black Currant Hard Cider. It strikes me as perfect for summer time, and July has really been cranking out the warm days and thunderstorms. This is summer, and I like to enjoy my sweeter fruit blended ciders ice cold on hot days to best show off their refreshing capabilities.

Skyboro's official description of the Black Currant Hard Cider reads, "A semi-sweet hard cider with Black Currants added after fermentation. It's purple, it's bubbly, with a nice black currant complexity. It's the New Black!"

Let me share now (as if it will surprise anyone) that I am not a cider purist. Gasp worthy, I know. I love the cider purists, and I frequently love the ciders that they love, but while I love apple and only apple beverages, I don't think shutting out blended, fruited, spiced, or spiked ciders is actually in the best interest of the cider drinker or the cider world. I tend to veer on the side of inclusion and open minded (empty glassed?) consideration most of the time. And one of the most common fruit blended styles I like to find and try are black currant ciders. Partly because I think black currant is a lovely fruit and partly because I learned to enjoy any drinks at all by drinking Snakebite and Blacks at the university pub in Norwich, England. I do want to own my biases and my happy memories.

Here's a previous review of a black currant cider, Doc's Draft Hard Cassis Cider: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2015/05/cider-review-docs-draft-hard-cassis.html

Appearance: clear, deeply colored, no visible bubbles

The color appears cranberry. Very vampire blood—if a SyFy Channel vampire show runs low on props for the banquet scene, this'll do nicely. Also, I'm finally getting around to the last season of True Blood, so I've got deep rich reds like this on my brain.

Aromas: currant, black berry, cherry

I can smell immediately the black currant, blackberry,  fruit punch, and cherry. From the smell, I'm guessing the cider will be both astringent and sweet. Even just sniffing it activates my salivary glands. Beyond this, I'm noticing hints of red wine. Again, this strikes me as both rich and fruity.

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

The sweetness reminds me of fruit punch and cane sugar. It is a very direct sort of sweet.

Flavors and drinking experience:  fruity, foxy, sweet, bubbly

I get a sweet kick at beginning, lots of bubbles, and a long black currant finish. The fruit notes are very currant jam, Welch's grape and fruit punch. After a while, I can taste notes of burnt sugar and fascinatingly foxy grapes. Sometimes that's how black currant comes across to me: tangy, wild, and almost gamey.

 I taste this cider in the middle of the tongue.  The alcohol taste is mild and gentle, but with a slightly boozy lingering sensation. It offers plenty of natural acids, mostly malic but a bit of citric. One of the fun things about black currant, tannins are inherently tannic, so these ciders come at tannins in a totally different way, yet some tannic qualities are decidedly recognizable. I love that.  Maybe I'd  even call the tannins surprisingly medium high. I get some banana notes in the finish, but berries still dominate.

This isn't a cider for all of the time, but when the mood strikes, I can see this as quite satisfying. It does go well with feta and watermelon salad, baguette, and fabulously trashy TV. If you've not tried a black currant cider before, seek one out. They are fun and different! This is a great one to try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cider Review: Woodchuck's Gumption

Lately, I feel like I've neglected my reviews of ciders that are easy to find nationally. That's not something I want to do, because these ciders do a lot to introduce people to cider. From a cider nerd standpoint, reviewing a widely-available cider is helpful for readers because reviewing something other folks have tried gives readers great calibration for how they can relate to what I notice in a cider and how I describe it. Try a bottle of Gumption and read this review and see how our notes compare. And if you try this, please comment!

First, my research. Going back, I'm seeing a significant amount of re-branding on the Woodchuck website. It says craft in many places and certainly seeks to reinforce a brand identity of authenticity, especially with the new slogan, "real cider from a real cidery." If you want to explore a bit, you'll find quite a bit beyond the rebranding at:


I've reviewed several of Woodchuck's ciders before: too many to list here, but I'll include a few of my favorites just so I can steer folks to the ciders I think are Woodchuck's best.

Dry Hop: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/11/cider-review-woodchuck-cellar-series.html

Belgian White: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/10/cider-review-woodchuck-belgian-white.html

Winter: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/01/cider-review-woodchuck-winter.html

This bottle of Gumption came to me from the fine folks at Woodchuck as a promotional sample.  Nevertheless, I assure you this gets the same consideration as the ciders I buy for myself. The primary difference for me is that is that when I get promotional samples, I can sometimes get additional information that I do not have access to when buying from store shelves. And I love information! 

Woodchuck tells me to expect this cider to fall between a semi-dry and a semi-sweet, with a medium body, light carbonation, dry finish, and a sweet apple aroma. Okay, I can watch out for all of these characteristics.

Gumption is Woodchuck's newest core cider, which means this cider is available year round and sold in more locations than many of the seasonal or limited release products. This is how Woodchuck describes it:
"Legendary showman P.T. Barnum once noted, “everybody drank cider-spirits called ‘gumption’.” Our Woodchuck GUMPTION™ celebrates the spirit of P.T. Barnum and those with the gumption to follow their own path. We pair the fresh juice of common eating apples with dry cider apples to bring you a bold and unique drinking experience."

Graphic design nerd that I am, I really like the vintage-circus-inspired packaging. But I'm more excited by the posibilities implied by the words "dry cider apples." Cider apples do not inherently make a cider any drier than a cider made from table fruit, but I could certainly go for a more tannic cider and a drier cider from Woodchuck.

Legendary showman P.T. Barnum once noted, “everybody drank cider-spirits called ‘gumption’.” Our Woodchuck GUMPTION™ celebrates the spirit of P.T. Barnum and those with the gumption to follow their own path. We pair the fresh juice of common eating apples with dry cider apples to bring you a bold and unique drinking experience. - See more at: http://www.woodchuck.com/cider/gumption/#sthash.p7R9i7jf.dpuf
Legendary showman P.T. Barnum once noted, “everybody drank cider-spirits called ‘gumption’.” Our Woodchuck GUMPTION™ celebrates the spirit of P.T. Barnum and those with the gumption to follow their own path. We pair the fresh juice of common eating apples with dry cider apples to bring you a bold and unique drinking experience. - See more at: http://www.woodchuck.com/cider/gumption/#sthash.p7R9i7jf.dpuf
Appearance: brilliant, copper, some visible bubbles

In color, this cider looks nearly pumpkin orange.  My notes include the word sunset, and I stand by that.

Aromas: ripe apples, soft, sweet

Gumption smells appley sweet and soft, very much as Woodchuck prepared me for it to smell. I'm not going to expect very much acidity based on these aromas.

Sweetness/dryness: Sweet!

Though I expected sweetness in this cider, I didn't quite expect this much. It is decidedly sweet, but I can taste the sweetness more initially after each sip.

Flavors and drinking experience: butterscotch, caramel, apple

The caramel and butterscotch notes really hit at first and mellow into apple.  This is not really much drier than any other Woodchuck cider, but there is a little astringence in the texture—moreso than in the flavor.  This is not tart or sour at all, but not so acidless so as to seem keeved like many french ciders. Lots of the flavors seem to hang out at end of the palate. It fits in well with the Woodchuck core cider lineup, because it has that initial burst of sweetness that many Woodchuck fans want, but it does develop into a more interesting texture because of that astringence.

As the photo shows, I had this with pizza. And I recommend that pairing. I think pizza and semi-sweet or sweet bubbly ciders going perfectly well together because of the interplay of breadiness, salt, cheese and sweetness and effervescence. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cider Review: Rev Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot (Pt 2 of the Hops+Apricot Cider Showdown)

Alrighty, now that we Americans have celebrated our independence and many fireworks have dazzled and barbeques sizzled, we return to the Hops + Apricot Cider Showdown with Pt 2:  Rev Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot! In Pt 1, I reviewed Cider Creek Hard Cider's Cascade Hopricot and found it delightfully different. Can the irreverent Rev. Nat's Hard Cider wow me as well? East coast and west coast ciders with their very different apples tackle the same flavor combinations with both hops and apricot.

This encounter with Rev Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot is my first review of any of their ciders. Rev Nat's Hard Cider is based out of Portland Oregon, where they produce cider and have a very active tap room. Though I've met the cidermaker himself and followed his progress online, I want to see how he presents the company on the website (http://reverendnatshardcider.com).

Strong writing and a passionate voice characterize the brand identity on Rev. Nat's Hard Cider's website. It is a bombastic yet personable tone filled with giant claims and major statments. I find it engaging and persuasive. This one comment though seems to sum up so much of Rev. Nat's story: 

Permeating all these experiments was a desire to make ciders that no one else will make. I would cook a dish, eat at a restaurant, drink a beer or a cocktail, or peruse the farmer’s market, and be unable to contain my excitement for flavors. After making cider for nearly a decade, I concluded that, while apple-only ciders define cider for most of my fellow countrymen, my passion was in creative flavor combinations making cider in the spirit of craft beer geeks.

Let's tease out a few key things to note here. The company plans on focusing on flavor and additive experimentation. Different is the goal. Craft beer is a major inspiration. Good to know. I won't expect traditional or even necessarily apple focused. It sounds like Rev. Nat uses apples as a base and a medium, but doesn't view them in the same way as most cider makers.

Here's the official description of the Hallelujah Hopricot:
This is my flagship cider, the cider I love to love. The making of Hallelujah Hopricot starts with classic American apples as a Belgian wit-style cider steeped with coriander, bitter orange peel and paradise grains, fermented with a Belgian saison ale yeast. On top of that rich base, I add pure apricot juice and finish with Oregon-grown Cascade and (whenever I can get them) Amarillo hops. A fresh and fruity concoction not dulled by sweeteness, THIS OFF-DRY CIDER IS MY BEST-SELLER, AND FOR GOOD REASON.
Wow, there's a lot going into this cider. The mention of paradise grains confused me at first because of cider's usual gluten free fame, but I looked up the ingredient and learned some cool stuff. It appears that paradise grains are actually part of the ginger family and not grains at all. Celiacs can rejoice! (You can read more about paradise grains here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aframomum_melegueta). But yes, stuff to look for includes, ginger, spice, orange, interesting yeasts, plus the apricot and hops.

Appearance: hazy, deep color, foam at first but dissipates.

Aromas: Hops, pine, grapefruit, lemon, spices

Oh my goodness, this cider smells like hops. Super hoppy smells and not much apple or apricot. Instead, I get notes of soap, pine, grapefruit, lemon, and rosemary. Those are completely distinct. There's a secondary spice that really wakes up the nostrils. No apple smell at all, but perhaps I shouldn't expect one.

Dryess: Dry

I imagine that this is off dry  by the numbers, based on the official description, but when you combine bitterness and acid with off dry, it perceives as completely dry. That's how it comes across to me.

Flavors and drinking experience: super tart, bitter, HOPS, little bit of fruit

The first impression I get is one of tartness. Secondarily I get citrus bitterness. No apple at all and almost no apricot. The hops dominate to an extreme degree. The pine flavor is the mid-palate experience and it resolves into pleasantly bitter grapefruit/hops. Really this cider is hops from start to finish. I like it, but, wow, this is hopped cider taken to its perhaps illogical conclusion. No sweetness. No tannin. Lots of acid. It is extremely lively, which is not a surprise given its acid and the high level of carbonation. In some ways this is like an extremely dry lemon herbal sparkling water. But much more exciting than that sounds.

Whoa whoa whoa, I finally tasted the apricot! It shows up late to party, once I'm well into the finish, barely there at all. But what's there is nice. Better fashionably late than absent!

 This absolutely achieves what it sets out to do. It is boldly experimental. It uses cider as a starting place more than a finishing point. I quite enjoyed it, accompanying a light summer soup with tomatoes, zucchini and corn. It is aggressively adventurous and good, but less cidery than many other ciders, even other hopped or fruited ciders.