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Michigan Ciders

Below you’ll find an excerpt to a cider related blog post from Life Is Fare – One woman’s approach to living life to the fullest by eating happy food”. I received the link for this story in my comments from the author. Needless to say I was very jealous. I’ve always wanted to make it out to Michigan and check out the cider scene. I’m in contact and email with a few folks out there and have found their ciders to be real good too.

Michigan is also home to the “Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association” who organizes and hosts the only International competition that is exclusively for Cider and Perry. They are also hosting the upcoming 3rd Annual Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival to be held Sept 11-12 Uncle John’s Cider Mill (one of Michigan’s premier cider makers) at 8614 N US 127, St. Johns, MI. Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.michiganvine.com/tickets/

So read the excerpt and click on over to read the rest of the post as the author tours and tastes ciders from Michigan’s own Tandem Ciders, Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard & Winery and Douglas Valley Organic Vineyards.

I gotta mention all three cider makers and many more Michigan cideries can be found on my North American Cider Map too… Go find and drink cider in Michigan!

On a Mission for Hard Cider

I’ve been drinking hard cider ever since I lived in London two decades ago. After that, I lived for a short time in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I was happy to find hard cider on tap at a place called Three Dollar Dewey’s. Ever since, I’ve had a taste for it, especially in the fall. Now, Michigan is my destination for hard cider. Nothing beats buying your happy hour drink from a local producer! Read more here…

Thanks for the comments and link Marcia! Much appreciated.

Sea Cider Signage

Sea Cider's Gorgeous Cider Production and Tasting BuildingAh Sea Cider… My first and only visit to Sea Cider so far was during the cidery tour of Vancouver Island we took during Peter Mitchell’s 2008 Cider Class in Mount Vernon, WA. Their organic heirloom and cider apple orchard, the old English style farmhouse tasting room and cider house built new, the gorgeous view from the property looking down towards Washington’s San Juan Islands. It is all very picturesque. Perfect I might say. Besides all that they make a really great cider too. Their whole line is robust and very flavorful.

When I visiting they were sold clean out of this very cider in the tasting room. We were informed that some was still lingering around at various beer and wine shops on Vancouver Island and mainland British Colombia. This bottle came to me nearly a year after my visit and for close to another year we have been sitting on this same bottle waiting for a great opportunity to taste, take notes and enjoy.

If you care to look I’ve got a number of pictures of Sea Cider’s facility up in my Flickr account.

Sea Cider Rumrunner ’07 Vintage

Somewhere along the way I guess I had forgotten this was a 14.2% cider. Considering ciders naturally ferment out to around 5-8% this is a mighty strong cider indeed. I don’t recall them telling us how they reached that percentage nor does their website say, but for me it is hard to imagine the used Rum Barrel they age this cider in contributed 6-7% alcohol. Mysterious.

Sea Cider Rumrunner 2007 VintageThe Rumrunner ’07 cider was a rich gold with a slight amber hue, fairly bright. The clarity was clear but not brilliant, but it was a couple years old mind you and had survived a car ride out to the ocean earlier that day. It was a nicely carbonated cider. An almost perfect level of bubble sensation and flavor accessibility.

Rumrunner’s aroma was remarkably intense, warm, dark, very cidery and of a high quality; demonstrating it’s woodiness combined with spicy notes of Rum (go figure), dried cherry, and apple of all things.

Sea Cider’s Rumrunner has the same intensity in flavor as it does in it’s aroma. Very intense, yet at the same time very balanced. We found to be sweet but not too sweet for the blend, it had a nice acidic edge that was just enough, letting Rumrunner’s sweetness play the lead. However this cider had a terrific bitterness from the apple phenolics (tannins) and surely from the used oak rum barrels. The Rumrunner starts off surprisingly hot but assuredly and quickly melts away and shows a true earthiness and spice with accompanying flavors of raisin, rum (mysterious I know), leather, toffee, and even hints of clove in the finish.

Rumrunner ’07 was complex, unique, and unlike any other cider I’ve had before. I’m not a light weight but I have to admit this cider is a scorcher has a serious kick. More like a port or dessert wine in strength and flavor intensity. At 14.25% it is also not for the faint of heart. You feel the warmth let’s say. Perfect for fireside sipping on a cold Winter’s night… Only if you don’t have anywhere else to go for the evening.

Mouthfeel was just as pleasant as the rest. A slight astringency, moderate body and length and again off the charts in the balance department. A well blended friendly monster of a cider.

We thought a smaller bottle would have offered a different presentation more in line with ports and dessert wines, That undoubtedly would have changed our preconceived notions of what this cider would be like. Would I drink it again? Surely. It was not a taste you often experience in cider. So chock-full of flavor. I look forward to it but will be waiting for that cold Winter night, the fireplace, and nowhere else to go.

Farnum Hill Kingston Black in the bright sunshine.

Farnum Hill Kingston Black in the bright sunshine.

Since last Fall I have been anxiously awaiting the perfect occasion to crack open this very special bottle of cider sent to me by my buddy Al. Thanks Al! Waiting patiently all the while eying the calendar. Cider reaches an early peak when compared to wines and should generally be enjoyed young. I thought Heather and my recent 5 year anniversary and trip to the beach about met the needs of the special occasion requirement so we brought packed it up and brought it on with us to the beach to taste.

You just don’t run across single variety in these parts. I personally hope that changes. West County Ciders in Colrain Massachusetts has an astonishing line up of 10 single varietal ciders from both heirloom and cider apple varieties listed on their website. Including their own Kingston Black.

Kingston Black Cider Apple

Kingston Black Cider Apple

Although debated, the Kingston Black variety of “cider” apple is touted to be THE CIDER APPLE. The one with the most balanced flavors and substantial complexity, it has what most consider to be a perfectly balanced trifecta of sweetness, acidity, and tannin characteristics. It has acceptable sugar levels for adequately strong cider. The Kingston Black is a popular choice in nearly any cider orchard and a favored selection for making a single varietal cider. Is it the most popular single varietal cider? I couldn’t say but I would suspect it is or among the top 2 or 3.

If you read this blog at all you’ll soon find out that I think Farnum Hill Cider is at the top of the North American Cider list. At one time it was available to me in Oregon, sadly Farnum Hill is no longer available to us here on the Left Coast. Some of us are holding out hope that one day they will return.

Farnum Hill Kingston Black Reserve 2007

Farnum Hill Cider ~ Kingston Black Reserve '07 Single Variety Still Cider

Farnum Hill Cider ~ Kingston Black Reserve '07 Single Variety Still Cider

I was a little surprised by the color of this cider, and believe me I’ve been wondering what it was going to look like and what color it would be. I thought we would see a bit of gold or amber in the glass. What we got was a pure, bright, light gold/pale straw color. The clarity was very clear, bordering brilliant. The Farnum Hill Kingston Black is still cider but we did observe tiny micro-bubble effervescence. I can’t say it was detectable in the mouthfeel so maybe just a byproduct of pouring or the drive to the beach. Overall impression of appearance was “Very Good”.

Aroma was fairly intense and of an exceptional quality. Direct, fresh, very clean, bright and refreshing. Started with a nose of apricot and dried apricot transitioning to honey and floral notes of jasmine and honeysuckle. I find well made ciders to be entrancing sometimes. You close your eyes, breathe in deep, and don’t ever want the sensation of that bouquet to disappear.

Farnum Hill Ciders are generally speaking from my experience very punchy and in your face. Strong acidity. The single varietal Kingston Black was much more subdued, lighter, and more delicate than I presumed. Impressive and delicious none the less. We got flavors of lemon, lemon verbena, fresh herb, basil, lime, green apple. We detected a very Perry-like fresh cucumber quality.  Sweetness was certainly light to slight but detectable and yup it did have some of that characteristic Farnum Hill acidity too. Like the color and the aroma, the flavor was also very clean, refreshing, and crisp. While tannins were present, they weren’t overwhelming. Middle of the road I’d say but fitting for this cider and about par with most of the fresh Kingston Blacks I’ve ever tasted.

The mouthfeel and body was still, medium to light bodied, very balanced with moderate astringency and medium length. As stellar as the rest of course. Completely in sync with the whole of this cider. ‘nough said.

Overall we deemed it was a “Very Good Plus”. Unoffensive, approachable, friendly cider with tons of character if you take the time to hear it out. The kind of delicate cider to be savored, sipped slowly from a fine wine glass. It may not be for everyone but everyone should buy it and try it. Stands up to and is a great counterpart to dry salami, prosciutto or charcuterie of nearly any kind I imagine. Sharp cheeses as with most ciders are a plus too.

Check back soon. I have a ton more ciders out in my “cider fridge” waiting to be looked at, sniffed, tasted, over analyzed and written about. During this same trip we also tasted the aptly named Rumrunner (oddly enough from 2007 too) from Sea Cider on Vancouver Island of Canada’s West Coast which need written about. We have some Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery Ciders that were sent to me some time ago that I’m anxious to write about. I also received a generous sample pack from Diane at Foggy Ridge Cider that needs serious attention.

Photo courtesy of Herbfarm Restaurant

The Herbfarm Restaurant

Experience the Northwest’s best ciders on the table with some of country’s best food. A Cider Maker’s Dinner has been organized in conjunction with the Northwest Cider Society to honor Bob Norton, Gary Moulton, and Peter Mitchell. Our Cider Maker’s Dinner will be held on June 29th, 2010 at the legendary Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville Washington. The Herbfarm is very excited about “crafting a dinner around local ciders” and is offering a reduced price six course dinner for our special evening.

The Herbfarm is a world renown culinary destination with a philosophy of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. Our Cider Maker’s Dinner at the Herbfarm will be pairing local ciders with dishes inspired by these same ciders. The Herbfarm has a staggering list of awards and recognitions among them a James Beard Award in 2000 for” Best American Chef Northwest”, one of ” America’s Top 10 Restaurants” Zagat Survey 2007, and “Best of Award of Excellence” Wine Spectator 1997 – 2007. This will truly be an unforgettable and special evening. It is really an honor to work in cooperation with a restaurant of this caliber.

Check out the full details here: http://www.nwcider.com

Edit: Wildfire Cider has been added to the line up at the Washington Brewers Festival. See my new entry for them at the very bottom of the page.

Look what I found… A complete rundown of all the cider makers pouring at the Washington Brewers Festival.

2010 Washington Brewers Festival

From the Washington Brewers Festival website:

A newly expanded Cider and Wine Tasting Tent featuring the following fine cideries and wineries from Washington State.

Finnriver Cidery – Chimacum, WA
Farmstead (Rustic Sparkling Cider)

Red Barn Cider – Mt. Vernon, WA
Red Barn Sweetie Pie (Common Cider Sweet)
Red Barn Fire Barrel Cider (English Cider Dry)

Snowdrift Cider – East Wenatchee, WA
Dry Cider (English Style Cider)
Cliffbreaks Blend (Common Cider)
Semi Dry (New English Style Cider)

Tieton Cider Works – Tieton, WA
Wild Washington Apple (Semi Dry)
Cherry (Semi Sweet)
Blossom Nectar (Sweet)

Westcott Bay Orchards – Friday Harbor, WA
Traditional Dry Cider (English)
Traditional Medium Sweet Cider (English)

Wildfire Cider – Port Townsend, WA
Apfelwein German style still (Organic Estate Cider)
Pirate’s Plank – Bone Dry (Organic Scrumpy Style Cider)
Ember Semi-sweet (Organic Estate Cider)

Vigo Centrifugal Mill 91202 in the UK or Speidel Apple Grinder in  Germany.If you are going to make cider at any decent volume you will find that apple grinding is the one real headache in pressing apples at home. If you’ve pressed enough apples you find out pretty quick that hand-cranking is OUT. The one exception might be if you have some over sugar’d and under exercised kids around the house and well I don’t… Hand turning the grinder on my old barrel press at my place was over in just one quick season.

I read all about folks adding 1HP motors to their on board barrel press grinders and briefly thought about going that route for a bit. Not knowing how long I even wanted to continue with my old home style press kept me considering the other options.

The most attractive option to me was a hobby+ sized apple crusher I could grow with, like this one to the right sold by Vigo in the UK for £745.00. If you check the link you can see a video of this grinder in action. They claim it is for the “enthusiastic cider maker”. That mill looks as though it is the Speidel Apple Grinder sold here at Speidel in Germany. No one in the US imports this model but I always like the way it looked. Easy to clean!

I’ve also read tales of the lower priced Czech made “Fruit Shark” also sold in England here at UK Cider. UK Cider has a great write up on it and some purchase information if you are on that side of the Atlantic.

In the United States here you’ll find companies like the good people at St. Pat’s in Texas who import the super nice 220V Italian stainless steel version for $1250 plus freight. St. Pat’s also has a video linked to their product page which is pretty cool.

I have also seen and heard talk of using garden shredders as potential apple grinder solutions for the advance cider hobbyist. From what’s been written on the cider forums some claim success with such devices but I’ve never seen anything in the local lawn care department that made me want to run out and throw apples through it for consumption.

While browsing around the pages of a recent Harbor Freight Advertisement online and I ran across something I really wish I would have seen last year before I dropped the big bucks on my 220V Italian Stainless Steel Apple Grinder/Shredder. I haven’t seen Harbor Freight’s Chicago 2-1/2 HP Chipper Shredder in person nor can I endorse it’s use but I’d certainly have given it a whirl at $175. Wow! I really does looks sweet. Add yourself a bin to collect the pomace and start pressing!!! If it doesn’t work you got a nice little yard chipper and yards of free mulch.

Edit: This post dedicated to Heather and Jason @ The Candle Wine Project whom I recently got to meet. I know they will be thinking about how to grind them up some apples come this Fall.

Harbor Freight Garden Chipper Shredder Update:

Got a couple comments from Rick who checked out these Harbor Freight Chipper Shredder Units. Check his comments for details but he says it looks as thought it may work. Here is his pic!  I mentioned this in my reply but this blade looks exactly like a buddy of mine’s smaller apple shredder from Germany. I used that for my biggest season yet in 2008 and and it worked really well. Thanks Rick!

Don’t laugh but Fall is around the corner. My buddy Al takes us through his ingenious modification and conversion of a Harbor Freight Shop Press into a Rack and Cloth Apple Press. Step by step Al takes you through the pieces, where to get the parts, dimensions, what to do, what no to do, and how to install the parts. Start yours now and coast on into the apple picking season with a new rack and cloth cider press that should beat the pants of any barrel press. Maybe he’ll send me a list of the parts and source links to post in here.

Taste Washington!

Taste Washington! Seattle. March 27, 2010.

Taste Washington! Seattle. March 27, 2010.

I should have posted this days ago. If you are in or near Seattle tomorrow and Cider or Wine is your thing I suggest you think about attending Taste Washington!. VIP tickets are $125 or two for $240. $75 for general. VIP tasting from 2 to  4PM. Grand Tasting is from 4:00 to 7:00PM.

Website says over 200 Washington wineries, and 75 Seattle area restaurants.

Best of all you’ll find a good number of Washington’s Ciders for the first time this year. I’m counting 5 on the website and have heard 6 cider makers will be present. On the list are Tulip Valley (Red Barn Cider), Wildfire Cider, Tieton Cider Works, Snowdrift Cider Company, and Finn River Cider.

This is a pretty big deal for the cider in Washington. Go meet the cider makers and try their ciders. Should be a nice and welcome distraction from all that wine.

Farnum Hill Ciders from Poverty Lane Orchards

Farnum Hill Ciders from Poverty Lane Orchards

There is lots of discussion and news about New Hampshire and their cider vs. milk official state beverage dispute. I’d certainly hate to be the one to tell those poor kindergartners that in nearly any other country in the World, “Cider” (Cidre, Sidra, Chistr, Sidre, Cyder ), is strictly a fermented drink made from apples and not the sweet kid friendly “apple juice” drink they are lobbying for.

Amidst all the confusion and hubbub I do know of one place in New Hampshire that fully understands what real cider is.

Farnum Hill. Poverty Lane Orchards. Stephen Wood. If you don’t know who Steve is, where Poverty Lane Orchards is, or even what Farnum Hill is… Welcome to the reemerging world of exceptional American Craft Ciders.

If you haven’t tasted Farnum Hill Cider chances are you just don’t know how extraordinary a genuine American made craft cider can be. Living in the Northwest affords me relatively easy access to a number of really really excellent ciders. Having said that, Farnum Hill is really something special.

Farnum Hill Cider from Poverty Lane Orchards in located in Lebanon New Hampshire where they grow a wide variety of “Uncommon” and Cider apple varieties. Poverty Lane Orchards has been in the orcharding business in New Hampshire for quite some time. Frustrated by prices brought about by cheap import fruit these trailblazing individuals “went out on a limb” and had enough foresight to invest in heirloom apples and cider varieties. Farnum Hill have been everywhere over the past few years. Most notably in Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, the book and the documentary, they’ve also been featured on NPR, Food and Wine, Gourmet Magazine, The Splendid Table, Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV, Growing Magazine, and lots more. Chances are if you follow the slow food movement or enjoy fine beverage and food reading you might have run across them before.

Farnum Hill Semi-Dry LabelFarnum Hill Cider is a shining example in a rapidly improving craft cider movement here in North America. Steve Wood and Farnum Hill deserves a great deal of resepect and reverence for being one of the pioneer’s and catalysts in our nation’s rediscovery of true cider. Thanks guys! Their ciders are at the very top of the list among my very favorite American ciders. I’d like to think my admiration for this cider is held in such high regard because Farnum Hill is such a rare treat here in the NW and difficult at best. While rarity and consumption frequency might contribute a bit to it my opinion, Farnum Hill is certainly a worthy top list, top shelf cider.

On Valentines Day last month Heather and I opened bottle of Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider. Here are our collective observations.

Farnum Hill Cider Semi-Dry Cider

Farnum Hill Cider Semi-Dry Cider

Farnum Hill’s Semi-Dry is a very attractive brilliant cider, almost glowing, gold to medium gold color, and has absolutely perfect clarity. A steady stream of small bubbles making their seemingly endless journey to the cider’s surface.

The aroma was inviting, sweet, spiritous and spicy. Farnum Hill Ciders all have this amazing spicy character in their aromas. It is one of the characteristics I find in their cider that gives their whole line a solid cohesiveness. Very classic and cidery, we found traces of fresh strawberry, raisins, dried fruit and ripe apricots.

Forever living up to it’s appearance and aroma, tasting Farnum Hill Cider never disappoints. Where to start? The Semi-Dry, as with their other offerings, is an extremely well balanced cider with a refreshing medium body, and engaging complex character. Like myself, Farnum seems to favor a bright strong acid cider that has a good deal of tannin… or phenolics as it were with apples. Their cider has near perfect carbonation, just enough to add character not enough to overwhelm. Their Semi-Dry, is dry but certainly has a subtle sweetness.

Some of the flavors we pinpointed were sweet citrus fruit, orange, Meyer lemon and tangerine. We also got strong hits of tropical fruit like pineapple and dried fruit. We found the finish to be long and clean, with a spiciness we believe was brief traces and hints of clove, pepper and even cinnamon.

Who should drink this cider? Any and every cider enthusiast should get their hands on some Farnum Hill Cider at some point in time. If you like a dry to semi-dry cider this is certainly for you. New to Craft Ciders? Farnum Hill this Semi-Dry and/or their Summer Cider might be your best introduction. Their Farmhouse sounds like it too but I haven’t had that one yet. If you drink wine, like it dry are intrigued by the idea of traditional dry ciders with wine like characteristics… Go for it, make the leap, you’ll love it and may just find yourself a cider convert.

Big thanks to Steve and the Farnum Hill Cider Crew… especially Corrie and Brenda for all the great communication, and friendly cider chat.

Visit Poverty Lane Orchard’s website.

Farnum Hill Cider Videos on Youtube.

Find Farnum Hill Cider on Facebook.

Follow Farnum Hill Cider on Twitter.