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Archive for the ‘review’ Category

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.

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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.

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Red-Barn-Sweetie-PieRed Barn’s Sweetie Pie is sweet by craft cider standards but not nearly as sugary as some of the commercially produced “ciders”. It is rich yet fresh and inspiriting. Sweetie Pie has a great body (no jokes) and just enough cider apple and Gravenstein tannin characteristic educate those new to the sensation and tease those of us yearning it.

For my taste it is a little on the sweet side for regular consumption but for many folks out there it will be your ideal cider. While not my favorite this is an excellent high quality Northwest made cider. Sweetie Pie is an excellent “gateway” cider for those interested in gebuine craft ciders that have character. Look for it in Western Washington’s progressive grocers and bottle shops.

Red Barn (Tulip Valley Winery) makes 4 different ciders to date. Sweetie Pie, Jonagold, Fire Barrel and Burro Loco. They have a great tasting room located just outside Mount Vernon Washington. Give them a visit if you are in the area and get a taste all of their ciders

Happy Spring all! My poor neglected blog… Seems that I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write a post the past few months. I have been busy cider making, cider reading, propagation class taking and tree grafting. I thought I’d jump back into things with this quick review. I do have many a book to discuss and I will be sitting down this week for an in depth tasting and notes session for a review of Farnum Hill’s Extra-Dry Still Cider. Check back soon I promise it will be up with in a week or so of this post and then more regular from here on out let’s hope.

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Blossomwood Cidery - Farmhouse Sem-Sweet

Blossomwood Cidery - Farmhouse Sem-Sweet Label Art

This cider came to attention and my doorstep through what I can only call divine intervention. I think… Let’s just call it a wonder of the internet. Whatever the case I’m very glad it it did. I sat down on a nice Summer evening with my girlfriend Heather and her brother Dave and had what I would consider real cider tasting. Tasting, focusing, concentrating, translating and recording the data with the sole purpose of writing this. I only hope we did it the justice it deserves.

In the bottle and then subsequently in the glass Blossomwood’s Semi-Sweet Farmhouse Cider had an absolute crystal clear brilliance and light straw-like golden colored luminance. As clear as you could hope for with a clear pale gold with a sort of warm peachy rosé hue. Nice to look at. I know you can’t judge a cider by it’s clarity but as I looked at this cider it was hard not to get excited about what was to come.

The Aroma. As I recorded it we thought the cider had a clean sweet oakiness character with sweet aromas of brown sugar, caramel, apple pie, apple crisp. natural, clean, slightly baked and fresh baked.

Blossomwood Cidery - Semi-Sweet Farmhouse Cider

Blossomwood Cidery - Semi-Sweet Farmhouse Cider

I generally prefer dry cider but Blossomwood’s Semi-Sweet Farmhouse really skewed my impression of what a “sweeter” cider could offer. Far from the “tastes like fresh apple juice” cider  or “hard cider” cliche I found it to be intensely refreshing and not overly sweet. Crisp fresh baked tangy apple flavors and well rounded grilled pineapple sweet acidity. Gracefully almost unnoticeably it finishes gently, nice and dry leaving just enough of an oaky tannin sort of impression behind. A little earthy even. Golden, baked, crisp, clean, refreshing, sort of earthy… Sounds like Colorado to me.

I don’t know of much cider activity out Colorado way but they can rest assured Blossomwood seems like a traditional cider maker that does it right. Given chance and availability this cider could be a hit with just about anyone, from the hardcore discriminate cider traditionalist to the cider new-comer you are longing to ween off the Woodchuck. Approachable levels of complexity, oakiness and character, this semi-sweet can surely hold his own against some of the best North American ciders I’ve tasted. Given the chance I’d pick it up again in a second and drink it nearly as fast. If I had any criticism I might say it really didn’t push the envelope, then again I do find myself wondering if semi-sweet ciders should.

If you live in or near Western Colorado look for it…

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Samuel Smith's NEW Cider
For me the release of Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider comes completely out of left field. I’ve long enjoyed Sammy Smith beers and ales. Their Oatmeal Stout is one of my favorites, the Imperial Stout is tops, the Winter Warmer a Holiday favorite for sure and the Organic Lager and Ale always hits the spot. Let’s face it for a larger independent brewer they represent consistent quality, and you can buy it absolutely everywhere and drink it most any time.

Sammy Smith’s new cider holds true to standards set by it’s hopped and malted forefathers. They call it an “Organic” cider and the label boasts the tag line “Produced from Organically grown apples.”. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a cider produced from organically grown apples turned to concentrate. I haven’t found any information that states whether or not it is or isn’t. So who knows… The back label carries a USDA Organic logo up top. By Organic standards it looks legit.

I’d call Sammy’s new cider a real solid medium sweet cider. It possesses nicely fermented apple flavors and was a lot bigger on taste and quality than I had expected. The sweetness is pleasantly backed up and balanced with a wee bit of tartness and acidity which I find absolutely necessary in a drinkable cider.

To sum it all up Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider isn’t as dry as I would like (not much is), nor as complex as I’d like (ditto) and I’d love to see a bit of tannin zip and zing to it (amen). It is however a really great “Daily Driver” and for what it is, what it costs and who it is competing against it is a terrific addition to the growing number of quality ciders on the market. If you like the Strongbows, Blackthornes, and Magners out there or if you are even just starting to look into enjoying ciders you are sure to enjoy Samuel Smith’s new organic cider and I whole heartedly recommend it. This could be your “gateway” to real ciders.

Enjoy and if anybody out there is able to find it and give it a try, I’d love it if you would drop on back by and tell me what you think.

Got suggestions or even review requests? I’d be happy to oblige and/or add them to my list of “to-do’s”. In the not to distant future I hope to review 2 of my absolute Northwest favorites… Westcott Bay Ciders from San Juan Island Washington and Wandering Aengus from Oregon. Not to mention a couple bourbon recommendation.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Ran across a new post about Sammy Smith’s new cider here http://blogs.timesunion.com/dowdondrinks/?p=504

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Blue Mountain Cider Company - Oregon CiderIn a way I feel the Blue Mountain Cider Company from Eastern Oregon is a cider maker cut from a similar clothe as myself. They aren’t afraid to experi-ferment with additional adjuncts such as complimentary fruits and such. I’ve had Blue Mountain’s refreshingly tart Cherry Cider and I loved every last drop of it. I am also looking forward to drinking some of their Cranberry Apple Cider which as their website states is just around the bend. In fact I’m a little jealous as I had also conceived the idea for fermenting this classic Cran-Apple combo. Oh well I’m sure its been done before anyway.

On the other hand the makers at Blue Mountain seems to favor a sweeter cider than I have become accustomed to and now prefer. I think most folks that occasionally have a “hard” cider start drinking sweet ciders because that is what is produced in the US and it unfortunately is what America has come to expect out of ciders. Real traditional dry ciders made with vintage cider apples can be a shock to the palate to a newcomer. Throughout my years of cider consumption not only have I come to enjoy a very dry cider, I’ve come to crave a very dry cider. I readily admit that is difficult for me to step back.

That being said Blue Mountain’s Dry Creek was a very enjoyable cider but a tad too sweet for my taste. From the information provided on their website Dry Creek in the dryest cider in Blue Mountain’s product line and it is made from a “5 Apple Blend” that they seem to use on all their varieties. Flashing back on the cherry cider I drank last year it too was pretty sweet I suppose, but the cherries contributed a certain complexity, tartness and acidity that I have come to associate and experience only with the dry ciders. When I say that this cider was “too sweet” it may not have been the residual sugars that I didn’t care for it may have just been the lack of acidity and tartness to help balance the flavors.

Being a home brewer I’m always disappointed to see a twist top cap which Blue Mountain uses. I know it is acceptable these days for quality products to use them but I always feel better getting a bottle with a cap or cork. Besides having more value for personal bottling I believe it has a higher “perceived” value as well. As a graphic designer by day I can’t help but pay attention to perceived value and package design .

Overall I really did enjoy this cider, it was refreshing and very natural tasting. I’d buy it again given the chance however it might just stay in the wine rack until the mood struck me for a sweeter cider. I would encourage anyone to give any of Blue Mountain’s cider creations a try. If nothing else they make a great “gateway” drink to help lead cider converts down the path towards the more traditional styles North America has to offer.

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