One of the many things I learned at Keepsake Cidery’s annual cider club party is that harvest season for cider apples begins in late August. Not being from an agricultural background, or living even close to farmland, I have no concept of how this particular calendar works. While that may have been the reason for the date of the party we attended, I would have jumped any any excuse to get out of town and enjoy some good cider.
The Keepsake Chestnut might be my new favorite of their ciders. The listing on the chalkboard described it as “semi-sweet” but because Keepsake ciders typically run dry, this revealed itself to be a very different breed. With subtle notes of nut and wood, a crisp taste, and a smooth finish, I found myself agreeing with the rest of my friends in that this was one of the cidery’s best. Unfortunately, we found ourselves having to leave before I had time to have another. Even more unfortunately, I don’t think that this variety of Keepsake has hit the shelves yet. But when it does, I will be sure to pick up another bottle.
One of my favorite parts of the party was a tour of the orchard. Keepsake is a small cidery, and likes it that way. As we followed Nate, the owner, past the rows of apple trees, he would point to certain rows and know instantly which variety of apples were growing there. I always enjoy being in the presence of someone who not only knows their craft intimately, but enjoys it as thoroughly as he does. Every time I visit the cidery, I am reminded of their commitment to remaining organic and local whenever possible, and I just love it.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9.5/10
In my study of ciders, I have encountered the Spanish Sidro style, wherein you must shake the cider before pouring from a 36″ elevation in order to create the proper level of effervescence. With Deal’s Original, I encountered the exact opposite; when I opened the bottle cap, it completely exploded, covering me, my kitchen walls, and floor. Luckily, I was able to save enough to sample, but only the amount pictured to the right. Unfortunately, this cider was a gift from a dear friend, and is only available near where he lives in Iowa.
To add to this misfortune, the cider is really good. According to their website, the cider uses a blend of apples, but does not indicate which apples these are. Perhaps the most appealing part of this is that it tastes undeniably like apples, but completely different from the 110 other ciders I’ve tried thus far. The taste has a familiar, almost pear-like quality; it almost tastes like the memory of apples, if that makes any sense. The cider masterfully balances sweet and dry, resulting in an extremely smooth, sessionable cider.
The website also indicates that Deal’s makes a raspberry, a peach, and a limited-release pear cider, all of which I’d like to try if they demonstrate the same level of craftsmanship as this one. Next time I’m down in the Ames, IA region, I’ll have to be sure to pick up what I can find.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10
One of my least favorite things about eating apples is how quickly they oxidize and become an unpalatable-looking rotten color. It seems that whenever I eat an apple at work and need to get up midway through, by the time I return, it looks like I had left the apple out before leaving the previous day. A trick to avoid this (if you are preparing a fruit platter. Not so much in the workplace) is to coat the apple fruit in lemon juice. This ensures that the fruit stays bright and lively-looking until you are ready to eat it.
It was very tempting to make any number of Dexter references in the intro, but I feel that the blurb on the bottle of Slice of Life hit on all of the notes I would have wanted to reach. Despite sharing a name with a fictional murderer’s speedboat, B. Nektar’s Slice of Life is aptly named, as it is bursting with a delightfully energetic quality. Emphasizing flavors of lemon and ginger, this cider carries an air of excitement that makes it perfect for any summer day. While enjoyable, these flavors strike almost lethally, and end up strangling the apple flavor, forcing it downward beneath its dark citrus passenger.
Although the lemon dominates the flavor and the aroma, this is not necessarily a bad quality. It separates the Slice of Life further from its brethren, isolating it in a category of its own as a cross between cider and mead. Of course, this reading of the cider might result from my palate gravitating toward sour and my lifelong adoration of ginger. If you find yourself in a cider slump, the Slice of Life is sure to cut you right out of it.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8.5/10
Jellyfish are a pretty weird animal. They have earned a monicker as similarly misleading as the pineapple in that they are neither made of jelly, nor are they fish. They are mysterious aquatic creatures that drift to and fro in a mesmerically beautiful way. Because they don’t actually have brains, or even a central nervous system, they almost seem like plantlife: floating in the tidal winds, their tendrils billowing like tongues of flame.
Starcut Ciders’ Immortal Jelly was a uniquely enjoyable
cider. Packing the flavors of a quartet of berries (straw, blue, black, and rasp), the Immortal Jelly bears a pleasant aroma and aftertaste reminiscent of a fine jam. These berry flavors counterbalance the slightly acerbic
semi-sweet apple, leading to a very smooth, even finish.
This is my first cider from Starcut, and from the look of their website, they have a whole host of ciders that I have never seen before. The Immortal Jelly was a gift brought back from the depths of Wisconsin, so if I ever see any in my neck of the woods, I’ll be sure to pick it up.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8.5/10
I’ve always been able to separate out my opinion of something from the general hype surrounding it. When Netflix’s Stranger Things first arrived to the platform, social media was thoroughly abuzz with posts and articles about it, exalting its greatness and repeating the opinion that I “totally needed to watch it.” I waited a month or so, but when I eventually got around to watching it, I found it to be pretty good. Not revolutionary to the genre, nor by any means my favorite Netflix original series. It was just pretty good.
Ace Cider’s Pineapple cider had been sitting in my queue for months, if not over a year. Of the ciders in my untested collection, it received the largest number of comments from houseguests. It seemed that everyone had an opinion on this cider. It was either the best pineapple cider they had ever had, or it was far too sweet and I was going to hate it. After trying it, I respectfully disagree with both opinions.
The Ace Pineapple does a pretty fantastic job of blending the apple and pineapple flavors, such that neither is battling too contentiously for the forefront of the flavor. Both are equally present, and the cider certainly benefits from this. Though the cider was sweet, I did not find it overpoweringly so. That is always a risk with such a saccharine fruit, but Ace does a nice job of keeping this in check. The aroma is full and fruity, and the finish is smooth and clean. Overall, as far as pineapple ciders go, I would say that the Ace Pineapple is not revolutionary, but pretty darn good.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8/10
This sampling was all about testing. First off, I wanted to see if I could truly taste the difference between a semi-dry and a semi-sweet cider. Secondly, I wanted to try something different, as every other group review I have written thus far has been about ciders from the same cidery. Not only were these different varieties of ciders from different makers, but one was from a can and the other a bottle, and both originated from opposite ends of the country. I have a lot of ciders to get through, and there are a number of interesting ways to group them.
I began the sampling with the Woodchuck Semi-Dry. This cider greets the nostrils with a wholesome aroma that often accompanies darker, more amber-colored ciders. The dryness certainly comes into play with the aftertaste, as it leaves a lingering bitter taste on the tongue, which almost amounts to a mustiness. The cider certainly lives up to its name, as it isn’t overpoweringly dry and there are definitely notes of sweetness present. That said, dry is certainly the impression that it leaves. Historically, Woodchuck ciders are almost always a home run for me. I suspect that this one would appeal to someone who cares for dry ciders, but I think it might be my least favorite of the cidery’s body of work.
The next cider on the docket was Seattle Cider’s Semi-Sweet. This was a much livelier cider, with an aroma of crisp green apple. The Semi-Sweet was also quite full-bodied, and carried a pleasing tang that bordered on sourness. This cider also featured a very balanced flavor, with the scales tipping only ever so slightly in favor of sweetness over dryness. The liveliness of this cider’s smooth finish and lack of bitter aftertaste made it the more appealing of the two. I have not sampled much of Seattle Cider’s body of work, so as a manufacturer, it’s hard to rank this against their other varieties. But, as a bare-bones cider, I certainly enjoyed this one.
One of my favorite quotes from Parks & Recreation comes from Ron Swanson, who advises “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” I understand that sweetness/dryness is a spectrum, but I feel that the Semi-Dry might have been stronger had it just been a full-on dry cider, rather than getting muddled in the mixture. Here, the Semi-Sweet excelled, executing the balance between sweet and dry almost perfectly.
The Ciderman’s Rating:
In the woods near the house behind the house where I grew up, my brother and I found a bone. It wasn’t small like a rabbit or raccoon, nor was it thin like a deer. It was thicker around than my fist, and the end of it was buried deep enough in the ground that it needed to be dug up almost in its entirety. My brother and I were young, so this couldn’t be anything other than a dinosaur bone. However, after all the excitement, further analysis revealed it to be a cow femur. What child doesn’t get excited about a cow bone?
As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I do not care for dry ciders, or really dryness in any beverage. And so, it always baffles me when ciders tout this as their strongest quality. William Tell’s Bone Dry is, as the name suggests, a very dry cider. It first strikes with an acerbic taste, but it finishes with a lingering dryness that coats the tongue and any part of the mouth it touches. Overall, this cider’s most forward quality is how dry it is, and unfortunately, that is not something that appeals to me as a cider drinker. With the ever-increasing number of ciders and cideries available, it’s hard to fathom how you couldn’t find a cider you enjoy. However, when it comes to my palate, I would much rather chase after dinosaurs than settle for the cow bone.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 4/10
This is a day I always knew would come. I have painstakingly curated my consumption of ciders, as well as the list that keeps record (in chronological order) of my exploits. However, what happens when I attend a festival or some kind of event in which I try a slew of new ciders? I suppose the answer is that I review them all at once. Fortunately for me, the event I attended was the soft opening for Keepsake Ciders’ tasting room, which kept all of the ciders I tried today within the same manufacture. I indulged in a beautiful trio of ciders, served on a hand-carved flight board, and here is the breakdown:
Heartwood: Each of the ciders I sampled today was on the dry end of the spectrum, but the Heartwood truly embraced it. The cider was spritely and effervescent, with a tart flavor bordering on pleasantly acerbic. Of the three ciders I sampled, this one emerged as my clear favorite. I am never one to seek out a dry cider, but the Heartwood was inventive and enjoyable enough that it kept me engaged throughout the entire beverage.
Wood & Spirit: The Wood & Spirit was aged in oak whiskey barrels. Unlike several ciders I’ve had previously that have also employed this method, this was very apparent in the flavor. The dryness of the Wood & Spirit was very forward, and the aroma was much woodier than the Heartwood.
Wild: This was certainly a unique one. The Wild cider was fermented using the yeast that was native to the peel of the apples, and this certainly came through in the flavor. The Wild bore a very full body, and a lovely apple-forward taste. The aroma here was very inviting, and made for a polished overall presentation.
I had the opportunity to talk with Nathan, the cider maker at Keepsake, and was delighted to hear about his passion for working with other local orchards, as well as collaborating with other cideries to establish Minnesota as a state with a cider identity. Keepsake is a family-owned cidery, and a great addition to the high level of craftsmanship in Minnesota cider-making, and a fantastic place to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The Ciderman’s Rating:
Wood & Spirit: 8.5/10
One of the things that I keep under strict organization is my iTunes library. Call me old-fashioned, but there is a certain sense of security in owning my music and having the physical files stored on my computer. In organizing the songs, I have stumbled across the genre “easy listening.” What the hell does that mean? What is difficult listening? I can’t imagine popping my earbuds in, pressing play, and thinking “wow, this song is so easy to listen to!”
Angry Orchard’s Easy Apple was, in fact, very easy to drink. The Easy Apple is an unfiltered cider, which gives it a much fuller, richer flavor than the run-of-the-mill Crisp Apple. Not only that, but it also lacks what is often a sickly sweetness. Other than the initially misleading name, I think that the Easy Apple is a much more genuine-tasting cider than the mass-distributed Crisp Apple, and a much stronger product overall.
I’m very glad that a company as large and successful as Angry Orchard isn’t afraid to change things up or keep trying new things. Unfiltered ciders are, in my experience, some of the richest cider experiences, and Angry Orchard’s edition is a clear cut above many of their varieties.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8/10
“At a cantina on a star in a planetary system far far away, the surviving beautiful sister, takes a hit on a hookah pipe and listens for incider information.” –Excerpt from the neck label of the Ace Space.
Every May, in honor of May the Fourth, I expand on thosepithy “may the Fourth be with you” posts and commit an entire month to Star Wars-themed posts of pictures, questions, and witty thematic banter. A review of this, my 100th cider, seemed tangentially on theme until I read that caption from the bottleneck. It was only upon visiting the cider’s web page that I found out the owner of Ace Cider’s wife was an actor in the cantina scene in A New Hope.
The Ace SpAce is the first of its kind, a bold combination of flavors that are so diametrically opposite, they even have an aphorism based on their difference. Even the look of the cider is unique: a milky orange, reminiscent of Bespin at sundown. Perhaps the strongest quality of this cider is just how different and alien it tastes. The pulpy affect of orange juice is something not found in apple-based beverages. There is no suspension of disbelief in imagining drinking this at a cantina on Tatooine, a bar on Coruscant, or anywhere in the galaxy after a hard-fought victory against the empire.
The cider’s opening crawl features a hint of apple, but the orange flavor takes over shortly after and dominates the palate with its citrus notes. The flavor lingers on like a ghost, inviting you to experience more and complete the cider. Unfortunately, I do think that this cider could use more apple to bring balance to the overall presentation. But, for a special release, I feel that the SpAce certainly delivers.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8/10