It’s not often that I’ll review three ciders at once, but these have been in the queue for some time, and it would have been a shame to break up the set.
I started with the original: Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider. According to the label, Hard Pressed Cider Company ferments their cider, and then adds unfermented apple juice afterward to add sweetness. This is a neat idea, but ultimately led to the cider missing the mark of moderation and veering off on the side of sweetness. It tasted less like a traditional cider, and more like an alcoholic apple juice to me.
For whatever reason, it seems that when cideries decide to do a spiced cider, they really bring their A-game (or perhaps it’s just a flavor profile that agrees really well with my palate). Taking the same cider-making process but adding cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, Hard Pressed produces a delightful beverage. This cider was excellent to drink on the frigid Sunday in February.
As was to be expected: the ginger cider stood out to me. I just really enjoy the taste and spice of ginger. Coming in at a similar abv to the original (5.2 vs 5.4, with the spiced at a 3.6), the ginger was a zinger in more ways than one. The ginger, as well as the spice, presented themselves as strong enough flavors that they masked the apple juice sweetness that I found myself not really caring for. With a similar herbal aroma to the spiced cider and a higher alcohol content, the ginger cider presents itself as the best of both worlds.
The Ciderman’s Ratings:
Hard Pressed for Cider Original: 6/10
Hard Pressed Spiced: 8/10
Hard Pressed Ginger: 8.5/10
New Belgium may have the Fat Tire, but Minnesota is probably the only state where it makes sense to produce a cider called the Fat Bike. It is almost impossible to make it through a Minnesota winter without seeing at least one committed cyclist cruising down the streets in below-0 temperatures on a fat bike, specially made to accommodate the snowy conditions. These folks are hardy, dedicated, and complete lunatics. I barely want to take the time to warm up my car in the winter, much less ride a bike.
Sociable’s flagship cider, the Freewheeler, doesn’t really do it for me. The Fat Bike, on the other hand, was fantastic. Being a semi-dry cider, the Fat Bike excites my palate in a much gentler way than the full-dry Freewheeler, and the mulled nature of the beverage brings a host of spices to every sip. Though the cider only comes in at 5.2% ABV, I think my proximity to the imperial cider double-header tricked my brain into thinking the Fat Bike packed even more of a punch. The aroma of mulled cider is always delightful, combining the already pleasant smell of apples with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
This marks the fourth of Sociable’s ciders on my list, and apart from the Freewheeler, I think I’ve enjoyed every one of them. If they can consistently produce ciders on the quality of the Fat Bike and the Burnout, I can see them cementing a place as a big cider player in Minnesota.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10
*Also, side note: I’m going to try to take more cider pictures at work. Way more interesting to look at than counters and tables.
Yet again, I was presented with another opportunity to investigate a beverage term. This time, staring down the barrels of two imperial aged ciders, I had to get to googling to figure out what calling a drink “imperial” actually means. It’s a term mostly thrown around when talking about stout beers, but can be applied to a number of brewed beverages (most of which are also beers). It has some very google-able history, but it essentially means it’s a drink that’s at least twice as strong as it usually is, both in flavor and in alcohol content.
I’ve had these two winter-themed ciders in the queue for quite some time, and I finally had a quiet, snowy weekend where I could try both of them (I guess Bad Apple isn’t winter themed, but Nice & Naughty is and I extrapolated). For supposedly being twice as flavorful as a normal cider, the Bad Apple was underwhelming. While clocking in at 10.5% ABV, the Bad Apple’s flavor felt very uninspiring. It felt very much like they were playing it safe with this one. The aroma was heady, and the finish was smooth, but the overall flavor left something to be desired.
On the other hand, Nice & Naughty was brimming with flavor. With a similar ABV, this cider really brought 2 Towns’ A-game. Every sip was loaded with the taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of clove accompanying the already rich apple flavor. This was one that I wish wasn’t a seasonal release because I enjoyed it so thoroughly.
The Ciderman’s Ratings
The Bad Apple: 6/10
Nice & Naughty: 9.5/10
When I was growing up, for whatever reason, if I was going to have fruit for breakfast it was going to be a pear. I really enjoyed (and still do) a crisp Bartlett pear. However, I really only liked them just before they were ripe, when they were as hard as a rock. If the pear was too soft, I wasn’t interested. The texture needed to be ultra-firm, and the fruit couldn’t be too juicy. I was very particular that way.
The Loon Juice Grow a Pear is the latest in my ever-growing list of pear ciders. It’s a great cider, but I’m not certain that the pear flavor shines through as clearly as intended. The apple flavor is much more prominent, whereas the pear only makes an appearance in the aroma and the aftertaste. It’s possible that the apple and the pear simply blended too well, leaving the recognizable crisp Loon Juice apple prominent and the less familiar pear in the backdrop. The sweetness factor might be a little too forward, which might also contribute to my palate not picking up on the pear. Either way, this was much more of an apple cider with pear flavor than a pear cider.
I’ve gotta say, this cider has a great name. If I had heard just the “Grow a Pear” portion, I would have assumed that this was a 2 Towns cider. Happy to know my home state can rep the humorous names as well, and that 2 Towns doesn’t have the lock on fun.
I also managed to snag a can of Loon Juice’s seasonal release, which I’m quite looking forward to drinking.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8/10
Very often, after learning my name, people will ask whether or not I am Italian. As it turns out, I am very Italian: three-quarters Italian in fact (this is based on the genealogies of my parents. I’m sure one of those ancestry tests would reveal far different statistics and lineages). However, the most common follow-up questions to this are “Do you speak Italian?” and “Have you been to Italy?”
Baladin’s Sidro hails from the Baladin Brewery in Piozzo (Cuneo) Italy, which makes this my first Italian cider. It was crafted in the French-Belgian style, which gave it a glorious deep amber color, very mild effervescence, and a crisp, clear flavor. The aroma was floral and inviting, but not as in your face as many of the American ciders I’ve had recently. It feels odd to say, but the cider that this most reminded me of was the canned cider produced and distributed by IKEA (I mean this in the best way possible. It happens to be one of my favorite non-alcoholic ciders).
I was expecting this to be similar to the Spanish Sidro style, which was much more flat and cloudy, requiring it to be poured from an increased altitude. This had its own effervescence, and only a mild amount of particulate. This one had been in the queue for years, and I think it was certainly worth the wait.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8.5/10
Pomegranates are a weird fruit. The first time I had a pomegranate, I must have been 15 or 16, and while I had heard of them, I had assumed it was just a fruit that you juiced (the POM juice had recently made its debut in those oddly-shaped bottles). I picked one up at the grocery store and decided to see what all the fuss was about. The inside of a pomegranate is like an alien landscape, with hundreds of almost iridescent red seeds clinging to stalks of what looked like a strange form of coral. It was a far cry from the experience of cutting into an apple.
Hailing from Onalaska, Wisconsin (a short drive from where I purchased the cider), Sandbar Cider’s Pomegranate is made by Lost Island Wine. Much like a wine, the cider has an incredibly fragrant aroma, this particular one saturated with berry notes. At the first sip, the flavor is bursting with the twin fruits, each very well represented. The pomegranate and apple complement one another very well, resulting in a balanced cider that is sweet, but in a natural way rather than tasting like it has been overloaded with a mound of sugar.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of purchasing local ciders. I’m not positive I would have found this Sandbar had I not been visiting friends in Wisconsin. I would encourage you to partake in ciders local to your area. There is the possibility of a treasure such as this one being hidden near you (and if you find yourself in the LaCrosse area of Wisconsin, check this one out).
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10
For as long as I can remember, I have always liked spicy foods. The typical midwestern palate is completely bland and unexciting to me. Many of my friends with Scandinavian heritage absolutely disdain spiciness in foods, and I simply cannot imagine living like that. The one thing I do not care for in spicy food (other than the times where it is obnoxiously spicy to the point of obscuring the flavor) is talking about it. Talking about spicy food inevitably tailspins into discussing the quality of the burn, which I find repetitive and uninteresting. I just like eating it.
Seattle Cider’s Three Pepper cider marks not only the second Seattle Cider I’ve sampled, but also the second cider I’ve had that classifies itself as “spicy.” According to the label, the three titular peppers in the cider are habanero, jalapeño, and poblano, which make for a tasty mix. Poblanos not being a terribly spicy pepper definitely helps balance the spice level, leaving room in the palate to actually taste the quintet of apples that form the backbone of the cider. The aroma of the cider stings the nostrils such that it alludes to a much spicier cider than it lets on. Overall, the Three Pepper is a very well-balanced pepper cider that isn’t just spicy for the sake of being spicy.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 8.5/10
As the weather has begun to turn, we are no longer able to keep our basil plant out on our deck. It has remained there all summer, soaking up as much sunlight as it pleased, hydrating itself from the frequent summer rains. Now that it is inside, however, it has begun to shrivel, the leaves beginning to blacken. Only three feet of movement, and our beloved basil plant has descended from vibrant livelihood to what appears to be the brink of death. We are doing all we can to keep it alive, but anything we do will be a change from the summer full of picking fresh basil at our leisure.
I will be blunt: Cider Brothers’ Dry cider was kinda boring. From the slightly acidic introduction to the somewhat dry finish, there was nothing about this cider that jumped out as particularly interesting. Though it did have a floral, somewhat herbal aroma, this was not enough to carry this particular beverage. I even made sure to serve it at the proper temperature to make sure all of the flavors were activated. I wasn’t quite sure what the “Pacific Coast” was indicating, but the color of the cider was almost as clear as water.
I can appreciate a cider that isn’t too busy, or trying to hard to do something ultra-unique. A good sessionable cider is a staple, but it has to have at least some quality that invites you to try it again. This quality was something I did not find present. It didn’t need quite the zest of basil, but it at least needed something. Looking at the Cider Brothers’ website, they have a number of interesting-sounding ciders (some of them award-winning, including this one). I’ll have to give them a try to see if they can redeem the bland experience I had with their Dry Hard Apple.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 5/10
I’m not very good at pinball. I have fairly decent hand-eye coordination from playing videogames as a kid/teenager/last week. There is just something about the combination of pressure from getting so few chances per quarter, the timing of when to hit the flipper, and the unpredictability of where that ball will end up that just makes me buckle. However, at a barcade with cider in hand (but mostly in the convenient cupholders on the pinball machine), it actually ended up being a pretty good time.
Mackjac’s Black Currant Passion comes all the way from New York, just like the friends who were visiting and prompted going to this very barcade. The BCP is one of the most fragrant ciders I’ve tasted to date; it was overflowing with the herbal aroma of passionfruit. Having not ever eaten a black currant on its own, I don’t have much to compare to for that part of the flavor profile. The passionfruit however was very present and complemented the apples and the rest of the cider very well. The beautiful amber cider was a lively, spritely drink, and I’m very happy that I now know of a location that has it on tap.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9.5/10
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