Number 95 & 96: Sapsucker Farms Yellow Belly Barrel Aged & Ginger

The thing about birds is that they often flock together. Since Sapsucker Farms has only three different varieties, all of which are available Yellow Belly Barrel Agedat my local store, I felt compelled to sample the whole lot.

I began with the Barrel-Aged Yellow Belly, knowing that my preference for ginger would color my view of this cider. I have to say, I found this one rather uninteresting. It might be my palate, but I didn’t find much that separated this cider from the Semi-Sweet variety that I initially tried. Not only that, but I couldn’t taste anything barrel-aged at all. It was a fine cider, but there wasn’t really anything that made it stand out for me. I also found the presentation and color to be lacking. I’d think that a barrel-aged cider would grow dark and amber-colored, but this was one of the clearest ciders I’ve had in recent memory.

Yellow Belly GingerDays later, I moved on to the Ginger Yellow Belly. This one, I feel, is Sapsucker Farms’ strongest showing. I found it to have an excellent balance between ginger and apple flavor, if favoring the ginger slightly. This cider featured a spritely aroma and a very smooth finish. The Ginger was a cider that was exciting, yet very sessionable. This is not always the case with ginger ciders, as the flavor can grow tiresome on the palate.

Overall, I found the ginger to be the most enjoyable variety that Sapsucker Farms has to offer. I’m very happy that more and more cideries are cropping up in my area, even if it means more work for me. Minnesota, keep them coming!

The Ciderman’s Ratings:

Barrel Aged: 6/10

Ginger: 9/10

Number 94: Sapsucker Farms Yellow Belly

All of the blog posts wherein I take a moment to talk about my feelings and deepest-seated views on various alcohols have one thing in common: they are all about liquids. In this particular post, I am going to describe my view on something that I am surprised hasn’t come up before: birds. Although I find their forms majestic, their behavior and overall noise output have caused me to form this solid and unmoving opinion:yellowbelly-sapsucker

I hate birds. The are obnoxious, hollow-boned demons that poop everywhere, have no respect for circadian rhythms, and have no teeth.

Like a songbird’s cry piercing through my REM cycle, Sapsucker Farms’ Yellow Belly is lively and awakening. Quite possibly the most effervescent cider I’ve tried to date, a great portion of the Yellow Belly’s tasting comes from the sharp, acidic punch it delivers on the initial tasting. After that, the flavor smooths out into a lovely, semi-sweet taste.

When I first tried the Yellow Belly, little did I know, the temperature was much too cold. This flattened the flavor into something far less vibrant than its potential. After reading the cider’s reviews on their website, I had to go out to the liquor store to pick up another bottle to try this award-winning cider again. It’s not something I do often, but when I’m feeling nonplussed about a supposedly great cider, I try to figure out why that is. And I am very glad that I did.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 8.5/10

Number 93: Wyder’s Prickly Pineapple

I’m always eager to try new things, but occasionally, they can feel a little too far into uncharted territory. A friend recently recommended that the next time I make scrambled eggs to mix in some cottage cheese. As a rule, cottage cheese is something that repulses me. The smell, the semisolid texture, and I do not get along. However, I told him I would try it, and I’m a man of my word. As it turns out, it’s a pretty tasty combo.

wyders-prickly-pineappleCottage cheese and scrambled eggs are not a perfect analogy for pineapple and apple. Unlike cottage cheese, I am never one to turn down pineapple-flavored anything. I was hesitant, however, to procure a full 6-pack of Wyder’s Prickly Pineapple because I was not convinced that pineapple and apple could be blended in a way that wasn’t overpowering toward one flavor or the other.

I was wrong.

The pineapple is eager to jump out in front as the most prominent flavor, but once the cider settles into the palate, the apple comes out to reveal the careful balance between the two very different fruits. The aroma is far more tropical than most ciders, giving it a zesty, fresh quality. The cider is a little on the sweet side, but the balance and overall presentation makes this much more forgivable than for an average cider.

This is the first pineapple cider I’ve tried, and I have an Ace pineapple cider already lined up in the queue for the future, so I will be excited to compare the two.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 8/10

Number 92: Schilling Ascender

As a child, I did not understand the concept of the lazy river. Why, in a place filled with water slides and wave pools, would you ever want to just sit in an inner tube and do nothing? At a water park, the thrill-seeker in me wanted all the excitement and verticality that the lazy river was perfectly inept to offer.schilling-ascender

Going in to the Schilling Ascender, I had a number of expectations. The imagery on the can led me to believe that this was going to be a fairly carbonated cider with a crisp apple base and a clear ginger flavor that felt as invigorating as cold mountain air. What I found after pouring the cider from the can was considerably different.

In place of the bevy of bubbles I had expected, the cider was clouded with ginger particles floating lazily about. The flavor itself was yeastier than I imagined it would be, and the ginger, while present, was far less crisp than other ginger ciders on my list.

The aroma was pleasant, and the overall cider was an enjoyable albeit unexpected beverage. I definitely wouldn’t have marketed it with such an air of adventure. It was good in the way a lazy river is good, but definitely not in the same way as a water slide.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 5/10

Number 91: Michelob Ultra Light Cider

Those who know me know that I have a special love for bad movies. I have seen every installment of the Underworld, Twilight, Resident Evil, and Transformers franchises. There’s something that just tickles me about these stupid, formulaic movies that are designed for the sole purpose of selling tickets. I laugh hard at the bad exposition, the “acting,” the clunky dialogue: any part of the movie that wasn’t expressly made to be funny.michelob-light

It has been a truly long time since I’ve had a bad cider. Every time I write one of these reviews, I find myself thinking that if I’m giving every cider a 7 or above, is there any real relevance to the ratings? This Michelob cider was great because it assured me that I’m not just being generous with my ratings; the quality of ciders I’ve been drinking is just that high. This cider reassured me that my scale is, in fact, properly calibrated.

My god, was this cider bad.

I’m not sure what kind of apples Michelob used, or if they just poured two parts concentrated apple juice into 10 parts of just plain ol’ water. This cider was magnificently weak, with an empty flavor composition that leaves the drinker with the feeling of asking for something else to drink. The cider had an aroma of sweetness that absolutely did not carry through in the flavor, which had a lingering finish that tasted like a mixture of apple peels and regret.

I will also say that this is the first “light” cider I’ve had, or even seen. I didn’t think that regular hard cider was terribly heavy to begin with, but I really hope that light cider doesn’t catch on like light beer has. This cider had the same hollowness that I’ve encountered in other products labeled with “lite” or “diet,” and end up tasting like poor imitations of the real thing.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 2/10

Number 90: Crispin 15 Men

As a student of film, I find going to the theater an enjoyable, and often memorable experience. I say memorable because I can specifically recall seeing the original Pirates of the Caribbean no less than four times in the theater. Maybe it was because I was 13 and pirates were cool. Maybe it was because, despite the overabundance of sequels to come later, I found the plot intriguing. Maybe it was because it so perfectly captured the essence of olden-days pirate life. There was just something irresistible about that movie to me at that age.

The limited release Crispin’s 15 Men made for a hell of a ride. I knowcrispin-15-men that calling a cider complex is a bit of a crutch, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t. Between the apple flavor, the floral texture of the syrup, the fortification of the rum, this cider takes the palate to all corners of the earth. In keeping with my format, I should share my thoughts about rum at this point. However, in all honesty, I haven’t experienced rum in an impactful enough way as to form a hard opinion on it.

What I do know about rum is that it is a very smooth drink, and this smoothness carries over strongly in the 15 Men. At 6.9% alcohol, this cider is strong enough to pack a punch, but not so strong as to lay one out for the sea birds. Overall, Crispin has delivered yet again in one of the most finely crafted ciders I’ve had the pleasure of drinking in some time. If I ever find myself sitting on a dead man’s chest, I hope it’s yo ho ho and a bottle of this.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 9.5/10

Number 89: Ace Berry

I have a very good friend who is a botanist. Whenever we travel for an extended period of time, we will challenge one another mentally with games involving naming a certain number of items within a category. It is in this way that I learned that a strawberry is not a berry: the category was berry, I named strawberry, and he just shook his head and muttered “not a berry.” And who was I to argue with a botanist?

I’ll be honest: part of me was hoping thatace-berry this one would be blue, or at the very least purplish. That was probably just the ambiguous berry on the label trying to deceive me. The Ace Berry delivered quite the shock, as it was much more tart than the ciders I’ve been drinking lately. At first, it was almost too tart, but as I became more accustomed to it, I came to realize that it was accompanied by a softening sweetness that really rounded out the flavor.

One of the flavor categories in my Cider Journal is “berry” and I can tell you with confidence that it received full marks here. Though I couldn’t quite identify which berries (be they traditional berries or aggregate accessory berries like the strawberry) made up the mysterious berry flavor, it was rather tasty. Ace has yet to let me down.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 7/10

Number 88: Loon Juice Ginger Mojito

There are some things that at their face value just seem too big to pull off. The 2012 Avengers movie was one of these things. With a cast as star-studded as the movie had, it would have been easy to predict that the film would rely too much on simply including these big-name actors, and not so much on the writing, or the actual performances. Yet, the film retains a 91% on rottentomatoes. The story was fun, the performances were great, and everything that needed got just enough focus.loon-juice-ginger-mojito

It’s one thing to add a supplementary flavor like ginger to a cider, which is rather common and has historically been quite tasty. However, adding a whole mixed drink along with the ginger is another endeavor entirely. Picking up the can, one would think that surely, this is too many flavors for one drink to handle, and it will end up tasting like when a child mixes all of the available fountain drinks together. Wrong.

With the Ginger Mojito, Loon Juice masterfully balances their signature honeycrisp flavor with the ginger as well as the mint, rum, and lime flavors signature to the mojito. The cider does this effortlessly, resulting in one of the more unique blends of complexity and sessionability. If anyone was to casually pull off jamming an entire second beverage into their cider and making it taste as simple as ever, it would be the folks at Loon Juice.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10

Number 87: Schilling Mischief Maker

After childhood, it isn’t often that you get to try a new fruit. I had tasted pomegranate-flavored foods, but it took me until my early 20’s to actually cut open a pomegranate to see what the heck was going on in there. It was like an alien landscape: a fleshy reef which gave birth to clusters of juicy polyps. Pomegranates are weird, and eating them is rather work-intensive, but the juice is delicious.Mischief Maker

Schilling’s Mischief Maker is not weird. It it simply unique. I am always excited when a cider’s supplemental flavor is strong enough to affect the color, and as you can see from the photo, it is a gorgeous deep red. What’s even more interesting is that the combination of pomegranate and apple flavors yield an almost cranberry taste. The pomegranate leads on strong with a sharp tartness, and then the apple takes over leading to a smooth finish. Overall, the Mischief Maker is one of the more elegantly-crafted ciders I’ve tried in a while.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 9.5/10

Number 86: Original Sin Apricot

IMG_5890This cider begins not with the cider itself, but with a gift. A Christmas gift, in fact. Well, it was intended for Christmas but I ended up receiving it in July. So, close enough, right? The gift was a pocket-sized notebook made with cidermen like me in mind, specially crafted for keeping notes and recording thoughts about cider. It’s perfect.

The IMG_5889Original Sin Apricot is my first entry in the notebook, and I’m very glad that I had it. The different sections forced me to analyze harder and consider facets of the taste that probably would have otherwise escaped me. I generally note the fruitiness of a flavor, but this little plot in the corner breaks it down into sections. Suffice to say, this will be a very handy tool in the ciders to come.

Apricot is a subtle flavor as far as fruits go: neither berry, nor tropical. It pairs very well with apple, and leaves a soft, smooth finish. Having eaten an apricot at some point in my past, I would think it out of place if the flavor was too forward. It certainly works better as more of a complementary note than a full second flavor.Original Sin Apricot

Though you can’t tell easily because of the table, the color was a deeper gold than I would expect from such a light flavor. Overall, I was much more pleased with Original Sin’s Apricot than with their cherry variety. The flavors worked in much better concert, making for a very enjoyable cider.

The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10