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
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
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
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