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
The summer of 2016 was a summer that my fiancée and I will always remember as a deluge of matrimony. Collectively, she and I attended six weddings within a four month period. Though they are some of the happiest days of the newlywed’s life, weddings can unfortunately be a reminder that not everyone is given the gift of public address. And when following a particularly adroit toast, an underwhelming speech can leave you feeling like more could have been done. Obviously in the long run, it’s not something that matters. The wedding is still an enjoyable celebration (unless there are six of them in four months and you run out of joy), and a lackluster speech doesn’t have to leave a lasting impression.
The latest in their seasonal series, Angry Orchard’s Tapped Maple is exactly what it sounds like: a maple-flavored cider. Maple is one of those flavors that very easily evokes sense memories, such as the warmth and smell of a waffle fresh out of the iron. Unfortunately, the sense memory that this maple cider evoked was that of the watered down maple syrup served with french toast sticks at school lunches. Sure, it tasted like maple syrup, but once you’ve had the good stuff there’s really no going back. The maple flavor was present in the cider, but the taste only made me feel like they could have done more with it.
On the whole, I found this cider to be underwhelming. The aroma was middling. The balance was definitely apple-forward with a weak backup of maple notes. The sweetness wasn’t over the top, but did linger a bit, as you can imagine would be the case with this flavor profile. I had high hopes for a maple cider, but I was left feeling unfulfilled.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 4/10
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 debuted in theaters recently, and it was quite the hoot. With action, adventure, comedy, and some great cameos, it’s no surprise that it has quickly climbed to the number one spot in the box office. But what’s more, with its comedic timing, one-liners, and the ability of any one of the characters to crack a joke at any given moment, this movie epitomized the thought that has been in the back of movie-goers’ minds for years now: Marvel movies can get away with anything.
The cider notebook I’ve been using to record my recent samplings has a category to denote spice. I couldn’t imagine what a cider that maxed out that category would taste like, but now I have a pretty clear idea. The Sociable Burn Out is what I would classify as a “sipping cider,” not because of the high alcohol content, but because it is spicy as hell. I enjoy a good spicy beverage like a Bloody Mary every now and again, but it certainly threw me for a loop coming from a drink that I didn’t directly observe hot sauce being added to.
This cider is truly a wild ride. From the strong cucumber aroma to the sharp habanero flavor that shoots up the back of your nostrils, the Burn Out is a test for almost all of the senses. Once it comes into focus, the apples balance with the peppers rather nicely, resulting in a cider unlike any other. Of all the added flavors for ciders, I certainly would never have thought to put cucumber and habanero with apple, but somehow Sociable totally got away with it.
The Ciderman’s Rating: 9/10
The thing about birds is that they often flock together. Since Sapsucker Farms has only three different varieties, all of which are available at 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.
Days 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
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:
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