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
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
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:
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