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
Despite having now visited 31 of the 50 United States, I do not like to travel. People in my generation don’t just value travel: they seem to aspire to it. My newsfeed is constantly bombarded by vacation photos, yet they do not instill in me the sense of wanderlust that seems to have permeated my peers. I am much more like a hobbit in this regard; I am perfectly content to sit at home in comfortable, stationary bliss, surrounded by familiarity.
I recently trekked the 22 hours out to Williamsburg Virginia to attend a good friend’s wedding. I had one goal for this trip: acquire and drink a local cider. This goal was met the first night of our stay, because after spending that long in a car, I sure as hell needed a drink. The local cider on tap happened to be Bold Rock, which I had also seen at some of the gas stations along the way and had been curious to try.
Unfortunately, I would not say that the Bold Rock is a cider worth crossing half the country for. The aroma was pleasant enough, but the flavor left something to be desired. It may have been served too cold (which seems to be happening to me a lot lately), but nothing about the flavor was forward enough to be notable. The finish was clean enough, but this was just a very average, middle of the road cider. I did see that Bold Rock makes several varieties, which I’d be happy to sample as long as I don’t have to cross five states to get it (I may have mentioned before, but I don’t particularly care for travel).
The Ciderman’s Rating: 5/10
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
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.
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