Number 109: Starcut Ciders Immortal Jelly

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 Immortal Jellyof 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

Numbers 106-107: Woodchuck Semi-Dry & Seattle Semi-Sweet

SemisThis 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.SemiDry

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.

SemiSweet

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:

Semi-Dry: 5/10

Semi-Sweet: 7/10

Numbers 102-104: Keepsake Heartwood, Wood & Spirit, and Wild

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:

Keepsake Trio

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:

Heartwood: 9.5/10

Wood & Spirit: 8.5/10

Wild: 8/10

Number 97: Bold Rock

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.Bold Rock

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

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 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