Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Tuesday Tasting: Seven Ciders
Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we try seven different ciders.
Cider is a drink that has sustained farmers and rural residents for centuries. Relatively easy to make, it was also inexpensive -- traditionally made from windfall apples that might have otherwise been used for animal feed or left on the ground to rot. It also proved to be a cash crop, while solving the issue of shipping a difficult to transport and perishable crop.
In the United Kingdom and parts of France and Spain, cider is a strong category and has a loyal following. In the United States, cider has tagged along with craft beers during the last twenty years grabbing a tap here and a shelf facing there. Easy and pleasant to drink, it has a healthy image because it comes almost directly from the orchard.
Greg Failing, senior cidermaker at Woodchuck Draft Cider, has spent 20 years working with apples. He started making apple wines, then switched to cider when Woodchuck founder Joseph Cerniglia decided the category had a chance of developing in the U.S.
"Our customers are 60 percent female and 40 percent male," Failing says. "Our marketing is really word of mouth and people showing friends our product."
Woodchuck markets a range of ciders, ranging from Dark & Dry 802, which is less sweet and more tart to appeal to beer fans, to Granny Smith, which is fairly dry and is almost wine like. "I actually made the Woodchuck Amber to be as apple juice-like as possible. It is sweet and fresh, with some carbonation and alcohol," Failing says.
Magners is an imported cider from Ireland that national sales manager Mark Woodard calls "an historic alternative to beer." He says that where wine coolers and flavored malternatives come and go, cider has been around for centuries.
"It still amazes me when I go to a food show that people don't know what hard cider is," Woodard says. "Everyone has a story about a Grandfather on the family farm making a very strong cider. In reality that was likely more like an applejack than a cider."
Cider's continued growth since the 1990s means that more trial is taking place in the market, which is sure to generate more cider fans. The product range is growing a bit in the U.S., so people are now finding brands that better fit their personal tastes.
Even though cider has been around for centuries, this tasting of seven different varieties suggests the best may be yet to come.
Aspall Organic Suffolk Cyder: I had the chance to enjoy this brand at the World Beer Festival in Raleigh at a tasting conducted by Henry Chevallier Guild, whose family has been making cider in the United Kingdom for eight generations. This light colored cider has a nice level of sweetness at the start that is balanced by a good level of acidity. This would be an excellent summer cocktail party pour.
Harpoon Cider: Made from New England-grown apples, this cider is 4.8 percent alcohol by volume. This cider is a pale yellow color with a slight effervescence. Good level of acidity.
J.K.'s Orchard Gate Golden Scrumpy Hard Cider: Bruce Wright was nice enough to bring me a couple of bottles of this cider from the family-run organic orchard in Michigan. Cider has helped save the orchard, which has seen its juice business slashed by cheap imports. Cloudy, orange color it is 6.0 percent alcohol by volume and comes with a flavorful punch. More mouth feel and aroma than the other ciders in this tasting. The Northern Spies pressed for this cider give off a round sweetness. It is sort of the IPA of this tasting.
Magners Original Vintage Cider: This Irish cider has plenty of bubbles when it is poured, similar to a champagne, but it settles quickly. Light golden color with an apple peel aroma. Crisp and dry with 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. They use 17 varieties of apples in the blend of this cider.
Samuel Smith's Organic Cider: At first pour, this cider from the United Kingdom appears more beer-like than any of the others tasted. The head on this one hangs around a bit. Bright gold color, it is 5.0 percent alcohol by volume. The aroma has floral notes, while the flavor is overall crisp and fresh.
Woodchuck Granny Smith Draft Cider: If it were not for the carbonation you might think you were drinking a sauvignon blanc. This Vermont cider is 5.0% alcohol by volume and has a crisp, tart flavor that matches well with food.
Wyder's Dry Apple Cider: This Canadian cider pours bubbly, but quickly settles. There is a hint of fruit in the aroma. At 5 percent alcohol by volume, it is very smooth. Nice level of acidity to balance the sweetness.