The Big Apple of Colborne, Ontario – Taking a Bite Out of the 401



IMG_2685Anyone who’s ever suffered through the mind-numbing stop-and-go traffic (14 whole lanes of it!) crawling through Toronto on the 401 Highway will probably also have driven by this delightful roadside apple sculpture as they head east towards Montreal.  Towering over the highway, The Big Apple beckons weary travellers to stop at this temple of of a pie factory and refresh their spirits after the several circles of traffic hell they’ve been through in Toronto.

It is located in Ontario’s apple region on the shores of the great lake.  We’ve been driving past since I was a child, but now it’s bigger than ever – there’s even put-put and an animal adventure area!  Since the 401 is one of the most boring highways ever, it draws surprisingly big crowds on a summer weekend, eager for any excuse to get out of the car.

No cider yet, but their website promises the addition of the 401 Cider Brewery.  Stay tuned Ontario drivers, you might be able to get a cider along with your pie soon.  Just don’t get back on the road if you’ve enjoyed it too much.  There are enough wrecks on the 401 already.

Posted in Canada, North America, Northeast | 1 Comment

Cider on the Prairie

IMG_2624I decided to pay a visit to a place very close to my heart: Conner Prairie Living History Museum, where I worked for about five summers during college. I had not been back in many years, and I was excited to find, in addition to familiar memories of my first experiences in orchards, some pleasing new connections to cider and wine.

Just north of Indianapolis, this museum has several recreated historic areas depicting the development of European settlement in the state of Indiana during the nineteenth century: an 1816 Lenape Trading Post, an 1836 Prairietown village and a Civil War era farm.  I spent a lot of time here wearing excessive amounts of clothing  while doing period cooking over an open fire, and it was here that I first fell in love with historic agriculture and cookery.

Though there are many historic and reconstructed buildings in the museum, the only building original to the property is the 1820s farmhouse built by William Conner – fur trader, settler, farmer, and entrepreneur – which overlooks an agriculturally advantageous horse-shoe bend of the White River.

I’ve always loved houses of this period: the high ceilings and large windows let in so much light and air.  Even on a hot day, they are flung open, allowing the outdoor and indoor worlds to co-mingle.  The kitchens, based around a hearth and a worktable, have room to move in – theatres in the round of culinary action, based around moving bodies instead of appliances.  And there is nothing so alive as an open hearth, where cooking is a matter of well-honed instinct for the smell of baking (or burning) bread, and a sense of temperature according to the skin, rather than a thermometer.

One of the things I loved about working there was the effect it had on the senses.   There are many criticisms to be levelled at living history museums – that they tidy up the past into a theme-park fantasy, focus too much on white rural settler narratives at the expense of other American experiences, and create awkward scenarios for visitor interaction.  But I still believe in their fundamental purpose of introducing history as something that can be partially experienced through the body.  The trick is in moving the experience beyond simple fantasy to sympathy, where one’s bodily, sensory grasp of the material conditions of the past inspires a more personal interior understanding of another individual’s possible experience.  To walk in another person’s shoes, to cook at another person’s hearth.  To press apples the way it was done in 1836.  Sympathy is, I believe, a profoundly democratic aspiration, and a morally and socially complex approach to history.

Spending a good portion of the day working in an un-electrified environment with no running water slows down the pace of life immensely.   Sometimes, during a few slow hours, I would just watch shadows creep across the floor.  It profoundly changed my sense of light, colour, and visual perception.

IMG_2657Occasionaly on my lunch break, I walked through the old neglected orchard on the back end of the property, in an area that was at that time off-limits to visitors.  The apples, a golden yellow variety named “Early Transparent” which ripen in July, would fall to the ground and begin to rot, making the humid air thick with the perfume of pulp fermenting in the searing Indiana sun.  Since the museum’s expansions in recent years, it has been cleaned up, the old decrepit trees removed.  Currently, only a few remain, but even these produce enough for the possibility of cider-making.

I played a number of characters in the historic village, each with varying degrees of museum-sanctioned, historically accurate biography, and a lot of material improvised during the everyday interactions of museum staff, where the lines between history, theatre, and everyday life were sometimes ephemeral and shifting.   I often mused on the possible inner lives of the fictional characters I portrayed in short poems, including this one , about a young woman living on a new farm at the edge of the wilderness, dreaming of an orchard in the more settled, cultivated life she had left back east.  Settlers on the frontier are usually portrayed as looking confidently forward, into the wilderness in the American Myth. But so much of the transformation of that frontier was created by looking backwards.  The space on the zone of transformation, between forest and orchard, must have been fraught with  excitement, regret, and trepidation.

IMG_2586I was excited to find that one of my old co-workers, who had started as a teen volunteer when I worked there, was now a full time staff member who seems to be influencing things in favour or historic beer, wine, and cider making!  Witness this project in progress at the carpentry shop, a cider press apparently constructed after a historic design.  I’ve not seen one like this before, so I am keen to find out more about it.

She had success last year with elderberry wine.  The berries on the bush outside the barn look promising, and bottles labeled “Elderberry” sit temptingly on the shelves of the tavern room in the reconstructed Golden Eagle Inn in the 1836 village.

I hope to be able to report back about the progress of cider making at Conner Prairie later in the fall, especially regarding the historical research they are drawing on to portray cider making in nineteenth century Indiana.

Posted in Apple Varieties, History, Landscapes, Midwest, North America, Orchards | Leave a comment

Elderflower Detour

IMG_2498 June in Indiana is the time to gather Elderflowers, though almost no one does, except me.    Some folks here are familiar with the elderberry as an edible fruit for pies or cordials, but floral tastes are not something that seem to be part of the culinary canon here in the midwest.  I certainly had never heard of elderflower at all until my first trip to England in 2004, and then it was a revelation.

The task that still haunts my memory most vividly from Old Chapel Farm near Llanidloes, Wales, where I spent a month as a WWOOF volunteer and have returned to many times since, was gathering elderflowers and making wine.  Home wine-making, canning, or preserving were not part of my suburban childhood.  My mother valiantly tried to introduce us to gardening on our summer holidays, but it never stuck.  I came to love it much later, in my own time.  But she did always lovingly tend the flowers by the front door and kept houseplants thriving through the winter.  Green things always seemed natural companions in our home, more like silent green pets than objects of toil.

At Old Chapel, we trudged up and down the valley in search of elderflower bushes.  They always seemed to love ditches and stream beds best, and you would find yourself reaching  out precariously over some muddy bank to pick the large lacy flower heads.

IMG_2478Here in Indiana, I had no idea when elderflower would bloom in our much warmer climate, nor even if and where it might grow here.  I was lucky to get advice from a few of my local foraging friends.  It turns out the elderflower still blooms in June.  And it still loves ditches and roadsides and fence lines.  I found one bush just down an alley near my house.  A friend took me for a drive along the winding hilly roads north of Bloomington, where we spotted several enormous bushes.  The jury is still out on whether these will produce as fragrant a flavour as the elder in England.  I believe these bushes are a slightly different species.  The flower heads are enormous, and the fragrance dimmer.

The English love affair with Elderflower is something I wish I could translate here.  In the brewery room of the barn at Old Chapel, dozens of glass demi-johns filled with home-made wine lined the walls.  Plum, Elderflower, Apple, Rice Wine, Tea Wine.  The air was alive with the smell of yeast.  A honey extractor stood on the back table.  Empty jars overflowed from a bin, waiting to be filled with jams and preserves.  To me, this room was the most magical room I could imagine.  I would sneak inside just to look at the rows bottles refracting sunlight through the muted jewel tones of the fermenting liquids.

For the cider maker, as one of my friends described it, making elderflower wine is a good distraction in the early summer when next season’s cider making is still several months away.  This was certainly true for my friends in the Marches Cyder Circle, in North Herefordshire, who invited me to an Elderflower Champagne party, where everyone brought their fizzy versions of the brew.  Prizes went to both the best tasting drink and the bottle that shot the cork highest in the air.

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I don’t recall ever seeing a commercial elderflower wine.  Elderflower pressé, cordial, jam, etc, was of course available everywhere in Britain.  But the wine seemed to be something reserved for home-making.  I’ve often wondered why?  Is it too difficult to mass-produce?  Is it unpalatable for all but the staunch traditionalist?

In June 2012, while I was living in Shropshire and Herefordshire, I met Keith Pybus, a local walker, maker of jams and preserves, and an enthusiast of the elderflower’s culinary history.  He helped host an elderflower event with Grow, Cook, Share, a local gardening and cooking initiative.  Among the delights was an elderflower cheesecake or Sambocade, adapted from a medieval recipe.

IMG_2525To eat a flower always seems rather strange and indulgent – feasting on delicate aromas and textures that have not had the chance to fill out into the juicy, satisfying substantiality of fruit.  To eat a flower is almost to consume an idea of fruit, the logic of its imminent architecture in the flower’s shape, the soul of the plant hovering in its fragrance.  I always tend to see the world through hyper-poetic glasses, but isn’t eating a flower savage and elegant all at once?  And to drink a flower, to make it into wine: that borders on the magical.

Below is a photograph of the recipe I copied into my journal in June of 2004 at Old Chapel Farm, on which I based my recipe this year, 10 years later.  It’s a little off, but a good record of my personal history of elderflower and a fair starting point for a recipe.  5 lbs of sugar should really be 5 kilos (roughly 12 lbs).  This time, I used more flower heads to ensure the floral tIMG_2527aste, as well as a splosh of black tea for tannin.  And I used a commercial wine yeast suited to delicate floral flavors.  After fermenting in the brew bucket for about two weeks, I transferred it to the glass carboy with an airlock, and I can report that it is still bubbling slowly several weeks later.  Next year, in June, we’ll hopefully be drinking it!

 

Posted in Elderflower, Landscapes, North America, UK | 1 Comment

Relegated to the Burn Pile

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately due to some heavy dissertation writing, rewriting, and career hand-wringing.  Many paragraphs have been relegated to the burn pile.  Grafting new ideas onto old roots.  Trying not to get swept away by some new theoretical position.

Cider is always on the mind, though, and I’ve been in on several conversations lately that hinge on the market capacity for craft breweries, cider, wine, and spirits.  Speaking with some of my marketing friends, it sounds like keeping on top of the next big thing is increasingly fast-paced: new social media platforms to populate, new trends to mastermind.  One day, it’s cider, the next, it’s craft distilleries.  A colleague of mine with a more optimistic attitude is hoping to open another brewery here and is pretty sure that there’s more than enough space in the market, while another friend is convinced cider is the way to go now.  And still a third thinks both are way behind the curve and the craft distilleries are the wave of the future.

It makes me wonder how fast trends are coming and going, and what incentive there is to get into the very long-term and labor intensive work of growing apples and grapes?  I muck in on a part time basis at the vineyard here, and the losses from this past winter’s brutal cold are forcing the vineyard crew to pull some pretty long days dealing with the vine maintenance and replanting.  It makes conversation about the ever-changing winds of market trends feel positively inane when you are cutting down vines in the early summer and contemplating the months of tying, training, shoot selection, and the years of re-growth before you get another harvest.

For me, the long term patience, and the care and cultivation that go into orchards and vineyards are what contribute to the magic of cider and wine.  The importance and pleasure of the drink is not just in the taste – though that is certainly important – but in the mind, in the story of the place where that grape or that apple grew.  The patience of wine and cider is something that appeals to my own personal sense of just being tuned into time and place and labor, where human stories and natural environments collide in agricultural artistry.

I see a parallel with organic or sustainably grown food, and my distaste for marketing that promotes it as a consumer choice for personal health or better taste.  The importance of that enterprise is not increased nutrition, health, or taste – though of course these things are important too – but the  knowledge that the food was grown and cared for in a way that was sensitive to the long term health of the environment and the economic and social sustainability of local communities engaged in this work.

I know good marketing is important for the success of a business and its ability to devote itself to the long-term care of its resources (trees, workers, community, as well as dollars).  I still think that cider, in order to be viable in the long term, and not just another market trend or rising drinks category, needs to communicate its identity in a way that emphasizes its heritage, its sustainable environmental impact, and its connection to agricultural families, businesses, and communities.  In order to do justice to the years of cultivation and care it takes to grow an apple, we need a message that can transcend the marketed, trending moment and put roots down for years to come.  I’m more convinced than ever, after dragging dead grape vines to a burn pile and planting tender new ones for the future, that we need to be able to communicate the heritage, labor, and patience of cider orchards in the same way that the wine industry does for its vineyards and grapes.

Well, after that little missive, I’ve got to get back to the dissertation and the dirt.

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Posted in Landscapes, North America, Orchards, Vineyards | 3 Comments

Cider Con 2014 – (Re)Learning to Taste

IMG_0354There are so many things to discuss about Cider Con 2014, but I want to start off by talking about tasting.  It makes me think of the movie Playing by Heart from the nineties that started off with a character saying “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture”.  It’s so hard to talk about tastes and smells – trying to translate a sensory experience into words.  Of all the senses, smell and taste are so intimately linked with memory that talking about them is like translating a whole language of memories, each one intimately connected to other memories.  And personal memories are just the beginning of talking about whole cultural vocabularies of taste and smell.

I remember tasting cider at the Barrels Pub in IMG_0355Hereford with the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, and as we were describing the grassy scent of freshly cut hay, I wondered, how can anyone who has never stood in a hayfield, looking at all the wildflowers, and the birds, and smelling the earthy musty smell of dirt, have any idea what to call that aroma trapped inside a glass of cider? So how do we come up with a vocabulary for taste and smell?

The Sensory Analysis Workshop on Wednesday at Cider Con is one method of establishing some common sensory terms, while simultaneously linking them to the underlying chemistry of fermentation.  By starting with a reference cider and doctoring samples with various chemical additives that represent possible outcomes of fermentation chemistry, we were able to compare this with the reference cider to identify certain scents and tastes that might occur as a result of production processes.  These included diacetyl, the compound responsible for buttery flavours, which results from malolactic fermentations, as well as sulphurs, phenolics, and acids.  Charles and Gary, who led the workshop, told me that they developed it as a way to train judges for the Great Lakes Cider Association competition, so that they would have a common understanding of how to evaluate ciders for off-flavours and faults.

When I experienced this workshop last year, I was really confounded by it.  My days of tasting small batch barrels in the barn to determine a good blend had never included discussions of phenolics.  Nor had my experience ever included complex chemical approaches to fermentation.  So this sensory analysis approach kind of floored me last year.  This year, however, I found it a really interesting tool.  This kind of tasting vocabulary helps create a specific kind of palette – one that understands the chemistry of fermentation.  It does not speak about apple varieties, or terroirs, or cultures of cider, or personal memories.  It should be understood in that light.

Palettes and vocabularies of taste are created in many different ways, and it is interesting that the American palette, at least in this specific instance, is being informed around a vocabulary of fermentation chemistry. (See the end of this post for a rundown of the sensory analysis workshop in detail).

Session Tasting: Eden Ice Cider

Session Tasting: Eden Ice Cider

The whole conference, however, was a multitude of tasting opportunities.  In between sessions, tables in the lobby would fill up as individual cider makers brought out bottles of their products to share with professional contacts and passers by.  Sessions on ice cider, mixology, and cheese pairing provided opportunities for guided tasting and creative uses of products.  And of course, as we spilled out into the bars and restaurants of Chicago, the tasting went on.  I ended up in a hotel room with a handful of folks sampling Spanish ciders imported by Ciders of Spain. I tasted some ciders from several west coast cider makers that were made using fruit flavour additives that were a little too strong for my taste, but were interesting experiments in a diversifying marketplace.

Cider Summit Chicago

Cider Summit Chicago

And the giant Cider Summit Chicago on Saturday was an exercise in stamina as the crowds and noise assaulted your other senses.  Since I was pouring at the event rather than tasting, I found many customers weren’t sure what they wanted, or what kind of tastes were available.  They were floundering from vendor to vendor, trying to identify what tastes were available, and what appealed to them. It made me realize that among the many factors in trying to create an identity for cider in the United States, is the need to create a vocabulary of taste that consumers can understand and relate to.  I doubt this will be a vocabulary of fermentation chemistry.  Nor have I heard a vocabulary of apple varieties bubbling to the surface.  It is, in a way, a golden opportunity for marketing directors to work some creative magic in a relative void of terminology.  The time is right to ask, how will Americans talk about the tastes of cider?

Finally, on the way home, I stopped in to see an old friend who had asked if I could give my opinion on his first batch of cider.  A home-brewer, he had decided to try a batch of cider, and purchased the juice from Great Fermentations in Indianapolis.  I, in turn, brought a bottle of Ross on Wye cider for him to taste.  For a first try, his ciders were really nice – clean, fruity, light, bottle fermented. Just a hint of yeasty aroma on the nose was a little overpowering.  Tasting Ross on Wye next to it, with its complex tannins, was a really great comparison between the results of a quick fermentation of eating apples and a long slow fermentation of cider apples.  Both are great in their own way, and sitting at his kitchen table talking about taste at the end of my week at Cider Con brought into focus the variety and nuance of flavours, texture, and aromas we have to work with in cider, and the dynamic ways we can imagine to talk about taste.

Here are my notes from the Sensory Analysis Workshop.  The sample is given, followed by the sensory reactions of the audience.  Bulleted underneath are the chemical additives and explanations of the effects they have on the cider. 

Sensory Analysis with Charles McGonegal and Gary Awdey from the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Association

Reference Cider  – ‘New World Cider’ by Gary Awdey, dessert and culinary blend.

  • 5.5% ABV ph 3.64, 330 mg / L gallic acid equivalents.  Back-sweetened to 2% RS with AJC

Taste – what you have tastebuds for: sweet sour bitter  + Mouthfeel: body, viscosity

Sample 1 – reference cider

Sample 2 – more sweet, more acid, thin, less complex, less mouthfeel, drier

  • increased acidity by 1gram per litre – with malic acid -Tastes thinner because malic acid cuts the body or viscosity of alcohol

Sample 3 –sweeter, smoother, thinner, less body

  • brought down the CO2 levels – lower CO2 levels

Sample 4 – sweeter, hotter, bitter

  • added alcohol: 1% ABV increase

Sample 5 – more acid, more mouthfeel

  • ½% spike in sugar (sucrose) – sugar contributes viscosity and body.

Sample 6 – lower carbonation, citrusy, bitter

  • bitter addition 10% quinine

Sample 7 – thinner, smoother, tannic, astringent, lower alcohol

  • polyphenols (chlonrogenic acid, pholidzen Epicatechinp, procyanidin)– bitterness and astringency (makes it taste less acid)

Aroma and Flavor

Sample A1 – nail polish

  • ethyl acetate – < 50ppm indistinctly fruity, may be a positive attribute; 50-150ppm slightly sour, solventy; >150 ppm harsh sour, reminiscent of nail polish remover.
    • A component of vinegar.  Usual in small amounts.  Especially in young cider or Spanish cider. Often seen in wild fermentations.

Sample A2 – fresh, appley

  • Acetaldehyde – sensed as grassy taste, raw apple skins, bruised apples, green apples.  At higher levels it may be a sign of cider sickness (framboise)  Reminiscent of banana peel or rotten lemon.  Produced from zymomonas infection.  Resistant to sulfite treatment.  Stopped by ph less than 3.7 and lack of fructose.  French ciders particularly susceptible

Sample A3 – bandaid, blue cheese

  • Fruity esters, acetates (isoamly acetate – banana flavouring) Amly acetate
  • Fruity acetates produced by yeasts during fermentation.  May affect your choice of yeasts.  Several yeasts are offered by various suppliers to enhance this character.  Acetates added as ‘natural flavor’ blur the lines between cider as a craft product and a food production

SampleA4 – smells like butter and popcorn

  • Diacetyl
  • Sensed as buttery, artificial butter flavour, butterscotch
  • .2-.4 ppm may round out flavour in some ciders but no consensus on desirability
  • greater than that (especially above 1ppm) it becomes a clear detractor

Sample A5 – smoke, band-aid, burnt tires, peaty, scotch

  • phenolics –the 4 E combo: 4 ethyl phenol (plastic bandaints, mothballs), 4 ethyl catechol (barnyard horsey), 4 ethyl guiaicol (smoky ham, clove, spicy)
  • produced by lactobacillus, legal caveat: it is starting to be more apparent which bacilli produce more desirable results.  However the only bacteria currently approved by the TTb for MLF in wine is oenecoccus oeni
  • present in eating and cooking acid as well as the bitters.  But the bitters – phenols are suppressed – not the same qualities. tannins suppress the brett

(Mouse sample not used this year  but discussed – is PH dependent.  So it can wait in your mouth for a change of ph to express itself.    You may find that it expresses with certain foods)

Sample A6 – Metallic, high sulphur

  • sulphur

SampleA7 – body odour, cat urine, socks

  • cocktail of two sulfides: diethyl di sulfide – rotting garlic and rubber
  • also cat urine, or blackcurrant
Posted in Cider Con, Events, North America, Tasting | 2 Comments

Cider Con 2014 – Michigan Cider Bus Tour

Cider Con 2014 left the gate this year in the form of a bus tour to Virtue Cider and Vander Mill Cider in Michigan.  Two coaches full of Cider Con attendees set off, rounding the snowy southern tip of Lake Michigan, one heading for Virtue, one heading for Vander Mill.  I wish I could say we studied the landscape along the way, but most of my bus seemed buzzing with the conversations of eager cider colleagues new and old.  I was delighted to find myself in the gregarious and entertaining company of Neil Worley of Worley’s Cider, Somerset, who brought me back to the folk roots of English craft cider making.   And I had a lovely chat with Kristen Jordan from Sea Cider, about organic methods and the ways we communicate values of many kinds to our customers.  In the midst of lots of folks embarking on a frenzy of entrepreneurial American spirit facilitated by well-considered business plans, it was also really encouraging to chat with Neil and Kristen about approaches to cider making that are experimental, seasonal, and local to their particular apples, soils, climates, materials, and communities.

I’d never thought about how slow the learning curve on cider making is, until Neil described the limitations of seasonal production, where you only get the chance to practice your craft once a year. It makes you realize that the road to becoming a really good cider maker is a long one, characterized by the slow patience of seasons that spread out across the other changing arcs of one’s personal and social life.

The need to consider cider as a business first rather than as a craft, a hobby, or an art form, sometimes necessitates a cautiousness in production that can leave little room for intimate experimentation with materials and ideas and processes that lead to the distinctiveness and uniqueness of a truly craft cider.  It’s a balance – a trade off between art and business.  How much do you want to try and control processes and materials to achieve an imaginary desired, saleable product?  Or do you let the unique properties of your apples and environment direct how you respond and innovate your production?

But enough of such philosophical musings when there are tanks to envy and admire.  Upon our arrival at Virtue Cider’s headquarters in Michigan, we all strolled into the timber framed barns and stared wide-eyed at the beautiful facilities while sampling Virtue’s ciders.  My personal favorite was the Percheron, a French-style ‘cidre fermier’ which was innoculated with brett in the mysterious quarantined brett barn on the other side of the property.  I also liked the fresh, fruity character of the Cidre Nouveau, a young cider made in homage to the tradition of young Beaujolais nouveau wine.  But the farmyard full bodied character of the Percheron reminded me of what I liked best about some English farmhouse ciders – full of robust flavors, even a little bit of funk.

But let’s not forget about the tank envy folks.  Walking into the tank barn was a bit like passing over into another realm, descending below ground where these stainless steel beauties bathe in the cool even temperatures of the earth in which this bathtub of concrete rests.  Even I, someone who is not heavily into the production side of the business, was impressed by the elegance of this facility.

So we boarded the bus and went on our way to Vander Mill. It was a very warm and homey welcome we found there, complete with delicious donuts to accompany an impressive range of ciders with added flavours such as blueberry, pecan, and hibiscus.  My favorite was the cider called the Loving Cup, the peppercorn and hibiscus flavoured cider on draft. The pecan flavoured cider was actually really interesting – almost like eating a pecan pie.

I wish I could be more descriptive, but at this point in our journey the Virtue ciders had been filtering through our brain cells, and the keg at the front of the bus had been tapped.  It was a long trip through Michigan in a bus full of cider in a snowstorm.  But it was a damn good time.

Posted in Cider Con, Events, Midwest, Tasting | 2 Comments

Our Own Midwest Wassail

I hosted a very modified wassail for about 15 of my friends here in Indiana.  No orchards, no bonfires, unfortunately, but as it was only about 15 degrees F, I think we were happy to stay inside.  But I got out the stash of cider I have been collecting and hoarding for a celebratory tasting.  I was really excited by all the questions my friends asked about cider!  It made me realize that even amongst my friends, who listen to me rattle on about it endlessly, there was a severe lack of information about cider.  It was not something they knew much about, beyond Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, and Strongbow.  We have lots of market education work to do cider community!

We did a geographical tour of Britain / France, the Northwest, the Northeast, and closed with a couple from the Midwest.  Here’s the line-up of emptied bottles:

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From across the pond, we started out with the commercial giant Strongbow*, moved onto the Virtue/Oliver collaboration Goldrush*, jumped the channel over to Normandy for Etienne Dupont Organic 2011*.  I then broke out a John Teiser special – a single variety Damelot cider as an example of a very tannic French variety.  Then we jumped back to England for a taste of Perry – the Holmer from Ross on Wye.  People generally really loved these ciders, with the exception of the Damelot, which was unsurprisingly palette challenging.  Special appreciation went to the Gold Rush – which surprised people with its  complex tannin, and to the Ross on Wye Holmer Perry, which was of course delightful and a new taste for most.

IMG_2402Next, we headed to the Northwest Coast of North America – two from British Columbia and two from Oregon.  We began with 2 Towns Ciderhouse Nice and Naughty from Oregon, which was a bit perplexing.  I think we weren’t quite sure about the spiced flavor.  Perhaps we just weren’t in the right holiday mood for it.  We then moved on to the Left Field Cider Big Dry from BC.  Some folks found the aroma a bit challenging.  I had tried the Little Dry while back in BC, and I believe I preferred that cider’s cleaner, more fruit forward taste.  We then opened the Sea Cider Pippins from BC, to which almost everyone responded with exclamations of enthusiasm.  One person said if they didn’t know it was cider, they would have assumed it was wine.  A very complex rich flavor.  Finally, the Wandering Aengus Wanderlust* from Oregon, which we found very simple and straightforward, which split the field between those who liked a more straightforward flavor and those who liked something more complex.

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Then onto the Northeast.  We began with Farnum Hill from New Hampshire, moved onto Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider from New York, and finished with Aaron Burr Homestead Apple from New York.  All were well liked, and my wine-distributor friend noted that they all improved with a bit of breathing.  The flavors in these three seemed to develop gradually, both with a little time in the glass and a little time on the tongue – first seeming quite simple and then unfolding on the palette.

IMG_2400And then we came back to the midwest with two ciders from Michigan for a sweet finish.  First the J.K’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic* and then the Zombie Killer*.  Both ciders were quite sweet – and after a tasting full of dry ciders, response was mixed.  Many found these much too sweet, but the Zombie Killer – actually a Honey, Cherry Apple Cyser, was very interesting – something I can imagine sipping over ice on a hot summer day.

Thus finished our wassail!  It was a really great way to pass on the Gospel of Cider to friends and foodies in my neighborhood.  My cupboards might be a bit bare at the moment, but it was much more enjoyable to share these lovely ciders and enjoy them with other enthusiastic tasters.  Hopefully, I’ll collect some more at Cider Con 2014 next month.

*Asterix indicates ciders which were available at a retail outlet in Bloomington, IN.  All other ciders were acquired by me and lugged home in a suitcase from some travel adventure.

Posted in Events, Midwest, North America, Tasting | Leave a comment