West County Cider Tasting with Peter Hoover

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Host Peter Hoover

The Finger Lakes Cider House is usually full of customers tasting during the weekend. But on a dark Tuesday night in November, a group of local cider makers gathered there around a long table to taste a collection of ciders from  West County Ciders in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  Hosted by home cider maker Peter Hoover,  the tasting consisted of 15 ciders from West County, many purchased by Peter at a recent sell-off of their older vintages. The tasting was a unique opportunity to taste some older vintages and ponder how the different varieties held up over time. It was also a wonderful experience to taste so many ciders by a single producer and to notice similar taste notes throughout.

But in addition to thinking about the ciders themselves, I’ve also been thinking on how and why sensory learning happens, and how differently the sense of taste is experienced by different individuals.

There are a variety of wonderful blogs devoted to assessing the taste of ciders . These do a great service to the industry, but it has never been my intention in this blog to review ciders (see the links page for some suggestions on blogs that do this well and consistently). I’m interested, however, in the ways that a “review” of a cider is a distillation of a social experience: trying to communicate a most ephemeral personal sensation that may be widely differentiated in quality and character between individuals. We don’t all taste in the same way. How can we talk about it? It’s one reason that social tastings like these are crucial to the education of a cider maker. Discussion of taste is key.  It’s not just that one’s taste experience can be influenced by suggestion, or that one can become proficient, honing the sense with practice (though this is true).  More than that, other people may be more sensitive to something you are less able to experience. They may highlight tastes or smells you might disregard or pass over. Sometimes, to taste is to listen.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find tasting difficult not only to explain, but even to experience consciously. Learning to taste is a process that often seems to slip through whatever neurons fire between tongue and brain, difficult to pinpoint in the transfer, because it is less on the tongue than in the mind, and usually trapped inside another memory.  It is a very delicate and fragile construction of sensory associations, one that must be rebuilt to consider each new drink, isolating the sensations, repeating them often enough to recognize distinct notes.

However, I tend think more in constellations of associations, rather than isolations of sensation. Often, a taste takes me back to moment where I experienced that sense before. Recently a friend handed me a liqueur, and I said: it tastes like the library. I can pick out the individual notes (leather, lemon, liquorice) that define that smell, but the library is a more interesting descriptor for me, personally. I think of my favourite library, the Birks Religious Studies Library at McGill University, where the bearded librarian sewed bookbindings behind his desk, everyone left their shoes at the door to preserve the delicate parquet wood floor, and the desk lamps became little islands of soft light in the early dark of Montreal winter.

Sometimes, a taste does not register for me at all.  Saffron, exquisite and expensive as it is, does not induce any sensation for me. I am dependent on the descriptions of my friend to appreciate its wonders. It makes me appreciate how much I need to cultivate other people, and other experiences, to experience taste.

I’ve sat around many barns and cellars and conferences while people taste ciders and wines and beers and let taste descriptions roll of their tongues in equal measure to the beverages rolling in. The degree to which people can disagree on taste is perhaps one of the social blessings built into the enjoyment of craft beverages, for it allows people to talk longer, enjoy each other’s company more (one hopes).  It generally extends the occasion of drinking by at least a factor of three and allows all kinds of other nuggets of information to emerge: such as the fact that Tremletts Bitter in America is not the same as the variety in England.  Ian Merwin explained this to us as we sipped the West County Tremletts, that the resident tree at the Geneva station must have been misidentified at some early stage, the error only recognized years later by a visiting scientist from Bulmers.

Tasting is never just about tasting, really. And while a descriptive analysis of cider is always useful, especially for the gastronome, the ways in which it the experience of taste are tied to memory, physiology, sociability, and other kinds of knowledge, make it far more complex than a list of tasting notes could ever describe.

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Winner by consensus: A Roxbury Russet Cider

At the tasting of West County ciders, there were certainly many points of departure in describing the tastes, though almost everyone settled in some agreement on the favourite of the night: A Roxbury Russet cider with a blend of 25% Golden Russet, 25% Esopus Spitzenburg, and 50% Roxbury Russet.   In addition, several people noted an overall caramel flavour that pervaded several of the ciders, with speculation that it could be either the result of pasteurization or oxidation. Though few of the sparkling ciders had maintained much fizz, there were several of the older bottles with a surprising freshness and brightness of taste.

 

The following is the List of Ciders we tasted, with cursory notes that reflect a mixture of my own and other people’s comments (though I didn’t record all comments). Dates and blends were not known for all ciders.

But most importantly, the company was excellent, there was much cheese, I learned quite a bit about these apples, and I listened with abandon to the tastes everyone else was experiencing.

The West County Ciders

  • 2003 Baldwin: Beeswax aroma, fruity, light, fresh, in very good shape for its age
  • 2008 Tremletts: Caramel, with some acid (perhaps acetic), very smooth textured.  The nose was more interesting than the taste.
  • 2010 Reine de Pomme: blended with Redfield and other varieties; tannin on the nose and in the texture; taste a bit flat
  • Reine de Pomme 50%, Redfield 10% Roxburry Russet 10%, Calville Blanc 30%: More tannins that the first Reine de Pomme.  Nice finish Carmel nose
  • Heritage: Blend of Dabinett, Baldwin, Geneva Yarlington Mill; cloudy, bottle conditions, Granny smith aroma, clean, tart, champagne
  • Ashmeads Kernal (pre 2010): Slight malolactic mouthfeel; bright flowery perfume, bit of brett, flavor slightly off no some
  • 2010 Pippin: Pippin Varieties (?) Carmel aroma
  • 2011 Bramleys Seedling: 70% Bramley, 30% Redfield; Carmel aroma, not as acidic as one would have imagined for a Bramley, soft, perhaps a malo-lactic fermentation
  • 2014 Redfield: Redfield 70%, Golden Delicious 25%; A group favorite, nice a dic, cherry aroma and flavor
  • Cidre Doux: Blend of Cox, Yarlington Mill, Ellis Bitter, Baldwin.  Soft, not high acid, bubblegum, thin but bitter (not a group favorite)
  • Belle de Bosko0p: with some Esopus Spitzenburg; Tart, green apple, slight carmel, balanced and bright
  • Cidre de Garde: in a french/spanish farmhouse style: very acidic, very funky, perhaps brett
  • Roxbury Russet 50%, Golden Russet 25%, Spitzenburh 25%: A group favorite, very floral nose, almost woody or oaky, very rich, round complex flavor
  • Dorothy’s Rosebushes: Reine de Pomme, Ashmeads Kernal, Geneva Tremletts: Fresh clear, aroma, rich, round taste, balanced acid notes
  • MacIntosh: blended with Golden Delicious: A pleasant surprise! Slightly buttery nose

 – Maria Kennedy, with thanks to Peter Hoover for the invitation and some editorial additions.

Cheese Meditation Minute

11329750_10105723696852489_1755273131859855966_nI was drinking a cider and admiring a cheese.   And then I had some cheese thoughts that my friends seemed to enjoy.  Following this, I decided that the cider blog should definitely have a Cheese Meditation Minute every so often.  Because really, what is  cider without a good cheese?  The men of Compost Heap know this well.

As I was waiting for a train in Grand Central Station, I wandered into the Grand Central Market, where the Murray’s Cheese booth beckoned to me with its tempting artful piles of sculpted dairy.  My train ticket was to Beacon, a little town on the Hudson, and thus the name on a small round of cheese caught my eye: The Hudson Flower, a sheep’s milk cheese made by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.  Its rind was covered in hop flowers and rosemary, and I decided it would be coming home with me.  It seemed appropriate to pair a flower-covered cheese with my spring blossom pilgrimage.  Also, it was my birthday.  Some people have night cheese.  I have birthday cheese.

A train ride, a long drive, and a few days later, I finally unwrapped this beauty in the company of a bottle of Good Life Cazenovia Hard Cider and a pot of New York wildflower honey.  A perfect trifecta of New York made delicacies.

But the tastes of this cheese initiated a cascade of cheese memories.  Did you think cheese could have this effect on a person?  Now I am thinking of other herb encrusted, flower pressed cheeses that have crossed my path. One is the Hereford Hop, made by Charles Martell, who has preserved and reintroduced many heritage agriculture products of his Gloucestershire region on the west side of the Severn River, including heritage breeds of cattle, cheese, apples, and pears.  The Hereford Hop became one of my favorite cheeses when I lived in Herefordshire.  Hops were a traditional crop for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Herefordshire.  Toasted and pressed into the rind, they added a strangely robust nutty floral taste to the hearty cheddar-like cheese.  I purchased it for my farewell party when I left the UK – I think I wanted the memories of farewell to mingle with the taste of Hereford Hop, washed down with bottle-conditioned Dabinette from Mike’s cellar.  I still think about it in moments of gastronomic anglophile reverie.

The other cheese that rose to my mind was the Juliana by Capriole, a goat’s milk cheese made with rosemary and herbs in the rind.  This is very similar to the Hudson Flower itself, but the Capriole was a little more sharp, with a goaty kick.  The Capriole is made in Southern Indiana, and I used to buy it at the Bloomington Farmer’s Market as a special treat.  Once, I visited the farm and creamery down in the rolling countryside north of the Ohio River.  I was always proud to know the Hoosier state I called home could produce such a cheese. Three cheeses, covered in herbs and flowers, made near three beautiful rivers, in three places close to my heart.  Now that feels worthy of a satisfied sigh of creamery nostalgia for a breezy May day. This has been your Cheese Meditation Minute with Maria.  Good Evening, and Bon Fromage!

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

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.

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.

NY Cider Week: Northern Spy Cider Dinner 2013

After our invigorating and intellectually stimulating tipple at Proletariat with Aaron Burr Cider, Challey and I proceeded on our way to the Northern Spy Cider Dinner.  I will spare you descriptions and simply post the link to the menu paired with ciders from Eve’s Cidery, Farnum Hill, and Eden Ice Cider.  I think we had quite animated conversations about New York and food culture, facilitated by the generous and samplings just prior.  And the food was superb.  I wish I could afford to eat and drink like this all the time.

New York Cider Stuff! – A taste of things to come

Finding Lots to share on the blog this week!  Here’s another interesting piece on a New York cider maker, stolen from the NY Cider Week feed.  I am really looking forward to going to New York Cider Week and will report back on my adventures there, so stay tuned.  It happened to coincide with a trip to Rhode Island for an academic conference – thus FATE strikes again, bringing me into another exciting cider happening. Enjoy the links!

Article on Aaron Burr Cider:

http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/10/andy-brennan-best-cider-producer.html

NY Cider Week page:

http://www.ciderweekny.com/

Rare Variety Cider Tasting with John Teiser

Kate, John Teiser, Maria
Kate, John Teiser, Maria

Possibly one of the most interesting, lovely, and helpful people I have met during my cider travels has been the incomparable John Teiser, producer of Springherne Cider.  John introduced me to Broome Farm and has helped in many ways to set me on the path of cider and perry.  John is one of the true scholars of cider and perry, a man who goes searching through archival records of Bulmers farm plantings while also driving and walking through the countryside in search of old orchards and rare trees.

John is also, however, an amazing producer, not only for the quality of his ciders and perrys, but also because of his meticulous experimentation with rare fruit varieties.  John invited me and Kate Garthwaite, another former Broome Farm apprentice who now produces her own Left Field Cider in British Columbia, Canada, accompanied by Mike and Phil from Broome Farm, to come over to his cider house on the side of hill overlooking the Wye Valley to taste some rare variety ciders.

Most modern cider orchards produce vast quantities of a few varieties (Dabinette, Michelin) that have proven to be good annual producers (avoiding bi-annual variation of crops common to many apples), and which have disease resistance and good growth habits, as well as good cider qualities.  However, there are many rarer varieties, which for various reasons didn’t make it into our current system of production.  Often, these are found in old orchards, and even if no one can remember them anymore, they can be identified through a combination of comparison with documented variety characteristics and – if they exist – planting records from Bulmers contracts for orchards planted in their schemes.  It’s a bit of cider detective work.

John Teiser, however, has been using apples from a very interesting old orchard – one which was an early trial bush orchard in the 1930s for Bulmers.  Here, bush tree cultivation was trialled on many varieties which never made it out into the agricultural system and some of which only survive now, in England, in this particular orchard.  The ciders we sampled with John were made from some of these trees.

John Teiser in his Orchard
John Teiser in his Orchard

The ciders were, for the most part, all bittersweets, and many were French varieties.  Some of the highlights included the Collington Big Bitters, which Mike recalled as also being called the Mincemeat apple.   The Damelot had a very light and floral fragrant taste.   My personal favorite was the St. Laurent, which John tells us looks almost as dark as Guinness when it is pressed.  Not only did this cider have the tannic qualities of a bittersweet, it also had a rich body, with a hint of nuttiness and butteriness.  John also poured for us what he believes is the actual Hagloe Crab (a rare tree of disputed identity and provenance). Another fascinating taste experience was a Medaille D’Or, which was the most astringent tannic cider I have ever tasted.  I couldn’t imagine drinking more than a sip.  John handed it to us and said – this is one of the ones you wonder  – why did anyone ever plant this?  But John theorized that these very tannic French varieties might have been desirable to maintain tannin in the drink through the keeving process, which often precipitates much of the tannin along with the yeast, leaving a much sweeter drink.  It was certainly an educational tasting moment, if not the most enjoyable one.  (Stay tuned for a more accurate list of variety names – I forgot my notebook and was overcome by flavors and sunshine).

Many thanks to John Teiser for a really amazing afternoon of tasting, blessed by the sun, and overlooking his young plantation of rare cider trees.  May these rare varieties continue to be propagated, pressed, and poured into glasses for many years to come.  Thanks also to Mike for being our driver and Phil for….being Phil – always the best of company.