Hard apple cider, Ikea wineglasses, galvanized counter top, bare bulb light because that’s all we have until the delivered-in-damaged-condition lights are replaced by the vendor. What’s three months of waiting when there’s Samuel Smith cider in the man-frig?
In the not-to-distant past, Torrey, Utah produced apples. Hence Apple Days, the Big Apple pavilion, etc. So it stands to reason that we might successfully grow some apples at Stray Arrow. My research on apples has led far afield from the six familiar grocery store varieties to those specifically cultivated for hard cider. Thorough research necessarily involves some tasting of the final product.
The Utah package stores actually stock a small but well-edited selection of ciders. We’ve tried them all, which mostly turn out to be the Gallos or Budweisers of the American and English cider production. The one artisanal bottling that makes it to Utah is Wandering Aengus’ Bloom, which is a sweeter style. I knew there had to be more to the brewcraft.
Our friend Jamie lives in Corvallis and sympathized with our plight. And Jamie is one of those folks that, if something needs doing, it gets done in large gestures. Here’s the photo of his locally-available ciders. There’s English, there’s French. Flights of four varieties from three different brewers. Even some perry, which is hard cider made from pears, and apple dessert wine.
We haven’t tried them all yet, only about 10 at a dinner organized with some friends for a tasting. I wasted a reasonable amount of my youth tasting wines in northern California, and the foggy, happy memories of the exquisite sensory delights had obscured the recollection that I also drank a lot of swill in those tasting rooms. At a newly opened winery, you’d hope one in six was had merit. Between the taster’s preferences and educated (or not) palette and the vintner’s skill, it was a treasure hunt to find the good stuff. I suspect much has changed in the California wine country as the industry has matured. This was a long time ago, but I’m guessing reflects a pattern in other regions when the industry as a whole is rapidly developing and lots of new people are trying their hand.
It was the third bottle that we pronounced undrinkable that triggered the memory exactly what the swill buckets on the winery counter were for. At least we didn’t have an expectant cider-maker chattering about how great the bottling was as we dumped it. Our tasters knew a lot about beer and wine but were cider novices. They know bitter beer and dry Riesling. They weren’t expecting sweet cider (American-speak for unfermented juice). We discovered the pleasures of a well-balanced bittersharp style. And how sugar could mask a lot of flaws. But when one commented that “this one smells like urine,” we moved on.
Halfway through the tasting, we opened a bottle of Samuel Smith Organic Cider as a benchmark. It’s reliable, and not too challenging, a fair comparison for the others. Winners that night were Aspall; Duche de Longueville’s Antoinette, a French cider made from a single kind of apple, Carry Nation from Carlton Cyderworks.
Since that night, we have traveled to Seattle and discovered a charming bottling, the Natural Hard Cider offering by Crispin Cider Company from Minneapolis, which went great with our bistro-style dinner. And just last night we cracked open an excellent bottle of Weston’s Stowford Export Cider to go with some pan-grilled steelhead trout.
Now that we have established that 1) good artisanal hard cider is more than a theory, and 2) we actually like to drink it, the next step is to figure out what apples to plant. And because we don’t plan to brew cider ourselves, we have some details to work out on getting from tree to bottle. Since it takes at least 4 years for the most precocious of trees to bear a full crop, we have some time to continue our research.
Have you got a cider to recommend? We are traveling to Virginia and upstate New York later this fall and are looking for more locally-produced ciders to taste. Drop a comment with links to your faves, won’t you?