Cockrell Hard Ciders – Devil ‘N Cider

Also featuring my hard-won Geeks Who Drink prize glass.

Also featuring my hard-won Geeks Who Drink prize glass.

I picked up a bottle of Devil ‘N Cider from Cockrell Hard Ciders from a recent trip to Schilling Cider house. I’ve never seen anything from this company on shelves before, and the idea of raspberry habanero cider sounded pretty interesting. To sum things up: there is literally nothing about this cider that is subtle or mild.

Let’s start with the aroma: it’s a faceful of aggressive floral fruity raspberry. It hit me from feet away. If I concentrate, I can pick up a little of the habanero, but the fruit is more or less completely dominant. It’s also a dramatic-looking reddish-orange, very clear and very still.

The flavor is equally powerful, on the other side of the flavor see-saw: it burns. It burns in my mouth and it burns down my throat and I can even feel it burning in my stomach. I get nothing but the burn, too — if there are cider notes or even raspberry to be found in the flavor, I don’t get them.

So, clearly this cider is not my cup of tea (both literally and figuratively). That said, I look forward to trying other offerings from Cockrell. They’re a local outfit, right down in Puyallup, so at some point I hope to swing by their tasting room which just opened up in December. If you’re in the area, you can also visit, or find them at a few stores in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

Aaron Burr Cidery – Hemlock Apple



There are three fundamental truths you need to know about Aaron Burr Cidery’s 2013 Hemlock Apple:

Number one — Only 60 cases of this cider were made, back in 2013. There’s not much of it left on shelves, and for what’s left you’ll pay a pretty penny.

Number two — It pours a cloudy amber and the aroma that wafts up from it is green and medicinal. Keep chilled, but let it warm up a little from the refrigerator to unfurl its flavors.

Number three — It’s dry, with a sharpness and bitterness from the hemlock & spruce needles used in its making. There’s both a woody aspect to the flavor and a hint of evergreen, sharp and biting, and the medicinal smell carries through to the flavor as well. There’s maple syrup in it, supposedly, but I can’t pick it out.

I don’t doubt this could be paired well with specific meals, but it could also turn out to be a truly unfortunate accompaniment for others. It’s distinctive, and the profile would be jarring combined with a meal that had, for example, too many sweet notes.

Of course I picked up this cider because of the recent popularity of the musical Hamilton. I saw it on the shelf and had to try it. It wasn’t until I looked up the Aaron Burr Cidery for this review that I found out it actually puts out a variety of small batches of cider and perry every year. A lot of them look interesting, so I’m hoping Schilling Cider House, where I picked up this bottle, will get stock from them regularly.

I encourage you to pick up cider from the Aaron Burr Cidery if you come across it — I hope you’ll be satisfied.

Jester & Judge – American Apple

Jester & Judge, American Apple

Even the label design is nice. Look at that. So stylish. Such charming bottle copy.

Sometimes you’ve gotta get back to basics. As happy as I am that there’s such a diverse variety of cider flavors out there, it’s also good to have a healthy population of just…regular old hard apple cider. Jester & Judge’s American Apple is exactly that.

Coming in at 5.8% ABV, it has a slight fresh aroma of apples and pours a clear golden amber.

The flavor is a careful, perfect balance between sweet and dry, between too much flavor and a hollow lack of it, between too much acidity and too little.

Seriously, it’s Goldilocks the apple cider. I love it.

If there’s anything to criticize about it, it’s that it’s pretty flat — I’d have liked it to be a little fizzier. But that’s hardly the kind of thing to keep me from drinking a cider, and not only have I gone back to my local QFC for it repeatedly, I’ve recommended it to others as a really solid cider.

Jester & Judge’s website is sparse — I guess they’re still pretty new — but when I saw they have an image of a “Marion Perry” label I clapped my hands to my face and gasped in delight. That sounds amazing and I’m excited for it. No idea where you can find Jester & Judge other than at QFC in Seattle, but I definitely recommend looking for it.

Naramata – Dry Pear

Naramata Dry Pear

Naramata Dry Pear

This cider came down from BC, courtesy of my counterpart Andrea and our meetup at Welcome to Night Vale’s Halloween tour stop in Vancouver.

It’s a pale straw yellow, 6% ABV, and very fizzy. From the fizz and the enormous head it poured, I’m guessing it must have been fermented with champagne yeast.

The aroma is light, and a little cool in the way I think of pears as smelling and tasting somewhat cool. It’s distinct from the smell of a dry apple-based cider — Naramata used only pears in this cider, not a mix of pears and apples as some do.

It is, as advertised, quite a dry cider, but the pear flavor still comes through, alongside with some woody elements. The dryness and carbonation combine to make it taste almost spicy, but not in a bad way. I bet it would actually be a good accompaniment to a spicy meal.

In the past I’ve had dry perry that I really didn’t like (Sea Cider), and I think the difference in this case is the that the pear-ness of it isn’t getting dried into nonexistence.

Good luck getting your hands on any Naramata cider in the States, but if you’re in the Lower Mainland or Okanagan areas of BC, you might be able to find it. I might have to make the trip up north to try out some of their other stuff.

Tieton Cider Works – Spice Route

Tieton Cider Works' Spice Route

Check out that classy label design. Looks great, right?

Though I haven’t made anything close to an exhaustive effort trying out seasonal ciders this fall and winter, I did pick up this one from Tieton, partly because it’s been a long time (almost a year!) since I’ve reviewed one of theirs and I felt bad.

To be honest, it really helps that they revamped their packaging and have great all-new bottle art now. Any cider is more appealing when it doesn’t look like the label’s been designed in PowerPoint. (Also, the Spice Route label in particular reminds me of the Allspice tree from Glitch, which is a pleasant, if nostalgic, association.)

Spice Route is clear and golden, with a light aroma that’s part clove and allspice, part dry, funky apples, and clocks in at 6.9% ABV.

It was apparently launched as a seasonal offering but has been so popular Tieton moved it into their regular lineup — upon drinking it, I can understand both halves of that statement. During a time of year when everyone and their dog is releasing some variant on pumpkin spice (with or without the actual pumpkin), Tieton did a decent job of evoking similarities without keeping theirs from blending in too much.

It could be the allspice, which I think doesn’t actually make it into a fair number of pumpkin/holiday spice blends. Whatever it is, Spice Route comes out with character but without smashing an overpowering mess of spices into the drinker’s face. It’s the kind of thing that would go well with holiday meals.

If you’d like to try Spice Route, you can find Tieton in a number of US states, as well as British Columbia, or you can give them a call during normal business hours.

Elemental Cider – NW Atomic Root Beer

Elemental Cider - NW Atomic Root Beer

Elemental Cider’s NW Atomic Root Beer

We’ve returned! Bad Rider has been on a bit of a hiatus through the fall, but getting back into the swing of things was high on my list of plans for 2016. I’ve got some interesting ciders in the fridge, ready and waiting for reviews, though we’ll be cutting back to a once-weekly schedule for beer and cider rather than our previous twice-weekly.

Buying another root beer cider could have gone poorly, and in hindsight, if I knew what was good for me I’d have been more hesitant about picking it up.

Here we are, though, with Elemental Cider’s “NW Atomic Root Beer” cider, which they’re billing as cider “infused with spices,” and in this case, living in eternal hope paid off: I quite like it!

It’s rich in color, a dark amber orange, and the aroma is present and sweet, with classic root beer spices and vanilla.

Overall it gives a much more distinct, robust impression of root beer than Sonoma’s Washboard — understandable, since it’s right there in the name and everything. In fact, there’s very little apple to it; the cider seems to be mainly a carrier for the spice/vanilla root beer flavor, with just a bit of apple flavor and sweetness underneath it.

In my day I’ve had both good and bad root beer liqueurs (Blackmaker and DeKuyper, respectively), and this cider is more the former than the latter. Clocking in at 6.5% ABV, it’s certainly much more drinkable on its own than either.

Elemental doesn’t have a store locator or anything, but if you’re in the Seattle are you can go visit them, or check out Downtown Spirits, which is where I get a lot of my cider.

Left Field Cider – Cidermaker’s Select “Bourbon Barrel”

Left Field "Bourbon Barrel" Cidermaker's Select

Left Field “Bourbon Barrel” Cidermaker’s Select

I’m going into this “Bourbon Barrel” limited release from Left Field somewhat blind, as it’s not described on their website or the bottle (beyond some info about the Cidermaker’s Select series in general). I gathered from Left Field’s Facebook that it’s fermented in bourbon barrels, but have no idea about age or anything else really.

Much like the Pear Dry, it pours a very pale, clear yellow. I feel pretty safe in saying that if you like one thing they’ve made, you’re likely to enjoy the rest of their catalog.

The aroma is mainly apples, mainly tart — I’m guessing cider apples, not so many dessert apples — with some drier, almost papery notes and a touch of funk likely coming in from the bourbon barrels.

While drinking this and trying to formulate a review, I went back over some of the other ciders I’ve tagged as “barrel-aged,” and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s a very diverse category. You’ve got your Prohibitions, intense in flavor and color, and then you’ve got your Oaked Maples which come out a little weird, but not so definitively asserting “this came from a barrel.”

Left Field is more the latter than the former — it tastes different than a non-barrel-aged cider, but not in a drastic way. It’s pretty dry, crisp, and acidic, and the aftertaste gets a slight bit woody.

In hindsight I should have held on to the other Left Field ciders I had to do a comparison tasting. Some cideries’ offerings tend to have a certain familial resemblance, while others vary wildly; Left Field seems to be one of the former. From what I can recall, I would say this comes out closest to their English Dry variety.

All in all it’s not bad but I prefer their Pear Dry, or the Big/Little Dry. The bourbon-barrel fermentation just doesn’t add that much (unless, I guess, you’re into very subtle taste variations). Still, again — if you like one of their ciders you’ll probably like others.

Angry Orchard – Summer Honey

RIP Elderflower Cider

RIP Elderflower Cider


My love for Angry Orchard’s Elderflower seasonal release is well-documented here on Bad Rider, so it should come as no surprise that anticipation of its return was a major part of my excitement for the 2015 summer seasonals to start appearing.


Rather than bring back last year’s practically-perfect-in-every-way seasonal release, Angry Orchard decided to mix things up and release something different this summer.

Something boring.

Their “Summer Honey” seasonal isn’t terrible. It’s fairly generic, tasting very much like Angry Orchard’s regular offerings, with some slight honey notes to the aroma and taste. In fact, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like ciders with more powerful honey influence, you may still find it worth your time to give this one a try, as it’s quite mild.

That said: it’s no Elderflower cider, that’s for sure. You may as well be drinking regular Angry Orchard, or better yet, something local from a small cidery.

Want to try it? Find it wherever you usually find Angry Orchard. Me, I’ll be over here sulking with a Crispin and a dash of St. Germain to fill the Elderflower-shaped hole in my heart.

Left Field Cider – Pear Dry

Left Field Cider Co - Pear Dry

Earlier this summer, my Bad Rider partner in crime Andrea came down to visit and brought some cider from BC’s Left Field Cider Company for me to try.

Most of it, alas, I drank without reviewing, but I’ve saved their award-winning Pear Dry and their “Bourbon Barrel” Cidermaker’s Select because I wanted to be sure to get reviews written for them. Today I’m covering the Pear Dry.

(I will say of their Big Dry and Little Dry that they were not nearly as dry as I was expecting — both very nice, drinkable and crisp.)

The Pear Dry has a distinct pear aroma, sweet and light — not surprising given it’s a 100% pear cider, not an apple/pear mix or an apple cider flavored with pear after fermentation. It’s clear light yellow in color and clocks in at 6% ABV.

I can see why this cider has won awards. It’s got an interesting flavor — definitely pear-y, crisp, and quite surprisingly tart. It does come in more on the dry side than the sweet side (though like the Big Dry and Little Dry, it’s not as dry as one might expect), and there’s an aspect of juiciness to the flavor that I don’t usually associate with dry ciders.

This cider could be a really nice complement to the right meal, or a pleasant drink to have on its own. If you find yourself in BC or Alberta and can get your hands on some Left Field, I recommend giving them a try.

The Sour Sessions

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

There are good beers, there are OK beers, and then there are the beers that are so interesting, so different, so jolt-your-tastebuds that you’re wandering around a barbecue at 6 p.m., shoving your pint under everyone’s nose, demanding “try this.”

Right now, Parallel 49 Brewing Co.‘s sour beer lineup manages to encompass all three.

Even in the variable world of craft beer, sours are strange beasts.

Usually fermented with wild yeasts and special bacteria, and sometimes aged for a year or more to develop flavours, these brews can push the limit on what even a reasonable widely-drunk craft beer fan might have encountered in the liquor stores and pubs of Kamloops.

Depending on the beer, a sour can offer the same lip-smacking sensation sour mix brings to a cocktail — minus the heavy sugar and dish-soap fake lemon.

Parallel 49, out of Victoria, is going heavy on the sours this sumer. So far, I’ve picked up three locally. And, to play into all the beer snob cliches, they seem to get better the more specialized and limited they are.

Apricotopus (6.3 per cent ABV) describes itself as a sour saison with apricots, and that’s kind of what it tastes like — in that it’s kind of fruity, kind of wheat-y and kind of tart. While it’s crisp and refreshing thanks to souring bacteria, it’s the least memorable.

More interesting is the Sour White Ale (7.5 per cent ABV) out of the brewery’s barrel-aged series, which seems like the perfect beer to buy the avowed wine drinker in your life.

Aged in Chardonnay barrels, this wild-yeasted beer’s got the richer mouthfeel of wine, a bit of oak and a note of not-quite-ripe pear.

There’s a funkiness here you won’t find in wine (something that’s apparently common with sours), not to mention more carbonation, but drinking it felt like crossing the line into sommelier territory.

Different still from both of these is the brewery’s third anniversary offering, Lil Redemption (6.7 per cent ABV), a sour cherry beer that lives up to its description.

This beer pours nearly opaque red, with inches of lacing on the glass. It’s got a taste to match, pulpy with the flavour of sour cherries and with a gorgeous earthiness courtesy of its wild yeast. Yet, a good amount of carbonation kept it from feeling overwhelmingly heavy.

According to Parallel 49, this one spent two years in Cabernet barrels before the cherries were blended in. While I didn’t pick that up at all in drinking (I’m really not a wine person), the sheer amount of care and time paid off in one of the most complex, interesting sips of the summer.