Dragon’s Head – Manchurian, Pear, and Pippin Ciders

Dragon's Head "Manchurian Cider" & "Pippin Cider" Bottles

Dragon’s Head “Manchurian Cider” & “Pippin Cider” Bottles

In this review I’m covering three ciders at once because I can’t tell the difference between them and I feel like it would be cheating to post the same review three separate times with only minimal changes.

Okay, fine, it’s not entirely true that I can’t tell them apart at all — they’re a light, clear yellow-gold color with mild fizz, but when I hold them up to the light the Pear is slightly more yellow and the Manchurian slightly more gold. All three taste light and fairly dry but not bone-dry; the Pear’s a bit more sweet and mellow while the Manchurian has more bite, and the Pippin is slightly more tart.

If it were the case that these ciders all tasted incredible I might not be bothered by the fact that they’re nearly identical; as it is, none of them are objectionable, but neither do they stand out in particular.

I’ll be the first to admit here that this may all well come down to my own palate being insufficiently refined, but if I tasted one of the three at random from a glass, I wouldn’t for the life of me be able to guess which one it was. If it helps, I have high hopes that their fourth cider, the “Wild Fermented,” will stand out from the other three. I mean, it ought to, right?

The Manchurian is made from (surprise!) Manchurian Crabapples, the Pear is made from (quoth the bottle) “a blend of seedling and traditional perry pears,” and the Pippin (again – surprise!) from America’s cider apple darling the Newtown Pippin. The Manchurian and Pippin are 6.9% ABV, the Pear is 6.5%.

If you want to try one, I recommend the Pear, which comes in a bottle double the size of the Manchurian and Pippin at a couple dollars less than double the price. You can locate some Dragon’s Head for yourself here.

Oh Alberta

The Specs: Big Rock Brewing Co. (Calgary, AB) Cherry Bomber — Cherry Hefeweizen Ale
5 per cent ABV; 650mL; limited edition

Well, it only took a handful of reviews for Bad Rider’s beer side to mess up its mandate. Those of you who actually read the specs part of this post and pay much attention to the industry will note that Big Rock is not a B.C. brewery.

It’s not even a particularly small brewery — per Wikipedia it’s got more than 500 employees and is publicly traded — but the BCLC near my office was fairly devoid of fruit beers when I breezed through over the weekend and I’m not ready to give up this conceit quite yet, so here we are.

Believe you me, readers, of the bunch of us I’m the one paying the price.

I love hefeweizens, white beers, wheat beers of all stripes. And on that front, Cherry Bomber is utterly adequate: Not too heavy, smooth on the tongue and with a slight touch of sweetness. I wouldn’t say it distinguishes itself much, but it’s still better than many of the offerings on tap at your average commercial sports bar.

That being said I will be damned if I can taste any cherry flavour in it.

I’ve raised this complaint before, back when Fernie’s What the Huck was up for review, but this isn’t that situation. At least with Fernie there were licks of berry flavour around the edges — “a faint hint of Growers Orchard Berry Cider” in my uncharitable assessment.

This time, I got nothing.

As I made my way through the first few tastes of Cherry Bomber I thought I detected a certain cherry sweetness in the finish of my sips, a slight, fruity aftertaste.

But, by the time I’d finished half a glass of Cherry Bomber it was gone, never to return.

I can’t help but feel cheated. But that’s what I get for trying to cheat.

It wasn’t all bad news on the fruit beer drinking front this week, however, and since we’ve already strayed off course, let me recommend an American sip I had the pleasure of trying: Lost Coast Brewery’s Tangerine Wheat Ale.

Brewed in Eureka, California, this vivid orange beer had a taste that I can only describe as ‘Tang in a beer — but not what you’re thinking. Like, in a good way.’

It’s super refreshing and super bizarre, and absolutely a candidate for my weird beer hall of fame.

Square Mile – Spur & Vine

Square Mile "Spur & Vine" Bottle

Square Mile “Spur & Vine” Bottle

When stopping by a grocery store I don’t usually visit to grab a bottle of wine for a housewarming party, I stumbled across two bottles of Spur & Vine all by their lonesome, and thankfully there weren’t too many people around to hear my ensuing noise of delight. They were even the 650mL bottles I remembered from Cider Summit Seattle last fall.

Unlike The Original, Spur & Vine holds up to my memories — this is such an interesting and delicious cider. The whole reason I’ve become such an avid cider drinker is because I dislike the yeasty, hoppy, bitter taste of every beer I’ve ever met (all of them, yes, probably that one you’re thinking of too), but because of the dry-hopping process Square Mile uses, the cider doesn’t come out tasting particularly of hops at all. Instead, it’s gained a lovely floral aroma and a citrusy, slighty fruity taste, sweet enough that I wouldn’t describe it as dry, but with earthiness and a little tartness to balance it out.

Square Mile’s website says they add Galaxy hops to the same apples used for The Original (Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, and Jonagold), but if I hadn’t read that, I would have thought there were some bittersweet apples in the mix. All in all, a memorable cider and one I wish I could get my hands on more often — though now that I’ve found a store that carries it, perhaps I can.

Spur & Vine is a light, clear yellow, with a floral aroma and low fizz. It’s 6.7% ABV and can be purchased in 12oz or 22oz bottles.

A message to you, Frambozen


For some reason Frambozen only photographed colour-true on my oven. Go figure.

The Specs: Steamworks Brewery (Burnaby), Frambozen
650 mL; 7 per cent ABV; seasonal

Steamworks, I don’t know if it’s you or me, but this relationship isn’t working.

I like so much about you in theory. Your beautifully designed bottles, your intriguing and varied seasonal choices, but there’s always something… off. We don’t fit together, Steamworks. It’s not you, it’s me. Unless it’s you.

Frambozen, the company’s summer brew, is a pretty good case in point. Raspberry ale is an old standby for me — the first craft brew I ever drank, as a barely-legal 18 year old in Alberta.

With its gorgeous gemstone hue and a prominent, but not-overpowering berry scent, and less carbonation than some of the more commercial B.C. breweries (a plus to me — beers that fizz like soda wig me out a little), Frambozen seems like the ideal beer.

And it’s not bad. The raspberry is nice and centred in the sip, with a flavour that is recognizably found in nature. The beer is not too sweet, another death trap for berry beers.

But, like every Steamworks beer I’ve tried, this one has some odd, overly-assertive notes.

While the bitterness up front is fairly pleasant once you’re acclimated to the brew, the tart — no, sour finish of the beer never seems to get less jarring.

Even most of the way through the bottle, every sip ended with a jolt to the tastebuds. Though the fruit flavour in Frambozen is far, far superior, I couldn’t help but think of the Sour Puss Raspberry concoctions of my misspent youth, which finished with a similar zing.

I enjoy a challenging beer… to a point. But 650 mL of strong beer that keeps smacking me in the mouth is too much.

This is how I feel about every Steamworks beer, alas, whether it’s bitter notes in the wheat ale or soapy hops in the Pilsner. It’s just not meant to be.

Bottom line: If you like berry beer and want something to wake up your taste buds, this ought to do the trick.

As for Steamworks and me, it’s time we tried seeing other people.

Angry Orchard – ~*~ELDERFLOWER~*~

A bottle & glass of Angry Orchard Elderflower

A bottle & glass of Angry Orchard Elderflower

(Yeah, I’m a fan.)

Elderflower is Angry Orchard’s summer seasonal, and it’s pretty much exactly what you might imagine — cider that tastes like it’s been spiked with St. Germain (or other elderflower liqueur of your choice).

I have no idea how much either this cider or St. Germain tastes like actual elderflower, but on the other hand, I’m guessing neither do most other drinkers, so we’re all in this together. It’s fruity but more like mild citrus and pear than apples, flowery but not oppressively so, and even a little medicinal. It’s a complex flavor that lends itself as well to a cider as it does to any number of cocktails in the form of liqueur.

I drink a fair amount of Angry Orchard cider; having tried most of their catalog at this point, this is hands down my favorite. Like their other varieties, it’s quite sweet, but most of the apple flavor vanishes behind the elderflower, which really lightens it up and makes it much more interesting.

Angry Orchard is a pale straw color with an almost peachy undertone. It has a light but persistent floral aroma and an ABV of 5%. It’s only around April through August, so if you want to track some down, make sure you do it soon or you’ll be SOL till next spring. I’ve only found it in 12oz bottles, either in six-packs or included in the 12-bottle variety pack boxes.

The strange tale of Peach Cream Ale

Peach Cream Ale

Penticton, you sure know how to confuse a lady.

The Specs: Tin Whistle Brewing Co. (Penticton, B.C.) Peach Cream Ale
650mL; 5 per cent ABV; seems to be year-round

Guys, I want to bathe in this beer. Or maybe not bathe — stickiness factor — but daub it behind the ears and on wrists, perfume style. I would buy candles that smell like this beer. Junior high-aged Andrea would buy large bottles of a body mist version of this beer for dousing herself with after gym class.

When Tin Whistle claims to have captured the aroma of peaches, they are not screwing around. Within a minute of popping the top off the top of the bottle, my workspace smelled like I was being a responsible adult and eating fruit, instead of making tasting notes about beer after eating popcorn for dinner for the second night in a row.

The peach flavour is natural, not chemical like candy, and dominates the beer.

It’s not so much the fruit is overwhelming, as there’s very little to taste in the way of malt or hops. I feel like it’s what you’d get if you soaked sliced peaches in Pabst Blue Ribbon, spa-water style. What didn’t work for me so much is that this beer also lives up to the cream part of its name. The milky finish took some adjustment for me and felt a bit strange in a beer that was so un-beery in taste.

All told, I’m not sure if this was pleasant but not really my thing, or if I want to buy 50 bottles of Peach Cream Ale and mail one to every beer drinker I know to try to get some consensus.

But if you like very pale ales and want to try something unusual, I think it’s worth the $6 or so it’ll set you back, if only for the cologne factor.


Grizzly Ciderworks – The Ridge

Grizzly Ciderworks' "The Ridge" in a glass

Grizzly Ciderworks’ “The Ridge” in a glass

Due to some, hmm, shall we say misunderstandings regarding the recent Washington state privatization of alcohol sales and the classification of cider under state laws, this is the first cider my local liquor store has been able to offer on tap at their growler refill station in many months.

Grizzly Ciderworks’ The Ridge is a solid dry cider that doesn’t mess around. It gets in your mouth full of firm woody bitterness, accompanied by a healthy complement of green tartness and acidity, and then moves on with a finish that barely lasts.

I do recommend you keep this one cool as you’re drinking it, as there’s a certain amount of earthy funkiness that starts to emerge in the taste as it warms up — unless you enjoy that sort of thing, of course.

Fresh from the growler, it smells strongly of yeast, but that fades into a light aroma of apples gone just off, like they’ve dropped from the tree and spent some time on the ground but are still fine to use.

The Ridge is a cloudy light amber color, medium fizz, 6.7% ABV. I got my hands on it at the growler station at my local liquor store and from what I can gather it’s only offered on tap in various locations, not bottled. Find some for yourself here!

What the Heck, What the Huck?

What the Huck

Lens flare! The most exciting thing happening in this photograph, alas.

The Specs: Fernie Brewing Company, What the Huck 650 mL; 5 per cent ABV; year-round brew

It started well enough.

Oh, it’s What the Huck, I thought at the liquor store. I’ve been meaning to try that.

The first indication this taste test might not be headed in a great direction came about five minutes after returning home, when I discovered an empty What the Huck bottle at the top of my recycling box. I have no memory of drinking this beer, and yet the evidence was there.

Amnesia beer. Not a good sign.

What the Huck pours slightly pink, which is about as much a concession to its name as I can come up with.

I’m not saying that I want a fruit beer to taste like a wine cooler, but beer with a just a faint hint of Growers Orchard Berry Cider is… not ideal and makes for sad tasting notes:

“It’s fairly sweet — is that the huckleberry?”

“I get a faint taste of something at the back of my tongue — if I lick the roof of my mouth enough times will I determine if that is the huckleberry?”

If you stop trying to psyche yourself into tasting berries and just drink the darn pint, What The Huck is basically a sweet but thinner winter ale, with the usual hints of caramel and vanilla. Not bad, but pretty forgettable. Nice to know it’s the beer and not me.

Props for the name, though. You saw an opportunity and you seized it, Fernie Brewing Co.

Square Mile – The Original

Square Mile "The Original" Bottle

Square Mile “The Original” Bottle

I first tried Square Mile’s two ciders — The Original and Spur & Vine — at last year’s Cider Summit Seattle in South Lake Union (which I highly recommend; it’s a great chance to spend some time in the sun and try out an array of different ciders).

At the time I thought quite highly of both, and Spur & Vine holds the distinction of being the only hopped cider I relish rather than tolerate, but having picked up a six-pack of The Original at the grocery store I find myself not as impressed this time around.

In the months since the Cider Summit, either my taste for cider has evolved or they’ve adjusted their formulation to move toward a more commercial production style. Square Mile’s website says their apples are Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious and Jonagolds, which does quite fit the taste profile, but the ingredients list includes pear juice concentrate and apple juice concentrate as well as “hard apple cider,” and the extra concentrate gives The Original a boost of that sort of generic apple taste straight from the juice aisle of the grocery store.

The closest point of comparison I can think of for this cider is Angry Orchard’s standard Crisp Apple flavor, though to its credit The Original isn’t nearly so overpoweringly sweet and has a greater tartness, bite, and complexity.

The Original is low fizz, a clear golden color, and smells slightly yeasty when you open the bottle, though the aroma fades quickly and leaves nothing much behind in the way of aroma. ABV is 6.7%, and despite (or in addition to?) what Square Mile’s website indicates, it’s available in 12oz bottles rather than 22oz, as well as in a number of Pacific Northwest restaurants and bars — locate some for yourself!

Rhubarb beer: good for drinking, bad for puns


If nothing else, Rhubie wins the cute beer label contest hands down.

The Specs: Lighthouse Brewing Co. (Victoria), Rhubie Rhubarb Wheat Ale
650mL; 6.2 per cent ABV; seasonal

While I’ve been trying not to prejudge any of the beers I drink for Bad Rider, I didn’t have high hopes for Lighthouse Brewing Co.’s Rhubie, which I’d heard some bloggers complain didn’t taste anything like the fruit it’s supposed to contain. After the whole What the Huck experience I’m wary of fruit beer that seems to sub sugar for flavour.

[Ed. note — What ‘What the Huck’ experience you might ask? Check back Tuesday afternoon to find out…]

Thankfully that’s not the case here.

I think what may make it easy to discount Rhubie’s rhubarb flavour is that rhubarb in its raw, unsweetened, unseasoned form doesn’t appear on a lot of menus. Sure, the internet tells me it’s a thing (in smoothies — of course), I can’t say the idea of eating what amounts to a sour, tough and pink celery knockoff really appeals. Fruit crisp all the way.

But that’s the place where the rhubarb flavour in Rhubie is coming from, and here it’s a welcome addition.

If you’re looking for it, the rhubarb seems to show up most at the top of a sip as a very green, almost grassy flavour, that gives way to a crisp wheat beer with some Pilsner affectations.

It’s not a particularly aggressive fruit profile, and if you’re looking for something on the Peach Cream Ale end of the fruity spectrum you’ll be disappointed. Ditto if you’re picking it up mainly for the novelty factor of hey, rhubarb in beer.

But if you’re a wheat ale fan more than a fruit beer fan this is actually a pretty solid pick.

Remember that green top note I talked about? It has the benefit of making the beer very, very drinkable. The lighter, tart flavour of the rhubarb seems to break up the sips, making it one of the more refreshing wheat beers I’ve had recently.

For only 6.2 per cent ABV, this seemed to have one heck of a kick to it as well, but that might have had something to do with me finishing the bottle in what is now record time for one of these reviews.