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.

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.

Finnriver – Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver’s Fire Barrel comes in a cute little stout, round, brown bottle — barrel-like, one might even call it. I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence.

Fire Barrel is made from bittersweet apples and aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, which add a deep amber-orange hue to the cider’s color and a woody aspect to the aroma, with hints of the high-proof fire of the bourbon in the background.

In flavor, it’s an interesting mix of mellow and brash. On the one hand the bourbon shows up right from the start with oak notes and a sense of whisky aromatics filling your mouth; on the other hand, the initial aggressiveness soon eases off into something milder, burnt sugar and vanilla accompanying the sweetness of the cider apples.

At 6.5% ABV, this is a lot less dangerous than some other barrel-aged ciders such as Alpenfire’s Smoke or Sea Cider’s Prohibition, and it inherits a more unique personality from the barrel-aging than my beloved (but much milder) standby, Schilling Oak-Aged.

I think Fire Barrel would go great with a steak dinner — in fact, I’m looking sadly at my now-empty bottle and thinking about how well it would go with the “whiskey steak” recipe that’s one of my personal specialties.

Finnriver doesn’t have a locator function, but they do have an online store (including the perpetually tempting cider club). Check out their offerings! I’m eager to get my hands on some of that Cacao Wine with Apple Brandy sometime.

Alpenfire – Smoke

Alpenfire Smoke

Alpenfire Smoke

Smoke was recommended to me a while back at the same time as Alpenfire’s Glow rose, and between the two of them and the Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry I think you can really get a good picture of how broad Alpenfire’s repertory is. They’ve got a good thing going on over there, though their pricing does tend to set the expectation that they would.

Smoke is a clear amber and a whopping 16% ABV – for as smooth as it drinks, I was expecting something more in the 7-9% range. It’s a surprise for me because Smoke is considerably less brash and aggressive than Sea Cider’s Prohibition, which clocks in at “only” 12.5%.

Its aroma is rich with the booze-soaked smoky wood of the barrels and thick, syrupy apples. It is a bit… much, and not up everyone’s alley, but I certainly like it well enough.

The heaviness carries through to the flavor, which is intense and sweet, with a sharp, aromatic undertone like harder liquor, a little fiery, that could come either from the barrel-aging or from the high alcohol content. This is absolutely a sipping cider, not a chugging cider, and if you’re going to pair it with food, make it something that’s really going to hold its own.

You can locate some Alpenfire for yourself here — or consider stopping by their farm! It’s definitely on my list of road trip destinations.

Bull Run – Powerhouse Dry

I'm still tickled by Bull Run's logo.

I’m still tickled by Bull Run’s logo.

It’s been a few months since I last reviewed Bull Run (their Gravenstein Single Varietal). I wish I’d thought to pick up another bottle of that cider to try next to the Powerhouse Dry, as there are definite similarities when I look back over that review. Does the Powerhouse Dry feature some Gravensteins? Is it just a family resemblance between Bull Run ciders? Hard to say. (Sure, I could ask, but that takes all the fun out of it.)

Powerhouse Dry is a clear gold in color and clocks in at a respectable 7.4%. Right off the bat, it smells dry — a cheesy, farmyard sort of smell. The bark is worse than the bite, though; it’s not as aggressively wood-like as, say, Alpenfire’s Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry.

It’s dry, no doubt of that, but it’s a much milder dry cider. I’m a fan of the Pirate’s Plank, don’t get me wrong, but a lighter, more unobtrusive dry cider — that still carries a distinct personality — like this is more likely to be a good pairing with a wide variety of foods. Though with that musty aspect to it it’s definitely not going to go with everything. Probably a charcuterie spread would work well.

Bull Run has a cider locator here, though as I mentioned last time, it only covers the Portland area, and clearly they’ve at least made it up to Seattle, so don’t lost hope if they don’t have any locations listed near you.

Tieton Cider Works – Apricot Semi-Dry

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Semi-Dry

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Semi-Dry

When last we met Tieton Cider Works, it was for their Smoked Pumpkin Cider back in October, so I figured it was high time I picked up something else from them for the pages of Bad Rider.

Tieton’s apricot cider is a medium amber, 6.9% ABV. The idea of an apricot cider being semi-dry is strange to me — but then, I freely admit I have unsophisticated opinions about fruit. Apricot? Not sweet? How odd. But sure enough: apricot, not sweet.

Dusty apricots distinctly dominate the aroma with more of a sharp, dried-fruit sort of smell, but then in the flavor the apricots come through fresh and tangy.

Tieton stays well clear of the “hint of [flavor]” approach that cider makers sometimes take with fruit blends. Of course the taste isn’t pure apricot like it might be if you were drinking straight juice, but the apples withdraw quite dramatically and really leave the apricot to shine.

You can locate yourself some Tieton via their website, and there are also some pairing suggestions here (those black bean burgers sound really good right now, actually).


Sixknot Cider – High Desert Dry

Sixknot High Desert Dry

Sixknot High Desert Dry

Sixknot Cider is a small, organic outfit in a tiny town in northern Washington; I tried their Purple Sage apple/grape seasonal at the Seattle Cider Summit this past summer and was glad to see their stock at my local liquor store so I could give one of their regular varieties a try.

High Desert Dry has a softness to its aroma, a hint of vanilla, more of the orchard’s wood than its apples. It’s cloudy amber and 6.5% ABV.

The taste is light, kind of broad and airy. It’s a little tart, a tad acidic, but mostly woody and very, very dry.

This reminds me quite a bit of Alpenfire’s Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry; drinking it gives me the same sense of (tasty) liquefied timber, though Pirate’s Plank is more dense, with a stronger flavor.

I could see this being a good pairing for rich or strongly flavored meals — something to clear out your palate with.

Locate yourself some Sixknot here.

2 Towns Ciderhouse – Fly’n South

2 Towns Fly'n South

2 Towns Fly’n South

I don’t know why it is that my local Bartell’s seems to have a lock on every new flavor 2 Towns puts out, but I’m certainly not going to complain. Fly’n South is a limited release cider, clear light yellow and clocking in at 6% ABV, fermented with Oregon gooseberries.

Keeping in the tradition of past 2 Towns ciders I’ve had, Fly’n South delivers as promised without going overboard. The gooseberry tartness comes through in the aroma, but not too much, and the flavor is moderately tart and dry.

The most interesting part about this cider for me is that the gooseberries also somehow bring in an acrid, slightly ashy, smoky aftertaste. Again, nothing overpowering or unpleasant — just a reminder, as I drink, of summertime in the desert and the almost-taste in the back of your throat on the hazy days when you can see a plume of smoke off in the distance.

It does transport me out of Seattle’s gray and gloomy winter, that’s for sure. Strange as it may sound, I think this cider came along at just the right time for me to appreciate it.

Check out 2 Towns’ site and find some for yourself!

Finnriver – Pear Cider

Finnriver Pear Cider

Finnriver Pear Cider

I resolve in the new year to review more pear ciders. Apple cider is all well and good, but I’ve gotta confess I have an extra-soft spot for pear cider.

Finnriver’s is a light gold, very very slightly cloudy, and has a barely-there aroma of mostly apples, with just an edge of cool crisp pear.

There’s a fresh, real-fruit aspect to the flavor — I saw tasting notes on Finnriver’s site when I was looking up the cider (to see if they mentioned whether pear juice was part of the fermentation or added in afterward to back-sweeten), and though I wouldn’t go so far as the reviewer in saying Finnriver’s pear cider tastes more like a skin-on pear than a peeled pear, I can see what he’s getting at. There’s a certain bitterness grounding the pear flavor, pulling it out of the realm of single-note sweetness.

You can order some Finnriver cider for yourself here, or look for their stuff in your local stores. One of these days I’m definitely going to make it out to their farm for a visit.

Bull Run – Gravenstein Single Varietal

Bull Run Gravenstein Single Varietal

Whence your horned apple logo, Bull Run?

I know eventually I will have tried every cider my favorite local liquor store has to offer, but so far I still manage to walk in and find entire brands I’ve either not yet reviewed or not reviewed in many weeks.

Bull Run is one of the former — I thought for sure I’d reviewed something of theirs before, but no, they’re a newcomer to the annals of Bad Rider Reviews.

Unassuming at first glance, the Gravenstein Single Varietal is definitely distinctive. The aroma is funky under the sweet apple smell, a little cheese drifting in from somewhere.

It’s tart, somewhat acidic, and lives up to the bottle label of “medium dry” — only sweet enough to keep it from being dry. It’s light, but there’s something stony about it as well, like an undertaste of cold granite.

It would be interesting to get my hands on an example of the apple itself when I try these single varietal ciders. I can’t say I recognize the taste of a Gravenstein compared to another type of apple, though as I mentioned, I can at least tell this cider is different.

This cider makes me wish I were the kind of person who could put together a cheese and charcuterie board from the contents of their pantry at the drop of a hat. It would pair fabulously with some complex cheeses and cured meats.

Check Bull Run’s website if you’d like to find some of their cider for yourself, though it only lists places in Portland so don’t count on it to be entirely comprehensive.