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.

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.

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.

Drink ALL The Hefes!

unnamed-1 unnamed-2 unnamedThe Specs (pictured above, L – R): Hoyne Brewing Summer Haze Honey Hefe (5.1 per cent ABV, 650mL);  Howe Sound Breweing King Heffe Imperial Hefeweizen (7.7 per cent ABV,1L); Russell Brewing White Rabbit Hoppy Hefeweizen (6 per cent, 650mL)

In journalism, the joke goes, three of something makes a trend. Spot three dudes with man buns? Trend. Three local residents cheesed off about sidewalks? Trend.

So, three hefes mean my drinking habits are a trend too, right? I’d agree — if all three of those beers had actually been hefeweizens. Yes, that’s right Bad Riders, there is a traitor in our fridges. Two of those beers are delightful takes on one of my most favourite summer styles and one of them is basically a honey wheat ale thing waiting to dash all your drinking-related hopes and dreams.

There are very few things I want from a hefeweizen. I like big, super bright banana flavours and sweetness in a not excessive amount. Maybe a little complexity to round things out, but I can be flexible on that.

Which is why I’m so perplexed by Hoyne’s Summer Haze, which doesn’t taste anything like I’d expect. As I implied above, it’s more honey and ale, nothing that particularly says hefeweizen to me.

OK, I figured, maybe I’m drinking this too chilled. But leaving a resealed bomber on the counter to come up to temperature is usually enough to release any flavours I’ve inadvertently ruined with my awful 60s-issue apartment icebox. Not so here.

I don’t think Summer Haze is a bad beer. Had I approached it on different terms I think I would have enjoyed it. But what the heart wants, the heart wants, and it turns out what I really wanted was White Rabbit.

Man, this is such a good beer. I didn’t think hops would contribute much to a hefeweizen, but it’s a bit like a sprinkling of salt over a dish. That little bitter citrus edge seems to define all those banana and clove flavours so much more. It’s the only beer where I really got the real, murky clove flavours so often advertised on bottle copy and rarely delivered for the less-trained (i.e.: my) palate.

There’s also an interesting haziness to the sweetness of this one — much in the same way eating a banana differs from chomping into an apple. Needless to say, I’ve already purchased more.

The one Kamloops-specific downside here? It’s not the easiest bottle to find. I’m only aware of one liquor store carrying it, and my last sweep of the government stores was no help.

Compare that to the final beer of this trio, King Heffy, which is pretty much everywhere now that summer beer season’s begun.

I didn’t find the King quite as complex as White Rabbit, but it does what I ask. The banana is bright, the sweetness just right. I think the wheat is a bit more pronounced here than in White Rabbit, and it’s not as smooth-tasting overall, but there’s a reason this big guy’s a liquor store staple.  And, hey, who’s going to turn down a bottle with enough room to contain a third glass of that delicious summer nectar?

Rhubarb Fields Forever

Table saison, meet table cloth.

Table saison, meet table cloth.

The Specs: Lighthouse Brewing Co. (Victoria, B.C.), Jackline Rhubarb Grisette
5.5 per cent ABV, 650mL

Table saisons (a.k.a. grisettes) are popping up fairly consistently this spring. Parallel 49’s excellent Brews Brothers 12 pack offered not one but two takes on the style, and now here’s another Victoria brewery with an offering.

From what I understand, a table saison is meant to fill a place similar to that of a session ale — light, eminently quaffable, and made to be put away in large volumes. With a little more flavour than their session counterparts, I’m all for a table saison craze. Please, brewers of B.C., I will take as many of these as you throw my way.

(Of course, only in the craft brewing industry would a beer with this much alcohol be considered a “table” style, which Google informs me ought to clock in at less than two per cent ABV. Then again, would you put down your hard-earned dollars on classy near beer? Yeah, me either.)

Lighthouse’s offering is the second rhubarb-based beer I’ve tried from the company, and compared to last year’s Rhubie Rhubarb Ale, a big step up.

Where Rhubie required a certain amount of straining to find the main ingredient, Jackline is up front. The beer captures both the tartness and bitterness particular to fresh rhubarb, rounding them out with some sweet wheat. Unlike some saisons I’ve tried (Central City’s excellent Detective Saison springs to mind), this one doesn’t go in for spicy notes, but the rhubarb consistently interesting on its own, giving the beer an almost citrus, almost sour quality all its own. Add in plenty of bubbles and a good, clean finish, and you’ve got an entirely refreshing brew.

Really, you’ve got to give Lighthouse the nod for innovation in the field of rhubarb beer if nothing else. These guys are pretty much blazing the trail alone, and our pints are better for it.


Crispin – Venus Reigns

Crispin Cider Venus Reigns

Crispin Cider Venus Reigns

Y’all, Crispin is killing me with these limited releases and fancy pear ciders. I can’t even feel guilty that they’re a big operation owned by MillerCoors, their stuff is just too good. Venus Reigns is a 6.9% ABV pear cider aged in red wine casks and finished with honey — if there exists a cider that is more my jam, I certainly cannot think of it at the moment.

The aroma strikes me as more like an apple cider than a perry, but it’s also got a distinct sense of red wine to it. I couldn’t possibly put a specific varietal name to it, but it tastes like a fairly young wine, not something that’s aged for very long.

I was halfway expecting a cider aged in red wine casks to turn out more or less pinkish, especially given the name and the lovely purple hues of the label, but Venus Reigns is a cloudy straw-amber color with perhaps a tiny hint of peach blush.

The flavor seems like it’s almost on separate levels — on the ground level, the pear cider mingling with red wine notes; on the mezzanine, the sweetness of the honey. It’s a party I could spend a lot of time at.

Overall it’s a fairly sweet cider, but though the honey doesn’t have distinct a profile as, say, Methow Valley’s Honey Bear, it’s still more than enough to keep Venus Reigns out of the “generic syrupy sweetness” category. I wouldn’t pair this with anything particularly bitter, but I think it could go well with savory dishes, or perhaps sweet-and-sour.

You can locate yourself some Venus Reigns on Crispin’s website, and I definitely recommend it. Crispin, please never stop with these weird limited editions and artisanal releases. Even if I am sad when they go away (RIP Steel Town).

The OK beers

The bubbles!

The bubbles!

The Specs: Four Mile Golden Ale/Lighthouse Brewing Barque Strong Golden Belgian Ale (both hailing from Victoria, B.C.)
4.6/8.2 per cent ABV, 650mL


So I’m a lying liar who lies because neither of these are wheat beers. And maybe that’s why I’m not as excited by either of them as I could be.

Four Mile’s offering is a really gorgeous colour — very dark, honey gold — and described as “crispy” and “tart” on the bottle copy. It’s certainly got an acid kick, but there’s nothing particularly standout about it. Like a lot of ale bottles I buy at random, it’s more upscale, cleaner-tasting Alexander Keiths than anything. It’s not a particular letdown, and I think this beer could do do you pretty well on the summer cookout circuit, but it doesn’t exactly lead to an overflow of words.

This also works as a by-comparison of the light in my kitchen at noon and 7 p.m.

This also works as a by-comparison of the light in my kitchen at noon and 7 p.m.

Since I’ve got a bit left (yay, day drinking), I think I might take Four Mile up on its suggestion to beer cocktail this stuff. I think a little grapefruit juice might give this some bitter bass notes that would round it out nicely.

Lighthouse’s offering I liked a bit more, but I think I was just hoping for something it’s not — a Canadian answer to Goose Island’s amazing Sofie.

Like Sofie, Barque is bright gold and bubbly, but its fruitiness is sweeter and less bright. Think pineapple and banana, with a bit of grains. I found it had a pretty decent heft and body, but it’s not very boozy tasting for the style or the ABV. This one’s probably worth giving another go with my expectations set in a more accurate place.

Central City Stories

Why is my Detective wearing glasses? Because when the woman at the liquor store tells you that you look like the character on the beer bottle, you damn well make her accessorize like you do.

Why is my Detective wearing glasses? Because when the woman at the liquor store tells you that you look like the character on the beer bottle, you damn well make her accessorize like you do.

The Specs: Central City Brewing’s Detective Saison
6 per cent ABV, 650mL, special release

It’s a shame Central City’s new comic book line of beers got hit with a plagiarism scandal straight out the gate, but dozens of B.C. news headlines about Detective Sarah Saison’s resemblance to an existing comics character  did get me interested in bumping this beer to the top of my only-ever-wheat-beers list. (There are at least two more to go. The heart wants what it wants, guys.)

(Also, beer in a minute I swear — but I would’ve guessed Saison was a riff on DC’s Maggie Sawyer, which says something about the character design of tough as nails cops…)

Detective pours a bright, foggy yellow with plenty of bubbles. There’s not much sweetness here and only a bit of fruit, in favour of wheat and spice. The pink peppercorn the brewery’s added is the distinctive note here, and I quite liked it. In addition to the kick it gives the beer, there’s an almost herbaceous quality here that’s intriguing, if a little hard to put my finger on to describe.

Central City’s going to have four of these character-themed beers out this year, with Mayor Kolsch up next. The brewery’s pretty much never disappointed me to date, so I can only imagine we’ll return to this project when the next bottle drops.

Season of the Wit

Spring foliage.

Spring foliage.

The Specs: Driftwood Brewery’s White Bark Witbier
5 per cent ABV, 650mL, regular series


Sunlight? Daylight savings time? Bah. You can tell it’s spring because all I want to do is drink wheat-based beers.

Driftwood’s offering actually felt like something my cider-drinking partner in reviewing might enjoy (if she didn’t hate all beer) — or at least, like something a very occasional cider drinker could almost mistake for same.

Light, quite dry and with a tartness that’s more Granny Smith apple than traditional orange to my tastebuds, White Bark’s not a particularly loud offering in this beer style. The coriander here is fairly subdued, and while there’s brightness and sharpness here like I said, it doesn’t remind me of orange, particularly. It’s also a very short sip, if you know what I mean — while some beers linger on your tongue long after you’ve taken a drink, White Bark is content to get gone pretty quickly.

The plus here is it’s easy to drink this stuff without feeling weighed down by the taste — something that can be a plus in a warm-weather beer, and I might like more when it’s really scorching in the summer — but compared to the other Driftwood offerings I’ve tasted  this one seemed a little subdued. I mean, Fat Tug’s basically a two-pint guitar solo. White Bark is more backyard barbecue playlist. Not bad, certainly, but not quite what I expected.

Blue Mountain – Peach

Blue Mountain Cider Peach Seasonal

Blue Mountain Cider Peach Seasonal

Every time I think “one of these days I’m going to run out of cider,” I realize there’s a cidery I haven’t reviewed anything from in months, if ever. In this case: Blue Mountain Cider.

Blue Mountain’s Peach seasonal cider is 6% ABV and clear with a definite orange hue, presumably owing to that extra boost of peach.

It has a light aroma, with a little tart acidity drifting in at the back. The flavor is much more sweet than dry, but acidic and tangy, the peach more or less blanketing the apple.

Try this cider with a pork dish, I think, or maybe salmon – it’s probably too strong for a mild seafood dish and not strong enough for something with rich red meat.

Blue Mountain has been around for a while, slowly growing and expanding their operation over time. They don’t have a cider locator, but you can buy directly from their online store, and they even have a cider club membership you can sign up for (I am sorely tempted).