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.

Eaglemount Cidery – Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

For a couple of months I’ve been collecting up a) resealable bottles for my own experiments in homebrewing, and b) cideries that have tasting rooms or visiting hours — be on the lookout for reports from the field, coming this summer to Bad Rider Reviews. Eaglemount is a case of catching two birds with one stone, and I’ve added them to my prospective list of places to visit as the weather improves.

The Eaglemount Semi-Sweet is a respectable 8% ABV and cloudy amber in color; it came with a positive recommendation by the fellow working at Schilling Cider House when I bought it, but when I first poured it I got worried — it smells deep and tangy, like the overly-vinegary Troy and Cascadia Dry. However, the overlay of funky cheese and white sugar was a reassuring distraction, and I forged ahead.

Happily, the flavor doesn’t deliver on the threat of vinegar that had me worried; it’s a little tart, but more than balanced by a musty sort of sweetness, just enough acidity to keep it from getting heavy, and a juicy, fruity aspect. I saw a review that described it as having strawberry notes, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, it’s definitely reflective of some sweet dessert apples in the cider blend.

Eaglemount doesn’t have a locator on their site, but you can check out their offerings and order online. Personally, I’m really looking forward to trying their apple mead and cyser at some point.

Snowdrift Cider – Seckel Single Varietal Perry

Snowdrift Cider Seckel Single Varietal Perry

Snowdrift Cider Seckel Single Varietal Perry

I am having the best of all possible problems with pear ciders: enough cideries are making them now that some are actually making pear ciders I don’t like. Which is quite a feat, let me tell you, given my penchant for perry.

Snowdrift’s Seckel doesn’t fall into this category, but it’s very different from other pear ciders I’ve tried. At 8.6% ABV, it’s pretty substantial, and the color is a light amber closer to apple-based ciders than to the paler, more yellow appearance common to fully pear-based ciders.

The aroma is minimal — a little bit of yeast and cool spice. The flavor is very — well, very. It has a distinct character. I might have guessed this was a single-varietal perry even without being told.

With an ABV so high, it’s no surprise that it’s not particularly sweet even though it comes from a pear that’s known for its sweetness; the flavor is dense and strong, a little acidic. It’s much more like an apple cider than other pear ciders I’ve had, in the sense that it’s lacking the sort of cool, crisp, airy flavor I tend to associate with pear ciders.

Snowdrift really needs to update their website to include their latest offerings, but you can check their website for a distribution location near you.

Methow Valley Ciderhouse – Honey Bear

Methow Valley "Honey Bear"

Methow Valley “Honey Bear”

I’ve been a fan of this cider since I first tried it at my first Seattle Cider Summit, but I’ve never been able to find it in bottles around here — at least, until I dropped by the Schilling Cider House and spotted it.

Honey Bear is 6.8% ABV, and its color and clarity depend on whether you leave the considerable sediment at the bottom of the bottle or swirl it up and around. The former, and it’s an almost clear light yellow; the latter, and it approximates the opaque amber-brown of good unfiltered non-alcoholic cider.

It will come as a terrible surprise when I say that the highlight of Honey Bear is the honey. I know. Take a moment to recover. Behind the aroma and under the flavor come the apples, with a little tartness and acidity, but really this show is about the honey.

I don’t know where Methow Valley gets theirs but I’m betting it’s somewhere local, as both the aroma and flavor show off a honey that’s got a far more complex personality than your average supermarket plastic bear. (Bad Rider encourages everyone to support your local bees and beekeepers by buying local honey.)

That said, this cider manages to stay well away from being cloying or syrupy; yes, it tastes distinctly like strong honey, but it’s light and fresh enough to drink by the full-sized glass, unlike the thick, intense sweetness of something like an ice wine or ice cider that calls for a smaller serving size.

You can order Methow Valley online, or look for someplace local to pick some up (where local in this case means near Winthrop, Mazama, or Twisp, WA – site seems perhaps a little out of date). If you happen to stumble across this cider elsewhere, I encourage you to give it a try!

Alpenfire – glow

Alpenfire "glow"

The color looked much more striking and unique on the shelf, I must admit.

I’d be remiss in not stating right up front: this is a pricey cider ($28 for a 750mL bottle). The idea of a “rosé” cider intrigued me, especially given how much I loved Snowdrift’s beautiful pink Nebula Red, and I figured, well, it’s only one bottle. And if it turned out to not be worth the price, all the more reason to review it — so I could warn folks away.

While I was at the liquor store, I helped one of the guys finish off a couple of bottles of Finnriver from a tasting earlier in the evening, and when he saw I was planning to buy this cider he absolutely raved about it.

Given that the last cider this guy raved about to me was the disastrously vinegary Troy, the tang of acidity I got from Glow’s aroma had me alarmed at first — but it’s not too strong, and accompanied by a lush dessert-apple smell.

Glow is a moderate 6.8% ABV and though it definitely looks pinkish in the bottle — in fact it had quite a lovely gradation of sunset colors, which my camera and lighting have utterly failed to catch — it comes out more orange in the glass.

Happily, this cider holds up well to its price tag and to the hype. There’s a fresh sweetness to the flavor, bright and sugary but not in an artificial way. Like apple cotton candy (and there’s a product I could really get behind, come to think of it). The tart acidity I picked up in the aroma follows through behind the sweetness, keeping it from getting too syrupy and giving it a great balance.

So all in all, while I wouldn’t be inclined to purchase Glow frequently, I find myself agreeing with how it was described to me in the store — think about what you’re getting for your money in comparison to wine.

For $30 in the wine world, you can generally count on getting a solid, respectable wine (though I’ve had plenty of cheap good wines and expensive bad wines), but not necessarily anything spectacular. For $30 in the cider world, on the other hand, you’re getting some damn fine cider.

Locate some Alpenfire for yourself here!

Angry Orchard – Iceman

Angry Orchard "Iceman"

Angry Orchard “Iceman”

Though the non-flavor-related driving themes of my Strawman review still more or less hold true for Iceman (for the money you’ll pay to buy it you’d be better off supporting a smaller craft outfit), I thought I’d get a review on the books for practice and for the sake of being comprehensive.

Iceman is dramatic, a bold clear orange in color and 10% ABV.  Taking its cues from ice ciders, its aroma is sweet, sweet, sweet, like candy-dipped apples, and the flavor follows with more strong sugary notes, caramel and toffee over the intensity of the tart apple.

Even for my sweet tooth, Iceman is on the verge of being too much like ice ciders and ice wines, generally consumed in small amounts, a sip at a time. It’s a big taste.

On the up side, while it’s pricey for cider (especially for commercially produced, widely-available cider), Iceman is more of a decent deal for someone who wants to try ice cider but doesn’t want to shell out $$$$ for a tiny bottle of the stuff.

Locate some Iceman for yourself here.

Time to drink my words

Shoutout to the B.C. Liquor Store employee who told me to get this one chilled, but not too cold. You get a much better sense of the yeast that way.

Shoutout to the B.C. Liquor Store employee who told me to get this one chilled, but not too cold. You get a much better sense of the yeast that way.

The Specs: Bad Tattoo Brewing Co. (Penticton, B.C.), Dia de Los Muertos Cerveza Fuerte 2014
9.2 per cent ABV, 750mL, limited edition

OK, OK, let’s get it out of the way: Today’s beer of choice is not only a strong beer, it’s a damn 9 per center — which is nearly as high as we can go before we enter the murky territory of barley wines.*

So, yeah, I’m not over strong beer after all, but drinking Bad Tattoo’s new limited offering reminded me it’s not so much the alcohol content that counts as how you use it. And Bad Tattoo, I’m coming to realize, really knows what it’s up to.

What’s most surprising about this beer is how sweet and boozy it smells — and how normal it actually tastes.

So many of the strong Belgians I’ve tasted lately have this almost rotten fruit flavour to them, but Dia de Los Muertos Cerveza Fuerte is concerned with other flavours. Dark and dense, it’s another of those hearty bread-style beers, all rye toast and nuts. Despite the smell, I didn’t find it particularly sweet — nary a vanilla or caramel tone here. This is a savoury beer for sure.

According to the bottle copy these bad boys have more than a full pound of malt per 750 mL and two strains of yeast. Of the two, it’s the yeast that stood out most for me, and tipped the beer from good to fascinating.

To call a beer fermented is to state the obvious, but you can taste it here in a way that I’ve not experienced often, similar to the notes of a good sushi-joint soy sauce or a well-crafted kombucha.

While it’s got some fizz to it, this is one heavy beer, best drunk very slowly over the course of the evening while making a slow slide from couch to floor (just because this beer isn’t upfront about its alcohol content, doesn’t mean it’s not there). Or you could share it with friends, I suppose, but since this is an extremely limited 1,200 bottle run you’ve got a built-in excuse to horde it all to yourself.

On a final quick and shallow note, I’ve bagged on Bad Tattoo a bit for its regular series bottle designs, but these black, long-necked, wax-dipped bottles are things of beauty. I’m tempted to stick a candle in the empty and use the light to illuminate a garret as I write gothic novels.

*Riders, do I dare? I considered a bottle at the shop today but I am mad skeptical about anything that is not wine but feels the need to identify itself as such.

Sea Cider – Kings & Spies

Sea Cider, Kings & Spies

Sea Cider, Kings & Spies

Bad Riders, you are saved from another Christmas carol review only by the fact that my local liquor store didn’t have any of Sea Cider’s “Wassail” in stock when I stopped by. It may yet happen in the future.

Instead of Wassail, I picked up some of their Kings & Spies, a pale yellow cider that’s stronger than average at 8.0% ABV. The name comes from the composition — King and Northern Spy apples, among others.

It’s fairly fizzy, and leads with a light aroma, bittersweet and a little spicy.

The taste is acidic and tart in moderation, balanced out by the cider-apple flavor. Chilled, this cider has more of a sharp bite and astringency, but it really blooms as it warms up a bit from fridge temperature, the sharpness easing off and blending with the flavor of the heritage apples.

Though off-dry, an aftertaste of fresh fruit taste lingers in the corners of my mouth, skirting around the edges of the acid and tartness.

Good stuff, all in all, though I generally like what Sea Cider does. You can track some down for yourself here.