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.

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.

Seattle Cider – Oaked Maple

Seattle Cider Oaked Maple

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As you can tell, we’re having a hard time getting back into the swing of things here at Bad Rider. But your regularly scheduled reviews have returned! (Hopefully. More or less.) First up in the new year, a cider I tried earlier in the winter which made me immediately think, “I have to review this because it’s so strange.”

My last interaction with maple in cider was Woodchuck’s spring seasonal, which was (to my own great surprise) not particularly to my taste. Usually I will be first in line for anything with maple and brown sugar.

Perhaps it’s something specific to maple in cider, because this Oaked Maple is also…weird. It starts off well enough, with a straightforward apple aroma and some of the oak notes underneath.

When I taste it, I get maple — but scarcely any sweetness. Which is bizarre, right? Maple should be sweet! I have a hard time wrapping my head around something tasting like maple but not being sweet the way maple-flavored things generally are.

Other than the strange non-sweet maple taste, Oaked Maple is fairly tart, and a little bitter. The bottle copy says it’s fermented with oak chips and raisins, and there is something of wrinkly dark fruit about it, an aftertaste like raisins picked out of a cake.

Seattle Cider needs to keep their website up to date (AHEM), as it currently only lists Pumkin Spice and PNW Berry as the available seasonals, but you can still use their locator to track yourself down some cider here.

Schilling Cider – Oak-Aged

Schilling Cider Oak-Aged

Schilling Cider Oak-Aged

For Thanksgiving, I bring you all one of my favorite ciders: Schilling’s Oak-Aged. The very first time I tried Schilling’s Oak-Aged it went straight to my go-to list. It’s a mellow and easy-drinking cider, with a distinctive taste, at a reasonable price, from a local cidery. What more could a cider drinker ask for?

The aroma is sweet and spicy, more pepper and cinnamon than apple, with a kind of burnt, nutty smell following behind. It’s a clear, pale gold and 6.5% ABV.

After an initial hit of spice there’s an edge of sweetness to the taste, but it’s more than balanced out by the woody flavor and bitterness imparted by the aging process. The aftertaste lingers only a little and then fades. Still, it’s not brash — I stand by my description of “mellow.”

I definitely think this is a cider that would pair well with a wide variety of meals; I’ve had it on its own as well as with meals from sandwiches to sushi.

Schilling’s Oak-Aged is absolutely my favorite Schilling cider of their offerings I’ve tried thus far — sometimes they tend to go a little strong for regular drinking for my taste (as in their Chai Spice and Grapefruit ciders), but it’s hard to go wrong with the Oak-Aged.

Track yourself down some Schilling here, and don’t hesitate to check out some of their other flavors as well.

Crispin – Steel Town

Crispin Steel Town

Crispin Steel Town

Steel Town is a limited release from Crispin to commemorate their 5th anniversary,  a blend of ciders aged in 5 different casks (sherry, port, shiraz, rye, and bourbon).

Don’t pay too much attention to the overly flowery and enthusiastic bottle copy, which talks about Steel Town being a “jam session cider” and ascribes musical attributes to the 5 different casks used to age it — the Dave Matthews Band in a cider bottle, if you will.

Whether that description sounds positive or negative to you, Steel Town is good drinking.

It kicks off with a mild honey-vanilla aroma and a hint of squash, and pours a cloudy amber. The 5-cask aging really has given it impressive complexity and depth of character — it’s a little sweet and fruity, a little bitter, a little spicy, but everything in balance, with no single element overpowering the rest.

And even balanced as it is, drinking it cold and drinking it as it nears room temperature are more dramatically different experiences than many other ciders I’ve tried as various aspects of the flavor come forward and retreat.

Crispin recommends drinking it chilled (50-55 F/10-13 C), “with or without 1 or 2 ice cubes.” While I agree that’s the sweet spot, its mercurial nature makes it interesting in different ways at higher or lower temperatures.

Steel Town is 6.9% ABV and isn’t listed on Crispin’s website for locating yet — it’s just starting to ship out to markets, which means this is your advance warning to keep an eye out for it. I’m already going to miss it when it goes away.

Sea Cider – Prohibition/Rumrunner

A bottle of Sea Cider Prohibition

A bottle of Sea Cider Prohibition against the blue Seattle sky.

At 12.5% ABV, I feel obliged to start out by letting you know right up front that Prohibition is a boozy doozy.

It’s flavored and colored with molasses, and aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months; this gets you a fine, fizzy, caramel-colored drink which — and Andrea can back me up on this one — may knock you flat on your ass and/or leave you full of regret in the morning if you don’t pay attention.

(Not that there’s too much of a chance of that in modest doses, but given it comes in 750ml bottles, you may want to make sure not to down a whole bottle in one session, is what I’m saying. Bad Rider doesn’t judge anyone’s drinking habits, we just want you to have the facts so you can make well-informed decisions.)

I imagine Sea Cider might’ve had to add molasses just to get it sweet enough to ferment to 12.5% ABV without it going completely, undrinkably bone-dry — in addition to the color, there’s definitely molasses in the flavor, sure, and the aroma’s laden with brown sugar, but Prohibition doesn’t actually end up terribly sweet overall, and has so much else going on that its sweetness hardly even takes a dominant note.

Prohibition is spicy and fiery and kind of rummy, with a sharp bite up front on top of a woody, somewhat bitter foundation. It’s a unique and complex cider for sure; probably not the kind of thing you’re going to want to drink all the time, but absolutely a treat worth picking up now and then when you want something with a real kick.

Frankly, I think every single suggestion Sea Cider makes about Prohibition on their site sounds fantastic (“delicious cold, or mulled and heated with butter…pairs well with steak, Caribbean and Moroccan food, and is perfect for marinades, barbecue sauces and cocktails”), and can’t wait to try some of them myself.

You can locate some Prohibition for yourself here — or, if you’re in Canada, some Rumrunner, as that’s the name it’s sold under there.