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).

Crispin – Lion Belge

Crispin Cider Lion Belge

Crispin Cider Lion Belge

Remember my peeve about Angry Orchard’s expensive Cider House Collection — that you could do so much better for the price? Crispin is precisely the opposite. It’s taken me this long to review their Lion Belge because every time I get some, I get too wrapped up in enjoying it to fiddle with careful smelling and pausing and sipping and writing.

Lion Belge is the kind of pear cider that’s entirely from pear juice, fermented with Belgian Wit yeast and flavored with orange peel and coriander. It comes out of the bottle a lovely, pale yellow, more or less cloudy depending on how much if the sediment is suspended or settled. Don’t worry about being careful to pour it off the lees, Crispin encourages it to be tipped up and swirled around for maximum dispersal.

The aroma is light — a little of the orange, a little of the yeast, a very little bit of the coriander. The flavor, mild and complex, all the elements in good balance. There’s an edge of sweetness, the bitterness and citrus of the orange peel, the light touch of the yeast; all in all a quality drink with a much more reasonable price tag than Angry Orchard.

You can locate yourself some Lion Belge on Crispin’s site, and I thoroughly recommend you do so.

Crispin – Pacific Pear

Crispin Cider Pacific Pear

Crispin Cider Pacific Pear

IT’S HERE! After the months and months of longing and searching since the Seattle Cider Summit, I finally found some Pacific Pear on shelves — at Bartell’s, of all places. And to my great delight, it is entirely as delicious as I remember.

Pacific Pear is made entirely from pear juice, not a mix of apple and pear juice as many perries are, and it really shows. Its aroma is cool and flowery and sweet but not cloying, the pear notes immediately distinct, and in the glass it’s a very clear, very pale yellow.

The taste of this cider is a glorious pear explosion, bursting on your tongue and all through your mouth. In addition to the pure-pear-juice composition, the low alcohol content (only 4.5% ABV) also leaves much of the fruit sweetness intact. This is a sweet cider, of that there’s no question, but it’s light and refreshing rather than heavy or syrupy.

It’s a real shame I only saw this in 4-packs of 12oz bottles, because what I’d really like is to be able to fill up a growler with this stuff. (Over and over and over again…)

To be clear: though I know it can’t be to everyone’s taste, I recommend this cider really without reservation. I loved it when I tried it at the Summit, I love it today, and now that it’s shown up on store shelves near me I look forward to loving it on a regular basis in the future. Run, don’t walk, to locate some for yourself on Crispin’s website here.

Best of 2014 – Cider Edition

While the cider scene isn’t as rampant as the beer scene, even here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s really seen a boom over the past few years. The rise of gluten-free awareness and consumables has helped, I’m sure, as cider is gluten-free by nature.

Starting up Bad Rider Reviews has made me appreciate just how much good cider is out there, and just how diverse the field really is.

My devious plan of dragging Andrea into this with me has also worked out perfectly, as I suspected the beer reviews would tend to bring in more readers than the cider reviews (especially now that we’re in a real live newspaper holy crap), so I feel the blog is more of a success overall than it would be if it were just me.

I’m looking forward to a whole new year of reviews to come!


Hands down, the mellow and distinctive Oak-Aged from Schilling. It’s so good it wins two categories. Not too sweet, not too dry, just an all-round solid cider — and from a great local outfit, to boot. I’m really glad this is in their regular lineup instead of being a seasonal or limited edition.


Since I haven’t actually had that much imported cider, it’s not hard to call this for Sea Cider’s excellent Prohibition, but it would be a strong contender even if the field were larger. Sweet and sharp, with a strong flavor and a dangerous bite, Prohibition is a stunner. Literally, if you’re not careful.


Since all cider is fruit cider, I can hardly pick just one, and I wanted an excuse to call out Angry Orchard’s Elderflower cider somewhere on this list. Why don’t more people make elderflower cider? Why doesn’t Angry Orchard produce it year round? My woes are neverending.


SIGH. As much as I love Angry Orchard’s Elderflower, at least I know it’ll be back; I’m still in mourning for Crispin’s Steel Town being gone forever. When I first tried it I thought it tasted kind of odd and squashy, but it lingered in my mind and the next time around I really fell for it. The blend of favors and the way the taste changed as it warmed up kept me coming back for more, right up until it was gone.


Toss-up between Crispin’s Lion Belge and Pacific Pear. Both are pear ciders; Lion Belge is one of Crispin’s higher-end ciders like Steel Town, and you’ll see a review of it later, whereas Pacific Pear I just cannot find in any local store for the life of me, and I’ve been on the lookout ever since I tried it at the Seattle Cider Summit.


I have a few:

  • Visit local cideries! There’s several, such as Finnriver, within range of a day trip, and every summer I regret not getting out of the city more often.
  • Spend more time at the Schilling Cider House. Just looking at their menu makes me excited for all the things I haven’t yet tried.
  • Track down and review more Canadian ciders. Sea Cider is great but I know there’s more out there. Andrea keeps threatening to send me the terrible cheap grocery store stuff from BC.
  • Explore homebrewing my own cider — I just laid down my first keg to ferment this afternoon. I may indulge in an occasional review of my own cider as the year progresses, if things go well (or spectacularly badly).
  • Maybe put a photo in my section of the About Us page? We’ll see.
  • And if Andrea thinks she’s not going to get a box and/or car trunk full of US pumpkin beers this fall, well, she’s got another think coming.

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.