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.

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.

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.