Liberty Ciderworks Manchurian Crabapple Single Varietal

Review of Manchurian Crabapple Single Varietal by Liberty Ciderworks.  This is my first time trying any of their ciders, and is my first time trying a Single Varietal cider as far as I know (most ciders use a blend of apple varieties).

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Cider:  Manchurian Crabapple Single Varietal
Cidery:  Liberty Ciderworks
Cidery Location:  Spokane WA
ABV:  12.5%
How Supplied:  375 ml tall clear glass bottle
Availability:  Fairly limited.  Per the cidery they currently self-distribute to Spokane and Seattle.  In Seattle, they can at least be found at Capitol Cider, Schilling Cider House, Full Throttle Bottles & Special Brews & other bottle shops which specialize in local craft cider, and Total Wine.

Cider Description on Bottle:  No larger than a cherry, the Manchurian Crabapple packs a huge flavor punch.  Ready for one of the most full-bodied, intensely-flavored ciders you’ll ever encounter?  This semi-sweet, single-varietal cider is for you.  Enjoy on its own as a digestif, with soft artisan cheeses, or with rich, creamy desserts.  Still (non-carbonated).

Additional Information from Rick Hastings, co-founder of Liberty Ciderworks (per my e-mail request):  Thanks for your interest in the Manchurian! It’s certainly a unique cider (none others that I’m aware of, presently) and has been very poplar in our tasting room in downtown Spokane. It’s certainly an assertive cider that showcases bright acidity and strong tannins – so much so that in describing it to first-time customers, I’ve taken to calling it a “cider port”, even though it’s not fortified with spirits like true Port is. It’s simply the juice of manchurian crabapples, fermented until the yeast we selected gave up at the 12.5% ABV mark. The juice had potential to hit 14% ABV – certainly the highest sugar content in any apple I’ve ever heard of or used. We age the finished cider around nine months, though not in oak (we’re experimenting with that approach now)….I’ve attached an image of the apples below (at right). As you might imagine, harvesting these tiny apples and sorting them into usable juice takes a LOT of work….Here’s hoping you enjoy it. Some sip it by itself as an aperitif, but I’d suggest you try it with a quality goat cheese, cheesecake dessert or creme brûlée – imagine there’s a world of other options, too. I hear Capitol Cider is using it in a mixed drink or two, as well. 

Photo of the crabapples they use:

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Rick also sent a great link to a blog article on the labels for this cider, from Advanced Labels Northwest (Seattle area) which has some great photos and cidery & cider info in addition to label/packaging info.

Cidery Description: Liberty Ciderworks (founded 2012) is in Spokane WA, where they also have a tasting room. Their website was surprisingly sparse besides the basics, but they are active on Facebook & Twitter.  Facebook lists the following Liberty Ciderworks varieties as available by the bottle:  English Style, New World Style, Turncoat Dry-Hop, Stonewall, Heirloom Series, McIntosh Single Varietal, Manchurian Single Varietal, Kingston Black Single Varietal, and Reserve Series.  There are more varieties available on tap at their tasting room.  They won several awards at this year’s GLINTCAP competition, including a Silver medal for this cider.  Congrats!

Price:  $14
Where Bought:  Full Throttle Bottles in Georgetown (Seattle), who has a huge local craft cider selection
How Found:  Browsing.  I’ve had my eye on Liberty Ciderworks though, deciding which one to try first (I was lucky enough to have a few options…New World & English style at Total Wine, and a few at Full Throttle Bottles including this and one other Single Varietal).  I chose this one as it looked to be their sweetest offering and I find the high ABV / port or dessert style ciders interesting.  Oddly enough I like strong flavors and barrel aged ciders even though I don’t like aged spirits!

Where Drank:  home

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First Impression: Corked bottle (with attached cap for easy re-capping) with foil covering.  Lovely bottle/label too!  Amber orange hue, completely still, sweet inviting boozy smell.

Opinion:  I find this on the sweeter side of semi-dry than semi-sweet.  It definitely has some warmth, and reminds me of similar high ABV bold ciders I’ve liked such as Alpenfire Smoke, 2 Towns the Bad Apple, Sea Cider Prohibition, and especially, Tieton Wind (which is a 16% ABV Pommeau with apple brandy).  I pick up some mild vanilla & caramel notes and find it rich & earthy with a bit of a bitter finish.  Although I haven’t tried any other single varietals to compare with, I find this cider incredibly complex for one apple variety and no additives.  It seems like it has some hints of apple brandy (but it doesn’t).  To me it has an interesting thick mouthfeel which sticks around for awhile, which from my experience with the above mentioned ciders seems to occur with these high ABV ciders.

This cider definitely won’t be for everyone…oddly enough my husband thought it smelled “off” and tasted “terrible”, but he hasn’t enjoyed similar ciders like I have.  I quite like this cider though!  Its very different than what most folks would think of when they think of cider.  I go for these sorts of ciders though, when I’m in the right mood.  I agree it has an intense flavor.  Its also impressive they didn’t need to add any sugar to get the crabapple juice to ferment to that high of an ABV; those are definitely some powerful apples!

I didn’t however completely take Liberty’s suggestion of having this more as a dessert cider, nor did I have any goat cheese, cheesecake, or creme brulee in the house (I wish!).  I’d like to try pairings in the future so I’ll have to plan ahead better next time.  I opened the bottle before dinner and sipped on it throughout the evening, which also did include dessert (meringues, which worked pretty well).  I did this mostly as I wanted to at least try to finish the bottle as I wasn’t sure how it would taste on Day 2 or 3 (as I am drinking it all myself).  I’ve found the taste of a cider changes as it is open, no matter how well you re-seal it (typically it becomes less intense).  Even then, I couldn’t quite finish it off, so I will have a nice small serving later in the weekend.
Update:  On Day 2 the flavor had changed slightly, a bit less bold and a bit more bitter.

Closing Notes:  I enjoyed this cider.  I imagine if my cider palate was more refined I could offer more descriptors and pairing suggestions, but I can overall say I’m glad I tried it and would recommend it if you think this sort of unique bold strong cider would fit your tastes.  I hope Liberty Ciderworks can continue to expand so more folks can try their ciders!  I imagine down the road I will try more of their ciders (I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy drier ciders).  And, a big big thank you to co-founder Rick Hastings (the other co-founder is Austin Dickey) for the extra info.  I think it was a great addition to this review.  To be able to speak to a cidery founder for more detailed information is definitely an advantage of small craft cideries.

Have you tried anything from Liberty Ciderworks, or any single varietal or high ABV ciders?  What did you think?

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