Tasting Notes on Merridale House Craft Cider, Gowans 1876 Heirloom, and Raven’s Moon Apple Raspberry

At the same time I had friends over to try the 2 Towns La Mure and three ciders from Brooklyn Cider House, we opened up a few other bottles.  All three were picked up out of state by some friends; two from British Columbia Canada and one from California.

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Merridale (Cobble Hill B.C. Canada) House Craft Cider (6.0% ABV): This Canadian cider is uniquely sold (only in British Columbia) in a 1 liter plastic bottle (which is common especially for affordable ciders in England).  It was very very carbonated, dry, sour, and off tasting.  The description mentioned English & French cider apples, so we were confused.  Then we noticed the “always refrigerate” note on the label…it appears the cider may have re-fermented in the bottle due to the lack of refrigeration.  Its rare to find a cider sold commercially that isn’t shelf stable, but some exist.  It certainly didn’t taste good, so I won’t bother with tasting notes.  Hopefully we can try a new bottle some other time.  I recently tried their Scrumpy cider (see here) and enjoyed it.

UPDATE: Merridale confirmed that their ciders in plastic bottles are unpasturized / unsulfited, so need to stay refrigerated or risk re-fermentation.

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Gowans (Napa CA) 1876 Heirloom (6.1% ABV): Gowans has been in the apple business in California since 1876, but only recently got into cider.  Only sold in CA.  Dark straw yellow hue.  Very low carbonation.  Smells sweet, rich, and of caramel, reminding me of ice cider.  Semi-sweet.  Medium bodied.  Caramel, honey, and vanilla notes.  Very apple-forward.  Moderate length warming finish.  Moderate apple flavor.  Moderate sessionability.  The scent of this cider was quite luscious, and seemed too good to be true, like it was added.  We ended up seeing the ingredient includes water and sugar…which often means the cider is made from apple juice concentrate (why else would you add water to cider?).  The use of concentrate is common in Europe even with high quality ciders made from high tannin cider apples, but you only hear of it here in the U.S. for commercial ciders.  For $15 for 500ml (a friend picked this up in CA), the ingredient list is disappointing [UPDATE: Apparently the retail price is $10; it was $15 for Cider Summit San Francisco].  The flavor was awesome and the clear winner of the popularity contest of these three ciders, but we had doubts about this being a true craft cider.

UPDATE: Sharon Gowan responded to my e-mail with some additional information:

Here’s some background on our family farm: We’re celebrating our 140th harvest this year! We are 100% estate grown farm to table! Gowan’s is a ‘Grand Cru’ Orchard, one of the oldest heritage orchards in California. Warmer days and cool nights provide a longer growing season—the very best for flavor development. Plus we have older orchards-also great for tannin development. 

What apple varieties are used?

….that’s kind of a secret family blend! Over the last few years we’ve fermented hundreds of small batch single variety apples paired with different yeasts, in a huge experiment to discover the best pairing between apple and yeast. We’re not divulging these results just yet…

I’ve never had a cider that smelled so delicious besides cider,,,how were you able to get such a strong rich scent?

Wow! Yeah!! So glad you like it! We’re honored. You’d recognize these rich aromatics if you visited our orchards in October! The secret is the varieties we grow, the terroir, and our 6 generations of orcharding expertise on this family farm. For a 140 years our family has been curating this unique collection of heirloom apples on this same land. You probably wouldn’t believe the endless debates around kitchen tables about how one variety is better than another; better earlier, mid, or late season; better this year vs last year. As farmers we may only replant an orchard 1-2 times in our lifetime—picking the right apple is important. So 6 generations have continued to select, plant trees, graft, grow and harvest the apples to produce the best flavor in this terroir. And of course the 80 plus heirloom varieties we grow.  We don’t use any flavorings of any sort.

I was surprised by the ingredient list.  I’ve only seen commercial ciders add water and sugar, due to the use of apple juice concentrate.  Why is water listed as an ingredient?  Was juice or concentrate used?  Was the sugar added before or after fermentation?

If there was more consistency in ingredient labeling across the industry, you probably wouldn’t be surprised at all.  The FDA is in charge of labeling ciders under 7% ABV, but they don’t pay much attention to it, and the rules are open to broad interpretation. 

No ingredient label is required if “the person claiming the exemption employs fewer than an average of 100 full-time equivalent employees and fewer than 100,00 units. www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm053857.htm (for cider under 7% ABV : FDA regulations) We are definitely a small producer, and qualify for this exemption, but chose to list all ingredients anyway. 

No ingredient label is required if sold within the state (for cider over 7% : TTB regulations), If sold interstate, only required to declare few of things. See the info that the TTB presented to cidermakers at Cidercon this year.) It’s a confusing mishmash of regulations that the industry struggles with, and at best is incomplete for consumers. 

We simply take the apples we grow, and ferment them, and let the cider mature. Then, if it’s a ‘beer style’ cider we blend, sweeten, add water to reduce the alcohol—like beer. A beer-style cider makes a great ’session’ drink ( 4-6% ABV). A pint to quench a thirst, or a couple of of 8 oz glasses with dinner works great, but won’t get you tipsy.  We believe it is extremely important to have a low alcohol option.

Our apples naturally range from 7-11% alcohol. There is no way to produce a ‘beer style’ (lower alcohol) cider from our tree ripened apples without water, unless we harvest our apples before they are ripe. But you get much better flavor from ripe apples, as you’ve noticed!  Truly dry ciders are seldom palatable. We chose to back sweeten with sugar because it is neutral and doesn’t change the flavor of the cider. (Fun Fact: Cider naturally ferments to dry, any sweetness is introduced somehow. In general, apples don’t have unfermentable sugars, like grapes do.)

We also craft wine-style ciders: the alcohol content is often higher, depending on the apple’s natural sugar content that year.

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Blue Moon Winery (Courtenay B.C. Canada) Raven’s Moon Apple Raspberry (9.0% ABV): Only sold in British Columbia Canada. Light cranberry red hue.  Nearly still.  Smells like alcoholic raspberry candy.  Semi-dry.  Light bodied.  High tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Low bitterness.  No sourness.  Low tannins.  No funk.  Raspberry and crab apple notes (the high ABV supports my guess that they use crab apples).  Moderate length finish.  Low apple flavor.  Low sessionability.  This cider is best drank very cold, as it becomes more harsh as it warms up.  I thought the high ABV and fruitiness competed with each other.  It reminds me of Eaglemount’s ciders, from Port Townsend WA, which also tend to be higher ABV.  Also, I think this is the most tart cider I’ve ever drank!  Truly mouth-puckering.  I preferred their plain Apple cider (see here).

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