Book Review #8, Tasting Cider by Erin James of CIDERCRAFT Magazine

For the eighth book review here at Cider Says (see here for the first seven):  “Tasting Cider, The CIDERCRAFT Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider”, by Erin James, published July 2017, paperback, retailing for $19.95 ($13.45 on Amazon).  Erin James is the editor-in-chief of CIDERCRAFT magazine (the first and only print magazine in the U.S. focused on cider) as well as Sip Northwest magazine.

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>>This is a review of a sample copy of the book provided by the book’s publisher, Storey.  Although I will take care to treat it the same as any other review, there is always the potential for bias as I received the products for free.  The only consideration I knowingly made was pushing this up in my review cue.  I love free stuff, especially cider!  Want your cider or cider-related product reviewed here?  Contact me.<<

Book Description:

This complete guide to North America’s oldest beverage celebrates hard cider’s rich history and its modern makers, as well as its deliciously diverse possibilities. Flavor profiles and tasting guidelines highlight 100 selections of cider — including single varietal, dessert, hopped, and barrel-aged — plus perry, cider’s pear-based cousin. A perfect addition to any meal, cider pairings are featured in 30 food recipes, from Brussels sprouts salad to salmon chowder, brined quail, and poached pear frangipane. An additional 30 cocktail recipes include creative combinations such as Maple Basil Ciderita and Pear-fect Rye Fizz.

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The book is split into four main parts:

  • cider facts, history, apples, glassware, terminology, sweetness, flavors, etc
  • descriptions of cider styles, profiles of cideries, and tasting notes on ciders
  • cider cocktails
  • cider recipes (both cooking with and pairing with)

The Pros:

  • Wide variety of content, yet focused.   I think they were spot-on in choosing a more narrow topic than just “cider” (namely, an overview of what makes up the Northern America cider scene), and sticking to it.  Some books seem a bit scattered as they try to cover everything “cider”, which just isn’t possible in one book.
  • In-depth coverage of different cider styles and cidery profiles.  All the iconic U.S. cideries that I would have expected to see covered were, such as Farnum Hill, West County, E.Z. Orchards, Alpenfire, Reverend Nat’s, and even Angry Orchard.
  • Tasting notes on various ciders.  This is interesting to read, and can also be helpful if you want to taste the same cider and learn about cider descriptors.
  • The book layout was easy to understand and made sense.
  • This is the most recently published book on cider.

The Cons:

  • Exterior quality.  This is a paperback book, not one of those pretty coffee table type books that looks nice on display or makes a great gift.  The focus was on content, not aesthetics.  I would have preferred a slightly higher list price in exchange for something more sturdy (for example, it was mailed in a padded envelope and it arrived with a bent spine).
    • World’s Best Ciders (by Pete Brown & Bill Bradshaw, now only $7.50 on Amazon) makes a better coffee table book (and it is one at my house!).  It has larger dimensions, is hardcover, and is of higher printing quality.  Also, it is a longer book (more content).  However, WBC has a significant negative – it was published in 2013, which is quite outdated for a printed book; so, if up-to-date content is a priority, TC is the better choice.

And The In Between:

  • About half of the book is cocktails and recipes.  If that is something of interest to you, then it is a pro.  If it isn’t, than its a con.  I fall in the later category…I don’t really see the point in mixing things with good cider (although to be fair I haven’t tried many cider cocktails) and the cost & hassle of buying multiple ingredients for one drink, and I don’t enjoy cooking.
  • The placement of cideries in categories seemed at times random.  This is likely as most cideries fit in multiple categories (orchard-based, single-varietal, fruit-infused, barrel-aged, etc).  I would have kept the cider classifications separate from the cidery profiles.  However, I imagine the premise was just to use the cideries as an example of the concept more so than saying they are defined by it, and at the end of the day it didn’t really matter.
  • This book is on the more introductory end (vs. for example Jolicoeur’s The New Cider Maker’s Handbook, which is on the other end of the spectrum as it includes technical instructions on cidermaking).  However, I’d consider myself at the intermediate level in cider education and I still got plenty out of this book.  For example, I haven’t seen a book with as many in-depth cidery profiles.  That sort of information just isn’t available, let alone all in one source.
  • Many ciders featured in the book won’t be available to the reader, as cider is so regional (many cideries only have a small distribution area), and on top of that, ciders may be a special release and/or seasonal.  However, its always interesting to read about cider, and the cider cocktails & pairings can be used more generally.

Most Similar Books:

  • World’s Best Ciders has a similar focus on tasting cider (varieties, cideries, and ciders) and lots of beautiful cider photography.  However, WBC has a larger world-wide focus, while TC focuses on the U.S. and Canada.  WBC has more ciders profiled than TC, but TC has a wider variety of coverage.  Both books provide some cider history, terminology, and cidery profiles.
  • Cider Made Simple (by Jeff Alworth, $11.59 on Amazon) has similar cider history, terminology, and more, but as that is its only focus, although it is a shorter book, it goes into more depth (and also includes more on international cider styles)
  • Cider Cocktails – Another Bite of the Apple (by Darlene Hayes, $15.95 on Amazon) is the only book I know of with a cider cocktail focus, with 30 cider cocktails and 10 cider recipes.  Cider Journal did a nice profile piece here.
  • CIDERCRAFT magazine (and its website) has cider recipes

Launch Party:

There is a book launch party in Seattle WA at Seattle Cider on September 14, 2017.

In Summary:

“Tasting Cider” would be a great addition to any cider enthusiast’s book collection!  It has a little bit of everything (but has a focus and stays on point), which is sure to please any cider enthusiast.  I haven’t had a chance to sample any of the cider cocktails or recipes yet, but I want to give them a try.

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