My Favorite Ciders of 2017

Happy New Year!  Now that it is 2018, it is time for a list of some of my favorite ciders of 2017.  This is becoming a tradition; see here for my list from 2016 and here for my list from 2015.  To make it a bit different and easier, I put them into categories instead of trying to do a top ten list or similar.

Note that I wouldn’t try to make a list of the best ciders, just those I enjoy, as it would be an impossible task to try every cider out there and be impartial.  The cider world is very regional, so likely only readers in the NW would have a similar selection.  My only criteria for this list is that I drank the cider in 2017.  Some of the categories overlap.  Truth be told, for the most part, I made the list first, then determined categories to put them in!

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Budget-Friendly French Cidre:  Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut (Brittany) or L’Hermitiére Cidre Brut (Normandy) – These selections retail for $4.99 and $7.99 respectively.  The Dan Armor is only sold at Trader Joe’s.  Both are on the sweeter side of semi-dry and are true to their respective styles (although the Normandy one is more beginner friendly than many others, as it lacks sourness and only has minimal funk).  The Dan Armor is one of my top picks to introduce folks to good cider with, as it is different from sweet commercial selections, but not so out there as to turn folks off to it.  Its also a nice gauge on sweetness, as it is in the middle of the range.

 

Fancy French Cidre:  Domaine de la Minotiere Cidre Fermier Bio Doux or Pierre Huet AOC Pays D’Auge Cidre – I tried so many amazing French cidres this year that I had to include more than one!  These selections cost a tad more than the previous two, $12 and $19.99 respectively, but also have more complexity.  Both of these are low ABV selections, and the Doux was significantly sweeter, as expected for the classification.

 

English Cidre:  Newton Court Gasping Goose (330ml bottles) or Henney’s Vintage (500ml bottles) – Both of these English imports are very budget friendly and tasty.  A bit sweeter than some English ciders (on the sweeter side of semi-dry), rich, and tannic, but not bitter.  Newton Court is available in Seattle, but I’ve only seen the Henney’s in Portland (and only tried the one bottle).

 

Swiss cider:  Cidrerie du Vulcain Premiers Emois – This cider from Switzerland reminds me of French cidre, but has a style all its own.  It was made from Organic native heirloom apples, and wild yeast fermented using traditional methods.  The result was a semi-sweet cider with an awesome fluffy texture and complex fruitiness (but with less apple and yeast forward flavor as most French cidres).

European-Style U.S. cider:  2 Towns Traditions Cidre Bouche – This cider is by far the closest to a French cidre than any other U.S. cider I’ve tried.  It was a noticeable improvement from last year’s vintage as well.  Lots of rich ripe bittersweet apple flavor.  Unfortunately it costs more than most French cidres, as even with the import cost, their production costs are lower, as cider apple varieties aren’t rare like they are here.

 

Perry:  Ramborn Perry – I tried two selections from Ramborn Cider in Luxembourg.  This perry was complex and amazing, with notes of canned pear, dried pear, mango, pineapple, and guava.  Like most perries, as pears have unfermentable sugars, it was a bit sweeter, semi-sweet to semi-dry.

New England style:  Cockrell Colonial Winter – This cider is of true New England style, a high ABV cider with the addition to raisins and brown sugar.  Rich, complex, and perfect for winter.  It is my favorite version of this style so far.

 

Food-Friendly Cider:  Eden Semi-Dry or Eden Guineveres Pearls – Of these, the Semi-Dry is drier, much easier to find, and less expensive.  Both however are excellent selections, quite flavorful, but without anything that would overwhelm or clash with most meals.  They are also some of the most tannic on this list, same as the English selections.

 

Rosé:  Alpenfire Glow – This sweet cider is made from rare red fleshed apples, and similar to Eve’s Rustica (listed below), is amazingly fruity, with a high flavor intensity.  Here the flavor notes were watermelon, strawberry, and rhubarb.  It was a perfect Valentine’s Day cider (a gift from my husband – he knows me well)!

Barrel Aged:  Finnriver Fire Barrel – Note that this pertains to the previous releases of this cider.  I haven’t been nearly as big of a fan of Fire Barrel once they moved to 750ml bottles, as it was not nearly as flavorful (plus the price increased significantly).  In the older version, I love the complexity, intense barrel aged flavor (which is rarely found in cider), and high tannins.

 

Fruity:  2 Towns Prickle Me Pink ^2 – This cider was made using prickly pear cactus fruit, plus, new for this year, watermelon.  The result is a fluorescent pink fruity cider which is surprisingly complex and flavorful, yet fairly dry.

Rich:  Angry Orchard Maple Wooden Sleeper – This cider was made from bittersweet apples, with Crown maple syrup, then bourbon barrel aged for 12 months.  It resulted in a 12% ABV cider, super rich and complex, with a flavor profile including caramel, brown sugar, maple, oak, vanilla, bourbon, and molasses.  This was a truly artisan small batch cider, worlds away from their typical commercial releases.

 

Spicy:  2 Towns Man Gogh – I’ve never been a fan of spicy ciders, but I finally found one I could enjoy!  Here the hint of spice (from habaneros) was balanced by the fruitiness, sweetness, and acidity of the cider with mango.  This was an imperial cider, but way too easy to drink.

Commercial:  Spire Mountain Dark & Dry – I typically drink craft ciders, but I still drink commercial ciders from time to time.  This one is far from dry (more like semi-sweet), but is dark, and has some great molasses flavor.  It pairs really well with greasy food, like a burger or fish & chips.

 

Unique:  Eve’s Rustica – This is Eve’s sweetest cider (besides their ice cider), and my favorite.  I loved all the flavor they were able to showcase without any additions (just apples & yeast), with notes of honey, cream, vanilla, melon, strawberry, watermelon, pineapple, and peach.

Unexpected:  Snowdrift Cidermaker’s Reserve – This cider was made from heirloom & cider apples, but in contrast had a very unique unexpected flavor profile, with pomegranate, white grape, stone fruit, leather, butterscotch, and citrus notes.  It is unique, complex, and bubbly.  My husband is also an especially big fan of this cider.

 

Value:  Schilling King’s Shilling – I’ve picked up a 22oz bottle of this for as low as $4 (at Total Wine, actually cheaper than at the Cider House), which is a steal for a tasty barrel aged brandy infused cider.  This is more sessionable than you’d expect too.  Semi-dry and semi-sweet, with notes of honey and citrus, plus hints of maple syrup, oak, and spice.

Unexpected & Value:  Finnegan Cider Harvest Blend – This was another unexpectedly awesome cider which was also a great value.  I picked this up in Portland, for just over $7 for 500ml of cider from cider apples.  Semi-dry, with richness, high carbonation, and notes of rich ripe apples, caramel, leather, orange, stone fruit, honey, oak, and apple brandy.

 

Favorite from a New-to-Me cidery:  Woodbox Double Barrel Whiskey Barrel Ice Cider – This was the first (and only) cider I have tried from Woodbox, at Cider Rite of Spring in Portland.  I bought a bottle, but haven’t wanted to open it yet.  Lots of whiskey flavor in addition to caramel, vanilla, oak, and more.  It was rather budget-friendly for an ice cider too, at $17 / 375ml.

Pommeau:  2 Towns Pommeau – This remains my favorite Pommeau.  Super flavorful, rich, and complex, with notes of ripe apples, oak, dried fruit, leather, brown sugar, caramel, burnt sugar, vanilla, tropical fruit, and peaches.

 

Ice Cider:  Eden Cellar Series The Falstaff – This year I was spoiled with an amazing treat, a bottle of Eden’s 7! year barrel aged ice cider.  This ties with Alpenfire Smoke for the most complex cider I’ve ever drank.  The flavor was all over the place, from molasses, caramel, and brown sugar, to tart green apple and lemon, to raisin, to pie spices.

Overall:  Alpenfire Smoke – This 16% ABV sipping cider has an amazing complexity, with rich oaky smokey flavor.  If I had to name just one favorite cider, this would be it.  However, it is not an everyday sort of cider.  They recently released a new batch of it, but I haven’t tried it yet (I’m still working on my stockpile of the old version).

Other:  Also, while I’m at it, my favorite cider event in 2017 was Cider Summit Seattle, my favorite (and only) class was by Rev Nat, and my favorite bottle shop & bar was Schilling Cider House.

Well, there you have it, a list of 26 of my favorite ciders from 2017.  They have a lot in common–most are rich and full-flavored.  What are some of your favorite ciders?

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Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire

Review of Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire, a French perry (made entirely from pears, no apples).  It is my first time trying this, although I’ve previously tried Dan Armor’s cidre.  I’ve also sampled some other French poires:  Christian Drouin PoireDomaine Pacory Poire Domfront, and Eric Bordelet Poire Authentique (plus an American French-style poire,  E.Z. Orchards Poire).

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Cider:  Poire
Cidery:  Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré
Cidery Location:  Brittany France
ABV:  4.5%
How Supplied:  750ml corked & caged champagne bottle
Style:  French Poire (perry)

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Availability:  wide release at Trader Joe’s, since early 2017 (imported by Lattitude Wines, Danville CA)

Cider Description:  Cider made from fresh pears grown in the northwest of France, slowly fermented to create refreshing aromas and sweet flavors.  No sugar was added to this well-balanced cider and it is gluten-free.

Price:  $4.99
Where Bought:  Trader Joe’s
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  I had previously tried Dan Armor’s cider, and saw this for the first time.  At $5 it was an easy buy.

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First Impression:  Medium straw yellow hue.  Moderate carbonation.  Smells of syrupy sweet pear.

Tasting Notes:  Semi-sweet to sweet (15g sugar / 8oz).  Medium to full bodied, with a smooth, creamy, and fizzy texture.  Low tartness and acidity.  No bitterness, sourness, funk, or tannins.  Notes of canned pear, dried pear, and hints of pineapple & floral.  High pear flavor.  High sessionability.  Moderate flavor intensity.  Low complexity.

My Opinion:  I enjoyed this.  However, it was definitely on the commercial and easy to drink side, with less complexity than the other poires I’ve had (which admittedly have been from top cidermakers and high end prices to match).

Most Similar to:  Christian Drouin Poire (also semi-sweet and very pear-forward, but slightly more refined tasting and complex)

Closing Notes / random thoughts:   (1) Perry has significant unfermentable sugars, so even if completely fermented, it remains significant residual sugar (vs. cider, which with the right yeast will ferment to zero residual sugar).  Therefore you won’t see a dry perry.  Most are semi-sweet.  (2) Here in the U.S., typically the word perry should only be used if the beverage is only made from pears, and the term pear cider if it is an apple cider with pear juice.  However, often pear ciders are mistakenly called perries.  (3) I typically prefer French-style Poire to American perry.  Probably as many of the American perries I’ve had have been funky, and poire often has a really nice texture and complexity while remaining clean.  There have been a handful of American perries I have enjoyed though, like Locust Seckel Perry, Snowdrift Seckel Perry, and fruity perries from Pear UP (formerly NV Cider).

Have you tried French perry (poire)?  What did you think?

My Favorite Ciders of 2016

What an awesome year 2016 was in the cider world!  Cider Says has now been up for a year and a half.  Like other cider bloggers, I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite ciders of 2016.  See here for my list from 2015.  To make it a bit different and easier, I put them into categories instead of trying to do a top ten list or similar.

Note that I wouldn’t try to make a list of the best ciders, just those I enjoyed, as it would be an impossible task to try every cider out there and be impartial.  My only criteria for this list is that I drank the cider in 2016.

Multi pack:  Reverend Nat’s Revival – This one is complex for being made from dessert apples, with lots of unique flavor just from the yeast varieties used.  Celt – I always keep this easy drinking apple & yeast forward French cider in the house as its convenient & affordable.  Thatchers Green Goblin – For how commercial it is, I ended up really enjoying this sweeter simple English cider.

Canned:  One Tree Crisp Apple – I don’t usually go for plain flagship ciders, but this one had some nice unfiltered apple juice flavor without being over the top sweet.  Cidergeist Semi Dry – This reminded me of French cider; too bad it isn’t available locally.  Long Drop Vanilla Honey – Awesome honeycomb flavor.

French:  Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut – A $5 selection from Trader Joe’s which doesn’t disappoint and has some great apple forward sparkling goodness.  Christian Drouin Pays d’ Auge – I loved the bittersweet apple flavor, and that the funk remained mild.

English:  Aspall Imperial – Rich flavor, high ABV, and a low price tag.  Dunkertons Dry  (awesomely tannic) and Black Fox (nice fruity twist on an English cider), which I hope to find locally now that they are distributed in the U.S.

Italian:  Bertolinos – My first Italian cider, which I found to be simple but tasty, and budget friendly too.

Swiss:  Cidrerie du Vulcain Transparente – My first Swiss cider, which reminded me of French cider, in between the typical Brittany & Normandy styles.

Canadian:  Sea Cider Ruby Rose – This fruity high ABV cider is made with rhubarb and rose hips, making it a unique summer sipper.

Fruity:  Doc’s Draft Sour Cherry – A cherry cider is difficult to pull off without tasting medicinal, but the flavor is spot-on with this one.  Jester & Judge Pineapple Express – Although simple, this cider has some awesome pineapple flavor, a nice frothy texture, and a hint of lime.

Rosé:  Eden Imperial 11 Rosé – This drier cider with red currant is high ABV and amazingly fruity.  Alpenfire Glow – This sweeter cider is made from rare red fleshed apples and also amazingly fruity, with a high flavor intensity.

Limited Release:  Angry Orchard & Eden collaboration, Understood in Motion: 01 – This cider is only available at Angry Orchard’s Walden NY cider house, and was made from Vermont heirloom apples, barrel aged, and mixed with some ice cider; awesome!

Hopped:  2 Towns Hop & Stalk – I wouldn’t call myself a fan of either rhubarb or hops, but for whatever reason I really enjoyed this cider; the flavors really complimented each other and created a unique and surprisingly complex cider (I’m also a sucker for Imperial / high ABV ciders).

High ABV:  Alpenfire Smoke – This 16% ABV sipping cider has an amazing complexity, with rich oaky smokey flavor.  If I had to name just one favorite cider, this would probably be it, although its not an everyday sort of cider.  I hope it gets released again soon, as I’m down to only one bottle!

Oaked:  Sheppy’s Oak Matured – I love the strong oak flavor in this cider; as a bonus, it is budget friendly too.

Barrel Aged:  Reverend Nat’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Golden Russet with Black Currant – This was my favorite cider from Cider Summit Seattle 2016, with awesome berry, oak, and whiskey flavor.

Sparkling:  AEppelTreow Appely Doux – This methode champenoise cider has a wonderful texture & flavor, and would be a great champagne alternative.

Perry:  EZ Orchards Poire – I’m not a huge Perry fan, but those I do like tend towards the French Poire style; this one has a creamy texture and complex fruitiness.

Pommeau:  Etienne Dupont Pommeau – This is their Cidre Bouche aged in Calvados barrels with Calvados added, and is flavorful, rich, and complex.  Wandering Aengus Pommeau – Milder in flavor than some other Pommeaus, but still rich and complex.

Ice Cider:  Eden Heirloom Blend Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – I’ve enjoyed all of Eden’s ice ciders, but this is my favorite, as it had the added depth from barrel aging in addition to all the rich complexity of their typical ice cider.

Great Value:  Schilling King’s Shilling – I’ve picked up a 22oz bottle of this for as low as $4 (and as high as $7), which is a steal for a tasty barrel aged brandy infused cider.

Wine-like:  Honeywood Winery Hard Apple Cider – Quite different than I was expecting, but I liked it; this one reminded me of dessert wine with the white grape notes, higher ABV, and sweetness.

Draft-only:  Wandering Aengus Bittersweet – An amazingly rich and tannic cider made from bittersweet apple juice from Poverty Lane Orchards (Farnum Hill); wild fermented but it wasn’t funky.

Unexpected:   Gowans 1876 Heirloom – This cider almost seemed to good to be true, as it was so full flavored and apple forward.

Well, there you have it, a list of 32 of my favorite ciders from 2016.  They have a lot in common–most are rich and full-flavored.  Still, it seems like so many great ciders didn’t make the cut, which is unfortunate.

What are your favorite ciders?

Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut

Review of Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut, a budget-friendly imported French cider from Trader Joe’s.

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Cider:  Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut
Cidery:  Dan Armor
Cidery Location:  Brittany France
ABV:  5.0%
How Supplied:  750ml glass bottle

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Availability:  wide release at Trader Joe’s (since Dec 2014)

Cider Description:  What Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale is to beer, Dan•Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut is to hard cider. Hard cider has been around for centuries, and is currently enjoying a huge upswing in popularity. With all the options available, we found ourselves drawn to the cork-finished ciders made in the Brittany region of France, where a co-op of apple growers has been producing small-batch, hand-crafted cider since 1953. Their apples are grown in Brittany, and the cider definitely has a “local flavor” that makes it unlike any of the other ciders we offer.  Dan•Armor is made with two ingredients – fresh-pressed apple juice and brewing yeast. The cider is bottle fermented (like sparkling wine), which allows the live yeast to develop into fine bubbles – small amounts of CO2 are added to create uniform bubbles throughout each batch. It’s dry and crisp (thus the Brut designation), with forward notes of apples, and strong, persistent bubbles. It’s incredibly drinkable and not at all sweet, a refreshing take on a centuries-old classic.

Price:  $4.99
Where Bought:  Trader Joe’s
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  browsing

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First Impression:  Lovely deep golden orange hue.  Highly carbonated.  Significant head upon pouring which quickly dissipated.  Ripe cooked apple, vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar scent.

Opinion:  Between semi-dry & semi-sweet, which was sweeter than I was expecting, but good.  Effervescent mouthfeel.  The ripe cooked apple, vanilla, caramel, & brown sugar notes continue to the flavor.  Crisp & smooth, and very refreshing,  Light-bodied.  Very flavorful and a bit unique, but not bold.  Slight earthiness, but no funk.  I’m curious what apple varieties they use, but couldn’t find detailed information.  Almost no detectable bitterness, acidity, or tartness.  This cider was a crowd pleaser, and the other three tasters I had all agreed it was good.  It quickly disappeared!  Easy to drink, so its probably good it was only 5% ABV.

Most Similar to:  Other French ciders, although this is a bit sweeter than typical I believe.  French cider seems very similar to English cider.

Closing Notes:   Very tasty!  This is an awesome deal for $5 as well.  I’ll be picking up more for sure.

Have you tried Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidre Brut?  What did you think?