My Favorite Ciders of 2018

Happy New Year!  Now that it is nearly 2019, it is time for a list of some of my favorite ciders of 2018.  This is a tradition here at Cider Says; see here for my list from 2017, 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 2018.  Some of the categories overlap.  However, I cheated a bit, as I made the list first, then determined categories to put them in!

barrel aged:  Tieton Bourbon Peach – This has more juicy peach flavor than bourbon, but the two go well together, and there is some nice complexity for being made from dessert apples.

botanical-infused:  Finnriver Lavender Black Currant – This mouth-puckering tart cider is primarily black currant flavored, but also has hints of lavender.

brewery-made:  Central City Limited Edition Imperial Cider – Most ciders I’ve tried that were made by breweries were disappointing, but this one was awesome, complex, imperial-style, and bourbon barrel aged.

canned commercial:  Woodchuck 802 Collection ‘Lil Dry – Many commercial ciders are overly sweet and uninspired, but this was semi-dry, flavorful, and craft tasting.

cyser:  Merridale Cyser – This cyser was imperial style and had some nice flavor and complexity, beyond just tasting like apple and honey.

draft commercial:  Somersby Apple Cider – As much as I enjoy craft cider, sometimes a commercial cider really hits the spot, plus often that is all you can find.  This cider is from Denmark but I tried it in Canada on vacation.  Apple forward and not too sweet.

everyday English cider:  Newton Court Gasping Goose – I’m a huge fan of English cider, and this was a go-to of mine, although unfortunately it is no longer available.  Tannic, rich, flavorful, clean, and sessionable.

fancy English cider:  Oliver’s Gold Rush batch #2 – This cider is crazy rich and complex, and a lovely deep hue too.  A steal at $15/bottle.  Wish I could find more.  I picked some up on vacation, and got lucky when I returned the next year and they still had 1 bottle left, but haven’t seen it locally.

French cidre:  Eric Bordelet Sidre Brut Tender and Ferme de Beau Soleil Cidre Fermier Bio Brut – I’m also a big French cider fan, and tried a number of great selections this year, but these stood out.

French perry:  Pierre Huet Poire Demi-Sec – This French perry is unique, with its fluffy texture, tartness, great real pear flavor, and a bit less sweet.  I haven’t found any American perries like the French ones I’ve had.

French Pommeau:  Hérout à Auvers Pommeau de Normandie AOC – I tried this awesome Pommeau (cider + apple brandy) at Cider Summit.  I’m looking forward to opening the bottle of it that I bought.

fruity:  Portland Sangria – Very fruity, with unexpected complexity, a fruit salad sort of cider.

ginger-infused:  Kystin Kalysie – I’m not a ginger fan, but I actually enjoyed the hint of ginger in this French perry.

ice cider:  Woodbox Double Barrel – This is a less sweet ice cider, with rich concentrated flavor, and a twist, having been whiskey barrel aged.

large craft cider made with cider apples:  Schilling Excelsior – This was made using bittersweet cider apples in addition to regular varieties, but remains beginner-friendly, staying a bit sweeter and clean and such.  I’m seeing more mainstream ciders being made using cider apples, although often it seems like it must have been a small amount.  The cider apple influence was definitely noticeable in Excelsior though.

New England style:  Alpenfire Tempest – The style is characterized by the use of brown sugar and raisins, and this is a great example.  It even reminded me of English cider.

pineapple cider:  2 Towns Pacific Pineapple – This cider is bursting with real fresh pineapple flavor, yet its less sweet.

Pommeau:  Phillippi Fruit Snow Dance – This U.S.-made Pommeau is super flavorful and complex, and reminiscent of cyser.

rosé:  Manoir du Parc Authentic Rosé and La Chouette Cidre Rosé – Both of these sweet French rosés are made from red-fleshed apples plus pears, and have a lovely fluffy texture.  I’m not sure if I could even tell them apart in a taste comparison, they are so similar.

single varietal:  Liberty Kingston Black – Made from only Kingston Black cider apples.  Tart, rich, and complex, with a hint of sweetness, which I appreciated, as often these sorts of ciders go completely dry.

tannic cider:  Finnriver Fire Barrel version 1 – Super tannic, flavorful, and complex, reminiscent of English cider.  I wasn’t as much of a fan of their more recent version 2 of it though.

tropical:  One Tree Staycation – I loved the complexity of this, which was unexpected for a cider from dessert apples.  I drank way too much of this over the summer!

unexpected:  Fresh Cut Watermelon Cider – Based on the can design and flavor, I was expecting this Canadian cider to be fake and syrupy, but this was superbly done, real tasting and semi-dry.

unique:  Kystin Cuvée XVII – 16 varieties of apples plus chestnuts are used in this unique, complex, tannic, and nutty French cider.

Well, there you have it, a list of 26 of my favorite ciders from 2018.  They have a lot in common – most are mid-level sweetness, rich, complex, and full-flavored.  What are some of your favorite ciders?

Merridale Cyser

Review of Merridale Cyser (made from apple juice and honey).  It is my first time trying this, but have previously had their Scrumpy and House Craft Cider.

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Cider:  Cyser
Cidery:  Merridale
Cidery Location:  Cobble Hill, B.C., Canada
ABV:  10%
How Supplied:  500ml bottles
Style:  Canadian cyser

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Availability:  mostly in Southwest British Columbia (see here)

Cider Description:  A rich blend of aromatic cider apples and local wildflower honey from our own orchard. Inspired by the finest tradition of Medieval England, where the Normans and Celts credited cyser with magical powers. Aged for several months to a year after bottling…Winner of Silver Medal at the North American Beer Awards, and won ‘Best in Show’ at the 2013 Portland International Cider Cup.

Cidery Description:  Since 1990, we have been making our unique ciders from heritage varieties of English, French, and German cider apples. These apples have been used in the cider regions of Europe for many hundreds of years.  Each of our ciders is a blend of apples aimed at a particular palate. Our orchard has a wide range of bittersharp and bittersweet apples allowing us to create our distinctive family of products.  Some, like the House, Merri Berri and Traditional are designed to be enjoyed as a glass or a pint, with or without food. Others, like our Scrumpy and Cyser are rich in history from medieval times of Olde England.  As always, our cider is made without artificial flavours or colours and no added sulphites.

In addition to cider, they also run a farm and distillery under the same name.

Price:  $9.49 CAN (~$7.55 USD)
Where Bought:  Liquor Express in Victoria B.C.
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing

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First Impression:  Dark straw yellow hue.  High carbonation.  Smells of acidic apples and honey.

Tasting Notes:  On the sweeter side of semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate tartness.  Moderate to high acidity.  Hints of bitterness and tannins.  No sourness or funk.  Notes of baked apple, honey & honeycomb, floral, lemon, and butterscotch.  Long boozy finish.  Moderate apple flavor, honey flavor, flavor intensity, and complexity.  Low sessionability.

My Opinion:  I really liked it.  Great apple and honey flavor with a bit of an extra kick with the high ABV.  However, it was a tad harsh due to that higher ABV; I think barrel aging this would have been awesome.

Most Similar to:  Moonlight Last Apple, Eaglemount Cyser, Finnriver Cyser, and Finnriver Honey Meadow

Closing Notes:  This was an excellent value.  I look forward to trying more from them.

Have you tried Merridale Cyser?  What did you think?

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. (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).

Merridale Scrumpy Cider

Review of Merridale’s Scrumpy Cider.  This is the first cider I’ve tried from them.  It isn’t available in the U.S., but I picked it up in Victoria B.C., a port stop on our Alaska cruise (one of six ciders I bought).

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Cider:  Scrumpy
Cidery:  Merridale
Cidery Location:  Cobble Hill, British Columbia, Canada
ABV:  11.0%
How Supplied:  500ml bottles
Style:  Canadian craft cider made from cider & crab apple varieties

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Availability:  Only in British Columbia Canada.  See Merridale’s website for locations.

Cider Description:  Winner of Gold & Silver North American Brewers Awards in Idaho Springs. If you’re a Scotch drinker, try this one. Scrumpy is strong and sharp, and rich in the flavours of our strongest cider apples. Once you acquire a taste for Scrumpy, nothing else will do! In old England, scrumpy was a cider made by farm workers who stole or ‘scrumped’ apples from the orchard.

Cidery Description:  Here at Merridale, we use cider apple varieties that have been proven for centuries in England, France, and Germany to make the best cider. All of our ciders are made from 100% pure juice, and only the first pressing is used. We do not add water or re-press the apples to increase the yield because we believe this compromises the flavour. Being purists, we do not use concentrates, chemicals at bottling, pasteurization, or fine filtration of juice. We ferment our juice slowly and naturally, to delicately bring out all of the flavour the fruit has to offer.

The Cowichan Valley mirrors the optimum growing and climate conditions of the renowned cider regions in the UK and Europe. Merridale’s location was chosen, after years of research, as the perfect combination of climate, aspect and soil conditions (our terroire) to grow world-class fruit. As with fine wines, you need world-class fruit to make a world-class beverage! We have two rows of Jonagold apples, the only dessert apples in the orchard. The rest are cider-specific varieties like Tremlett’s Bitter, Michelin, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, Chisel Jersey, Kermerien, Julienne, Judaine, Frequin Rouge, and Hauxapfel.

At Merridale we take no shortcuts with our cider. We are passionate about following practices and procedures that do not ever compromise the quality. Greater care requires more labour and time, but the result is worth it. The way we handle our fruit, our fermentations, our packaging and our customers is consistent with this philosophy. We believe that consumers appreciate our passion. Some of our practices are important to know so that you can understand what is unique about Merridale.  As cider makers, our customers and our staff continue to inspire us. We hope you can taste the passion of our producers and all of us at Merridale.

Price:  ~$7.50 USD with the current exchange rate
Where Bought:  The Strath in Victoria B.C. (which had a great cider selection for a small shop by the way)
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  I had heard of them, and I love high ABV (Imperial) and English-style ciders, so this sounded really good.

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First Impression:  Orange amber hue.  Low carbonation upon pouring.  Smells rich, of tannins, caramel, and honey.

Tasting Notes:  Dry to semi-dry.  Nearly still.  Medium bodied.  Moderate tannins.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Moderate bitterness.  No sourness.  A hint of funk.  Notes of apple pomace, caramel, honey, and oak.  Long warming finish.  Moderate apple flavor.  Low sessionability.

My Opinion:  Tastes like an English-style cider with an extra kick of ABV (which I assume is from the crab apples, which are high in sugar) and slightly harsher flavor.  I really enjoyed it, but this is probably not for everyone (my husband didn’t like it at all, although he’s not a fan of English-style ciders like I am).

Most Similar to:  English Imperial style ciders and ciders made with crabapples.  This reminds me of a cross between Liberty’s Stonewall and Manchurian Crabapple.

Closing Notes:   I’m impressed!  This was also a good value with it being made with cider apples and being oak cask aged, especially good with the current exchange rate.  Hopefully I can try something else from Merridale in the future.

Have you tried Merridale cider?  What did you think?