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?

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Understood in Motion 03 (Angry Orchard and Tom Oliver collaboration)

Review of Understood in Motion 03, Angry Orchard’s third release in the collaboration series, this time with Tom Oliver, of Herefordshire’s Oliver’s Cider & Perry.  The first collaboration was with Eden Specialty Ciders (see my review here), and the second was with EZ Orchards (see my review here).

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

Cider:  Understood in Motion 03
Cidery:  Angry Orchard and Oliver’s Cider & Perry
Cidery Location:  Walden New York U.S.A & Herefordshire England
ABV:  7.2%
How Supplied:  750ml corked & caged bottle
Style:  American & English craft cider from Dabinett, Northern Spy, & Foxwhelp apples, wild yeast fermented, oak aged, dry, still

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Availability:  Angry Orchard’s facility in Walden NY, released March 2018

Cider Description:  Understood in Motion 03 started over two years ago, as two different natural ciders fermented with wild yeast. The Dabinett apple was the principle apple variety used in this collaboration, an 18th century English bittersweet apple that is favored for its reliability to yield fruit annually, and is now grown in the United States. The result, a still, tannic, dry, wild and funky cider that pairs well with a hearty meal enjoyed with friends.

Angry Orchard’s Ryan Burk and Oliver’s Cider & Perry’s Tom Oliver worked together on this cider over the last two years.  This article has more information.

Price:  n/a (retails for $25)
Where Bought:  n/a
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  I read about it online.

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First Impression:  Hazy orange amber hue.  Very low carbonation.  Smells of cider apples, sourness, and funk.

Tasting Notes:  Dry to semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Low tartness, sourness, funk, and bitterness.  Moderate acidity and tannins.  Notes of bittersweet apples, pomace, orange, leather, grapefruit, and oak.  Long tannic sour finish.  Moderate apple flavor and flavor intensity.  Low sessionability.  Moderate to high complexity.

My Opinion:  I liked it.  However, I would have much preferred it without the sourness; I don’t mind funk, but for some reason I’m not a fan of sourness.  I liked it better closer to room temperature, but even then it still had the sourness on the finish.  The bittersweet apple flavor and aging was great though.

Most Similar to:  English cider (rich bittersweet apples, tannic, funky), with a hint of Spanish sidra (sour, citrus)

Closing Notes:  I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to try these special releases not available locally – I’m spoiled with these samples!

Have you tried any of the Angry Orchard special releases?  What did you think?

Oliver’s Gold Rush Cider

Review of Oliver’s Gold Rush Cider, batch #2.  This was a collaboration between Tom Oliver (of Oliver’s Cider and Perry in the UK) and Gregory Hall (of Virtue Cider in Chicago).  I’ve previously tried Oliver’s Herefordshire Perry and Desire.

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Cider:  Gold Rush
Cidery:  Oliver’s Cider and Perry
Cidery Location:  Herefordshire United Kingdom
ABV:  6.2%
How Supplied:  750ml twist-top bottle
Style:  English still cider from cider apples, wild yeast fermented, oak aged, secondary fermentation

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Availability:  limited, although in general Oliver’s can at least be found in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, and USA (see here).

Cider Description:  Have you noticed similarities between Tom Oliver’s wild yeast- fermented ciders and traditional lambics?  You aren’t the only one.  During a visit to Oliver’s farm in 2011, Greg Hall – former brewmaster at Goose Island, and current cidermaker at Virtue Cider in Chicago – proposed a collaborative cider made in the traditional way, but with a lambic yeast thrown in for further complexity.  The result is the Gold Rush: a…sparkling, medium dry cider with a deep, burnished color made from 100% bittersweet and sharp vintage cider apples from traditional Herefordshire farms. The juice was slow fermented by wild yeasts in old oak barrels through a cold winter and underwent malolactic fermentation in the warm spring.  Oliver then added fruit sugar and lambic yeasts for a second alcoholic fermentation, adding a touch more alcohol and complexity. It was finished in oak, for maturity, before final blending and bottling.  The first transatlantic cider that is everything a bittersweet cider should be.

Cidery Description:  Oliver’s strives to produce premium products, while valuing the health and well being of its consumers, its employees, the earth’s natural resources, and the environment. In fact, Oliver’s have created a charter that they hope all cider makers will follow. Its tenets are these:

  • To help secure the future of UK orchards and their ecosystems
  • Preserve the integrity of cider and perry as valuable products of recognized quality using only UK fruit
  • Declare ingredients (with traceability), based on a minimum juice content of 85%, control and minimize additives and use only natural products.”

Price:  $14.99
Where Bought:  The Jug Shop in San Francisco CA
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing during a cruise port stop.

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First Impression:  Moderate amber hue.  Still (no carbonation) with some froth.  Smells amazingly complex, of bittersweet apple juice, caramel, and a hint of funk.

Tasting Notes:  On the sweeter side of semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Low tartness, acidity, and bitterness.  High tannins.  Hints of funk.  No sourness.  Notes of bittersweet apple, caramel, leather, orange, brown sugar, must, and spice.  Long finish.  Moderate to high apple flavor and complexity.  Low sessionability.  Moderate flavor intensity.

My Opinion:  Amazing!  This was crazy rich and complex.  I love the color too – it is so rare to find such a naturally dark cider.  I was surprised to not find more funk or any sourness, which is rare for a wild fermented cider.  This is now one of my favorite English ciders.  Best drank at cellar temperature (in between fridge and room temperature).

Most Similar to:  Henney’s VintageRocquette XC Exceptional Cider, and Finnegan Harvest Blend

Closing Notes:  I hope I get the opportunity to try more varieties from Oliver’s!  I liked this one just slightly more than Desire (as Gold Rush was more tannic and complex).

Have you tried Oliver’s Gold Rush?  What did you think?

Perry Tasting Notes

There was recently a perry tasting at my house (thanks Sarah, Merce, and Kevin from Cider Log for sharing!).  I took a few tasting notes.  Note that perry is similar to cider, but made from pears, no apples.  [In contrast to pear cider, which in the U.S. is often an apple cider with some pear juice/flavor added.]

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We didn’t end up opening every bottle, so we’ll need to have a perry tasting part 2!  Our dinner pairing was pizza, which worked surprisingly well.

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Dragon’s Head (Vashon Island WA) Methode Champenoise Perry (6.3% ABV), $29 / 750ml:  This is a special release of Dragon’s Head’s Perry, which was made in Methode Champenoise, a labor-intensive traditional way of making a naturally sparkling cider.  It was made from Taylor’s Gold and heirloom seedling Vashon Island pears .  High carbonation.  Semi-dry.  Light bodied.  High tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Low tannins.  Hints of bitterness.  Notes of pear juice & skin, floral, and honey.  I enjoyed it, although it was very mildly flavored.  It would be a nice champagne alternative, albeit pricey (this was by far the most expensive bottle we opened).

Oliver’s (Herefordshire England) Herefordshire Perry (6.9% ABV), price unknown:  This is an English bottle-conditioned perry made from perry pears.  Smells very funky.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Low sourness.  Moderate funk.  Mild tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Low bitterness.  Low tannins.  Pear-forward and floral.  I enjoyed it.

Hogan’s (Alcester, England) Vintage Perry 2010 (5.4% ABV), ~$10 / 500ml:  This is another English perry made from perry pears.  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Light bodied.  Hints of sourness, funk, tannins & bitterness.  Low tartness & acidity.  Pear-forward, rich, and nutty.  I really enjoyed it.

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Mission Trail (Bradley CA) Perry (6.0% ABV), price unknown:  This perry was made from Bartlett pears, and claims to be the only true perry (not pear cider) made in California.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Moderate tartness & acidity.  No bitterness, sourness, funk, or tannins.  Notes of pear, stone fruit, and honey.  I liked it, but this was the most “commercial” / pear cider type tasting of the group.

Viuda de Angelon (Asturias Spain) Sidra de Pera (5.2% ABV), $4 / 11.2oz:  This is a Spanish perry.  Semi-sweet.  Medium bodied, frothy.  Hints of sourness & funk (less so than most Spanish ciders).  Low to moderate tartness & acidity.  Pear-forward with notes of apricot.  I liked it.

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Sea Cider (Saanichton B.C. Canada) Perry (6.5% ABV), $18 / 750ml:  This is a Canadian perry made from perry pears.  Semi-dry.  Light to medium bodied.  Moderate tartness.  High acidity.  Very light kinda weird flavor, more floral & herbal than pear.  I think this was a bit of an off bottle though, as it was infected with scobies.  I’ll have to give it another try sometime.

AEppelTreow (Burlington WI) Perry (7.5% ABV), $12 / 750ml:  This is a Methode Champenoise perry made from Comice, Bosc, and Bartlett pears.  Semi-sweet.  Moderate carbonation.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Hints of bitterness & tannins.  Tastes exactly like champagne, no pear, but juicy, plus notes of stone fruit and honey.  I enjoyed it, although it was not what we were expecting.  Also a nice champagne alternative, and an excellent value for Methode Champenoise.

The day after the group tasting I opened up my bottle of Samuel Smith’s perry, as it was already in the fridge.

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Samuel Smith’s (Tadcaster, England) Organic Perry (5.0 ABV), $3 / 12oz:  This is another English perry, and Organic, but the most commercial (ingredient list included water, pear extract, malic acid, etc).  Semi-sweet.  Low to moderate carbonation.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate tartness and acidity.  No bitterness, sourness, funk, or tannins.  No pear flavor, but notes of apple, apricot & other stone fruit, and honey (if I tasted it blind I’d call it cider, not perry).  I liked this, although it was definitely commercial tasting, and the sweetest option.

Our favorite was the Hogan’s (also an excellent value, under $10 I believe).  Our least favorite was the Sea Cider.  The most surprising was the AEppeltreow, as it was the least perry-like.

I’ve also previously tried these perries: Dan Armor Poire, Pear UP Half Past Prudent, Pear UP Cherry Perry, Pear UP Watermelon Perry, Pear UP Watermelon Raspberry Perry, Pear UP Raspberry PerryDomaine Pacory Poire Domfront, Dunkertons Organic Perry, Eaglemount Perry, Locust Seckel PerryNashi Orchards Asian Pear Chojuro Blend PerryNashi Orchards Island Harvest Perry, Portland Cider Pearfect Perry, Snowdrift Perry, Snowdrift Seckel Perry, Tieton Sparkling Perry, WildCraft Pioneer Perry, WildCraft Elderberry Perry, and William’s Sir Perry