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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Phillippi Fruit Snow Dance

Review of Phillippi Fruit Snow Dance, an apple brandy fortified cider (aka Pommeau).  I tried this at a tasting event a couple years ago (see here), but hadn’t ever seen it in stores, so I was thrilled to find a bottle when traveling.

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Cider:  Snowdance
Cidery:  Phillippi Fruit
Cidery Location:  Wenatchee WA
ABV:  16%
How Supplied:  750ml cork-top bottles
Style:  Pommeau (cider + apple brandy)

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Availability:  very limited, likely only in central WA

Cider Description:  We love winter for the snowpack in can bring to the Cascades. In fact, we are dependent on snowy winters for skiing, whitewater, and the agriculture we enjoy here. Sometimes winter needs a little help, and that’s where Snow Dance come in. Inspired by the French pommeau de normandie, Snow Dance is a hard cider containing 19% alcohol by volume. We fortify partially fermented cider with double distilled apple brandy to preserve the fresh-off-the-farm aroma. Snow Dance brings a wonderful flavor while not being cloyingly sweet. We’re pretty sure this is going to be your new winter warmer!

Cidery Description:  Welcome!  At Phillipi Fruit, we craft spirits and cider from the world famous tree fruits that surround us in Wenatchee, Washington.  With six generations of fruit growing experience to our name, starting a ciderhouse and distillery was a natural extension for us as well as a way to express ourselves, share our heritage, and showcase one of the world’s premier growing regions.  Find the perfect place, surround yourself with people you love, have fun, and great things will happen. We’re excited for what’s next for Phillippi Fruit, and look forward sharing it with you. Cheers!

Price:  ~ $23 ?
Where Bought:  Broken Barrel in Leavenworth WA
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  I read about this shop online when planning a repeat visit to Leavenworth (a Bavarian-themed mountain town about 2.5 hours East of Seattle).  We went in December so all the lights were up, but mid-week, without the crowds.  Broken Barrel focuses on wine and cider.  The cider selection (both on tap and in bottles) was great, and I picked up this bottle plus a new to me cider.  The shopkeeper said I chose her two most expensive ciders – I guess I have good taste!

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First Impression:  Light gold hue.  Still.  Smells of alcohol, honey, and apple.

Tasting Notes:  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness, acidity, bitterness, and tannins.  No sourness or funk.  Notes of honey, ripe apple, caramelized sugar, oak, and tropical fruit.  Long finish.  Low apple flavor, sessionability, and barrel influence.  Moderate flavor intensity and complexity.  High spirit influence.

My Opinion:  Awesome!  I love the flavor of this.  Definitely alcohol-forward, but for me it drank more like a sweetish wine than a Pommeau, meaning that I sipped on it all evening, not just after dinner.  It also reminded me a lot of cyser (made from honey + apples), as I found it to have a lot of honey flavor.

However, note that I found this didn’t keep as well as I expected for a high ABV beverage.  I’d recommend finishing the bottle within a few days.  I left the last little bit sit for over a week, and it tasted like the flavor was sucked out of it, leaving only the alcohol.  Previously I had found ice cider and Pommeau and the like to maintain their flavor pretty well for up to 1-2 weeks.

Most Similar to:  This was lighter / less rich than most of the Pommeaux I’ve had (such as from 2 Towns, Etienne DupontEZ Orchards, Finnriver, Stem, and Wandering Aengus).  I found it most similar to an Imperial style cider which also had a lot of honey flavor, Central City Limited Edition Imperial Cider.

Closing Notes:  It doesn’t appear that Phillippi makes any regular cider, but they also list an Applejack (unaged apple brandy), Kirschwasser (cherry brandy), and Pear Brandy on their website.

Have you tried Phillippi Fruit Snow Dance?  What did you think?

Pacific Northwest Cider Awards Festival 2016 Tasting Notes

The third-annual Pacific Northwest Cider Awards Festival took place on Saturday June 25th 2016.  Its a chance for the public to try some of the ciders which were judged on the day prior.  It took place outside The Woods in Seattle WA, which hosts both Seattle Cider and the Two Beers Brewing company.  I attended the event with some cider friends.  Here is a list of the 2016 winners.

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Wandering Aengus (Salem OR) Bittersweet (5.2% ABV): This is a draft-only one-off release using only bittersweet cider apple varieties from Poverty Lane Orchards (Farnum Hill) in New Hampshire, wild yeast fermented.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low carbonation.  Lovely rich bittersweet apple flavor with notes of caramel and honey.  Mild bitterness, tannins, acidity, and tartness.  Long finish length.  I wouldn’t have guessed at all that this was wild fermented, as it lacked any sourness or funk, although they mentioned it was a very long fermentation.  This is the first cider I’ve truly enjoyed from this cidery (see here for previous reviews)…they tend to be too bitter for my liking.  This won Silver in the Wild Ferment category.

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Phillippi Fruit (Wenatchee WA) Snow Dance (16% ABV): This is a Pommeau-inspired apple brandy fortified cider, and the first time I’ve tried anything from Phillippi (they aren’t even distributed to Seattle WA yet).  Semi-sweet.  Full bodied.  Rich and boozy with notes of honey and caramel.  I really enjoyed it.  This would be nice served ice cold after dinner, but was a bit much just after noon!  I’m a big fan of Pommeau, ice cider, mead, etc.

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Longdrop Cider (Eagle ID) Electric Cherry (6.0% ABV): I previously tried a few of their ciders at a tasting event at the Schilling Cider House (see here).  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Moderate to high tartness.  Light bodied.  Moderate cherry flavor intensity.  The tartness was a bit overpowering for me, but fans of tart cherry would like this.  The flavor was true and non-medicinal, which can be tough to pull off with a cherry cider.

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Apple Outlaw (Applegate OR) Thompson Creek (9.0% ABV): I’ve previously tried a few of their ciders (see here).  This is a new keg-only rye whiskey barrel aged cider, the first in their Heritage line.  Awesome whiskey and oak scent.  Semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Mild bitterness, tannins, acidity, and tartness.  Overall the flavor was a bit harsh.  I think I would have liked it with more sweetness or less ABV.

Wards (Kelowna B.C. Canada) Original Hard Cider (5.5% ABV): I’ve actually never tried anything from this cidery, although I’ve seen them.  Semi-sweet.  Light bodied.  Moderate carbonation.  Low to moderate tartness and acidity.  Low flavor intensity and simple apple juice flavor.  I found this to be average.

Wards (Kelowna B.C. Canada) Festive Apple Cider (5.5% ABV): This ended up being cherry.  I had assumed it would be spiced (although its not really the season for that…).  I didn’t enjoy this semi-sweet cider at all…the cherry flavor seemed medicinal.  Someone else said it tasted like a Shirley Temple.

Carlton (McMinnville OR) Citizen Cider (6.75% ABV): I’ve tried a few ciders from them (see here).  This is their flagship cider, but I actually hadn’t tried it yet.  It is made from traditional English cider apple varieties.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Mild to moderate tannins and bitterness.  I liked the flavor, and I’m probably being over critical, but I found it a tad bitter and not quite rich enough.  This won Bronze in the Traditional Sweet category.

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Spire Mountain (Olympia WA) Crisp and Dry (5.0% ABV): I’ve tried a few ciders from them (see here).  This is their newest release.  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Moderate carbonation.  Medium bodied.  Apple-forward.  Notes of mineral and honey.  Quick finish.  We discussed this cider and decided that it may taste sweeter than it actually is as its tangy and fuller bodied.  However, its likely not anywhere near truly try, just dry for their cider lineup.  I found it to be average.

My favorite of the afternoon was the Wandering Aengus Bittersweet.  Overall the event was a bit disappointing, as they listed quite a few ciders online (and even in the handout they gave us) which they didn’t end up having.  I imagine cideries had said they would drop off kegs/bottles/cans and didn’t end up doing so, or changed what they brought.  These were about the only ciders I hadn’t tried before, and many of those were more commercial than I usually enjoy.

Admission was $25 + tax at the door for 8 cider tokens and a tasting glass.  A few ciders were 2 tokens instead of 1, and most were 4oz pours.  The venue was also a bit lacking in shade and seating.  Apparently they previously had this be an indoor-outdoor event, but this year switched to outdoor only.  The cider booths were under tents, they had a few standing tables, one food cart, kegs of water, and a few port-a-potties.  Its always fun to try new ciders and hang out with folks with a common interest though.