Notes from a Cider Tasting Class with Reverend Nat

For my third Washington Cider Week 2017 event, I attended a cider tasting class with Nat West of Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (in Portland Oregon), at Downtown Spirits in downtown Seattle.  It was my first time at that store, which had a large selection (spirits, wine, beer, cider, mead, etc), plus an area set up with chairs & tables for classes & tastings.

The Event

I only read about the event the day before, but it sounded like a cool opportunity, as The Reverend (as he is commonly referred to – and he is an actual online ordained Reverend) has a lot of interesting insight on the industry.  I already missed out on some fun cider week events as I didn’t find out about them until after the fact (apparently the official NW Cider calendar stopped accepting submissions pretty early), so I didn’t want to pass this up.

The tasting list was a bit underwhelming with multiple mass market PNW canned ciders, but the two hour event with 10 ciders only cost $10.  That was crazy good deal, as that probably only covered the cider (and maybe even not), so Nat was basically volunteering his time.  He took the train up from Portland just for this and one other event.  There were only 11 of us who attended (and 2 of those were store employees).

I liked that the class was very informal.  We were encouraged to ask questions whenever, and we were even allowed to just pass the ciders around and pour how much we wanted (with a suggested amount so everyone got to try some).  Although that meant we couldn’t go back and taste anything (unless there were leftovers), it also meant I didn’t have cider poured into my glass which I would have felt obligated to drink to move on.

 

Cider Tasting Notes

We tasted the following ciders, in this order:  Cascadia Granny Smith, Liberty McIntosh, Wandering Aengus Golden Russet, Seattle Cider Winesap Rosé , Seattle Cider Semi Sweet, Rambling Route Apple, Reverend Nat’s Revival, Bull Run Bramble Berry, 2 Towns Cot in the Act, and Reverend Nat’s The Passion.  The first was described as a palette cleanser, the next three as American Heirloom, the following three as American common, and the last three as flavored.  Most of the time he would also include some European ciders, like English, French, and/or Spanish, but I think he was limited to what this store had in stock and cold.

The only new-to-me cider was Seattle Cider Winesap Rosé.  Nat asked if anyone had tried all the ciders, and I said 9/10, and it was the same for him (apparently that is a new ish Seattle Cider release).  The majority of the class seemed to be more so fans of Reverend Nat’s cider (which tend to be beer fans), than overall cider enthusiasts like me.

Cascadia Ciderworks United (Portland OR) Green Apple (6.9% ABV) – This retails for $9.99 / four pack of 16oz cans, and is made by Reverend Nat’s.  Semi-dry, very tart, and definitely green apple flavor (single varietal).

Liberty Ciderworks (Spokane WA) McIntosh (8.1% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  Liberty was described as a more traditional cidermaker, plus I know they are unique in that they are not orchard based, but only use heirloom & cider apples.  This single varietal is available in bottles and on draft, and retails around $16 / 750ml.  Nat described this apple variety as making a juice which is very appley (more than many other heirloom apple varieties), and it not being as common in the PNW as it is in the NE.  Semi-dry.  Low to moderate tannins.  Notes of apple juice, caramel, honey, and must.  Some other folks in the class were picking up hints of “bandaid” flavor (which is from a combination of Brettanomyces, tannins, and polyphenols).  I must not be sensitive to that, as I’ve never noticed it with any cider.  However, in contrast, I am very sensitive to sourness, common in farmhouse and Spanish style ciders.

Wandering Aengus (Salem OR) Golden Russet (9.0% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  Wandering Aengus was described as one of the first cideries in the NW, starting in the 1990s, under the name “The Traditional Company”.  This is a single varietal made using Golden Russet apples which they grew themselves, and dry farmed (no irrigation).  It retails for around $9 / 500ml.  I would have described it as on the sweeter side of semi-dry, but apparently this measures full dry (my all have different palettes!).  Tart, acidic, bitter, and slightly tannic.  Rich flavor.  Long acidic tannic finish.

Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle WA) Winesap Rosé (6.0% ABV) – I’ve tried multiple single varietals from Winesap apples, and multiple rosé ciders, but not this one.  Winesap Rosé is a single varietal from Winesap apples, and pink/rosé from being aged in red wine barrels.  It retails for around $11 / 500ml.  Semi-dry.  Watery.  Slightly fruity, with a hint of oak.  The carbonation was visible but not detectable.  Low tartness and acidity.  Hints of tannins.  Quick finish.  I think this would appeal more to wine folks.  Like most of their ciders, the flavor was very mild.

Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle WA) Semi Sweet (6.5% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This is a very commonly found cider in Seattle, and retails for about $11 / four 16oz cans.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Fuller bodied.  Low acid.  Notes of apple juice, honey, and citrus.

Rambling Route (Yakima WA) Apple (6.9% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This is made by Tieton, and retails for about $9 / four 16oz cans.  Higher carbonation.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Very similar to Seattle Cider, but slightly more apple-forward.  We were told these two ciders are so similar as they use the same dessert apple juice blend, same wine yeast, sugar for back-sweetening, etc.

Reverend Nat’s (Portland OR) Revival (5.8% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This retails for about $15 / six 12oz bottles or $6 / 500ml bottle.  This is a very unique cider as it gets a lot of different flavors just from the use of multiple yeast strains, piloncillo sugar, and a secret ingredient which he told us but said I couldn’t write down.  It is made by mixing two batches of cider together.  One has yeast strain 1 and the sugar, and results in a high ABV.  The other has yeast strain 2, and results in a more typical ABV.  Then fresh juice is added, which is about 20% of the makeup.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Notes of apple juice, yeast, brown sugar, honey, and hints of tropical fruit.

Bull Run (Forest Grove OR) Bramble Berry (6.8% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This cider with marionberries, blackberries, and boysenberries retails for $8 / 500ml.  Semi-dry, with the berry more in the nose than the flavor, low acid, and hints of tannins from the berries.

2 Towns (Corvallis OR) Cot in the Act (6.2% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This is a seasonal apricot cider (made using the whole fruit, not just juice) which retails for about $12.50 / six 12oz cans or $8 / 500ml.  Very strong apricot scent.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry, juicy, notes of stone fruit, and flavorful.

Reverend Nat’s (Portland OR) The Passion (6.9% ABV) – See my previous notes here.  This is a seasonal cider made with Ecuadorian passion fruit juice, toasted coconut, and vanilla, and retails for about $14 / 500ml.  I had previously heard this described as a sour cider, but this bottle pour and my previous draft pour were both free from sourness, so I’m game to buy it sometime as I really enjoy the flavor.  Semi-sweet (his sweetest cider).  Tart.  High flavor intensity, with a strong passion fruit scent & flavor, with hints of vanilla & coconut.

My favorite ciders of those were from Liberty, 2 Towns, and Rev Nat’s.

Info from Rev Nat

  • We discussed some cider basics such as sweetness vs. acidity and the cidermaking process.  However, I was surprised that I don’t think the word “tannins” came up at all (although it was on the handout, which had one side of general cider info and one side with info about the 10 ciders), despite at least the Liberty and Wandering Aengus ciders being good examples.
  • Rev Nat’s has five cider bases, and two of them are the Cascadia green & blue cans
  • 2 Towns (another common Oregon cidery) is six times as large as Rev Nat’s (I assume in context of cider produced/year)
  • Rev Nat’s currently has 22 employees
  • Rev Nat’s will be moving into a new 25,000 sq ft cidery space, and will then convert their current 8,000 sq ft space into only a tap room, including food.  It doesn’t look like the news about this being finalized has been officially announced, but this article from last year mentioned the same info.
  • Profit margins are about the same for all cideries, so ciders that cost more do actually cost more to make.
  • Specific gravity is a way to measure the sweetness of a cider, using the weight of the cider compared to the weight of the same amount of water.  The interesting thing with SG however is that you can have a cider with a specific gravity lower than water, so that would say the cider was drier than water lol.
  • Single varietal ciders are apparently more of an American thing, due to our new experimental cider culture.  They are probably second most common in England.
  • Wine/champagne yeast is often used in cidermaking as it ferments cleanly at low temperatures, is easy to remove (it will clump at the bottom of the tank), and it is designed to not impact the flavor.
  • Rev Nat’s in contrast uses beer yeast, which is designed to impart flavor (we were told the yeast in beer is actually what has the most impact on a beer’s flavor, not the grains or hops).  I think this class did a good job showcasing Rev Nat’s ciders, as they were two of the 2-4 most flavorful ciders of the group of 10.
  • Nat said cider that is cloudy is more of a marketing gimmick, and cloudy ciders don’t really retain more flavor than the more commonly found filtered ones.  Cloudiness in a cider can be from suspended yeast, apple debris/pulp, or pectin (naturally in apples).  The first two can be filtered out, but not the last.  This really made me think, as I’ve had a number of ciders which were cloudy and very flavorful (Downeast comes to mind).  They did tend to be sweet and apple juice forward though, so its quite plausible they would have still tasted like that after filtering.  Also, I’ve never tried the same cider before and after filtering, which I think would be the real test.
  • Nat often does an expanded cider tasting class during Oregon Cider Week, which includes 30! ciders in 3 hours

After the Event

I forgot to snag a photo before the tasting, but I got one of the aftermath:

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After the event I looked around the Downtown Spirits shop and was excited to find an entire shelf of cider that was 50% off – Alpenfire, Eden, Eric Bordelet, Slyoboro, etc.  Its sad, but the high end and/or imported ciders just don’t sell very quickly.  I’ve heard from several shops that they won’t be re-stocking those sorts of items.  It has got more difficult for me to get imports especially.  I hadn’t planned to pick up any cider as my cabinet is full, but I picked up six bottles of high end ciders for under $50, as it was too good of a deal to pass up.  Very cool!

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Summer Cider Day 2016 in Port Townsend WA – Tasting Notes

This is Part 2/2 on Summer Cider Day 2016 in Port Townsend Washington, which includes tasting notes on the ciders I tried.  See HERE for Part 1/2, covering the event itself.

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Bull Run Pear Ice Wine, 12% – This is a 9% residual sugar ice perry, made from Hood River Oregon Bosc and Anjou pears, similar to how ice cider or ice (grape) wine is made (using the natural cold to concentrate the sweetness & flavor of the fruit).  Semi-sweet to sweet (less sweet than a typical ice cider oddly enough, despite perries usually being sweeter than ciders as pears have non-fermentable sugars).  Moderate to full bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Hints of bitterness and tannins.  I found this unique, like a complex pear syrup, with a well-hidden ABV.  In addition to all the pear flavor, there were some honey, citrus, and melon notes.  Moderate length finish.  Moderate pear flavor.  Low sessionability.  Moderate complexity.  Moderate flavor intensity.

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Nashi Orchards Barrel Fermented Cider, 6.9% – This is a cider made from primarily Winesap apples with some French & English bittersweets (from the WSU Mt. Vernon Cider Research Center), aged in neutral French oak barrels.  Dry.  Light bodied.  Low tartness.  Low to moderate acidity.  Low bitterness and tannins.  Definite Winesap apple flavor with hints of richness from the bittersweet apples.  Notes of oak (low) and honey.  Moderate to long slightly boozy finish.  Low to moderate apple flavor.  Low sessionability.  Moderate complexity.  Low flavor intensity.  Overall this is quite subtle, similar to their other products I’ve tried.  I would love to see them do something made from only bittersweet apples and barrel aged, as those are my favorites, but alas, good cider apples are hard to come by / expensive, so its not done much here in the U.S. (which is why I am also a big fan of English & French imports).

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Nashi Orchards Island Harvest Perry, 6.7% – This perry is from 90% Asian pears (Shinsseiki and perry pears) and 10% seedling pears foraged on Vashon island.  Semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate to high acidity.  Hints of bitterness.  Notes of pear, lemon, lime, and mineral.  Moderate sessionability.  Low pear flavor.  Low flavor intensity.  Moderate complexity.  I found it to be very light; I think this would be great to pair with food.  It was also very subtle.

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New West Cidery – I thought I’d add a little about this cidery, as I hadn’t even heard of them before this event (their cider isn’t distributed to Seattle).  They are part of Sasquatch Brewing in Portland Oregon, which was founded in 2011.  They started making cider a few years ago under the New West name.  They are opening a separate cidery in Northwest Portland in a couple months which will have 90 barrel fermenters (which is very large capacity considering a standard keg holds half a barrel).  At the brewery’s tap room in Portland they currently offer 12 cider taps (including guest taps).

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New West Black & Blue, 6.8% – Lovely deep berry hue.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low carbonation.  Low tartness and acidity.  Very mild pure berry flavor, 50-50 blackberry and blueberry.  Quick finish.  No apple flavor.  High sessionability.  Low complexity.  Low flavor intensity.  I like a more flavorful cider, so I didn’t really care for this.

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New West Señor Cider, 6.8% – Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness and acidity.  Notes of several different hot peppers and a hint of citrus & honey.  Moderate heat, mostly at the end of the sip, which lingers with a long finish.  Low apple flavor, sessionability, flavor intensity, and complexity.  I don’t like spicy ciders, so I didn’t like this at all.  I think a spicy cider works better when the spice level is low, it has higher residual sugar, and there is some flavor balance (like significant honey notes).  Enough people must like these though, as cideries keep making them (for example – the Schilling Cider House in Seattle WA actually has a tap line dedicated to a rotating selection of spicy Schilling ciders).

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Rambling Route Pear, 6.9% – This is the second cider in Tieton’s Rambling Route line, their Apple variety with Bartlett pear juice added.  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Nearly still.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness and acidity.  Moderate apple flavor.  Very light pear flavor.  High sessionability.  Low flavor intensity and complexity.  I think I prefer their Apple variety, although I’m not really a fan of either.  I think Tieton’s regular line of ciders is superior (although that is likely to be expected from the price point), especially the recent draft-only Bourbon Peach (my tasting notes here).

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Snowdrift Cornice, 7.3% – I’ve tried this before (see here), but it was awhile back, and I was curious how this year’s version turned out.  This is their barrel aged cider made from cider apple varieties.  Smells mildly oaky.  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Low bitterness.  Low tannins.  Notes of oak, smoke, and honey.  Moderate apple flavor.  Moderate sessionability.  Moderate complexity.  Low flavor intensity.  I found this vintage to be more approachable than their previous one, but I really enjoyed both.

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Spire Mountain Dark & Dry, Jack Daniels Barrel Aged, 5.0% – This is a special version of their typical Dark & Dry cider which was aged in Jack Daniel whiskey barrels for 8 months.  Smells strongly of whiskey, plus some oak and brown sugar.  Semi-dry to dry.  Medium bodied.  Moderate to high bitterness.  Low tartness and acidity.  Notes of brown sugar, molasses, whiskey, vanilla, and coffee.  Long bitter finish.  High spirit influence.  Low barrel influence.  Low apple flavor.  Moderate flavor intensity.  Low sessionability.  Moderate complexity.  Its crazy how the barrel aging changed this cider from a fairly simple sweet cider to a bitter complex dry cider!  I think they are on to something with barrel aging this cider, but it was aged too long for my liking (something I thought I’d never say…I always say I wish a cider was aged longer!), as it was too intensely bitter.

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Spire Mountain Dry Hop Apple, 5.0% – This is their Red Apple cider with Citra hops, their new Summer Seasonal.  Semi-sweet.  Medium bodied, slightly syrupy.  Low tartness, acidity, and bitterness.  Subtle hops flavor, more herbaceous than citrusy, which is unusual for a Citra hopped cider.  Moderate to high apple flavor.  High sessionability.  Moderate flavor intensity.  Low complexity.  I thought this was pretty decent for a commercial cider; I liked how the hops flavor wasn’t overwhelming, although I think I like a more citrus-forward hopped cider.

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Wandering Aengus Wanderlust, 6.9% – This was their first cider variety they made 12 years ago.  Its an off-dry (0.5% residual sugar) English-style cider made from primarily heirloom sharp plus some bittersweet apples.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Low bitterness.  Low tannins.  Notes of bittersweet apples, oak, and mineral.  Sharp flavor with hints of richness.  Moderate length finish.  Moderate to high apple flavor.  Moderate sessionability, complexity, and flavor intensity.  This time around I enjoyed it better than when I tried it awhile back; either this batch had less bitterness than previously and/or I’m not as sensitive to it anymore.

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Whitewood Gibb’s Farm, 6.7% – They nicknamed this limited release cider a “Farmer’s Reserve”.  It was made from a large number of varieties of apples only from Grant Gibbs’ farm outside of Leavenworth WA.  Semi-dry to semi-sweet.  Low carbonation.  Medium bodied with a nice texture, slightly syrupy.  Moderate tartness and acidity.  Low bitterness and tannins.  Notes of sharp apples, honey, and lemon.  Moderate to long slightly boozy finish.  Moderate to strong apple flavor.  Moderate sessionability and flavor intensity.  Low to moderate complexity.  I enjoyed it.

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Whitewood Newtown Pippin, 6.9% – This is a Newtown Pippin apple single varietal, part of their Old Fangled Series, made from 2016 harvest apples from Hood River Oregon.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied, with a nice frothy texture.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Hints of bitterness and tannins.  Quick finish.  Moderate apple flavor.  Low flavor intensity.  Low complexity.  Moderate sessionability.  I found this to be very mild, which is characteristic of Newtown Pippins, but not something I prefer.

I didn’t taste ciders from every cidery there (as I had tried the remainder of the lineup), but here are photos of the other booths.

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<Finnriver>

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<Eaglemount>

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<I agree with this sentiment!>

Rambling Route Yakima Cider

Review of Rambling Route Yakima Cider, made by Tieton Cider Works.  This is their lower end canned cider (vs. their bottled ciders).

Cider:  Yakima Cider
Cidery:  Rambling Route (Tieton Cider Works)
Cidery Location:  Yakima WA
ABV:  6.9%
How Supplied:  16oz tallboy can (four pack)

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Availability:  Semi-wide (19/50 states), year round

Cider Description:  The apple’s journey to America was parallel to man’s. The boat landed and the exploration began: in this vast new land the choices for thriving were endless. Some were happy to live on the coast where they landed, spreading out and staying diverse. Others were content to live amongst a few or be a solo tree in a town square. A few made it halfway across the land and settled in. The fearless joined the westward migration on horses and wagons, traveling thousands of miles looking for the perfect dirt, long sunny days and ample water. When it reached the land that would be called Washington, the apple knew. It was home at the end of a Rambling Route.

For those that appreciate the bold, crisp flavor of biting into a Washington grown apple, your quest for the perfect apple cider ends with Rambling Route. We grow and press only fresh apples from our family farm and carefully blend under the roof of our own cidery located in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Expect pineapple aromas and mineral qualities on the nose, snappy and racy acid levels on the palate, coupled by a deep full-bodied finish. No additives, no concentrates, or preservatives – ever!

Additional Info from Rambling Route:  We use a variety of bitter sharp and bitter sweets apples in our Ciders.  Along with some dessert varietals.  We launched our can division on April 1st which is the Rambling Route brand.  We will be launching Rambling Route in early 2016 with kegs.

Price:  ~$2.50 for a single can (runs $8-9 for a four pack in my area)
Where Bought:  Total Wine
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  Since then, I’ve seen it promoted quite a bit.

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First Impression:  Mild dry acidic crisp apple scent.  Little carbonation upon pouring, but tiny bubbles.  Light straw gold hue.

Opinion:  On the drier side of semi-dry.  Moderate to high acidity.  Mild tartness, bitterness, and astringency.  Citrus notes.  I noticed the slightest bit of tannic cider apple taste, but it left me wanting more.  Rather bland and watered down tasting.  Light bodied.  Longer finish with an odd almost soapy aftertaste (which I read can be a sign of stressed yeast).  I liked that it wasn’t too bitter, which I’ve often found with drier ciders.  I don’t agree with their description that it is bold or full-bodied.  It is however a crisp and easy drinking cider.  Well balanced, but I found it boring and unimpressive.

Most Similar to:  Other drier light bodied PNW flagship ciders such as HUB Hard Cider, Red Tank Happy Cider, 2 Towns Bright Cider, Seattle Cider Semi-Sweet, and Anthem Cider.

Closing Notes:   I commend Tieton for making an affordable craft cider (relatively small batch, made from fresh pressed juice, nothing artificial added, etc), and one that isn’t too sweet either.  However, it just isn’t to my liking.  I think if it was higher carbonation and had a richer flavor, they would be on to something I’d enjoy.  I’m still in search for an everyday drinking craft cider which is affordable (which usually means it comes in a multi-pack).  The cider folks I’ve talked to seem to either love or hate this cider.  I’m sorta ambivalent.

Have you tried Rambling Route Yakima Cider?  What did you think?