Ace Joker

Review of Joker from Ace (California Cider Company).  This is the driest variety from Ace, and probably one of the driest commercial ciders out there.  I’ve had a number of their other varieties from Ace such as Pumpkin, Pineapple, Blackjack 21, Apple-Honey, Apple, and Berry, which for the most part are tasty, but pretty juice-like and commercial tasting.  The Blackjack 21 was a special release of drier cider aged in Chardonnay barrels for their 21st anniversary.  It was honestly a bit disappointing as it was very wine-like, and pretty pricey at about $16.  However, it was popular, and they are planning to make it a yearly thing.

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Cider:  Joker
Cidery:  Ace (California Cider Company)
Cidery Location:  Sebastopol CA
ABV:  6.9%
How Supplied:  six pack of 12oz bottles

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Availability:  Semi-wide release, year round

Cider Description:  Our Ace Joker is our driest cider yet and is made from 100% apple juice; it has champagne characteristics, a bit yeasty with a 6.9% ABV. It has won many awards and recently took the 2013 San Diego Cider and Beer Festival by storm! It even grabbed the Gold Ribbon for “Best Cider” in the competition. Ace Joker is popular with beer and wine drinkers and makes a great base for Mimosas, Snakebites, or Black Satins.  Ace Joker first made its appearance in 2008 and has rapidly become our second top selling cider. It is available in 6 packs, 22 ounce bottles and kegs. The Joker tastes great on its own, ice cold in a champagne flute, or with cheese and apple slices.

Cidery Description:  We have been making ACE ciders since 1993 in the beautiful Sebastopol area of Sonoma County in California; right along side some of the world’s most renowned wine makers.  Thanks to Ace Cider – America’s Best – the cider business in America is growing rapidly. There really is a refreshing alternative to beer and wine and it’s ACE!  Unfortunately, some ciders never see an apple and are poor representations of the category. They’ve really given hard cider a bad name. Many ciders are far too perfumy (almost Jolly Rancher-tasting) and are quite a put-off to those seeking a crisp alcoholic refreshment. Some ciders are very dry and barnyard tasting, especially some of the imports. We challenge you to take a taste test of your own if you don’t believe ACE ciders are truly America’s Best!  Our Award-Winning ACE Ciders are very pure, clean, and refreshing because we use ONLY the best eating apples for our juice and the best ingredients we can buy. There is a big difference between ACE Ciders and other brands on the market, we guarantee it!  We realize that the cider industry in the United States has been weakened in the past by some poor quality ciders on the market and some consumers have been turned off. Now is the time to try something new and exciting to drink! ACE Ciders are great refreshment, chilled on their own and elegant enough to bring to the dinner table, pour in your favorite glass and have with a variety of meals.

Price:  ~$2 for a single bottle (runs $10 a six pack in my area)
Where Bought:  Total Wine
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  I’ve had my eye on it for awhile, and now that I’m open to drier ciders, I decided to give it a try.

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First Impression:  Little carbonation but significant tiny bubbles.  Champagne hue.  Smells dry, slightly musty, with a hint of honey.

Opinion:  Definitely dry.  Moderate tartness, acidity, and astringency.  No bitterness or detectable tannins.  Slightly mouth-puckering.  Very clean, refreshing, and nice and light.  Citrus notes (but I didn’t pick up the honey I smelled).  Not very appley however.  A small amount of complexity.  Light bodied.  Nice alternative to champagne although it isn’t very carbonated.  Quick finish.

Most Similar to:  Argus Ciderkin and Elemental Carbon, but less carbonation.  I honestly think I liked this one better than those two, which is sad as its commercial cider and both of those are craft.

Closing Notes:   Not bad, especially for commercial cider.  My husband especially liked this cider.  Not sure that I believe the 3 carbs per 12 oz on the label, but its definitely dry.  I ended up picking up a six pack of this mostly for my husband (who can’t have a lot of sugar so usually doesn’t get more than a sip or two of my ciders).  I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a drier cider but has trouble finding craft cider in their area, as its pretty widely available.  Its my favorite Ace cider so far.  For awhile I was really into their Pineapple, but my tastes have moved away from it.

Have you tried Ace Joker?  What did you think?

Do You Know Why So Many Hard Ciders are 6.9% ABV?

Do you know why so many hard ciders are 6.9% ABV?  I had heard some talk about 7% ABV being some sort of cut off as far as taxes, and was curious enough to do some research:

Under current federal laws, hard cider by definition is only allowed to be up to 7% alcohol by volume (ABV) before it gets taxed at the more expensive rate for wine.  Additionally, there are even limits on the level of carbonation before it gets taxed at the very expensive rate for champagne.  Therefore, many ciders weigh in at 6.9% ABV, just under the 7% cutoff.

This is a very current issue, as the Cider Investment and Development through Excise Tax Reduction (CIDER) Act aims to combat this and other cider classification & taxation discrepancies.  Cidermakers are currently lobbying legislators to enact the CIDER Act, which would update the tax code to treat hard cider differently than wine or champagne.

It can be difficult for cidermakers to predict & precisely control the ABV and carbonation levels of their ciders.  Scott Donovan, a member of the board of the U.S. Association of Cider Makers, says hard cider’s alcohol content can vary between 5.5% and 8% ABV, depending on the type of apples used and the time of the year the cider is made (source).  I’ve also seen products with higher and lower ABV levels.

This isn’t all about taxes.  There is also a significant economic potential, as apparently there are currently many apples that could be used for cider that aren’t.  However, taxes are a major reason.  This effects the consumer as a cider which costs more to produce & sell is typically priced higher.  Also, some cidermakers desire to carbonate their ciders higher, but currently avoid doing so due to the “champagne tax” (source).

Current federal tax levels (source):

  • $1.07 per gallon, still wines < 14% ABV
  • $1.57 per gallon, still wines < 21% ABV
  • $3.15 per gallon, still wines with 21-24% ABV
  • $3.40 per gallon, champagne & other sparkling wines (3.92 grams per liter carbonation; source)
  • $3.30 per gallon, artificially carbonated wines
  • $0.23 per gallon, hard cider which is a still wine derived primarily from apples or apple concentrate & water, containing no other fruit product, and containing 0.5% to 7% ABV
    • There is however a $0.056 credit for the first 100,000 gallons by a small cidery not producing not more than 150,000 gallons per year (source).

By comparison, beer is taxed at $0.58 per gallon, or $0.23 per gallon for the first 60,000 gallons produced by small scale breweries which produce less than 2 million gallons per year (source).

IN SUMMARY:  Currently ciders which are more than 7% ABV are taxed as wine.  Also, regardless of ABV, if they have a high level of carbonation, they are taxed as champagne.  Both wine & champagne tax rates are significantly higher than those for beer.  Also, consider that wine & champagne typically have a lower ABV than cider, so when considering a tax per gallon it isn’t very consistent.

The goals of the CIDER Act are:

  • Allow higher carbonation in cider without it being taxed like champagne
  • Include pears in the definition of “hard cider”
  • Align the alcohol-content standard for hard cider with the natural sugar content of apples (at least 8.5% ABV)

The CIDER Act can help level the playing field between beer, wine, & cider.  They tried to pass this in 2013, but no such luck (source).  In February 2015 this passed the Senate Finance Committee, and now awaits the Senate floor (source).  In August there were some additional meetings (source).  So, hopefully there will be progress soon.  Note that there are also taxes at the state level, which are separate from this act.

Please support the CIDER Act!  The U.S. Association of Cider Makers website says what we can do.  Take action.