Dragon’s Head Summer Cider

Review of Dragon’s Head Summer Cider.  It is my first time trying this, but I have had their Traditional CiderWild FermentedKingston BlackColumbia CrabMethode Champenoise PerryPerry, and Manchurian.

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Cider:  Summer Cider
Cidery:  Dragon’s Head
Cidery Location:  Vashon WA
ABV:  7.3%
How Supplied:  750ml bottles
Style:  American craft heritage cider from cider apples

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Availability:  probably only in Western Washington

Cider Description:  not given

Cidery Description: At Dragon’s Head Cider, we believe in producing high quality hard ciders with a traditional approach, which means you will never find us using apple juice concentrate, over sweetening our ciders, or adding other flavors to our ciders. We love the story that apples and pears can tell all by themselves. And so we keep it simple. Press high quality apples and pears, ferment the juice, put it in a bottle.  We believe one of the keys to creating great cider is to have control over the entire process. For this reason, we do the pressing, fermentation, blending and bottling all right here on the farm.

Wes and Laura Cherry moved to Vashon Island in 2010 with the dream of planting an orchard and starting a cidery. Dragon’s Head Farm, named for the dragon who guards the apples of immortality in the Garden of Hesperides, is now home to over 2,200 cider fruit trees as well as our production facility.

They have a tasting room on Vashon Island open Saturdays and Sundays.

Price:  ~ $18 ?
Where Bought:  Schilling Cider House in Seattle WA
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  browsing

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First Impression:  Dark straw yellow hue.  Low carbonation.  Smells dry, acidic, and fruity.

Tasting Notes:  Semi-dry.  Light bodied.  Moderate tartness and acidity.  Low to moderate tannins.  Hints of sourness and bitterness.  No funk.  Notes of sharp apple, honey, pineapple, and floral.  Long tannic finish.  Low to moderate flavor intensity and apple flavor.  Moderate complexity and sessionability.

My Opinion:  I liked it.  It had a non-descript fruitiness that was nice, and it wasn’t too acidic.  However, its not a favorite of mine.

Most Similar to:  nothing specifically, although in general it is pretty typical of a complex heritage cider

Closing Notes:  My favorite from Dragon’s Head is their Traditional, plus their Perry and Kingston Black.

Have you tried Dragon’s Head cider?  What did you think?

Nashi Orchards Black Swan Cider

Review of Nashi Orchards’ Black Swan, a cider from apples foraged from Vashon Island Washington, then bourbon barrel aged.  It is my first time trying this variety, although I have had their Issho Ni ciderChojuro Blend Asian Pear Perry, Barrel Fermented Cider, and Island Harvest Perry.

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>>This is a review of a sample bottle provided to Cider Says by Nashi Orchards.  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:  Black Swan (2016 vintage)
Cidery:  Nashi Orchards
Cidery Location:  Vashon Island WA
ABV:  7.3%
How Supplied:  200ml bottles
Style:  American craft cider from foraged apples, barrel aged

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Availability:  Vashon Island (including Nashi’s tasting room), Seattle, and Tacoma Washington, per their website

Cider Description:  Island foraged apples (heirloom and bittersweet varieties) make up the base cider, which is then aged in a bourbon barrel (from Seattle Distilling).

Cidery Description:  We strive to make Perry and Cider that expresses the best qualities of the Asian and European pears and heirloom apples that we grow and source.  We carefully control fermentation to preserve some of the natural sweetness, use 100% juice pressed at our winery and do not add sugar or flavorings. Yes, we are purists.

Price:  n/a ($7 retail)
Where Bought:  n/a
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  The cidermaker, Jim Gerlach, dropped off a sample for me.  This year’s vintage was just released.

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First Impression:  Medium straw yellow hue.  Smells very mild, of citrus and acidity.  Still (no carbonation).

Tasting Notes:  Dry.  Moderate tartness.  Very high acidity.  Low to moderate tannins.  Low bitterness.  No sourness or funk.  Notes of sharp crabapples, lemon, grapefruit, peach, mineral, and a hint of honey.  The finish length is moderate and a bit alcohol-forward.  Moderate apple flavor, sessionability, flavor intensity, and complexity.  There is no overt barrel or spirit influence/flavor; in fact, I tasted this cider blind and wouldn’t have guessed it was bourbon barrel aged.

My Opinion:  This is a wine-lover’s subtle food-friendly cider.  Well made, but not my favorite style.  Always nice to try something new though.

Most Similar to:  Other dry high acid subtle ciders made from heirloom apple varieties, such as other ciders from Nashi, Dragon’s Head, and Farnum Hill, and Montana CiderWorks Spartan Dry-Style.

Closing Notes:  I heard that Nashi is going to start kegging their perries and ciders, which is great, as it will increase their product visibility.  I find it interesting they release their products in such a small bottle compared to the ABV, ie. 7 ounces of cider is less than a typical serving size.  It must be a pain to fill all those little bottles without an automated line.  However, it does decrease the price per bottle.

Have you tried cider from Nashi Orchards?  What did you think?

Nashi Orchards Asian Pear Perry 2013 – Chojuro Blend

Review of Nashi Orchards’ Chojuro Blend Asian Pear Perry.  Note that true perry is a fermented beverage made only from pears.  In contrast, pear cider is typically apple cider back sweetened with pear juice.  Pear cider will typically be sweeter and have a stronger pear flavor, but perry is more traditional.

Nashi Orchards specializes in perry, especially from asian pears, and Chojuro Blend is their flagship product.  The word “Nashi” in Japaenese means “pear” by the way.  This is my first time trying their perry, although I sampled one of their ciders at a tasting event with Bill Bradshaw last summer at Capitol Cider during Washington Cider Week (tasting notes on Issho Ni “Together” cider here).

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Cider:  Asian Pear Perry 2013 – Chojuro Blend
Cidery:  Nashi Orchards
Cidery Location:  Vashon Island WA
ABV:  6.7%
How Supplied:  187ml (6.2oz) clear glass bottle
Style:  American perry made from Chojuro and Olympic varieties of Asian pears

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Availability:  Limited to the greater Vashon Island, Seattle, and Tacoma areas of WA.  Nashi self-distributes to independent bottle shops, tap rooms, and fine restaurants in WA.  They also welcome visitors to their orchard and tasting room on Vashon Island.  Chojuro Blend is their most widely distributed perry.  They usually offer an additional 3 or 4 other perries and ciders at a time, some of which are small batch and only available directly through them.

Cider Description:  Our signature Chojuro Perry is lightly effervescent with a floral aroma, exhibits flavors of bright summer fruit and pear, and has a clean refreshing finish. Serve it as an aperitif or with NW oysters, halibut and turkey. We carefully control fermentation to preserve some of the natural sweetness, use 100% juice pressed at our winery and never add sugar or flavorings.

Cidery Description:  PASSIONATELY PURSUING DELICIOUS LIBATIONS.  Nashi Orchards uses sustainable practices to grow the finest Asian Pears and handcraft perry and hard cider. Our orchard and winery is located on beautiful Vashon Island, Washington where we are a part of a growing community of committed producers of artisanal foods, wines and spirits.

Additional Information: Jim Gerlach from Nashi was awesome enough to respond to my request for more info with some amazing detailed notes–thanks!

The Chojuro Asian Pear Perry is a blend of two varieties of Asian pear. The Chojuro pears are grown in our orchard on Vashon Island and are an orange bronze colored fruit with flavors of butterscotch. It is also called “the rum pear”.  The second asian pear is a Korean Giant, also called Olympic. We source these from Kiyokawa Orchards in Hood River. It is a very late pear and likes a bit more heat than we get in Puget Sound. Both pears benefit from extended maturation to bring out the flavors and aromatics. This extended maturation process also serves to convert some of the simple sugars into complex sugars which do not ferment and this provides a bit of residual sweetness. I would describe it as off-dry .

We typically ferment the varieties separately using different yeasts and do bulk blending in the spring after fermentation is complete. We like Epernay2 and DV10 for a clean expression of the fruit and use sake yeast on a portion of the batch to provide improved mouthfeel and complexity. 
In response to my question on perry from asian vs. other pear varieties:  The flavors are similar but I would say that the flavor and aroma of asian pear perry is a bit more floral and delicate.
Traditional european perry pears (Pyrus domestica) may have tannin and commercially available asian pears do not. Tannins will provide some structure as well as astringency and/or bitterness. That being said we have access to a trial orchard of Asian Pears (pyres pyrifolia) and have found varieties with massive amounts of tannins.  We are excited to propagate these and add these to our orchard.
The acidity of some Asian pears is thought to be quite low and this creates the need to blend or add acid to create an appropriate pH for fermentation. Most of the varieties of pears from our orchard have a relatively low pH. This is because we only irrigate as much as necessary to maintain tree health. More water in the fruit equals less flavor and less acidity. 
Storage, milling and pressing of Asian Pears is much easier than with European pears. European and perry pears are notoriously fickle in terms of ripening and can go from hard as a marble to slime in a matter of days. As I mentioned before, a long maturation process is key to extracting as much flavor as possible from the fruit. Asian Pears store for long periods of time, and mill and press quite readily. Some European pears can be very slimy and difficult to press without aids such as enzymes or rice hulls. 
Thanks again to Jim at Nashi for sharing all that awesome detailed info on this perry, asian pears, and their orchard!

Price:  $6.50
Where Bought:  Full Throttle Bottles in Seattle WA
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  The cute bottle caught my attention.  Once at home it sat for quite a few months however as I didn’t find the right time to drink it (with such a small bottle it was more of an aperitif), but lately I’ve been trying to drink some of my oldest ciders, so into the fridge and into the glass it went.

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First Impression:  Pale straw yellow.  Light carbonation & foam.  Smells of pear (light), vanilla, spice, sour citrus, floral, and wild yeasr / funk.  Drank chilled.

Tasting Notes:  Semi-dry.  Light sourness, funk, tartness, and bitterness.  Mild to moderate acidity.  Very mild flavored in general, but complex.  The primary notes I picked up were pear and citrus, with some honey, floral, and vanilla.  I also found it quite wine-like.  Light bodied.  Medium length finish.  Moderate sessionability.  I found it a touch alcohol-forward (warming), despite its mild flavor & body.

My Opinion:  Although I think it was wonderfully complex and well-crafted, this perry wasn’t really to my tastes.  I enjoy full-flavored ciders, yet similar to most other perries I’ve tried, the flavor of this one remained mild.  It was nice to try it though.  Oddly enough I would have guessed wild yeast was used due to the mild amount of funk, but it sounds like they used some unique fermentation techniques and yeast, so that probably explains what I picked up.

Most Similar to:  Other perries and off-dry white grape wine (although I have no grape wine experience so I can’t be more specific than that…and I specify grape wine as cider & perry are actually classified as types of wine, which doesn’t technically only mean grape).  The level of funk seemed in between that of for example Snowdrift Perry (almost non existent) and WildCraft (mild to moderate, although Pioneer Perry was less so than the Elderberry Perry).  My favorite perry so far is Pear Essentials from Neigel Vintners (NV Cider), likely as it is sweeter and has a more intense pear flavor (as it is back sweetened), although I’ve also had their Half Past Prudent which was drier & milder.  Back sweetening perry (and cider) isn’t traditional, but is a technique that is quite common, as its the easiest way to get a sweeter beverage which is fruit-forward.  I don’t mind dry, but I prefer full-flavored, which often doesn’t occur with drier ciders & perries.

Closing Notes:   I don’t think I truly appreciate perry…I have found perries to have a lot of qualities similar to white wine, which I also don’t care for.  It was a nice aperitif though, and I’m glad I got to try it.  I’d recommend this perry for folks looking for something unique and local.  I think especially in summer it would be tasty.

Have you tried any true perries?  What did you think?