Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co. Lavender Lemon

Review of Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Company’s Lavender Lemon.  This isn’t cider, but instead a carbonated fruit wine, made from fermenting water, lemon juice, sugar, and lavender.  Its my first time trying anything from Hi-Wheel.

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Beverage:  Lavender Lemon Carbonated Fruit Wine
Company:  Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co.
Location:  Portland OR
ABV:  6.8%
How Supplied:  500ml bottles
Style:  American craft fruit wine made from lemon and lavender

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Availability:  Oregon and Washington

Product Description: This refreshing drink has the same lemon start as its cousin Ginger Lemon, but infused with lavender.

Company Description:  Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co. makes fizzy wines out of fruit not typically used for wine making, such as grapefruit, lemon & lime. Brewed with culinary herbs and spices, we present a growing series of session beverages with AVB around 6.8%, such as Ruby Zozzle (grapefruit), Ginger Lemon, Lavender Lemon, & Lime Habanero.

Hi-Wheel also crafts long-aged meads, with a release of Beloved Sovereign – an herbal honey wine made with Sauvie Island honey, savory spices & citrus – later this autumn. These meads are designed for intimate dinners and connections, in tasteful packaging, and run about 14% AVB.

Price:  $6.99
Where Bought:  Total Wine
Where Drank:  home
How Found:  Browsing.  I had seen them before, but only other varieties which didn’t appeal to me (I’m not a fan of grapefruit, ginger, or spicy beverages).

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First Impression:  Hazy lemonade hue.  Low carbonation upon pouring.  Smells of tart lemonade with a hint of lavender.

Tasting Notes:  Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  High tartness.  Moderate acid.  No bitterness or sourness.  Notes of only lemonade and lavender.  Moderate finish with lingering tart lemon and a hint of booze.  Moderate flavor intensity.  Very low complexity.  Very high sessionability (this was too easy to drink!).

My Opinion:  A refreshing summer sipper.  No complexity, but I liked it.  I would have preferred slightly less tartness (as well as more carbonation), but I imagine most folks will like the high tartness, and it only bothered me the first few sips.  I appreciated that it wasn’t overly sweet.  The lavender worked well and was an appropriate amount–definitely noticeable but not overpowering.  This would have been quite boring without the lavender.

Most Similar to:  Other alcoholic lemonades, such as from Crabbie’s and Big B’s.  I think I slightly prefer the Big B’s Lazy Daze (although its actually a mix of cider with lemonade, so maybe that is why).

Closing Notes:   I’m curious to try their other products.  I imagine this will sell well, as altervative alcoholic beverages are popular now (alcopop and the like).

Have you tried Hi-Wheel’s fruit wines?  What did you think?

Port Townsend Cider Route – Eaglemount Wine & Cider (& Mead)

As a continuation of my trip report on the Port Townsend cider route, this is post 3/4, on Eaglemount Wine & Cider (here is overview post 1 and here is post 2 on Alpenfire).  It was our second cidery of the day.  Eaglemount is unique in that they also offer red grape wine and mead (honey wine) in addition to cider.  All of these are made by the co-owner Trudy.  It was quite busy, but I got a chance to chat with her and introduce myself.  I learned that Drew Zimmerman from Red Barn Cider in Mt Vernon WA was an inspiration in their making cider, wine, and mead.  Red Barn Cider closed a few years ago due to his retirement.  Its not the first time I’ve heard of Drew Zimmerman…his Fire Barrel cider is now made by Finnriver (who also bought his cider apple orchard).

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Eaglemount is owned & operated by the husband & wife team of Jim & Trudy Davis, since 2006, although they had been making these beverages for 10 years prior to that.  They moved their tasting room just over a year ago from their home, orchard, & cidery/winery/meadery to a separate property (the Palindrome).  I learned they often start their ciders fermenting with wild yeast, then may add yeast as required.  There is an Airbnb on the new property, and plans for a new septic system and commercial kitchen so they can host events.  At their orchard they are planting 800 cider apple trees to add to the current 200.  They currently use cider apples in a mix with dessert apples in their Dry & Semi-Sweet Homestead ciders.

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One of the disadvantages of visiting during an event was they were offering less tastings for a higher cost (due to the chocolate pairings), and they were served in plastic cups (for some reason cider always tastes better from a glass to me).  I went through two sets of four tastes at Eaglemount.  My husband also sampled some of their red wines.

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The cider & mead tasting options that day were Homestead Dry cider, Homestead Semi-Sweet cider, Cyser, Quince cider, Rhubarb cider, Raspberry cider, Raspberry Ginger cider, Ginger cider, Apple mead, Cherry mead, Cranberry mead, Quince mead, Apple Dessert Wine, and Harvest Apple wine.  The last two were described as apple wines as they had higher ABVs.  I believe the only cider from their lineup that wasn’t offered was Boot Brawl, their hopped cider.  Bottles of cider & mead ranged from $14-$26 (mostly $14-$16), and most bottles are 750ml.  They also had 5 red wines they were tasting out of the 6 in their lineup.

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<this brand of environmentally friendly mini plastic cups is quite popular, also used at Finnriver and at several other cider events I’ve been to; I later learned that the county requires the two tasting rooms to use disposable drinkware as they have not yet met certain requirements such as water use and septic monitoring history–quite interesting>

Homestead Semi-Sweet Cider, 8% ABV – This is the sweeter version of their Homestead cider, also available in Dry.  Smells likes sweet apples with a touch of honey.  Slightly hazy.  Semi-sweet.  Moderate carbonation.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate tannins.  Low tartness and acidity.  Yeasty, slightly rich, similar to English cider, but with a touch of honey notes.  Moderate finish length.  I liked this much better than their Homestead Dry that I tried at Cider Summit, as it didn’t have as much tartness or bitterness.

Rhubarb Cider, 8% ABV – Cider with organic rhubarb.  Smells tart and fruity.  Described as semi-sweet but I found it semi-dry.  Low carbonation.  Light bodied.  Low to moderate tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Fruity notes, although I’m not sure I could have identified them as rhubarb.  A touch alcohol-forward.  Long finish length.

Quince Mead, 9% ABV – Made from honey and organic quince from San Juan island.  Smells sweet, fruity, and of honey.  Semi-sweet.  Full bodied.  Low to moderate tartness and acidity.  A hint of bitterness.  Tropical notes.  Moderate finish length.  I prefer their Quince cider.

Apple Dessert Wine, 18% ABV – Apple brandy blended with apple juice (which would more commonly be called Pommeau).  Smells like apple brandy.  Semi-sweet.  Light bodied. Low tartness and acidity.  Oddly enough I picked up a hint of tannins.  Smooth.  Honey, caramel, and brown sugar notes.  Long warming boozy finish.

Raspberry Cider, 8% ABV – Cider (80%) with pure raspberry juice (20%).  Deep red hue.  Described as semi-sweet but I found it sweet.  Moderate tartness and acidity.  A hint of tannins.  Medium bodied.  Full flavored with lots of raspberry flavor.  Quick finish length.

Apple Mead, 10% ABV – Mead (made from honey from Sequim WA) with apples.  I’m not sure how this varies from their cyser (which is also made from honey and apples).  Smells mild, of apple juice and honey.  Semi-sweet.  Medium bodied.  Mild acidity.  Moderate tartness.  A hint of bitterness.  A hint of tannins (apple skin flavor).  Notes of apple, honey, and pollen.  From memory I think this has more apple flavor and a higher ABV than their Cyser, which I prefer.  Moderate finish length.

Cherry Mead, 10% ABV – Mead (made from honey from Sequim WA) with Organic cherries.  Deep red hue.  Sweet.  I only picked up cherry notes, not honey, and they tended towards medicinal.  However, my husband really enjoyed this one.  I think at a lower ABV I may have liked it better.  Alcohol-forward.  Medium bodied.  Long warming finish.

Harvest Apple Wine – This is a new release for them, described as a dry wine crafted from heirloom apples and wild yeast.  They had planned to blend it, but liked it on its own.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate acidity and tartness.  Low tannins and bitterness.  Both apple and alcohol forward.  Long warming finish.

I picked up a bottle of Homestead Semi-Sweet (and my husband bought a bottle of red wine).  I think their Quince cider remains my favorite, followed by the Homestead Semi-Sweet and Cyser, which I find to be their most complex ciders.

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Stay tuned for post 4/4 on Finnriver!

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.

Hard Cider News Edition 1

Here are some recent hard cider news/articles/links I found interesting:

Cider Bars are Taking Root (New York Times)
Cider bars, what to expect, who frequents them

How Not Wanting to Waste Apples Led to a Successful Hard Cider Business (Yahoo News)
Profile on Reverend Nat’s Cider (Nat West)

Woodchuck Hard Cider Launches First US Advertising Campaign (PR News Wire)
Titled “Why Woodchuck”, it showcases Woodchuck as America’s original & authentic hard cidery.

Can a Brit Find Good Cider in America? (BBC News)
Profiles some of the (major) differences between British and U.S. cider and the current U.S. cider boom.

Ciders give America’s Favorite Fruits a Chance to Sparkle (Wisconsin Gazette)
Includes profiles on several U.S. cideries.

Angry Orchard Breaks Ground on Cidery in Walden (Westfair Communications)
Plans to make the new facility in New York their home for cider research, with a cidery for small batch experimentation.

Drink This Now: Hard Cider That is as Sophisticated as Wine (Bloomberg)
Cider growth, cider bars, and five modern American cider recommendations

Freshly Pressed: Winners of the Pacific Northwest Cider Awards Announced (Northwest Cider)
42 winners from 140 entries.  As special congrats to one of my favorites, Spire Mountain, for going 3/3.

Taste Test: 20 of America’s Best Artisinal (Alcoholic) Ciders (Eater)
Recommendations by category/dryness.  Includes one of my favorites, Rev Nat’s Revival (although unlike most of Rev Nat’s varieties I don’t pick up any similarities to beer).  Several other PNW cideries were also included: Traditions Ciderworks, 2 Towns, and Snowdrift.

Cider Styles Primer (North American Brewers Association)
Discussion of various cider styles, including draft, Farmhouse, New England, French, English, Perry, and Specialty.

The Chemistry of Cider (Compound Chem)
An interesting infographic about the chemistry of fermenting hard cider, including acids, tannins, aromas, and sweeteners.

Article: Washington’s Hard Cider Revolution

Here is an article I enjoyed about the hard cider industry in Washington.

Some takeaways:

  • Washington has the most cideries of any state, 30
  • Cider apples are hard to come by, even in WA, which is the larger producer of apples in the U.S.
  • Many small cideries in WA have their own orchard, but the largest is only 55 acres, owned by Tieton Ciderworks
  • Most cider (90%) produced in the U.S. is from large-scale commercial cider makers, such as Angry Orchard
  • The person interviewed in the article, Alan Shapiro, breaks the cider market into four categories:
    • Commercial (ex. Angry Orchard, Woodchuck, Ace)
    • Beer-influenced (ex. Rev Nat’s, Schilling, Anthem)
    • Wine-influenced (ex. Snowdrift, Troy, E.Z. Orchards)
    • Artisinal (ex. Tieton, Finn River, Alpenfire)
  • Science is involved, and there are no defined standards or styles
    • This is why a cider labeled dry may taste sweet to most folks, and vice versa
    • Standards will be developed as time goes on

What do you think?