I got an e-mail from a fella back in February, saying he'd seen my writing, and wondered if I'd be interested in trying some very special ciders from New Hampshire: Farnum Hill Ciders. I was, and said that if he sent them, I'd have a taste.
I'm kinda picky about cider. I'm not a big fan of the mass-market stuff; Woodchuck Dark & Dry's okay, and Magner's a decent thirst-quencher, but even they just seem like apple sodas with booze-o in 'em. What I do like is the Norman cidres, like these from Etienne Dupont and Christian Drouin, and the Aspall cyders of the UK, also made in the Norman style. They're dry, almost austere, and don't shy away from the tannins in more bitter varieties of apples. I also like Bellwether Cider, from Trumansburg, NY, but it's really hard to find.
Farnum Hill, as you can see if you take a look at the site, is serious about their cider and apples. So I opened up a bottle of their Semi-Dry and tried it. The interesting cover letter from Stephen Wood and Louisa Spencer includes this: "Kindly note that the term "extra dry" on a Farnum, Hill label means literally what it says: genuinely, even radically dry. Similarly, our use of the term "semi-dry" means: not very sweet at all."
Well, they were right. I was expecting a cider that was still fairly sweet, having been rooked by various small Pennsylvania and New Jersey vineyards that make their living off fruity, sweet wines, and throw in a "semi-dry" in an attempt to make you think "semi-dry" doesn't actually mean "mostly sweet" as opposed to their other wines, which would be best described as "mawkishly sweet." I was wrong, should've believed the letter.
The Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider was not up to the best Norman ciders I've had, but it was definitely in the room. It was indeed dry, the apple flavor was not buried in sweet juice (many cider makers use table apples like Red Delicious -- I'm not sure if this is because they're cheaper, or because reading "Red Delicious" on the label increases some consumers' comfort level at making such a radical choice as buying cider...yes, I'm being sarcastic), and the tannin was plainly evident, and welcome in the nicely astringent finish. It reminded me somewhat of a steely-firm gueuze, kind of the tang without the fuzzy edges of funk.
I started out drinking the Semi-Dry with some Prima Donna, which went nicely if not famously. But I wound up finishing the bottle simply standing out on the deck in the cool evening air, satisfied with the stuff head-to-head, just me and the cider. I'd still like more from this cider, more depth, and maybe I'll find that in the Extra Dry.
I'm looking forward to the others; I've got an Extra Dry and and Extra-Dry Still left (I had another, a Farmhouse, but...someone drank it. 'Nuff said). I'll let you know how that goes.