Saturday, June 23, 2012

Juicy

Not sure why I've put this off so long...because I really like the new Angry Orchard ciders from Boston Beer. I heard about them, and wanted to keep my eye open for them, because they promised something interesting: use of European cider apples.

Check this out from the press release:
Blending Italian culinary apples from the Alpine foothills with French bittersweet apples from Normandy, Angry Orchard cider makers have crafted the perfect flavor profiles through a lengthy fermentation process, including wood-aging for optimal complexity and balance. 
It caught my interest, and when I saw the Crisp Apple version on tap at Kitty Hoyne's in Syracuse (we stopped for lunch a couple months ago), I got a pint. It was delish! It was not gacky sweet, or light-bodied dull, but a full, interesting palate of apple and light oak flavors. Thirst-quenching and tasty, to boot. Then we got over to the bro-in-law's house, and he's got a fridge shelf full of them.

I got in touch with the guy who'd sent the press release, and asked for samples, and I've enjoyed all three:
  • Crisp Apple (5.0% ABV), balances natural apple sweetness with a subtle dryness for a hard to resist crisp and refreshing, fruit-forward taste.
  • Apple Ginger (5.0%ABV), combines the ideal blend of fresh Nigerian ginger and apples for a sweet, yet slightly tart taste, distinct ginger aroma and warm finish; and for those looking for a traditional European cider.
  • Traditional Dry (5.5%ABV), made in the style of English draft ciders, imparts bittersweet and slightly spicy flavors with a bright apple aroma. Its dry body makes mouths pucker and look forward to another sip.
I've had all three now, and while the Traditional Dry is appealing, and the Ginger is okay for some occasions, I think I like the Crisp Apple best. I wouldn't turn any of them down, though, and given the quality and how easy it is to find them, I suspect they're going to find a place in our coolers for parties this summer.

19 comments:

Sud Savant said...

I dug the bite the ginger adds! You're right, who cares if they're ciders?! They're tasty and also have their time and place.

The Professor said...

I'm with you 200% on this. A great trio of products. This brand is definitely a winner for Boston Brewing. My favorite is the "traditional dry", but the "crisp apple" is certainly a very close second.

But really, they're all great. These are some of the better American produced cider products out there, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Excellent cidery, and the ginger cider is just fantastic. I love the subtle ginger flavor and heat underneath the apple, and none of the three are all sugary sweet like Woochuck, etc.

Anonymous said...

I found the Crisp Apple too sweet for my taste.

Lew Bryson said...

Then I would try the Traditional Dry. Or perhaps these aren't for you at all, and you'll be looking for an even drier cider, like Farnum Hill. Is there a cider you do like?

It's a sign of a growing market for cider when there are more choices.

Charles Bockway said...

I tried a couple of these here in a Charleston WV bar this spring. Thought they were well made. While it's not something I want to drink daily, I do think they add some extra dimension to our beverage options. I found the Crisp Apple quite tasty, but a bit too sweet for me to have more than one. The Traditional Dry was more along the lines I prefer.

Lew Bryson said...

Just picked up a six of Traditional Dry myself.

Eric Allan West said...

I was intrigued by the use of European cider apples myself, but the cidermaker has revealed that Angry Orchard ciders are all made from apple juice concentrate. Could an American craft brewery get away with making an English-style pale ale with Maris Otter malt extract?

None of the Angry Orchard ciders can even approach the wonderful ciders made in the various English, French, or Spanish traditions. Not only are these products far too sweet, but they smell and taste like alcoholic apple juice...how many fine wines smell and taste like table grapes?

It's exciting to see more ciders reaching the marketplace, but there's nothing craft about these...they're made at a facility in Cincinnati far from any orchard!

Lew Bryson said...

Eric, I think your last statement is much like saying a beer isn't craft if it's not made beside a barley field and a hopyard. I also disagree with your assessment of the ciders...but that's not so big a deal, that's individual opinion. On the other hand, dissing the use of concentrate? I'm not prepared to dismiss that so quickly. It's hardly the same thing as malt extract, there's much less processing involved.

Eric Allan West said...

Thanks for the reply, Lew. I've followed you (on and off) since the rec.food.drink.beer days. I agree that craft breweries need not be farm breweries. But cider is easier to produce on a farmstead model because apples tolerate variation in climate better than barley or hops. Most cidermakers in the US grow fruit and/or buy it as locally as possible. That is quite unlike beer but very much like wine.

I suspect that Boston Beer looked to Europe because there aren't enough cider apples being grown in the US for the volume of cider they want to move. Concentrate may be less processed than malt extract, but what about the food miles involved in shipping it stateside? That could only be underwritten by a company with deep pockets and a profit motive driving their cidermaking decisions.

Lew Bryson said...

Food miles is a valid issue, but...shipping concentrate's better than shipping fruit or straight juice, too. And brewers consistently use hops from thousands of miles away (the organic hops from New Zealand shipped to American brewers are a particularly mind-twisting example).

As for deep pockets and a profit motive...If a business doesn't have a profit motive, it goes under. If Boston Beer has deep pockets, it's because it's been able to be quite successful selling a large variety of good beers (and...okay, Twisted Tea). I don't have a problem with that. Large producers don't have to be bad producers.

Eric Allan West said...

Jim Koch and other craft brewing pioneers were driven to make better beer than Bud/Miller/Coors. They've succeeded. Steve Wood and other craft cider pioneers are driven to make better cider than Woodchuck/Crispin/Angry Orchard. They're succeeding. Their focus is on making quality cider and establishing a market for their product, not strictly on profit...perhaps not so different from the craft brewers of the 80s/90s?

Lew Bryson said...

So Jim Koch was okay when Boston Beer was tiny, but now that his beer got big and he's making cider, he's the equivalent of Augie Busch? I didn't buy that kind of reasoning 15 years ago, don't buy it now. At what point did he cross the line? When did Kim Jordan? When did Ken Grossman? When will Sam Calagione? Who draws the line? The Brewers Association? You? Me?

If a producer is "creating a market for their product," they're concerned about profit. Otherwise, they'd make their product, sit it on a stand by the road and hope for the best. I'm exaggerating, of course, but so are you.

We used to say that craft brewers didn't use automation, that they didn't blend batches, that they weren't as worried about consistency. Successful craft brewers do all that now. They didn't before because they couldn't afford it, and they made a virtue out of necessity. If a cider maker's products are wonderful, and sales of them grow beyond a certain point, they will find that they won't be able to cover their needs with local apples...at what point should they stop growing? Must good things be small?

That's an issue craft brewers are struggling with now; actually, it's an issue craft beer drinkers are struggling with. The day will come when cider makers will struggle with it as well, maybe sooner than we think. It's not easy, and it's not black and white.

Eric Allan West said...

Sam Adams is a craft beer. I have no issue with that. Angry Orchard is not a craft cider. To be fair, you never said it was. I'd be exaggerating if I called Angry Orchard the Twisted Tea of cider, but I wouldn't be too wide of the mark, either.

New Glarus is a good example of small is beautiful, and many cidermakers will choose that path. Here in Virginia, Albemarle and Castle Hill are on wine routes, and nearly all sales come via their tasting rooms...lower volume but higher margins. The VWDC handles their distribution...it's a state-approved end-run around the three-tier system.

Consistency is less of a problem with cider because it's traditionally produced during and immediately following the apple harvest. There will be differences from vintage to vintage, but educated consumers expect that. To produce cider year-round you either resort to using concentrates or to pulling apples out of storage, and then consistency is obviously an issue.

Lew Bryson said...

I'm not going to get into a discussion of what and why makes a "craft" anything. The term loses meaning by the day.

What I will say is that MANY people -- not me, but lots of others -- disagree with you about New Glarus, and it's because of their flagship, Spotted Cow. They consider it too mainstream to be "craft." Small may be beautiful, but...it doesn't have a monopoly on it.

What exactly is it that you dislike so much about Angry Orchard? How it's made? How it tastes? How big it is? All of that? Calling it the Twisted Tea of cider seems much more than an exaggeration to me.

The problem is, I think, that there's not a huge, bland cider in the market to pit "craft cider" against; like the craft brewers had Budweiser and Coors Light. There's no ubiquitous cider that everyone's familiar with, at least, not in the US market, and that's making it harder for craft cider makers to position themselves.

While we're talking...how do you feel about the Laird's products?

Eric Allan West said...

I agree that terms like "craft" and "artisan" have been misappropriated. Most cidermakers understand that and don't bank heavily on such claims.

Angry Orchard is just far too sweet, even the Traditional Dry. Cider shouldn't hit you over the head with apple...it's OK to be fruit-forward, but Angry Orchard is over the top. I'm not a huge fan of concentrate use...but it's the non-US origin that bothers me more.

As far as a huge, bland cider in the market...what about Woodchuck? The more authentic ciders will never be able to compete with Woodchuck on price, so it's a question of finding the right bottle format (500ml is popular) and educating drinkers about why authentic cider deserves a premium price tag.

I'm still developing my apple brandy palate...I've tasted some calvados that was downright funky, nothing at all like Laird's. Their remaining distillery is in North Garden, just a few hours away from me. I have Danny's number but haven't visited yet. Am I right that Laird's is distilled entirely in Virginia and then bottled in New Jersey?

Lew Bryson said...

It is sweet, I'll grant you. The non-US origin...as you point out, if you want something other than Red Delicious in national distribution amounts, it's going to be almost impossible to get in the US. That's a point, in BOTH ways.

Woodchuck: I won't debate the blandness -- it pretty much lumps in with the mainstream ciders we get from the UK -- but it's really the "huge" part I'm hitting on. Woodchuck's the biggest cider in the country, but it's a drop in the bucket of the hugeness of mainstream lager. EVERYONE knows what mainstream beer is. There are millions of people -- drinking people -- who've still never had cider. Woodchuck comes nowhere near the ubiquity of Bud Light, and I think that makes it tougher for craft ciders to position themselves. We saw something like that in the late 1990s, when local craft brewers would run into bar owners who would tell them, "I already have a craft beer: Yuengling." No one really knew what craft beer was, so Yuengling positioned themselves in that slot, and it worked well...for a while. Woodchuck's using that strategy now, and hitting the rising gluten-free angle hard, and it's working.

And, well, truth be told...most people don't want a really assertive cider, just like mainstream lager is still over 90% of the beer sold in America.

I've had calvados that's funky, but I'm not really nuts about that in a distilled product; spirits should be much cleaner. Laird's bonded apple brandy is, IMO, some pretty good stuff. And yes, it is distilled in Virginia (close to the apples!), but it is all aged (in warehouses that smell surprisingly like bourbon warehouses) in Colts Neck, NJ, where Laird's has been since before the Revolutionary War. Still family-owned, too, I'm pretty sure; I talked to a Laird when I visited.

Eric Allan West said...

Cider will have different growing pains than beer (and wine!) and it'll be exciting to see how it evolves.

I think you'd enjoy attending CiderDays in Massachusetts if you have the chance.

Lew Bryson said...

I'm glad someone recognizes that! Everyone in craft distilling (and everyone writing about it!) seems to be trying to shove it into the exact mold of craft brewing, and it's not the same thing at all, and it's driving me nuts. Similar drivers...but that's all. The success of craft brewing will probably make success easier for craft cider and spirits...but they'll still have their mistakes.

I'd love to attend. That's a great idea.