Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider

Brewed by Gordon Biersch, San Jose, California, USA for Trader Joe’s supermarkets.

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Style: Semi-dry apple cider.

ABV: 5.5%

Note: No added sweeteners, flavors or colors.

Price: $8/6 12 oz bottle.

Appearance: Medium dark copper with a short-lived, fizzy head.

Nose: Apple juice, candy apple.

Palate: Medium-bodied, effervescent. Crisp green apple.

Finish: Medium sweet, slightly tannic.

Parting words: Henry “Hotspur” Percy (1364-1403), 2nd Earl of Northumberland, was one of the most famous members of the Percy family of Anglo-Norman assholes aristocrats of Northern England in the late Middle Ages. He was a leading commander in Richard II’s wars against Scotland and later rebelled against Henry IV several times, famously losing his life at the battle of Shrewsbury.

What does Hotspur’s career have to do with this cider? Beats me.

This is a decent, affordable, easy-to-find (at Trader Joe’s anyway) cider that does well with food and isn’t so weird that casual cider drinkers will get turned off. I’d like it if it was a dollar less, but still Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider is recommended.

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Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire

Maker: Cidres Dujardin, Jurques, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France20180212_103725.jpg

Place of origin: Brittany, France.

Style: Perry (poire en français)

ABV: 4.5%

Purchased for $5/750 ml (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Medium gold. Fizzy on first pour. Head fades quickly but bubbles keep going strong.

Nose: Canned pear syrup, grated lemon zest.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Cut pear with a little lemon juice. Traces of yeast, tannin.

Finish: Sweet but drying. Overripe green pears.

Parting words: I reviewed the tasty Dan Armor apple cider three years ago. This perry is sweeter and less complex (as perries often are) but enjoyable. Sweetness and fruit dominate, but tartness (as it warms in the glass) and tiny whiffs of funk and tannin keep Dan Armor poire from being one-dimensional. It’s hard to ask for more from a $5 perry. Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire is recommended.

The Cunning Ham

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180121_122605.jpg

Style: Dry farmhouse cider using Saison yeast.

Note: Fermented in French oak. Rested on lees. Unfiltered.

ABV: 7%

Purchased for $8/500 ml (winery)

Appearance: Light gold, slightly cloudy.

Nose: Pressed apple juice, a little funk and tannin.

Palate: Off dry, chewy dried apricot, oak.

Finish: Tart, then tart and tannic. Meyer lemon.

Parting words: Ciders have become trendy in Michigan wine and beer circles, with a number of producers branching out into cider with mixed sucess. Just because one knows how to ferment grapes or grains, doesn’t mean one knows how to make a good cider.

That said, Left Foot Charley knows how to make a good cider. Cunning Ham is a part of a line of ciders that also includes Henry’s Pippin (made with heirloom apples but not necessarily traditional cider apples),  Antrim County (single origin) and crowd favorite Cinnamon Girl (cinnamon flavored). I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and here five years later (oops).

For a dry farmhouse cider, The Cunning Ham is very drinkable and food friendly, especially with spicy fare. I expected a little more funk and tannin but there’s nothing not to like in this bottle. $8 for 500 ml is a very fair price for a quality craft cider. I have no idea where the name came from, but The Cunning Ham is recommended.

 

Isastegi Sagardo Naturala

Maker: Isastegi, Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, Spain.20171122_111432.jpg

Region: Gipuzkoa (Basque country), Spain.

Style: Dry natural apple cider blended in oak casks.

ABV: 6%

Purched for $5/375 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Bright gold, but very cloudy. Yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: Crushed crabapple, lemon juice, mild funk.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry with a little effervescence. Dry baking apple, bitter wood, vinegar shrub.

Finish: Tart, then dry and chewy.

Parting words: This is the first Spanish cider I’ve reviewed and it might be the first Spanish cider I’ve tasted ever. It had a dry funk similar to typical Norman ciders, but balanced with tartness and that weird but pleasant vinegar note. Isastegi is the only Spanish cider I’ve seen on shelves in Michigan. It’s released once a year in March, but barring some explosion in popularity, it should be just as easy/hard to find year round. If you see Isastegi, buy it! Maybe that will lead to more sidura on the shelves. Isastegi Sagardo Naturala is recommended.

Grizzly Pear

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA20171112_165117.jpg

Style: Apple cider flavored with apple juice, prickly pear extract, pear juice concentrate and elderflower.

ABV: 5%

Price: $10/6 12 oz cans

Appearance: Light gold with tiny bubbles.

Nose: Barlett Pear, elderflower, nutmeg.

Palate: Medium dry. Effervescence, elderflower liquer, drop of canned pear syrup.

Finish: Clean & juicy. Slightly tart.

Parting words: As far as I can tell, this is the closest thing to a perry that Blake’s makes , which is a shame. Craft perry makers have an even harder time than craft cider-makers at finding heritage varieties traditionally used for their product. As a result, most perry is made from Bartlett or other table varieties. As a result of that, most American perries taste like watered down, slightly boozy versions of the syrup one finds canned pears swimming in. This leads creative producers like Blake’s to get, uh, creative. While technically apple cider, Grizzly Pear tastes like a quality perry. The elderflower infusion is a nice, floral counterpoint to the strong pear flavor and results in a more balanced product than standard, one dimensional perry. The prickly pear extract is undetectable, at least by me.Grizzly Pear pairs well with pork and spicy chicken dishes, but is best for casual weekend sipping. The price is reasonable.

My only complaint (a big one, actually) is that the packaging is deceptive, perhaps intentionally so. A pear is featured front and center and no mention of this product being flavored apple cider appears outside the ingredient list. The label describes it as “hard cider” but since perry is often lumped together with apple cider, a reasonable person could still assume that this is a perry after reading that description.

I have no problem with funky, Franken-ciders like this but Blake’s should be up front about what this is instead of “stealing valor” from the poor neglected pears of the world. I want to give this a recommendation, but I’m going to have to ding it for deceptive packaging. Grizzly Pear is mildly recommended. Fix this, Blake’s.

Kroupa Orchards Apple Wine

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20171008_113908.jpg

Varieites: Macintosh, Spy, Empire, Rhode Island Greening.

Harvest: 2016(?)

Style: Sweet apple wine.

ABV: 10%

Price: $16/750 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Cut table apple, swimming pool.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Apple juice, Gala apple.

Finish: A faint glimmer of tannin but still sweet. Long.

Parting words: Kroupa Orchards Apple Wine falls into the weird category of products that are good but disappointing. Peninsula cellars is one of the best wineries in Michigan’s best wine region. I love almost every wine they produce, so maybe my expectations were too high for this product. It’s not bad by any stretch. It has a lucious sweetness that is pleasant, but I expected something more thoughtful from this winery.

I think much of my disappointment stems from the choice of fruit all of which are baking apples. It’s the equivalent of making wine from Concord or Niagara grapes. Concord wine can be enjoyable, but it will never be as good as a well-made Pinot Noir or Riesling. It’s the same with apple wine or cider made from baking or table apples. Kroupa Orchard Apple wine is easy drinking with lots of apple flavor, but it lacks the complexity of a finely crafted hard cider that tannic or acidic apples would bring to the mix. Even accounting for the larger bottle and higher ABV, $16 is pricy for a product like this. Kroupa Orchard Apple Wine is mildly recommended.

Entropy

Maker: Gitche Gumee Ciderworks, Hancock,  Houghton County, Michigan, USA20170909_154436

Style: Wild fermented feral apple cider. Finished in French oak barrels

Harvest: 2015

ABV: 6.9%

Price: $15 (only available in the western portion of the Upper Peninsula)

Note: Bottle provided for review by maker.

Appearance: Amber with persistant bubbles. Slightly cloudy.

Nose: Cut lumber, Raclette cheese, cut apple.

Palate: Dry, medium bodied. Tart apple, apple peel, French oak.

Finish: Chewy oak and apple tannins, touch of tartness.

Parting words: I had never heard of Gitche Gumee before founder Phillip Kelm contacted me in August. There’s a reason for that outside my own obliviousness, though. Entropy is their first release. Phillip is currently planning two more releases, Dancing Fatman which he describes as “a more approachable table cider” and Carmelita which will be a thimbleberry-infused cider. Thimbleberry is a wild raspberry native to Western North America and the upper Great Lakes region. It’s beloved in Upper Michigan, especially in the Keweenaw Peninsula where Hancock Michigan is located.

Phillip’s day job is as a brewery builder. In an email to me he wrote, “History of the venture is somewhat involved.  I have worked in breweries for many years.  But my first love was always apples and cider.  Happy to be working with apples and cider now.  I’ve also opened South Korea’s first cidery, made Palau’s first cider, and am working now to finish India’s only cidery.  There’s lots to those stories, but I’ve only so much time to write!”  For more on Phillips’s career, look here.

Phillip was aiming for a French-style cider with Entropy and I think he hit the bullseye. It’s actually better than many Norman or Breton ciders I’ve had. The funk and tannin (augmented by French oak in this case) take the lead, but the are assisted by a supporting cast of acid, fruit and sweetness (in that order). The result is a great cider. Sorry to do this to you, dear readers, but this hard to find American cider is highly recommended.

 

 

Vander Mill Hard Apple

Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USA20170818_200057

Style: Semi-dry apple cider with sugar added.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $11/4 pint cans (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold. Medium but steady bubbles.

Nose: Light. Cut apple, bubbles.

Palate: Mineral water, non-fermented apple cider, lemon juice. No tannin to speak of.

Finish: Tart apples, drying to mineals.

Parting words: Vander Mill is one of Michigan’s best known cider-producers. They’ve benefited greatly from the uptake in the popularity of cider in the past few years. Their production has been increasing and they have recently opened a tap room in Grand Rapids in addition to their original one in Spring Lake near Grand Haven in West Michigan.

Vander Mill’s strength is in their flavored ciders, many of which I’ve already reviewed. Hard apple is the base for all of those. It’s a refreshing, easy-drinking cider but there’s nothing remarkable about it. It’s also useful from a tasting perspective as a way to better understand Vander Mill’s fruited and spiced ciders. This cider should have more going for it than that at $11 for 64 ounces. Vander Mill’s Hard Apple is mildly recommended.

Wakefire

Maker: Blake’s, Armada (ar-MAY-duh), Michigan, USA20170705_162046

Style: Dry apple cider with cherries & orange peel

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $10/six pack of cans (Binny’s)

Appearance: Orange light bubbles.

Nose: Apple juice with a squirt of black cherry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Crisp apple, hint of cherry juice and citrus.

Finish: Biggest cherry flavor is here. A little citrus identifiable as orange peel when I look at the can.

Parting words: I bought Wakefire to have a flavored cider option at my annual Michigan-themed party in June. It was the more popular cider, even over a high quality dry cider also in a can. I didn’t get a chance to taste it that day, but I did later and I understood why. It’s easy drinking, but with enough flavor to avoid being dull. The cherry and orange peel are barely there, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. If the can says it has certain flavors, I expect those flavors to be present, but I also don’t enjoy ciders with too much flavor. If I ever resolve that conundrum, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Wakefire is recommened.

Potter’s Farmhouse Cider

Maker: Potter’s Craft Cider, Free Union, Virginia, USA20170428_091604

Style: Medium dry

ABV: 8.5%

Price: $13.50 (Glen’s Garden Market, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC)

Appearance: Medium gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Cut applewood, pear, applesauce, pineapple.

Palate: Medium dry. Mineral, apple blossom honey.

Finish: Clean and crisp.

Parting words: The last time I visited DC to visit my sister and her family, I decided that I wanted to pick up some Virginia wine to take back home and possibly review. I found Glen’s Garden Market (on a recommendation from blogger Obi-Wine Kenobi) in Dupont Circle and decided to stop in there. It’s a cool place with an excellent selection of local products including Virginia wine, but I ended up buying a Maryland red, Long Island rosé and this Virginia cider instead!

Potter’s has a wide and eclectic range of ciders. Farmhouse dry is the flagship. It’s dry without being austere and fruity without tasting like something with Mott’s on the label. The company was founded by a couple of Princeton classmates who stumbled upon the beauty of cider while homebrewing.  This is a very good cider with broad appeal. Good at the table too. Potter’s Farmhouse Cider is recommended.