Dunkerton’s Dry Organic Cider

Maker: Dunkerton’s, Herefordshire, England, UK20190104_171219.jpg

Apples: Various heirloom varieites.

Style: Dry English cider.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $7/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Big head on opening. Persistent bubbles. Slightly hazy.

Nose: Yeasty funk, mulled cider, tannin, lemon zest.

Palate: Dry. Leather, Meyer lemon juice, clove, filtered apple juice.

Finish: Dry and leathery. Lingers faintly in the cheeks.

Parting words: I reviewed Dunkerton’s Perry back in August. I enjoyed it quite a bit. This is even better. It’s a good example of a well-balanced, dry cider. It has big tannins, funk, acid, spice and sweetness, in that order. While the tannins and funk may turn off some casual cider drinkers, I can see Dunkerton’s being a an easy (and easy to find) first step into the world of dry, wild-fermented ciders. I can also see it becoming one of my go-tos. $7 for 6.9% (just under the line for apple wine) is a great price too. Dunkerton’s Dry Organic cider is highly recommended.

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Crispin Pacific Pear

Maker: Crispin, Colfax, California, USA.20181223_193746.jpg

Fruit: Unknown apple and pear varieties.

Style: Pear cider (Pear & apple)

ABV: 4.5%

Price: $11/6 pack of 12 oz bottles (Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Mild cut Bartlett pear.

Palate: Light-bodied. Dessert pear, semi-dry Riesling.

Finish: Clean, a little sweetness.

Parting words: As I learned from the comments on the last pear cider I reviewed, there is a difference between a pear cider and a true perry. This is the former. It’s a relatively dry and crisp, although no one would ever mistake it for a dry English or Norman cider. Pacific Pear has a good amount of pear flavor but still sticks to the Crispin house which is crisp and easy-drinking. This is a fine entry pear cider or good for pounding back at a summer BBQ. Pacific Pear is recommended.

Santa Rosa Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA20181121_114225.jpg

Apples: “Late season varieties”

Style: Sparkling apple cider fermented with plum skins.

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $10/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Little head, but persistent bubbles.

Nose: Apple juice, citrus blossom.

Palate: Effervescent and semi-sweet. Semi-tart table apples, pinch of tannin, pinch of yeast.

Finish: More acid and tannin with lingering sweetness.

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The exact location of the plums at Blake’s!

Parting words: Blake’s Foraged series includes ciders made with fruit “foraged” from Blake farms. There’s Nova, made with Nova raspberries, and then there’s this cider made with the skins of Santa Rosa plums also grown on the estate (see map). Santa Rosa is a 112 y/o variety created by Luther Burbank, inventor of the russet potato. Santa Rosa was very popular through most of the twentieth century but it doesn’t ship well so it’s not often found in grocery stores. It’s soft and sweet and has tart, slightly tannic skin.

The specific varieties that go into this cider are not disclosed on the label but we are told that they are late-season varieties. Whatever they are, they work perfectly with the plum skins, adding tartness and tannins to produce an elegant, balanced cider with a beautiful pinkish color. There is no plum flavor at all here, there’s just added depth and structure.

Santa Rosa pairs very well with food and I even served it at Thanksgiving this last year. $10 is a great price too. I love this cider. Blake’s Santa Rosa is highly recommended.

 

 

Manoir de Montreuil Cambremer Pays d’Auge Cidre

Maker: Domaine Manoir de Montreuil, Montreuil-en-Auge, Calvados, Normandy, France (Giard family)20180909_174314.jpg

Apples: Various heirloom French cider varieties.

Place of origin: Domaine Manoir de Montreuil, Pays d’Auge, Calvados, Normandy, France.

ABV: 4.5%

Purchased for $13/750 ml (Westborn Market, Berkley, Michigan)

Appearance: Golden orange.

Nose: Sourdough starter, sawdust, dried apricots.

Palate: Fizzy and sweet. Caramel apple with peanuts, smoked pork shoulder.

Finish: Mild but meaty. Apple wood smoked pork.

Parting words: The Giard family has owned the Manoir de Montreuil estate since the eighteenth century. Like many apple growers in Calvados, the Giards produce cider and brandy from their estate, both under the Pays d’Auge appellation.

As far as I can tell, the brandy is not available in the US, except for in California where it sells in the $40-$45 range, which seems like a bargain for estate Calvados. One of the estate’s claims to fame is its large herd of free-range cattle which are allowed to roam the orchard and fertilize the soil the old-fashioned way.

I have found some Norman ciders to be overly tannic and funky. While the nose is funk and tannin forward, the palate is surprisingly fruity and even meaty on the back-end. While the orchards may be home to a lot of beef, the finish is porky. It’s like quality pork chops smoked over fruit wood.

It pairs very well with food of all kinds and is a great value at $13. Be careful, though! When I started to untwist the wire cage, the cork shot out, leaving a foamy mess all over my dining room floor.

Manoir de Montreuil Cambremer Pays d’Auge Cidre is recommended.

Dunkertons Organic Perry

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Maker: Dunkertons, Pembridge, Herefordshire, England, UK

Style: Perry (100% organic, heirloom perry pears)

ABV: 6.9%

Price: $8/500 ml bottle (Binny’s)

Appearance: Big, fizzy head. Straw-colored with persistant bubbles.

Nose: Yeast, cut fruit wood, lemon zest.

Palate: Dry and funky. Chewy old pears, wood chips, pear syrup.

Finish: Clean with a little funk and tannin on the back end.

Parting words: Dunkertons comes from Herefordshire, in the West Midlands of England, near the border with Wales. They exclusively use heritage cider apples and perry pears. The latter are nearly impossible to find in North American perries. Those pears and the use of wild yeast give this perry a unique farmhouse-cider taste and aroma unlike any other perry I’ve had.

This perry is fairly well-distributed in the US and is an excellent value considering how rare perries like this are. Dunkertons Organic Perry is highly recommended.

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.

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.