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.

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.



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.


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.

Amshiré Ice Cider

Maker: Blake’s, Armada, Michigan, USAwp-1465945019263.jpg

Style: Ice Cider

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $16 (375 ml)

Appearance: Orangish yellow (my 5 y/o daughter’s description). Effervescent.

Nose: Apple wood, dry heirloom apple, lavender, grape soda.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Bubbles, unoaked chardonnay, mango, papaya.

Finish: Botrytized wine. Fades quickly into a light tingle.

Parting words: Ice cider is similar to ice wine in concept. There are two styles: cryoextracted, and cryoconcentrated. Cryoextracted is similar to ice wine in its process. The fruit is left on the tree where it freezes. It is usually harvested in January and then cold fermented for an extended period of time (this differs from cryoextraction in wine which is a process that involves freezing grapes by artificial means). This cider is cryoconcentrated. That means the fruit is harvested late in the season, made into juice and then allowed to freeze. It is then cold fermented.

This is the first ice cider I’ve ever tried and it’s a winner. It lacks the sexy unctuousness of ice wine but it also lacks its often cloying character. It’s well balanced and complex but never obnoxious, at a least to me. I love it and I could drink it all day. This is what a $16 cider should taste like. Amshiré Ice Cider is highly recommended. I have no idea what the name means, though.

Beard Bender

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada (ar-MAY-duh), Michigan, USA20160202_121545.jpg

Style: Dry cider

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $10/6 pack (cans)

Appearance: At first pour has a big, fizzy, soda pop head. Light gold and slightly cloudy.

Nose: Homemade applesauce, medium sweet aroma.

Palate: Semi-dry. A little apple character and minerality. Tannin on the back end.

Finish: Tannic and bone dry. Apple core, fresh picked apple, gravel dust. Progressively less apple and more dryness as one moves throught nose, palate and finish.

Parting words: I reviewed Blake’s (semi-) sweet cider Flannel Mouth a couple weeks ago. It was fine as an entry level cider or something for the casual drinker. Beard Bender is drier but still very accessible. Drinkers who are used to sweet corporate ciders might be taken off guard a little, but by the time they finish it, they’ll love it.

Beard Bender is an ideal table cider as well. It works best with the sort of cuisine that naturally pairs with dry white or pink wines, but no need to get picky. I had it with a porterhouse steak once and it still did very well. Not as well as a big dry red wine or a porter, it still did well. $10 is a solid price, too. Beard Bender is recommended.

Blake’s Flannel Mouth Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s, Armada, Michigan, USA2016-01-19-10.54.28.jpg.jpeg

Style: Semi-sweet apple cider

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $10/6 pack of cans

Appearance: Pale gold with a fizzy but short-lived head.

Nose: Apple juice, fresh off the tree apples, gravel, citrus blossom.

Palate: Semi-sweet and slightly effervescent. Light and easy drinking with good apple flavor and some structure-providing tannin.

Finish: Sweetness with some minerals in the background.

Parting words: Blake’s, like Uncle John’s, is an cidery and an agricultural attraction like Uncle John’s. Blake’s is closer to Detroit, though, just twenty-five miles north of Sterling Heights, Michigan in Macomb county, one of the three counties in the metro area. They produce a line of ciders including the dry Beard Bender, spiced El Chavo, hopped Catawampus, farmhouse Cider Dayze and sweet Flannel Mouth. They also produce a line of seasonal ciders and limited editions.

Flannel Mouth is a pretty good entry-level cider. It’s pretty sweet, so it may not be one to serve to those who think cider is too sweet, but for the casual cider drinkers or the ci-curious it’s a good choice. Acessible, but with depth. $10 for a six pack isn’t cheap but it isn’t bananas either. Flannel Mouth is recommended.