It’s another video review! Today it’s the return of #CiderSunday with an apple cider flavored with paw paws from one of my favorite Michigan cider makers. Enjoy!
Maker: Almar Orchards, Flushing, Michigan, USA
Apples: Propietary blend of unspecified organic apples.
Place of origin: Koan Family Orchards, Flushing, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry Farmhouse cider
Purchased for $13/4 pint cans
Appearance: Dark gold, slightly hazy. Lightly bubbly.
Nose: Apple juice, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch.
Palate: Tart apple, sweetened apple sauce, touch of tannin.
Finish: Tart and a little sweet.
Parting words: This is the flagship cider of JK’s Scrumpy and the easiest one to find. It’s got big apple flavors, is semi-dry to semi-sweet (depending on who you ask) with no additives, food friendly and accessible to newbies. There’s nothing not to like here unless you’re a dry cider diehard. I would appreciate a little more tannic grip on the back end of the palate and in the finish, but that’s a minor complaint. An excellent example of a middle of the road organic cider, JK’s Scrumpy Orchard Gate Gold is recommended.
Look for more JK’s reviews to come!
Maker: Virtue, Fennville, Michigan, USA.
Apples: Variety of Michigan-grown apples.
Style: Partially barrel-finished apple cider with Michigan honey added (Not a cyser or mead).
Price: $13/12 12 oz can variety pack (Binny’s)
Appearance: Pale gold, like a lager.
Nose: Honey, sliced golden apples.
Palate: Lightly fizzy, medium bodied. Semi-dry. More balanced than the nose. Honeyed golden apple slices, lemon meringue pie.
Finish: Honey, dry apple slices, tannin.
Parting words: This is another Virtue cider out of the variety pack I bought for my June party. It’s my least favorite of the four included in the pack, but it’s still good. The honey is too strong in the nose but it and the barrel notes add depth and grip to what would otherwise be a pretty mild cider on the palate and in the finish. Good price for a quality cider. Virtue’s Michigan Honey is recommended.
Maker: Virtue Farms, Fennville, Michigan, USA
Apples: Unnamed heirloom varieties.
Place of origin: Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry cider.
Price: $13/12 can case (variety pack including three other Virtue ciders at Binny’s)
Appearance: Light gold like a lager.
Nose: Apple wood sawdust, applesauce, gravel.
Palate: Effervescent and semi-dry. Chewy tannin, some sweetness and fruit.
Finish: Dry with a tart tang in the front.
Parting words: I’ve reviewed Virtue ciders before on this blog, but this is the first canned cider of theirs I’ve done. I bought a variety pack of Virtue cider for my annual party in early June (you’re all invited next year). A few were left over, so I’m planning on working my way through the survivors in a series of reviews.
I was very impressed with Virtue’s Michigan Apple. It has a tannic grip that a lot of other American ciders in its category and price range don’t have. There’s no yeasty funk, but this is Michigan Apple, not Pomme de Normandie. This is a very enjoyable cider and I highly recommend it.
Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Variety: 100% Bartlett perry
Style: Dry American perry.
Price: $8 (winery IIRC)
Appearance: Very pale straw.
Nose: Pear, cedar, yeast.
Palate: Light & dry with a few bubbles. Hint of pear, apple core, yeast.
Finish: Dry. A little tannin and funk.
Parting words: At this point in my cider-tasting career I’ve had a good number of perries and all but a couple of them have been very sweet. When I saw that this perry was 100% Bartlett, I assumed that I was in for another sweet, one-dimensional perry. I was wrong. LFC’s perry is pleasantly dry with a little yeast and even what tastes like tannin! It was a very pleasant surprise. The winery that makes some of my favorite Michigan wines now also makes my favorite Michigan perry. LFC’s Perry is highly recommended.
Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA
Apples: “Late season varieties”
Style: Sparkling apple cider fermented with plum skins.
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.
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.
Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Style: Dry farmhouse cider using Saison yeast.
Note: Fermented in French oak. Rested on lees. Unfiltered.
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.
Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA
Style: Apple cider flavored with apple juice, prickly pear extract, pear juice concentrate and elderflower.
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: Gitche Gumee Ciderworks, Hancock, Houghton County, Michigan, USA
Style: Wild fermented feral apple cider. Finished in French oak barrels
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.
Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry apple cider with sugar added.
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.