The amount I’ve come to know about cider – varieties, brands, tastes, methods – seems to have snuck up on me. I was at a social gathering a few weeks ago, and I was chatting with some people about cider, having brought some to drink that evening. After we got passed the usual, “oh, you like cider” and “when did you start drinking cider” part, these women started asking lots of questions and I found that I was able to answer all of them. I wouldn’t be able to wow a master cidermaker, but it became clear that I can certainly hold my own among the masses.
After hearing from them about the wines they typically like and their past experiences with cider, both good and bad, I found I was even able to recommend those I thought each would like among the various random options Steve and I had grabbed from our pantry to bring along. And I was right! Each person had much different tastes, and I was able to say which each of them would like or dislike among those I had them sample!
The last few years, as we would excitedly head out the door for Cider Summit SF or the Hard Core Cider Tour last fall, Steve has proclaimed me to be a Cider Ho. I never objected to the title; I didn’t think I had much standing. But this year, I decided it was time to give myself a promotion. To some degree, perhaps Cider Courtesan would be appropriate, but I landed on Cider Madam as the most apt.
The fact that Cider Summit SF is scheduled right around my birthday every year seems to be destiny in a similar way that International Talk Like a Pirate Day lands on Steve’s birthday. It’s just meant to be, with the added benefit that Cider Summit SF feels like a party being thrown just for me! This year was twice the fun because the Friday night before Cider Summit was the NorCal Cider Classic! Other cities around the country have a full Cider Week, and a few of those also have a Cider Summit that acts as a kind of anchor. For reasons that I don’t yet know, SF doesn’t have a full Cider Week, but I am hopeful that this year’s Cider Classic was perhaps the first foray into broadening out to more festivities.
The event was hosted by Crooked City Cider in Oakland, and proceeds went to support the California Association of Cider Makers and the All Blues Women’s Rugby Team. It was a smaller event than Cider Summit, but still consisted of over 20 Northern California-based cidermakers. I focused my tasting efforts on cidermakers who either were not scheduled to be at Cider Summit SF the next day, or those who were tasting cider varieties that were not going to be on-tap at the Summit.
The nice thing about an event like this is that you often get to speak with the cidermakers personally. There was a pear cider (Hemly Cider Pear Cider) there that we had tried at Cider Summit last year and really liked, so we had purchased a bottle. When we cracked it open, we didn’t like it quite so much, and it didn’t seem quite as intensely pear as I’d remembered. But we were drinking it several months later, so I thought perhaps it had changed in the bottle and I wanted to try it again. I was talking to the cidermaker about it and she told me that the bottled cider was actually different than what she’d been able to serve at Cider Summit. Last year, she was able to add a bit of additional pear juice just a day or two before serving it, but she couldn’t do that with the stuff she was bottling because they would explode! Well, that explains it!
The flip side of the personal conversation was on full display in my interaction with the Crispin Cider Company folks. They were serving up a variety that they had labelled as “experimental” and they didn’t want to tell me what it was at first. I told them I was willing to play along, but that for Untappd purposes, I was going to need to know what it was after I tried it. They agreed and even connected with me on Untappd. I felt super bad when I gave it a middling rating and the booth guy saw me a few minutes later and said “2 and a half stars? Really?” Awkward! (Crispin Cider Company Rose’)
There’s not much that will keep me from being in my pajamas by 7:00 on a Friday night, but it was a super fun evening and I hope to see more of them.
The next day, we rolled out of bed in good fighting condition for the afternoon in the Presidio at Cider Summit SF. As with last year, our cider-loving friend Marie came with, and we splurged on the VIP tickets that got us in the door a full hour before they opened to the rest of the crowd. We made good use of the extra hour, hitting a few cidermaker booths that had offerings we were particularly interested in sampling.
The past few years have offered a disappointing ending as we would hit the on-site bottleshop, lists in-hand, and find that many of those we wanted to purchase were already sold out. This year I already had a list ready to go of those I had wanted to purchase in the past, supplementing it with some of those tasted during the VIP session, and we made an early trip to the bottleshop about 30 minutes after our VIP time was over. We got everything on my list!
Once again, my carefully prepared spreadsheet of all the cidermakers and cider varieties scheduled for the Summit was a hit among the serious cider drinkers who saw it, winning much admiration for my dedication and forethought. Mind you, the less serious probably thought I was a bit touched, but that wasn’t really my concern. The spreadsheet was particularly admired by another couple who were dictating their own notes about each cider into their phone. We met up with them again by chance later in the day and exchanged opinions and recommendations for our favorites to sample. While my spreadsheet makes for excellent pre-planning and on-site navigation, I may need to consider the voice dictation method for note-taking at future cider festivals.
As we made our way around the grounds the rest of the afternoon, we encountered a few other varieties that were of interest for potential purchase. Unfortunately, many of these ciders were sold out when we went to the shop again at the end of the event. Marie was particularly distressed, her disappointment perhaps heightened by the fact that her last few tastings had been of a slightly higher alcohol content than the earlier ones.
The upside was that she overcame her dismay fairly quickly.
I hesitate to list my sampling notes because, between the two days, I tried, well, a few. Enough, anyway, that Sunday night was proclaimed cider-free. Do remember these were sample pours and some of them were shared with Steve. 😉
NorCal Cider Classic
- Humboldt Cider Company Hibiscus Hemp – I mean, come on. I had to try this, didn’t I? Light, tart, not too sweet, but not overly dry. Nice balance. I like this one.
- Humboldt Cider Company Cherry Cider – Lots of cherry notes, not too sweet, quite nice. I like this quite a bit.
These two were a surprise because I’ve had other Humboldt Ciders in the past that I didn’t like at all, but both of these were really quite good. I looked to find them at the bottleshop the next day, but they weren’t for sale.
- Specific Gravity Cider Company Nana Mae’s Gravenstein Hard Cider – One of those olivey ones. Not overpoweringly so.
Honestly, I knew I wasn’t going to like this one very much, because I’ve had others from this cidery before and they aren’t my style. But I’m a sucker for the vendor with no one at his booth who manages to catch my eye. Fair and conference vendors everywhere, take note!
- Honest Abe Cider and Mead Temecula Wildflower and Honey – Very nice. Light and refreshing. Not overly sweet, just right.
I really liked this one a lot and went back later in the evening to try the other variety they had (a limoncello cider), but they were already out of it. I’m going to have to look for this for sale somewhere. They were not at Cider Summit.
- Waterhouse Cider Company Gravenstein Apple and Honey – Made with ale yeast. A bit funky/olivey.
- Waterhouse Cider Company Golden Delicious – Crisp and clean, not overly bitter, but rather dry for my taste.
- 101 Cider House Sour Perry – Super sour. Can’t taste the pear over the sour. Take an antacid first. 😉 100% pears, no apples in the mix.
- 101 Cider House SoCal Scrumpy – Not a huge fan. Very dry.
- Devoto Cider’s Apple Sauced Cider – Dry, bitter. A little bit of the funk. Not my favorite.
This is another I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like because I find the Devoto ciders to be too wine-like for my tastes. But this particular selection was one of the last bottles available of a style they only made once. . . For my collecting purposes, it was a must try.
- Redwood Coast Cider Strawberry Bopper – Good strawberry flavor, but a bit too dry and bitter for my taste.
- Crispin Cider Company Rose’ – Pear-apple (50/50) w/ rose petals (and other “stuff”, they say). A bit drier than I would expect, but clean. Decent, but not enough pear. See my additional notes above.
- Hemly Cider Pear Cider – Different this year. New pasteurization process. I think I like the old style better. See my additional notes above.
- Hemly Cider Jalapeño Pear Cider – Interesting combo w/ the jalapeno, heat kicks in at the end, but not overwhelming. Strong jalapeno flavor. Not as good as other spicy pepper combos.
- Hidden Star Orchards Sour Apple – Nice and tart, not really sour. Crab apple. Quite pleasant. I like this better than the others I’ve had of this brand.
Cider Summit SF
- Tilted Shed Ciderworks Inclinado Sidra-Style Cider – Spanish style, olivey, but mild.
They popped the keg just as the VIP folks were entering, with the traditional line of people filling their glasses from the stream.
- Mission Trail Cider Co. Peach Coast – Peachy and dry. Not as good as the plum, but okay.
I was really eager to try this one because their plum cider is splendid, but this one just isn’t quite as good.
- Mission Trail Cider Co. Ron Tropico – A weird aftertaste, to me. Reminds me of a grapefruit screwdriver. Marie liked it, though.
This was their special entry to the Fruit Cider Challenge at the Summit, where cidermakers create a fruit cider specifically for the event.
- Newton Court Cidery Panting Partridge – An English style Perry. 100% pear. A little funk at the finish, but nice.
For those not in the know, a farmyard funk is an actual way to describe certain types of ciders. 😉 And, no, I’m not making this up. It’s a particularly earthy taste and you’ll know when you have it. Maybe it’s a beer thing, too, but I know it from ciders.
- Finnriver Farm and Cidery Cider Summit Collaboration Cider – With Turkish apricots, black pepper, and clove. Mild spice profile. A bit dry and bitter, would like more apricot and clove.
- Red Branch Cider and Brewing Company The Baron – A mead barrel-aged apple cyser. Not as good as most Red Branch ciders. Steve and I insisted it had a Scotch-like quality, but Marie and her friend we met up with disagreed with equal vehemence. Mind you, they couldn’t name anything different that it reminded them of. . .
- Common Cider Company Pineapple Guava Cider – Fruitier smell than taste. A bit weird. Harsh and bitter.
- Schilling Cider Passport – Good fruit flavor, but a smidge of a weird finish. Not as good as the version on tap at UpCider.
- Wildcide Wild Mule – Liked the lime and ginger, but couldn’t get past a dislike of the base cider. Harsh and acidic.
- Eden Specialty Ciders Rose Imperial – Too wine-like. Not a fan.
- Indigeny Reserve Apricot – Different this year, the puree was filtered out. Still super tasty with good apricot flavor.
Last year, their version of apricot cider was almost nectar-like it had so much apricot puree in it. This year it was totally filtered out, so it was a nice clear and clean cider, but it still had excellent apricot flavor.
- Humboldt Cider Company Guava the Hop – Super hoppy. Minimal guava. Not a favorite. Re/ this brand: High or low ratings, little in between.
- Humboldt Cider Company Passionfruit – Not fruity enough. A bit bitter.
- South City Ciderworks Yerba Buena – Citrus mint. Heavy on the citrus, not much mint, but they’re working on improving the balance. Try again someday.
- Tin City Cider Co. Liliko’i – Tastes hopped, but it’s not. Hard to get past the hoppiness to the passionfruit.
- The Good Cider – Sweet and juice like. Tasty, but very much like apple juice.
- Schilling Cider Strawberry Sour – Lots of taste from the oak aging, not much strawberry.
- Sierra Cider Early Harvest (semi-sweet) – Light, tasty. Good apple flavor. I’ll want to try more from them in the future.
- Sierra Cider Farmhouse Style (semi-still) – Mild funk. Pleasant.
- Santa Cruz Cider Company Blueberry Lemongrass – Tart, bitter. Not a good balance between the blueberry and the lemongrass.
- See Canyon Hard Cider Classic – Semi sweet, good apple flavor. Worth checking out in the future.
- Maeloc Strawberry – Lots of strawberry, light and soda-like.
- Maeloc Blackberry – Good blackberry flavor. Light, sweet.