Hard Cider Newsletter

Two New Special Releases Debut from Blake's Hard Cider

This winter, hard cider aficionados can look out for two new Blake’s Hard Cider releases – a rum-soaked raisin cider, called Snap Dragon, and a plum cider named Santa Rosa. These new ciders join the ever growing portfolio of innovative products that Blake’s Hard Cider has been known to release with their farm to bottle approach.

After making a strong impression on cider connoisseurs when Snap Dragon first hit the market back in 2015, this limited series cider is back for the winter in six-pack bottles and draft. Snap Dragon is a complex, semi-sweet cider made with rum-soaked Michigan grapes.  This balanced cider with an aroma of honey and floral notes is named after a popular game played in the 1600’s.  The game, Snap Dragon, was played with brandy soaked raisins that were lit on fire and passed around for players to put in their mouths.  The blazing hot raisin often left the participants with the face of a dragon while handling the lit, dried fruit.  This new high-end liquid version of Snap Dragon has a 6.9% ABV and is available throughout the Midwest, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Alabama (13 states in total) until February. 

In comparison to Snap Dragon’s high ABV and strong taste, Santa Rosa is a semi-sweet cider that was made using ingredients right off the Blake Farms property in Armada, Michigan. Santa Rosa is the first release of six in the line-up of the new “foraged series” of Blake’s Hard Ciders that is an extension of the company’s mission and vision to pay homage to their roots and foundation of being a farm first.

“The inspiration for Santa Rosa came from tasting an orange wine from Italy. I knew that skin fermented white wine was a huge envelope push in the wine world and I wasn’t sure how I could push a similar envelope with cider,” said cider maker Robert Lauer of Blake’s Hard Ciders. “It wasn’t until I stumbled upon our Mirabelle plums in our storage cooler that I acted on the plum-skin ferment idea. In addition, to the prized yellow plums, we also grow quite a few acres of Santa Rosa plums and the skins of those plums gave a richer hue to the cider.”

Santa Rosa finishes at 5.0% ABV and is packaged in 500mL bottles that will be available beginning January 2018 in limited quantities. The label expresses that the flesh of the plums really compliments the late season apple varieties in the base.

For more information, please visit BlakesHardCider.com. Photos courtesy of Blake’s Hard Cider.


Cider & Cheese Pairings That Will Wow Your Holiday Guests

The holiday season is here and we all know what that means, holiday parties.  What’s a holiday party without a charcuterie board filled with an abundant amount of cheeses?   Amplify your holiday party by crafting a cider and cheese pairing.  Your guests will love it!  Cider is a vibrant, versatile beverage that pairs deliciously with a wide array of cheeses – spicy, savory, creamy, soft, hard, goat’s milk, cow’s milk, etc.  Below are five recommended cider and cheese pairings complete with tasting notes that are sure to impress your guests:

  • Downeast Original Blend & Pepper Jack
    Downeast Cider’s Original Blend is a traditional cider with an unfiltered, full body and a golden hue that boasts a bold, clean apple taste.  Pepper Jack cheese is known for its balance of spiciness and creaminess, which makes it a perfect pairing with Downeast’s Original Blend.  This semi-soft, open textured cheese is spicy to the taste yet finishes delicate and buttery.  Pepper Jack is flavored with sweet peppers, rosemary, habanero chilies and garlic with spicy jalapeños for an extra kick.  This semi-sweet cider will help break the heat into a smooth and creamy finish.  The crisp and clean apple notes play nicely with the Pepper Jack.

  • Ciderboys Cherry Jubilee & Brie
    Brie’s oozing creaminess carries an earthy, nutty flavor which pairs well with a sweet and fruity cider like Ciderboy’s Cherry Jubilee.  Sweet cherries and crisp apples entice each other as they dance in a blissful cherry jubilee.  Brie has a mild, buttery taste which can be served slightly warm.  The soft and smooth texture of brie complements the plump sweet cherries and fresh crisp apples of Ciderboy’s Cherry Jubilee.  The cherries and apples are blended together to craft a crisp yet sweet cherry flavored hard cider that pairs perfectly with warm brie.  This is a holiday party favorite served warm with some crackers.  

  • Virtue’s Michigan Apple Cider & Cheddar
    Virtue’s Michigan Apple is a semi-dry cider made from heirloom Michigan apples aged in French oak barrels, then blended with hand-pressed juice from the current year’s harvest.  It has an upfront clean and crisp taste which is followed by a tart, dry, and lightly oaky finish.  The apple forward crispness of this cider harmonizes well with the dense and high salt content of cheddar cheese.  Cheddar cheese has a distinct “snap” character when properly made and gets a sharper taste as it matures.  The cheese is creamy on the palate and helps boast a long-lasting smooth finish to this cider.

  • Austin Eastciders Texas Honey & Blue Cheese
    Austin Eastciders Texas Honey cider is a blend of bittersweet apples and dessert apples crafted with Texas honey to create a delicious cider with a hint of sweetness, which pairs well to the strong taste of blue cheese.  Blue cheese has a rich flavor with a pungent aftertaste.  This crumbly cheese is creamy with a subtle sweetness followed by a salty, earthy finish.  The subtle sweetness of the honey flavor in this cider cuts blue cheese’s bold, sharp salinity.  The cider is known to have the perfect balance of sweetness which complements blue cheese’s strong, lingering earthy note taste.

  • Citizen Cider’s Unified Press & Smoked Gouda
    Made with 100% locally sourced apples, never from concentrate, the Unified Press is a naturally gluten-free cider that is an off-dry, crisp, clean and refreshing cider.  Gouda’s semi-soft and nutty characteristics make it a good pair for Unified Press.  The cider’s off-dry notes welcome cheeses within the same tangy family.  Smoked Gouda has a bit more of a savory taste than Gouda.  This cheese is buttery, creamy and smooth with sweet and salty notes.  Smoked Gouda has a melt on your tongue feel and should be served at room temperature.  The sweetness of this cider helps balance the earthy notes in this cheese and the cheese helps tame the semi-sweet taste of the cider leaving a clean, crisp finish.  

These cider and cheese pairings are surefire way to win over your guests’ taste buds, but if you’re looking to bring your party to the next level here are a few other cider pairings brought to you by the Northwest Cider Association:

  • Dry Cider – pulled pork, oil fish or sausage

  • Sweet Cider – spicy Asian cuisine or pasta with white sauce

  • Hopped Cider – fish n’ chips, vegetable soups or pasta with red sauce

  • Dessert Cider – cheesecake, triple cream or vanilla ice cream

  • Fruit Cider – chicken, duck or salmon

  • Spiced Cider – pork chop, herb roasted chicken or tacos

Consider providing additives to your cheese plate that include: sliced apples, crackers, grapes, nuts, honey, and figs among other items. These additions will provide some texture and flavor to compliment your pairings.

There are many other cider and cheese pairing resources available from cider makers and cheese monger organizations alike. For example, Virtue Cider produced a pairing guide for their entire portfolio of ciders that can be found on their website. Take a look to enhance your next pairing selections! Photo credit to Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Compiled by: Kristen Sarcone, Staff Writer of Hard Cider News


Brooklyn Cider House Has Place to Call Home

Inspired by the sagardotegi of Basque Country, cider maker Peter Yi wanted to create an interactive communal dining and cider tasting experience unlike any other in the United States. As at a traditional sagardotegi, Brooklyn Cider House will be both a bar and restaurant and a place for social engagement. During the meal, guests will be able to sample the company’s raw cider, catching it in their glasses straight from massive wooden barrels during a guided tasting that highlights the cider at various points of the aging process.

Brooklyn Cider House will not only serve the company’s line of five ciders produced in Upstate New York, but will showcase New York State cider, wine and spirits, eventually expanding to ciders, wines and spirits from around the world. Plans for the extended beverage program include apple-focused spirits like Calvados as old as 120 years, Pomal, Applejack and mulled cider; as well as a gin and tonic program that will highlight Spain’s love affair with the classic drink, nodding to Peter’s passion for Spain and the Basque country. (Peter was the wine buyer and co-owner of PJ Wine, prior to Brooklyn Cider House, and traveled to Spain on wine trips often.) 

The food will be inspired by the Basque cooking found at a sagardotegi, including dishes such as chorizo braised in their own cider, dry-aged rib eye, baccalao and more. The bar menu will offer nibbles and snacks such as jamon, marconas, olives, anchovies, cheese, etc. There will be two menus available in the dining room – each composed of five communal courses; traditional for $37 (with meat and fish) and vegetarian menu for $32.

The soaring 12,000 square foot former warehouse at 1100 Flushing Ave. in Bushwick (New York) features a large bar area in the front, with two cidery rooms behind. One holds large 80-year-old chestnut barrels from Asturias (Spain) where the raw cider will be tasted and the other large stainless steel tanks for cider fermentation. The three dining rooms each feature long communal tables in the style of Basque cider houses (think: German beer halls).

Peter Yi is well known for transforming PJ Wine from a small shop in Inwood to one of New York City’s leading wine retailers. He fell in love with Spain, and especially the Basque Country and local cider on his many trips to taste Rioja wines. He fell hard for Basque cider and decided to leave PJ Wine and devote himself to the launch of his own cider brand of American ciders with Basque inspiration. Two years ago, he bought Twin Star Orchards in New Paltz, New York with existing apple trees for current cider production and planted additional 8,000 heirloom apple trees for future cider production; the latter will be ready for harvest in three to four years.

Brooklyn Cider House is located at 1100 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11237. Plan your trip to the cider house by visiting BrooklynCiderHouse.com. Dinner reservations are required. Photos credit to Michael Tulipan for Brooklyn Cider House.


Hard Cider Festival, Pour the Core, Debuts in Maryland

As festival producer, Starfish Junction Productions, announced their 2018 event calendar, imbibers could not ignore the expansion of the hard cider festival series, Pour the Core, to Baltimore, Maryland. Pour the Core: Baltimore will be taking place on Friday, February 2, 2018 at the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum (B&O) from 7:00pm-10:30pm. Tickets for the festival are on sale now at: PourTheCore.com/Baltimore.

The B&O Railroad Museum provides a beautiful indoor backdrop for the festival to take place. Located in Baltimore City’s historic Southwest neighborhood, the B&O Railroad Museum boasts the oldest and most comprehensive collection of railroad history in the Western Hemisphere. Ticketholders of Pour the Core: Baltimore will have access to tour most all of the museum’s exhibits and learn about the trains on display, their history, and period stories. Further, attendees will be able to go aboard select trains and take photos. A portion of net proceeds from Pour the Core: Baltimore will benefit the museum and its mission. 

Similar to other Pour the Core events, Baltimore attendees will also have the opportunity to sit-in on seminars that will be presented by professionals in the cider industry on the making, enjoyment and/or history of cider. Seminar topics and descriptions will be announced in the coming weeks but festival organizers are hoping to bring in some industry pros and pioneers since Pour the Core: Baltimore is hosted on the final day of the cider industry’s national convention, CiderCon, and will take place during Baltimore Cider Week. Attendees should check the website for updates.

Pour the Core has had a successful run throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic with productions in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. At each location, attendees gather for a showcasing of the finest locally-produced and internationally-sourced ciders to sample. The events feature local favorites, regional best-sellers, national brands, and a variety of imported ciders and perries from Spain, England, France and elsewhere.  New this year, the event will feature “heritage” ciders which have not typically been available at the event.

The United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) defines “heritage” ciders as products made primarily from multi-use or cider-specific bittersweet/bittersharp apples, heirloom varieties, and/or wild or crab apples specifically used for acidity/tannin balance. These ciders will generally be higher in tannins than “modern cider” varieties; and encompass such ciders produced in or like the West Country of England (Somerset and Herefordshire), Northern France (Normandy and Brittany), Northern Spain (Basque and Asturias), as well as New World Ciders and others in which cider-specific apple varieties and production techniques are used. Eden Specialty Ciders is a classic example of “heritage” ciders that will be available at Pour the Core: Baltimore in February.

“We are super excited to work with some of the heritage cider makers this year,” stated Kristyn Dolan, Director at Starfish Junction Productions which produces Pour the Core. “Our mission has always been to bring cider to the consumers and showcase the wide variety of cider styles available in the market. We haven’t always been able to carry some of the specialty ciders out there, at the festival, due to price, availability, and/or distribution. Our festival attendees will definitely be excited for what is to come!”

Pour the Core ticketholders of select locations may also be able to participate in a Cider Donut Eating Contest in which contestants must finish their donut, which is hanging in the air via string, without the use of their hands in the fastest time. Please check your Pour the Core specific event location website to see if the contest is being held, contest rules, prizes and registration. Below is a complete listing of Pour the Core events taking place in 2018:

  • Baltimore – Friday, February 2 from 7pm-10pm, B&O Railroad Museum

  • Boston – Saturday, April 7 from 1:30pm-6pm, Cruiseport Boston

  • Brooklyn – Saturday, June 9 from 1:30pm-6pm, Brooklyn Expo Center

  • Long Island – Saturday, September 29 from 12:30pm-5pm, Heckscher State Park

  • Philadelphia – Saturday, October 20 from 12:30pm-5pm, The Navy Yard

With the exception of the Baltimore event, all other Pour the Core events will have a VIP and general admission ticket option. Those who decide to purchase the new VIP ticket option will have access into the event an hour earlier, receive a glass tasting cup, have exclusive seating, and can enjoy special VIP tastings. VIP attendees will also receive private bathrooms at locations with portable restrooms. Across all events, general admission ticketholders receive a souvenir tasting cup and the freedom to enjoy two-ounce tastings from any participating cider maker throughout the main festival. Designated driver tickets are also available for all events. Designated drivers do not receive a tasting cup but do receive bottled water. All attendees must be 21 or older in age and present valid photo ID for entry. No children or pets are permitted.

Tickets are on sale now for most all Pour the Core events. Hard Cider News readers can receive $10 off general admission tickets at any location using the code READHCN. Festival organizers have also made discounted tickets available to seniors (55+), active duty military, veterans, and groups (10+ people) – ticket pricing varies upon type and festival.  All sales are final.  For tickets and more information please visit: PourTheCore.com. Photos courtesy of Kristyn Dolan for Starfish Junction Productions.


Stem Ciders Expands Distribution to California

Colorado based craft cidery, Stem Ciders, and Wine Warehouse announced a new partnership to bring Stem’s unique portfolio of craft ciders to the state of California. Distribution throughout the entire state will begin in January 2018, making California the fifth state in the cidery’s distribution footprint.

“Our partnership with the Wine Warehouse organization is very exciting for all of us here at Stem", said Matt Hoskins, Stem’s National Sales Director. “With their statewide coverage, brilliant team, and well-curated craft cider and beer portfolio, we are excited to be able to bring our diverse line of clean, dry and off-dry ciders to the good people of California and show them that ‘This Is Cider’.”

Since opening its doors in 2014, the cidery has grown exponentially through sales and distribution, commanding the new production facility, cider house and eatery, Acreage, slated for opening in January in Lafayette, Colorado. Stem plans to launch cans, draft and six pack variety packs throughout California. The cidery will bring their flagship dry ciders: Real Dry Apple, Hopped Apple, and Raspberry Apple; along with their off-dry brands: Pear Apple and Off-Dry Apple.

“We are excited to introduce Stem Ciders to the California market. Stem’s intriguing, innovative releases are a great complement to our portfolio of the highest quality craft and artisan beverages,” said Jon Rhodes, E.V.P. of Marketing & Business Development, Wine Warehouse.

Stem Ciders will debut their ciders with a series of events in January throughout the Golden State, from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, including the weekend celebration of The Good Food Awards in San Francisco on January 20, 2018. For events and more information on Stem Ciders, please visit StemCiders.com.


'Tis the Year of Regional Cider

The United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) reported that ‘regional cider’ saw significant growth in the first three quarters of 2017, according to recent findings from Nielsen and other industry tracking agencies. This is great news for the industry to end the year on!

“There has been a lot of chatter within the media about a slowing down of the cider category, but it’s misleading,” explains Michelle McGrath, USACM Executive Director. “When you remove the national brands from the analysis, you see continued growth for the combined categories of regional and local ciders.” The data shows that where there is a strong regional cider brand, the overall hard cider trends in the market are much better than the national average. 

According to the Nielsen data commissioned by USACM for their members, Quarter 3 of 2017 (vs. Q3 of 2016) shows a substantial increase in off-premise sales of regional cider brands, with sales up 35.6%.

Examples of major gains for third quarter regional cider are seen in the following markets: Virginia (+33%), North Carolina (+55%), California (+26%), Texas (+73%), Oregon (+49%), Washington (+42%), and New England–defined by Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine (+45%).

Regional cideries are adding production capacity and new markets to their distribution. Combined with increased sales, all signs indicate that the development of strong regional brands is a national trend.

McGrath explains that the trend reflects cider drinkers eagerly exploring local offerings, “It’s similar to what happened in craft beer several years ago. We are having a parallel movement as cider drinkers look to support local brands.”

Today, there are around 800 cider companies in the United States. That number represents a doubling in the number of producers in the last three years, and new cideries continue to open every month. Below are regional examples of category growth:

Examples of regional cider brands with tremendous increases in sales include:

  • ACE Cider (CA), who has seen continued steady growth at 25-30% per year since 2008

  • Shacksbury Cider (VT), who grew from roughly 20,000 case equivalents in 2016 to over 40,000 case equivalents in 2017

  • 2 Towns Cider (OR), who anticipates seeing over 50% for 2017, and has maintained 50%+ every year since inception in 2010

  • Seattle Cider (WA) who saw exceptional growth in their home market as well as around the country with some states up over 100% year over year

  • Golden State Cider (CA), who produced 350,000 gallons in 2017, up from 150,000 gallons from the previous year

  • Austin Eastciders (TX), who saw a 144% increase of sales of Q3 2017 versus Q3 2016

  • Bold Rock (VA and NC), who saw a 61% in sales in the past year

Examples of regional cider brands adding significant production capacity include:

  • Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (OR), who is moving its cidery into a new space in 2018 that will quintuple its cider-production capacity

  • Austin Eastciders (TX), who opened a new 1,960-square-foot tasting room in November 2017, allowing the brand to host cider fans in their own space for the first time, “Which has been a major goal for the company,” said CEO Johnny Heiselberg

  • Stowe Cider (VT), who tripled its square footage for production recently

  • Noble Cider (NC), who recently expanded their production facility to accommodate 3-4 times their current production and will open a second Taproom in 2018 with a restaurant

  • Urban Orchard Cider (NC), who announced that they will be adding a second tasting room with additional production capacity

  • Stem Ciders (CO), who will add a new production facility and a food-focused taproom in 2018

Examples of regional cider brands adding new markets to their distribution include:

  • Noble Cider (NC), who added distribution to parts of Georgia and South Carolina and plan to fill in distribution for both of those states and the rest of North Carolina in 2018

  • Stowe Cider (VT), who added four new markets in 2017 including Maine, Washington D.C., Connecticut and Upstate New York

  • Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (OR), who will expand cider distribution to the east coast and Europe in 2018, the result of its new cidery

  • Seattle Cider (WA), who added Tennessee, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in 2017 and is poised to add 3-5 addition states in 2018

  • Stem Cider (CO), who expanded distribution to Illinois in early 2017 and will be expanding distribution to California in 2018

  • Austin Eastciders (TX), who added Kansas to their distribution this year

For more information on regional cider and additional examples of growth, please contact the United States Association of Cider Makers at CiderAssociation.org.


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Photo Credit: Brandon Matzek