August was a busy month for me. Delayed graduation parties, work, and birthday celebrations for family members took up all of my time. Then, it was suddenly September 1st. However, one thing I did make time for was food and drink because that’s what matters to me as a single twenty-something. Luckily, I have friends who are also single twenty-somethings, and they help me
drink away my day appreciate a nice bottle of wine.
Last month, it wasn’t just wine I was sipping on; it was also cider from Farnum Hill. My experience with cider before this had fallen into two extremes, the sugary waterfall of alcoholic apple juice that is served in most restaurants stateside and the dry, tart, intense sidra of Spain. The former is hardly worth a mention here, but the latter has been my basis for all good cider since 2013. As a study abroad student in Oviedo, many of the other college kids with whom I spent my time abroad ditched sidra early on in our experience in favor of a red wine/coke/rum mixture called calimocho. Admittedly, I did partake in this disgusting mixed drink more times than I can remember, but I was all about the potent sidra they poured in most restaurants as I’ve never been one to go after subtle.
Unsurprisingly, when I heard that the August #WineStudio was going to be about FH cider, I was on top of that faster than a frat boy on a keg stand. I was pumped. If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you’ve probably caught on that I participate in PROTOCOL Wine Studio’s monthly Twitter sessions regularly. For those of you not in the know, #WineStudio is part instruction and part wine tasting, with discussions touching on wine producers, culture, and what wine means to us imbibers. I like to try new things, and I enjoy learning about new sips as well, so #WineStudio is perfect for me. Also, I think being one of the younger participants gives me a different point of view from some of my fellow #WineStudio bloggers. Usually that just translates to me asking newbie questions, but every so often it’s a good thing.
Of course, part of the way we learn is through tasting and bouncing ideas off of one another. So, one night in early August I shared my first bottle of Farnum Hill with my uncle as we watched Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a movie no one should see more than once. Still, alcohol tends to dull the pain of Jar Jar Binks and cheesy dialogue.
For this particular evening, I chose the bottle I was most anxious to try, the Semi-Dry Cider. Made from the 2014 crop and featuring apples like Esopus Spitzenberg and Wickson, this felt the most autumn-y to me. It was weighty yet crisp, reminding me of a wet orchard. With the acidity clocking in at .73%, it was the most acidic of the ciders, though with Farnum Hill the acid translated as bitterness, not tartness. Lacking this mouth-puckering quality, the satisfaction wasn’t as immediate as the Spanish cider I was used to, but the lingering quality of the drink meant that the flavors stuck with me in a good way.
The Extra Dry Cider was next, and it was the one bottle I was forced to drink alone; I lead a hard life. This one was less heavy than the Semi-Dry yet more complex. Here, “extra dry” meant there was zero residual or returned sugar in this baby, and that translated to a cider that was hard to pin down; there was just so much to it. Fruity, citrusy, and not the least bit sweet, this one was the one that highlighted how apple flavor is to cider as grape flavor is to wine, and if you can’t figure out what that means, you’re probably drinking two dollar wine that is closer to grape juice than it is to anything I want in my body. This was my favorite of the samples, and I’d imagine it’s for the drinker who appreciates something off the beaten path yet avoids anything too crazy like shark baiting.
The most approachable of the ciders was the last one I tried, the Farmhouse Cider made from the 2013 crop of early-ripening bittersweet apple varieties.By this point, I learned that a white wine glass was the best way to appreciate these ciders, particularly when it came to appreciating the aromas. Here, baking spices and farmy scents came through, which probably sounds gross, but was as if your grandma was making a pie near a corn field. Good for beginners, this golden yellow cider offered up a clean flavor underscored by a slight tart bitterness. However, don’t let what I’ve written here fool you, this bottle was still very intense. It was no Angry Orchard, so don’t pick it up thinking so; pick it up anticipating something deviating from the standard that you are probably used to and you’ll be set for an enjoyable experience.
To finish off the tastings, the Extra Dry Perry offered up a still option. Pouring a pale greenish-yellow into the tulip beer glass with which I was experimenting, this was a subtle, lush, smooth option that made for easy drinking. It was floral and lingering and wholly distinct from any beverage that’s ever been in my mouth. Even after I finished off the bottle with a friend of mine, I didn’t know what to think. Did I like it? Did I want to drink more of it? Was this something I really needed to spend my afternoon worrying about? For me, all the answers were ‘yes.’ Still, if you’re new to cider, I wouldn’t recommend starting off with a perry because it’s for you shark baiters out there.
I’ve participated in a handful of #WineStudio discussions at this point, and this one has been one of the most informative ones yet. So many people (myself occasionally included) just lump cider in with beer, but it’s so much more than that. It’s got a different production process, highlights complex flavors, and has as many distinct styles as wine. Also, number one rule about cider apples: they are not eating apples, though my rebellious little self still wants to try one.
Despite being so big with our Founding Fathers, cider kind of got screwed over during Prohibition, and it’s one beverage that just about everyone needs to learn more about now. It’s a fun area for me to uncover, and I plan on spending more time exploring it. While the cider discussion is over for #WineStudio, a bubbly one began the other night and continues every Tuesday this month at 9pm east coast time, so join me for the ride!
These ciders were kindly provided to me by the companies listed above, but all opinions are my own.