Review: Crispin Rose Hard Cider

You’ve got rose wine, why not rose cider? That’s the thinking anyway behind Crispin’s latest, a new year-round cider that is made from “real rose petals, hibiscus, and an elegant blend of fresh-pressed juices made from hand-picked apples and pears from the Pacific Northwest.”

Unabashedly designed with women in mind, Crispin Rose is indeed quite floral, with an indistinct red flower note that, in the end, aligns itself more with the hibiscus than the rose petals. The apples and pears here are semi-dry, with just a hint of sweetness — not enough to dim the flowery notes, nor enough to make a somewhat muddy, twigs-and-stems character disappear.

While it’s hard not to love the pink color, the finished product is much muddier than I’d like — though, when amply chilled, drinkable enough.

5% abv.

B- / $10 per six-pack / crispincider.com

Review: Virtue Cider Michigan Harvest

Virtue Cider’s Michigan Harvest is an entry-level cider, “made from all sorts of Michigan-grown apples, fermented deep in our cool cellar and aged in French oak, then blended with this year’s fresh-pressed juice.” (The similar-sounding Michigan Apple, not reviewed here, is also a semi-dry cider but is made from different types of apples.)

The cider is lightly sweet but quite tangy, with fresh apple notes underpinned with a slight but present dusky, earthy note. Quite fresh, with some herbal elements and a zippy but not heavy carbonation, it’s an amalgam of pretty much everything Virtue does. The finish sees just a hint of vanilla and spice. If you’re at all a fan of cider, it’s hard not to find some level of pleasure in it.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $10 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Vermont Cider Ingrained

Vermont Cider Co. is the producer of, well, most of the cider you’re likely to find: Woodchuck, Gumption, Magner’s, Blackthorn… they’re all out of Vermont.

Vermont Cider also produces occasional bottlings under its own label, including this special edition: Ingrained. The name is a play on words, because the cider is aged in WhistlePig rye whiskey barrels before bottling.

A semi-dry cider, it’s got a punchy apple core that evokes notes of sweet-and-tart cinnamon-dusted applesauce, Butterfinger candy, and a little vanilla in the mix. It’s on this lattermost note that the barrel influence makes itself known, that vanilla ceding the way to hints of cocoa, graham crackers, and burnt toffee. Filling and well-rounded, it’s a cider with an impressive depth of flavor and a beautiful balance from start to finish.

Highly recommended.

6.9% abv.

A / $11 per four-pack / vermontciderco.com

Review: Woodchuck Gumption Citrus Freak Hard Cider

Gumption Citrus Freak is a spin-off of Woodchuck’s standard, circus-themed Gumption cider, which here blends apples with grapefruit and Cascade hops to create a unique and surprisingly refreshing combination.

The grapefruit is an impressive pairing with the crisp apple notes — this is a semi-sweet cider, a real crowd pleaser when it comes to sweetness — but it’s the addition of hops on the back end that turn this into something different and unique. The bitterness is subtle, earthy, and intriguing, clearly hoppy but not bracing in the way, say, an IPA might be. This cleanses the sweetness from the palate without washing it away entirely — letting the slight sourness of the grapefruit linger. Well done, despite the crazed monkey on the label.

5.5% abv.

A- / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Virtue Cider The Mitten

This new release from Virtue Cider is, as always, a Michigan-born cider, made from a blend of last season’s pressed apples. The cider is “aged in Bourbon barrels for up to one year, then back sweetened with this year’s fresh pressed apple juice.”

This is one of Virtue’s more interesting ciders, offering caramel and butterscotch notes that complement dried apples and cinnamon. It’s like a carbonated apple-flavored whiskey from the start, but the finish finds the fresher fruit notes enduring and hard to shake. Candylike on the back end, some lightly herbal notes linger here, along with a touch of bitter quinine, which helps balance out the sweetness.

6.8% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Review: Virtue Michigan Brut Cider

Virtue’s Michigan Brut Cider is made from Michigan-grown apples (a blend of heirloom varietals) and, like its high-end Lapinette, is a bone-dry brut. As with Lapinette, it offers overtones of mushroom, bramble, and oxidized wine, but here, the core of the cider — the apple — is significantly dialed back. Pushing through the earth tones and letting some of the carbonation fade allows the fruit to come forward more, here taking on notes of dried apples, a bit of orange peel, and a little plum. There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish, though it’ll hardly make you think of anything approaching apple pie — but the overall clean and crisp style may be particularly appealing to beer fanatics.

6.7% abv.

B / $10 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

strongbow

Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Virtue Cider Lapinette Cidre Brut

lapinette

Virtue Cider’s Lapinette is a “Norman-style cidre brut fermented with French yeast and patiently aged for months in French oak.”

This Michigan-born cider is lightly sparkling but bone dry, which can be a bit surprising and even challenging at first but which eventually wins you over. On the tongue it offers an earthiness at first, mushroomy and yeasty, before stronger apple notes eventually emerge. It’s cut with balsamic notes, particularly on the high-test finish, which mercifully offers some acidity to cut that extremely dry character early on.

6.8% abv.

B / $10 (765ml) / virtuecider.com

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble

sonoma-cider-wimble

This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack / sonomacider.com

Review: Stella Artois Cidre

Stella Artois Cidre Bottle

One of the more curious line extensions in recent years comes from Stella Artois, which after decades of making pilsner decided to launch a cider. Cidre was introduced in 2011, and came to the U.S. in 2013. Today it is one of the more widely available ciders — thanks, likely, to its ownership by Anheuser-Busch as well as the fact that it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. The U.S. Cidre is made in Baldwinsville, New York, “using apples picked from wine-growing regions in North and South America.”

As cider goes, this is made in a fresh, fizzy, and quite sweet style. The body is loaded with fresh apple juice, with overtones of lemon and orange. Again, it’s sweetness from the get-go, with just a touch of sour citrus to add a bit of balance, particularly present on the gently herbal finish. Positioned as an alternative to white wine (or, more likely, a wine cooler), Cidre fits well the profile of a poolside sipper, uncomplicated to be sure, but hard not to at least enjoy in the moment.

4.5% abv.

B+ / $9 per six-pack / stellaartois.com

Review: Woodchuck June & Juice Juniper Hard Cider

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Woodchuck’s latest “Out on a Limb” cider is this true oddity — June & Juice — a juniper-based cider that takes the gin and tonic as its inspiration.

It’s a semi-sweet apple cider made by steeping fresh juniper berries, rose buds, and orange peel into the mix. The results are better than I expected, a light and refreshing cider which isn’t too sweet and which doesn’t overdo the botanical elements, either. Lightly junipery, the rose flowers make a distinct impression and give it a floral focus. With a little time in the glass, citrus makes a stronger showing. The finish lets the apple base shine — again, with just the right balance between dry and sweet.

While it’s loaded with uncharacteristic flavors, it’s one of the more worthwhile cider releases in recent months.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

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