Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

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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: Easy Tea Co. Hard Iced Tea

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The alcoholization of everything continues with the world of iced tea, courtesy of MillerCoors-owned Easy Tea Co. and its new Hard Iced Tea (Crisp Citrus Flavor) product. That’s a bold name for whatever is in this monster-sized can. Whatever it is, it isn’t tea, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the list of ingredients (water, corn syrup (dextrose), barley malt, yeast, hop extract, sucrose, citric acid, natural flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (added for freshness)), though perhaps that gets folded in under the “natural flavors” rubric. What it does taste like, rather, is orange soda, though lightly funky and mildly off-putting in that vegetally-flavored malt beverage way. On the whole it’s harmless, but it simply isn’t describable — in any way — as tea.

Sweet and fizzy, with candylike overtones to tamp down the malt liquor character, I don’t know who could polish off a full 24 oz. of this stuff — that’s almost the quantity that’s in a wine bottle — but if you can, you’re not invited into my house.

5% abv.

D+ / $3 per 24 oz. can / millercoors.com

Review: Troegs Nimble Giant

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Nimble Giant is a once-a-year seasonal from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Troegs, and it presents itself as decidedly gigantic from the start. Nimble? That’s perhaps up to the consumer. This is a double IPA crafted with Mosaic, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, brash and punchy from the start with a surfeit of fruit — grapefruit, orange, and some lemon — atop a dense, sometimes syrupy core. Floral notes emerge with some time in glass, the finish ending squarely on a properly hoppy, piney, resinous note. While Nimble Giant is huge, it is indeed fairly nimble, letting its fruity notes do the heavy lifting as it fades out. A lovely, chewy DIPA. 9% abv.

A / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz cans / troegs.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA, Hop Trip (2016), Chasin’ Freshies (2016), and Sagefight Imperial IPA

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A trio of fall releases from Deschutes, starting now!

Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA – Deschutes’ newest seasonal is fit for fall, an IPA inspired by German Märzenbier, made with loads of German hops instead of the usual fare found in American IPAs. Results are appropriately Teutonic. Rich and malty, with overtones of coffee and cocoa, it starts off slightly sweet before the hops kick in. Though well short of overpowering, the beer drinks with plenty of bitterness but also showcases notes of cherry fruit and some baking spice, particularly on the back end. Seems perfectly autumnal, indeed. 7% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip Pale Ale (2016) – Notably maltier this usual, this year’s Hop Trip has a surprising caramel character that tempers the bitterness in this otherwise racy, pine-heavy pale ale. Some lemon peel notes and some gingerbread spice add a touch of intrigue to a beer that otherwise comes across as a bit British (and quite unusual) in style this year. 6.1% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2016) – Chasin’ Freshies features a different hop strain each year. This year, this annual release includes Centennial hops, a classic option (the strain dates back to 1974) that gives the beer an iconic profile. Big pine needles and tarry resin give this a huge bitter profile, but a touch of maple syrup adds a hint of malty sweetness. Some hints of tropical fruit and biscuity cereal round out the brew. 7.4% abv. A-

Deschutes Brewery Sagefight Imperial IPA – This special edition sees a bunch of hops finding companions in the form of added sage and juniper berries. It’s not quite a fight, but it does make for a somewhat strange combination, surprisingly coming across as slightly sweet, with the finish showcasing more herbal elements. The finish is only lightly scented with sage; otherwise the combination becomes heavily earthy on the back end. I’d try it again. 8% abv. B+

each $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Virtue Cider Lapinette Cidre Brut

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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: Wild Sit Russ and Wild Docta’ Alcoholic Sodas

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Two new alco-pops (that is, alco-soda-pops) from the Wild company, which produces Wild Ginger and Wild Root. Let’s explore.

Wild Sit Russ Alcoholic Citrus Soda – Sit Russ (bad name or the worst name?) An alcoholic version of Sprite, though the color is closer to Mountain Dew. The flavor of this one is surprisingly clean, without much of that weird malt beverage overtone so common in these types of drinks. Instead, it offers a fairly clear lemon-lime character (heavier on the lime) but quite sweet through and through. Carbonation is decidedly minimal; it could definitely benefit from more, and would help to mask a slightly vegetal finish. But on the whole, the simplicity of this concoction is its strength, and it makes for one of the better installments in this series. 4.5% abv. B+

Wild Docta’ Original Rock & Rye Soda – Rock and Rye? Let’s make it clear: This is a Dr. Pepper clone, right down to the maroon shading on the can. Tastes like it too, particularly on the nose, which nails the raisiny-pruny character of Dr. Pepper, pelting it with just the right amount of vanilla. As the palate evolves, however, it loses steam, fading back into simpler notes of molasses with the characteristic plum/prune more as an afterthought. Fair enough to enjoy, though! 5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA

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Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) / thorbergbeer.com

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