Monday, February 20, 2023

Sage Bird Ciderworks Pommeau and Ashmead's Kernel for #openthatciderbottle

When I heard that the American Cider Association's Open That Cider Bottle was returning on February 25, 2023, I leveraged a trip to Harrisonburg to visit Sage Bird Ciderworks and see what would be a  worthy cider to open that night. I love this cidery's Age Old Apples series showcasing heirloom apple varieties and have written previously about their Harrison and Virginia Hewe's Crab ciders.  Black Twig and Dabinett were two other ciders in the heirloom series but I decided on a new apple variety to me: Ashmead's Kernel. 

Ashmead's Kernel is an old English russet apple that originated from a seed planted around 1700 by Dr. Thomas Ashmead in Gloucester, England. The apple is lumpy, misshapen, and rather small with green and golden-brown skin, and a distinct crisp, nutty snap.  Interestingly, Ashmead's Kernel is one of a few apple varieties from the Old World that succeeded in the New World.  "When the first settlers arrived in North America they brought with them tried and tested varieties from Europe, yet few adapted to the very different climates of North America and most of the early successful American apple varieties were chance seedlings that evolved in America.  However Ashmead's Kernel did thrive, and today holds a position of respect on both sides of the Atlantic..". -- Orange Pippen

The tasting notes from Sage Bird Ciderworks remark that the Ashmead's Kernel is dry and tart with a moderate body and crisp finish. Notes of champagne, citrus, ripe apple, and green grape. Check back after the 25th for our descriptors. 

I also noticed that Sage Bird produces a pommeau and had to include that in Open That Cider Bottle. Pommeau is a French-inspired cordial that’s made by blending unfermented cider with apple brandy (traditional Calvados).  The percentages are usually two-thirds apple must (unfermented apple juice) to one-third apple brandy in order to ensure that the resulting mixture has 16–18% alcohol by volume (abv). The potion is then usually finished in oak for at least one year. 

Long Night is their winter pommeau made from a light fermentation of a blend of Harrison and Dabinett apples and eau de vie (un-aged brandy) distilled from their Dry River Reserve distillery. According to the cidery,  the blending "arrests fermentation, leaving a naturally sweet yet high alcohol and stable mixture. We then age this mixture in freshly-dumped bourbon barrels from A Smith Bowman in Fredericksburg for a minimum of 12 months. The result is a wonderfully complex fortified dessert apple wine. Strong notes of stewed apple, butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, berry, and brandy on the nose and palate with a natural assertive sweetness, balanced tannin, and warming alcohol".  Can't wait to open it. 

Check back next week for updates on Open That Cider Bottle and hope to see these and other ciders participating in the BevFluence New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign.

Update: The Ashmead's Kernel is very dry and tart and sour. Not a lot of tannins, just fresh acidity, and limes & mint. A bit funky.  The Long Night is beautiful with fresh juicy apple juice complimented by a fuller brandy-driven profile with a lengthy satisfying finish. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Five Takeaways from CiderCon 2023

The American Cider Association's CiderCon 2023 took place in Chicago from February 1st through the 3rd and the event offered "a full range of educational sessions covering topics that included cider production, marketing, sales, branding, sensory evaluation, compliance, business strategy, and orcharding". We attended several of these sessions as well as the trade show, a tasting organized by the New York Cider Association, unofficial cider shares, as well as visiting a couple of local craft beverage establishments. Here are our five takeaways from the conference.

Consistent and Systemic Approach to Tasting Cider
Cideries and reviewers should create a systemic approach to both cider tasting and descriptors as advocated by Richie Brady in A Proposal for a Systematic Approach to Tasting Cider. In other words, the industry should use a consistent method of describing the aromas, flavors, and structure of cider. This consistency involves focusing on the liquid in the glass, preferably in a blind fashion, without any preconceived expectations. Evaluate the Aroma (light, medium, pronounced), Flavor (in terms of major categories -- green, stone, citrus, tropic, red, and black fruit and then secondary flavors due to fermentation methods and oak treatments), and Structure (intensity, sweetness, acidity, tannin, length, and complexity). Finally, use descriptors that consumers understand. Barely anyone knows what cassis tastes like so use a more common alternative. An example that Brandy provided is "Lightly sparkling, sweet and vibrant cider with pronounced flavors of stone and tropical fruit, fragrant flowers, sweet vanilla, and caramel. Long and complex finish".

Fire Blight
Apple and pear orchards are prone to numerous pests and diseases not unlike grapevines -- such as a shared threat from powdery mildew and deer. At the conference, I also heard orchardists discuss groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, and various insects but it was during The 4 Components of Flavor: Orcharding for High-Flavor Fruit seminar presented by Stina Booth that I first heard of Fire Blight. This is a bacterial illness that affects fruit trees and thrives in hot, humid climates, usually appearing in the spring and declining as dryer summer temperatures occur. The bacteria infects trees undetectably in the fall or winter, hiding in branches and unopened buds. Then in the spring, it begins to emerge through openings in the branches and foliage and becomes apparent. Unfortunately, fire blight is very difficult to treat effectively, and overusing certain bacterial sprays can cause the tree to develop resistance to treatment. The best way to fight fire blight is prompt pruning and sanitizing tools. --

Chicago Cider Scene
The conference coincided with Chicago Cider Week and two urban cideries hosted several events and were accessible during the conference. The Right Bee Cider Semi-dry Cider was available at a couple of spots at the host Chicago Hilton hotel and was a clean cider sweetened with honey from their own beehives. Their Dry Cider was also poured during an unofficial tasting and as I recall packed plenty of flavors. I was able to visit Eris Brewery and Cider House where the brewery is located in a historic old masonic temple that was renovated in 2018. I started with the Eris Cherish, a cherry cider produced in collaboration with Sleeping Village and the CIVL Foundation where the proceeds go towards providing music venue workers access to mental health awareness. I also turned to another collaboration, this time the Eris Apfelort which is a dry cider aged in used Jeppson's Malört barrels from CH Distillery. I had read about this wormwood-based digestif and how CH Distillery had purchased this "astringent and notoriously bitter 70-proof liqueur". The cider is neither and provides apples up front and subtle wormwood and a strong grapefruit finish.

Cider is North American
Just by casually talking to attendees it's easy to see that cider is produced throughout North America. We met producers and orchardists from north Georgia to Manitoba, across Canada, and from Nova Scotia to San Diego. I stood in line with a startup producer from Orlando and a representative from Bold Rock. I sat at tables with producers from Wisconsin, Oregon, and Tennessee and shared Michigan cider with the same from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. The New York Cider Association hosted a tasting showcasing Empire State producers from the "Niagara Frontier to the Finger Lakes to the Catskills to the Hudson Valley to Long Island and to New York City". During unofficial cider shares, I sampled excellent cider from Washington State and Washington DC as well as from to. And my favorite cider of the week came from Greenbench Mead & Cider in St. Petersburg, Florida with their Giants in the Sky (Fresh-pressed Kingston Black, St Edmund's Russet, Pioneer, and Wickson Crab apples, wild-fermented in oak with native yeast.).

Cider is for Everyone
This is the official theme of the American Cider Association but is also a true statement based on industry analysis presented in the Alcohol Beverages and Cider: 2023 and Beyond and More Than a Beverage: Cider Category Performance sessions. Presenters from both sessions showed industry and consumer data beneficial and discouraging for the cider industry. First, the total per capita consumption of ethanol has remained relatively constant for the past 20 years with beer being the largest, albeit, slowly declining sector. The volume of cider sold peaked in 2016 and slowly declined since - losing market share and shelf space to Hard Seltzers and to a lesser extent RTDs. The good news is that the average alcohol consumer is becoming "Omnibibulous" a term created by Bart Watson, the Head Economist of the Brewers Association to describe how consumers are more "able and likely to drink almost anything (alcoholic)". And this group will continue to grow as younger consumers continue to experiment, and on the other hand, the baby boomers move into more leisurely lifestyles. Other facts based on consumer studies point to avenues where cideries can focus to attract customers. These studies show that 54% of all consumers have made a purchase in-store of a brand they first tried at a restaurant and 1/3 of cider consumers prefer a sweet version. Some ideas to consider. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

How Many Craft Beverage Establishments Will You Visit in 2023?

In 2022, we visited a paltry 68 craft beverage establishments which was actually an above-average year since 2015 when we would average at least 100 visits. Thus, our goal is to up our game and average ten visits a month to get us close to 120 visits in 2023. So far we are on pace, visiting 12 establishments in January 2023 and you can follow our progress using #thecompasscbf hashtag on Instagram and Facebook. Moving forward locating craft beverage establishments will be easy for us using our self-developed theCompass Craft Beverage finder available for free on the Google Play Store.  At some point in the future, we will resurrect the iPhone version. 

theCompass Craft Beverage finder mobile application displays wineries, breweries, cider houses, and distilleries for North America. Establishments can be mapped using a radius search of the device's location or by the establishment name, city, or zip code. Users can also browse establishments by state for the United States or by province for Canada. All results can be filtered by industry type (winery, brewery, distillery, or cidery).

Information on individual establishments can be accessed by clicking the applicable map icon or from the list view. This information includes the establishment's address, phone, email, web address, a navigation link from your device, weather forecast, as well as links to the establishment's Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram pages. You can also share your experience at the establishment on various social networking sites.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Azerbaijani Rkatsiteli

Millennia ago, long before the Caucasus region was divided up into nation-states, people living here were cultivating grapes. An ever-increasing body of archaeological and micro-botanical research suggests that wine was made in considerable quantity over 6000 years ago at sites along the Arpachay River, a valley in Nakhchivan’s Sharur region. Several sites suggest an even older knowledge of wine by the Shulaveri-Shomutepe Culture near Aghstafa in what today is western Azerbaijan. Evidently, the South Caucasus region is of the oldest centers of wine-making anywhere on the planet. Azerbaijan Wine Traditions

The Republic of Georgia gets most of the wine attention within the Caucasus region but neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan share many traits from the dawn of winemaking civilization. In Azerbaijan (located directly east of Armenia; southeast of the Republic of Georgia, and directly south of Dagestan Russia) there are three major wine-growing regions: the Caspain Shoreline, Ganja and the Lesser Caucasus, and the Shirvan Valley and the Greater Caucasus. One of the largest fruit juice producers in the South Caucasus is located in this last region: Az-Granata.

In 2021, Az-Granata celebrated its 10th anniversary and in addition to the juices, they produce a range of alcoholic beverages - 24 million bottles annually - of brandy, raki, vodka, whiskey, and wine. Their vineyards are located in the Adnaly Valley of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, at an altitude of 400-700 meters (1,300-2,300ft) above sea level.  These 500 hectares of vineyards are planted with a mixture of  Caucasian and European grape varieties: Madrasa, Bayan Shira, Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, and Shirvanshahi with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Muscat. The winery also specializes in pomegranate wine as the word "granat" from which the winery takes its name means "pomegranate" in Russian.

But our focus today is on the Agdam Azerbaijani Dry White Wine ($16.99). The wine is 100% Rkatsiteli and its name, Agdam, refers to one of the largest districts of Azerbaijan and is located in the center of the Karabakh region. This is an ancient and historical region known for breeding horses with excellent temperament and speed. The wine also has a good temperament with its straw color, weighty stone fruits, and a touch of honey from aging in oak barrels, and adversely loses spiciness and acidity.  It is available in the United States through Winery LLC.