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Archive for the ‘Cider Posts’ Category

Sounds like a pretty awesome joke, right?

Wrong!

Well, that’s not true. It probably would be an awesome joke. But here, it’s just referring to three beers I recently drank (though not in a bar, in the comfort of my own living room).

First of all, I have to give a shout out to Red, White, and Bleu in Falls Church for not only having these awesome beers on their shelves, but a plethora of hard-to-find beers (as in, hard to find even at Total Wine! Shocking, I know!), tons of quality wines (at value prices!), wheels of cheese bigger than my head, all the charcuterie you could want, yummy spreads and crackers, and even jelly beans packaged in little bags labeled “Chardonnay,” “Malbec,” “Viognier,” and the like, that when eaten in tandem with the other beans in the bag, will recreate the taste sensation of that particular wine style. I’m serious–Temperanillo, for instance, had black pepper (for spiciness), bacon (for woody/smokey taste), cappuccino (for caramel/coffee/mocha taste), cherry (for fruity/berry taste), dirt (for earthy taste), pencil shaving (for minerality), plum (for tree-fruit taste), raspberry (for berry), strawberry (for berry again) flavors. I’m not kidding you. Bacon jelly beans.

Yes. Please.

Unfortunately, all I have to offer of that bunch is a picture of an empty bag. I ate them in the car ride home.

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Now then, who was the first to walk into the bar? Oh yes, the cider…

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This would be the Wanderlust variety from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem, OR. This cider was perfect for when I cracked it open, after a long, hot walk outside in the summertime.

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Perfectly refreshing, effervescent, and light. I specifically chose this because it was characterized as dry, and modeled after English ciders. The bottle did not lie on that fact, it had just the perfect amount sweet undertones and apple character, without being sweet itself. It’s got a slight spicy finish as well. The only thing I didn’t get was why it was characterized as “full-bodied” by the label. This was anything but full-bodied to me! It seemed extremely light for a cider. That’s not a point against it, by any means. It seemed to me like the artfully-brewed and delicious Kolsch of ciders. And I can’t imagine why the bottle thought otherwise?

Yes, I’m aware that the bottle didn’t actually “think” anything. It’s an easy target though.

Moving on…

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Mole, ole! Oh yes, I bet you thought that mole was an animal! But no. I just don’t know how to put an accent over the “e” in Ecto.

Isn’t it cool that this selection from the New Holland High Gravity Series, Mole Ocho, looks like it’s defying gravity in this picture? That’s the blurry edges of a photo taken with a fish-eye lens of a bottle propped at an angle against the window and atop a candle!

Though I was up to some optical illusions in that picture, this beer is no….optical illusion…..of taste.

(Yeah, OK, that attempt at “clever wording” went nowhere).

This was seriously delicious. Or at least, I thought so. Dan wasn’t so keen on it for some reason! I was taken, though.

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This looks like it should be drank in some dimly lit library full of dusty, hand-bound books on shelves of deep, rich mahogany. Perhaps the beer is resting on a side table while you sit in a high-backed leather chair, afghan over your lap. An original handwritten journal of Hemmingway or maybe Kipling is balanced in one hand, sucking you into vivid, obscure locales in India, Africa, Cuba. Your other hand remains stationed outstretched to grab this beer–the only beer rich and deep, spicy and earthy, mysterious and commanding enough to match the tales you’re absorbed in.

Ideally. Or you could just drink it in your living room by lamplight while you watch the mediocre slasher take on the classic Brothers Grimm story, “Snow White: A Tale of Terror.”

Either way it will taste wonderful. It’s chocolatey (as one would expect from the beer version of the classic Mexican spicy, chocolate-based savory sauce), but without being sweet or overly-thick like a chocolate stout, and without being bitter like unsweetened chocolate. It tastes like someone took some cocoa beans and smoked them, then coated them in cayenne. It’s a smokey, spicey, earthy–almost mineral–chocolate taste. I have written in my beer tasting notebook “Very good with strawberries.” Then another note appears, in Dan’s handwriting. “Not as sexy as Dan.” Ha-ha. Bet you thought I’d write that on here unthinkingly, blindly trusting my notes!

Well, I guess I sort of did write on here.

Oh man. I’ve been bested. I’ve been dogged. I’ve been beaten down and beaten down again. Makes me feel like I got the blues. Makes me feel like I’ve got a hellhound on my trail. Or perhaps…..on my……ale?

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That’s right, the final beer that walked into that bar is a tribute by Dogfish Head to the inimitable Robert Johnson, whose song “Hellhound On My Trail” is the namesake of the beer “Hellhound On My Ale” and whose 100th birthday would have been this year, if he hadn’t stolen that guy’s woman, gotten poisoned with arsenic, survived, caught pneumonia, survived, then gotten poisoned with arsenic by that guy again.

The beer is hopped by centennial hops, a nod to RJ’s centennial birthday, and just like Robert Johnson, who did nothing if not to the extreme (be it playing the blues, drinking, running around with other men’s women, or selling his soul to the devil for guitar lessons), this ale clocks in at 100 IBUs (that’s international bitterness units). 100 IBUs is where the scale stops, because it is literally the threshold of human taste for bitterness. This beer could be even more bitter than we even realize, but we have no clue, because we can only physically register 100 IBUs.

So just from that, you’d think this beer would be all but unpalatable. But let me tell you, just like the blues, which howls of heartache, oppression, depression, and dark dark mojo, this beer–also just like blues–goes down so smooth and fine. It goes down in that way that makes you want to shake your head, smile out the corner of your mouth, and mutter “Mmmhmm! Thass right!” (<– and “thass” my country accent coming out).

And after all that, you’d think a 100-IBUs-bitter beer wouldn’t need the pucker of a lemon in it, but in a nod to Johnson’s mentor, Blind Lemon Jefferson, the folks at Dogfish Head added dried lemon peel and flesh to the mash. And let me tell you again, ain’t no pucker involved. It’s bitter, and it’s lemony, but somehow it just heightens that fine twang of the brew. It’s thick and good and it’ll put a slow, sweet smile on your face. Might even make you go “Mmmhmm! Thass right!”

Thass right folks. And thass all for now. Cheers!

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OK, really really bad pun-title. It doesn’t even have anything to do with what I’m going to say. But titling is hard, you know? And maybe it was really an insightful play on words, because the lambs are representing a flock of people going, “Baaa, baaa, we refuse to drink cider because it’s not a REAL drinker’s drink, or so we’re told, and if we do drink it we refuse to drink it except in certain seasons! Baaaa!”

The people say “baaa,” yes.

Anyway, I just wanted to point everyone’s attention to this article in the WaPo food section today, on ciders.

I fully support this article. Not only am I a big fan of good ciders, but they referenced my absolute favorite, Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie, blogged about way back towards the inception of this blog, when I was far less nimble with a camera and far more devoted to the integration of poetic tinkerings into beer writing, apparently.

Anyway, I think this article hit it on the head when it referenced people in Gijon sending cider back if they get a sweet one. While I think it’s not a black and white issue, and that some sweetness can be pleasant and flavor-enhancing (it’s made from apples after all), it should be approached similarly to wine (also fermented from a sweet fruit): sweet, desserty wines have their place, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Of course you wouldn’t expect a cider to have the dry tannin-ated (urban dictionary, let’s see a definition for that one) taste of a Malbec, but it should err on the side of dryness rather than sugariness, complexity rather than appeal to underage girls who don’t like to drink the Natty Boh at frat parties but still want to be seen sipping something out of a bottle rather than the potentially roofied and most definitely germ-infested plastic cooler of jungle juice.

I digress.

My favorite ciders have that funky, earthy complexity that this article talks about. Something that almost reminds you of a Flemish sour ale or a biere de garde, if they’d been made with apples. And I’m super curious try a cider, like the Asturian one they described, that is uncarbonated except for the bubbles produced by a Victoria Falls-type pour. Similarly, I wonder if we could recreate this phenomena with wine.

….honey, get several glasses and a tarp ready. I’ll be home at 4:30.

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As I’ve said before, though the name of this blog is “Iambs and Ales,” I certainly don’t limit the topics of my posts to ales. As evidenced in the last post, lagers as well have a place in my heart and in this blog.  But what really describes the scope of this blog more precisely is the tagline: “Where brews, eats, and words intersect.”  This raises the question then of what counts as a brew.  Beers do, obviously, but what about ciders?  I say sure!  Though they aren’t technically “brewed” (in cider production, the whole apple is pressed then the liquid is extracted, meaning it’s vinted instead of brewed), but I choose to include this style of drink in this blog for several reasons.  I feel that ciders play much the same role as beers in our culture of drinking: a carbonated drink with a comparatively lower alcohol content served cold and drank in all of the same situations as beer- on its own or with a meal, in a single instance in succession, allowed by its moderate ABV.

Just look at those gorgeous bubbles popping up and down the glass

Like I suspect is the case with many my age (at least where I grew up), my first exposure to cider was in a dorm room, around age 18, and it was Woodchuck.  Now, I’m not trying to put Woodchuck down at all.  It has its place, and there are people who love it.  But I immediately declared my dislike for cider, claiming it was too sweet for my distinctly un-girly tastes.  From then on, I lumped cider into that general category of alco-pop drinks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice.

Finally, sometime post-college, I was introduced to Original Sin and Strongbow ciders, and my re-education on the beverage began.  Those two ciders taught me that cider doesn’t have to be sickeningly sweet and cloying; it can be dry, and complex.  Then I was introduced to cider that came out of a shed.  And I realized I didn’t even know how deep the dry, complex rabbit hole of ciders went.

That’s why, on reading this post on Pete Brown’s beer blog, I knew I had to try Magners Irish Cider.  My explorations thus far in cider had led me to the conclusion that Etienne Dupont was my absolute favorite.  But after reading about Magners, I had to give it a chance to challenge my beloved Etienne Dupont.  So that’s why, after a long walk in 90-degree heat yesterday, the first thing I cracked open (well, after a bottle of seltzer) was that guy above.  And below:

Ignore the fact that it's in a Chimay glass.

And the fact that it's next to our Bavarian nutcracker, Ludwig. Magner's is Irish, not German, but I thought the picture was funny.

My initial impression of Magners was that it had all the qualities of cider that I like: it was dry, with the sweetness that was present tasting like it was there because the cider a product of apples, not because cider is a byproduct of an apple extract factory.  It was definitely good, and I’d definitely drink it again (and again and again).  But still, it lacked that certain quality that Etienne Dupont has that I can only qualify as rustic.  It’s a deep, earthy taste that fools my tongue and my nostrils into thinking I’m in a farmhouse somewhere, built of old wood upon fertile dirt.

That is, until I wandered into the kitchen with my glass and ate this:

Goat cheese!  And yes, that is a tub of goat cheese crumbles.  Sometimes, you want goat cheese and don’t happen to have a classy log or wedge.  Sometimes all you have are the crumbles, and you know what you do in that situation?  The only thing there is to do: reach your hand into the tub and grab a handful of crumbles.

And if you happen to be drinking a Magners, and have tastes similar to my own, you’ll be glad you did.  This is one of those magical pairings, only stumbled upon every so often and mostly at random, where the combination of food and drink results in a taste experience greater than the sum of its parts.  Past examples of this have included Sam Adams Black Lager and Raisin Bran Crunch (no, not drank at breakfast, drank while grabbing handfuls of pantry goods similar to the handful of goat cheese in this situation) and Blind Faith IPA and lentils (though this was cooking with; I can’t say that the actual pairing altered the taste, since the beer was already in the food).  When eaten in tandem, goat cheese and Magners Irish Cider achieve that magic.  For some chemical reason I don’t understand, I’m sure, the goat cheese gives the Magners that deep, earthy, rustic complexity it otherwise lacks.  It’s not exactly the same as Etienne Dupont, and you can still separate the two flavors of cider and cheese in your mouth…but wow.  It’s really something special.  You should run out and buy the provisions to try this immediately.

After the incredible success of this pairing, I tried it with the other cheese we had in the house- hickory smoked cheddar.  This one was somewhat less stellar.  I mean, it was good; the cheese was good, and the cider was good.  But the combination didn’t really fuse into something greater.  If I really reached for a unified taste, it tasted like…well, apples in a smokehouse.  Which was okay.  But nothing like the goat cheese.

Anyhow.  Magner’s: thumbs up, but I’ll probably keep going back to Etienne Dupont.  Magners + goat cheese, though: double thumbs up that fuse into one giant thumb up!

Keep checking back in the next few days, y’all- I (with the help of Dan) came up with a slew of great tasting ideas for potential blog posts, and seeing as there’s a Total Wine right down the street from where I work, I stocked up on the supplies to carry out them out, and I hope to document a few this weekend.

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(OK, I know a cider is not a beer.  And it’s not really brewed.  But it’s fermented, and it’s carbonated!  And it’s really really delicious).  This would be great on a picnic, with some strong-tasting cheese (ideally, in a field in Normandy, but wherever you can pull it off is fine).  And was a great brew to relax with on Sunday afternoon while easing myself back into normal life and preparing for the week.

Lactic, sweet and tart.
Musky scent of farmhouse wood.
Dry, rustic, and deep.

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