As the tidal wave of Chicago Craft Beer Week begins to recede from the shores of our livers, I can’t help but think, I could really go for some hard cider right about now! In fact, this is the perfect time to switch up my format a bit and share that my friends at 2 Towns Cider from Corvallis, Oregon have entered the Chicago market, just waiting to soothe our poor tongues that have been ravaged by double-doses of hops, barrel-aged bevs, and brettanomyces.
For this post I’ve tasted a pile of 2 Towns ciders–seven to be exact–all of which offered a vast variety in both flavor and appearance. Watch this short, feel-good video introducing the 2 Towns’ philosophy in a nutshell, which (BONUS) features a really cute doggie, so basically, I loved it.
Honestly, I was only casually interested in ciders until attending Cider Summit back in February, an all-cider fest held at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where my eyes were truly opened to the wonderful and delicious world of cider. Dry-hopped, cask-aged, barrel-aged, wild fermented, gin botanical infused–the variety was as wide as ever, and I couldn’t believe that I’d been so ignorant of this colorful category. (And if you like being sidetracked, you can go read my top picks from this past Feb’s fest over at Hail to the Ale.)
Ever since then, I’ve been seeking it out–on purpose. In fact, during Hail to the Ale’s “Celebrating Women in Beer” gathering for Chicago Craft Beer Week at Riverview Tavern last Thursday, one of my favorite drafts was local newcomer’s Right Bee Cider’s unfiltered offering, a delicious, funky beverage that was absolutely lovely to drink and to look at!
I certainly won’t pretend to know all that much about ciders–this really is a whole new world for me. But the BJCP has a set of style guidelines for ciders (fermented apple juice) and perries (fermented pear juice), categories C1-C2, and here’s a short list of the basics:
• Cider is characterized by its level of sweetness, as follows: dry / medium-dry / medium / medium-sweet / sweet, and all of these levels correspond to a final specific gravity measurement
• The head of a cider is called the “mousse”
• Cider can be absolutely still (no carbonation) or it can be as fizzy as champagne
• A gushing, overcharged cider is baaaaad, and it should never smell or taste of geranium (I swear I’m not making this up)
• Yeast for fermentation can be either natural/wild from the skins of the fermentable fruit, can live on the fruit-pressing equipment, or it can be cultured and added
Also much like beer, diacetyl (a yeast by-product that can smell like butterscotch) is typically considered an off flavor/aroma in cider, but can be pleasant in certain contexts. I actually experienced a great example of this firsthand during #CCBW at Goose Island’s Sunday Funday, where Fennville, Michigan’s Virtue Cider had brought their delicious wares to share. Their collaborative blend, the Publican Cider created with Chef Paul Kahan of Chicago’s Publican restaurant had a pretty powerful diacetyl aroma, but this buttery, rich nose really added a layer of depth to the drink that enhanced it in a positive way.
I sampled the following 2 Towns varieties:
Out Cider, 5%
The only slightly cloudy one of the bunch, this unfiltered, light yellow, bubbly bev tasted very sweet, almost like a blend of apple and peach juice.
Bad Apple, 10.5%
Smelling of sweet apples, this darker yellow bev was boozy and honey-sweet, and finished with a woody, cinnamon-like drying sensation. Full of caramel, this was a tad bitter at the end.
Throne of Thorns, 6%
A sweet raspberry juice aroma came from this wine-red, still cider. It was pleasantly sweet and juicy and tasted like blackberry gummy bears (if there is such a thing).
Serious Scrump Imperial English Ice Cider, 11%
Deep golden yellow with a honey smell, this one began very apple-boozy with a balanced bitter finish and a drying, tart sensation
But, my top 3 favorites were:
(3) Bright Cider, 6% ABV
Clear, crisp, clean, and effervescent, this cider began sweet but finished dry, resembling an expertly layered champagne. This one was simple, but simply enjoyable–I could drink this one all day!
(2) Ginja Ninja, 6% ABV
Another unique one, I really enjoyed the subtle, but building spice that the ginger provided. While I don’t know if I would enjoy an entire pint of this at once, I really liked the unique flavor combo of the sweet and mildly spicy. (I’m actually curious to try a twist on a Moscow Mule with this as a replacement for the Ginger Beer!)
(1) Cherried Away, 6% ABV
Cherried Away was very complex, from its diacetyl nose to its herbal hibiscus and light, tart cherry taste. Both sweet and drying, this one was a winner for sure. Its unique peachey-reddish color was beautiful, too.
Cheers, and have a great weekend!