It’s cider season.
One of my stickier early adult memories involves a drive I took this time of year in college, from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, down to Freeport, where my girlfriend and I stopped at a roadside stand for what must have been the best apple cider I’d ever had.
Fresh apple cider is one of life’s great pleasures, but so too are the standout alcoholic ciders being made these days by New England purveyors Stormalong Cider, Shacksbury Cider, Artifact Cider Project, and others.
Good cider shouldn’t be too sweet, and each of the cideries above makes dry, effervescent ciders that often drink more like champagne or white wine. Recently, Stormalong released a mixed-pack of some of its very best cider, made from heirloom variety apples and each presenting different flavor profiles.
Making cider like this is an intensive process, according to Shannon Edgar, Stormalong’s founder.
“These ciders are made in a harvest, orchard-based process. Meaning the apples were grown intentionally for use in hard cider, were allowed to grow and ripen on the tree for optimum sugar and acidity,” says Edgar. “After harvest in the fall, they were immediately pressed and then a slower, cooler fermentation was begun. After fermentation, the ciders were racked and aged for several months to allow complexity and character to develop.”
What the ciders in the Stormalong variety pack have in common is that they highlight apples with deep tradition in both England and America, and that the apples are king. Ashmead’s Kernel, for example, is an apple grown in Gloucester, England, since the 1750s, while Stayman Winesap apples are native to Kansas since 1866. The time period from the late 1800s until before Prohibition was the height of hard cider making in the United States.
Here’s a full rundown of what you’ll find in the four-can variety pack.
Winesap: Made from a single varietal of apples called Stayman Winesap, this cider drinks with barely any sweetness at all. It’s fruit-forward yet dry, with notes of strawberry and rhubarb coming directly from the apple, rather than added separately. Stormalong says to compare this cider to a Riesling, but I think I prefer the dryness of this over the wine. 7.3 percent ABV
Yarlington Mill: Pouring much darker in color than the first cider, this one is made with 100 percent Yarlington Mill cider apples, a medium to small variety originally found in England. This one still drinks dry but is much fuller bodied, with tannins that coat your mouth and lend flavors of black cherry and baked apple. 7.1 ABV
Ashmead’s Kernel: The first of the pack’s blends is made with Ashmead’s Kernel and Esopus Spitzenburg apples, the latter of which is an American classic that was one of Thomas Jefferson’s two favorite apple varieties. There’s an acidity to this one that’s noticeable right off the top, with fragrant notes of lemon and lime brightening the cider’s flavor. 7.2 percent ABV
Permain Quince: If you don’t know what a quince is, you’re not alone. The hard, yellow fruits from this deciduous tree resemble pears and are pretty astringent when eaten on their own, but not so much when blended into this cider with Blue Pearmain, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Esopus Spitzenburg, Calville Blanc, and Franklin cider apples. This one is richer and fuller bodied, presenting pear and pineapple flavors and maintaining the crispness you should be expecting from Stormalong by now. 7.6 percent ABV