Top Rated Ciders of the Week

eric_bordelet_granitTop Rated Ciders From the Past Week

Below are the top rated ciders I reviewed over the past week. They include the first 5-star cider ever reviewed here. All these ciders are recommended. Additionally, they all represent very different styles of cider.

2012 Eric Bordelet Poire Granit
5 Stars

Tilted Shed Ciderworks 2013 January Barbecue Smoked Cider
4 Stars

Finnriver Artisan Sparkling Cider—Methode Champenoise Brut
4 Stars

Pacific Coast Hard Apple Cider
3.5 Stars

Trabanco Cosecha Propia Natural Cider
3.5 Stars

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  2. Bob Henry - May 7, 2014

    From today’s newspaper . . .

    From The Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” Section
    (May 7, 2014, Page D1ff):

    “Trouble in the Orchard for Hard Cider Drinkers”

    By Sarah Nassauer
    Staff Reporter

    We’re developing a taste for fine cider — just as a cider apple shortage is hitting.

    A growing group of hard cider makers are pushing their drinks as a premium product with the complicated taste and terroir of high-end wines. But to add tannins to the fermented drink requires bitter apple varieties that haven’t been grown in large numbers in the U.S. for almost a century.

    The shortage of “spitters,” as the mostly inedible bittersweet and bittersharp varieties are called, is hurting smaller cider makers. They aim for a dry taste perhaps more akin to European hard cider.

    “We are proselytizing constantly to get orchardists to plant some of these bitter apples,” says Diane Flynt, owner of Foggy Ridge Cider, an orchard and cidery in Dugspur, Va., that sells its cider in high-end restaurants and wine stores. She says with more bittersweet or bittersharp varieties she could sell twice as much cider.

    The shortage isn’t an acute problem for cider brands owned by large beverage and beer companies, which often use juice concentrate from grocery store variety apples or from cider apple juice shipped from Europe and other parts of the world.

    “We are getting our bittersweets currently from France,” says David Sipes, cider maker for Angry Orchard, the best-selling U.S. cider which is owned by Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams.

    In the U.S., prohibition led to the demise of most cider apple trees, along with the tradition of cider making and drinking. Hard cider has more recently won fans who like its taste, which some describe lighter and crisper than beer. It is also gluten-free, which appeals to people who are avoiding wheat.

    In Europe, where cider is a popular drink, orchards have continued to farm bitter apples. The first large U.S. cider brands, including Woodchuck, owned by Ireland’s C&C Group, built their business making six packs of cider from sweeter, easily available grocery store variety apples. Americans’ taste for cider developed accordingly.

    While sales of hard cider are booming, they pale in comparison to beer sales. In the past 52 weeks, consumers spent about $238 million on cider and $30 billion on beer in supermarkets, drugstores and other retail chains, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. This makes convincing U.S. orchard owners to rip out sweet apple trees for cider fruit tricky.

    Today, most apple farms make the largest profit selling aesthetically perfect fruit to eat fresh. Bitter cider fruit can only be used to make hard cider. Farmers bet on the future demand for apple varieties years in advance, as a tree takes at least three years to produce fruit after being planted.

    Paul Vander Heide, owner of Vander Mill Cider in Spring Lake, Mich., convinced his apple supplier, Ridgeview Orchards, in Conklin, Mich., to begin planting about 20 acres of the rare cider apple trees next year by agreeing to pay more than the price of the fresh eating apples. The farm grows apples mostly for retailers including Meijier and Wal-Mart.

    Vander Mill sells hard cider in cans made from fresh eating apples. It hopes to boost sales of its pricier Chapman’s Blend cider brand, which comes in champagne-like bottles, by adding more bitter fruit “so we can make our ciders with a bit more backbone,” he says.

    Orchards that are currently selling cider apples are able to charge a high price. Steve Wood co-owner for Poverty Lane Orchards, the largest U.S. producer of cider apples, says it is selling cider apples for $20 a bushel or about the same price as fresh eating apples.

    Poverty Lane makes Farnum Hill Ciders with labels that boast “from true cider apples.” It is giving thousands of tree shoots to other orchards to grow new cider fruit trees, hoping to increase consumers’ taste for ciders with complex flavors by boosting supply, says Mr. Wood.

    Greg Peck, an assistant professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., is testing 29 apple varieties to see if they make good hard cider after he noticed a boom in cider makers looking for fruit. The school is growing heirloom varieties like Newtown Pippin and bittersharps and bittersweets like Porter’s Perfection and Dabinett, observing factors like fruit output, growing cost and taste.

    “I am actually a couple days away from planting my first cider-specific trees,” says Barney Hodges, who owns Sunrise Orchards with his wife Christiana in Cornwall, Vt. After a local hard cider maker asked for the fruit, the Hodges decided planting several thousand trees would be good protection from a drop in price for fresh eating apples.

    “We have been getting burned a lot by hail and frost,” which damages the appearance of apples, he says. He hopes the cider apples, generally less expensive to produce than eating apples, can be sold for $18 a bushel, slightly less than the average price of a bushel of eating apples, he says.

    Write to Sarah Nassauer at sarah.nassauer@wsj.com

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