Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

My 5 Favourite Ciders From New York Cider Week 2014

02nd December 2014

Henry's Travels

When I head out on my travels my radar is open right from touchdown for what I’m going to write about. It usually takes a week or so to pull a list together, but on this trip I was absolutely swamped with choices – all of them worthy of making it on. Here, after great deliberation, are my top 5 from this year’s Cider Week.
  • 1. Slyboro Night Pasture

    Slyboro are one of my absolute favourite US craft cider producers; their Hidden Star has graced my list in previous years, and I’m always on the lookout for them when in New York.

    I found Night Pasture in Owl Farm in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This is a fabulous bar, specialising in a range of craft beers and ciders. They had an epic cider list which included Farnum Hill, Millstone and the only other UK cider I saw on tap this week – Sandford Orchards. Like many US craft ciders, Slyboro comes in 750ml bottles, and as many weigh in at a hefty +$25 per bottle, it was a relief – and a joy – to find them being served here – like wine – by the glass. Packaged in what looks like a Riesling bottle, this is a still cider with a pale yellow straw colour. The aroma is spicy, rich and almost smoky; it has good fruit forward and a luxurious soft, rich well balanced body with hints of butter – but not overpoweringly so. 

    At 8.2% abv, make no mistake, this is more apple wine than cider and would give a decent new world Chardonnay a very good run for its money.
  • 2. Foggy Ridge

    Gramercy Tavern feels like a New York institution; in fact I guess it is. Founded in 1994 and nestling just north of Union Square, East 20th Street it is still going strong and receiving rave reviews.

    New York bars and restaurants take part in New York Cider Week with varying levels of seriousness. Gramercy Tavern was on the serious end. They had a Cider Week menu with 14 excellent craft ciders including Farnum Hill and Slyboro amongst others from the US, as well as Eric Bordelet and Etienne Dupont from France. But interestingly nothing from England; hopefully that will soon change….  But I wasn’t looking for English cider, I was looking for American. There were a few to choose from, so I settled on the one I had yet to try – Foggy Ridge from South West Virginia. As with so many ciders I tried this week, this cider came in a 750ml bottle with cork and cage closure a la Champagne or sparkling wine; and as with many places serving craft cider in this pack format, Gramercy Tavern were serving by the glass. Visually this certainly looked the part of a sparkling wine – pale straw with a good mousse accompanying the pour. It had an intense yet light green apple aroma that bordered on grassy. It had a flinty edge like a Chablis, with good fruit, a fine balance and body. The finish smooth, dry and very clean. 

    At 7% it’s certainly got the legs on wine for a lunchtime glass, and was a superb accompaniment to nearly all the small plates we tried. This was an astoundingly good cider.
  • 3. Redbyrd Orchard Cider – North Star

    Whilst in New York, we paid the now mandatory visit to Jimmy’s No 43; the Jimmy in question – Jimmy Carbone – is a dedicated restaurateur, entrepreneur, beer and cider lover who whilst not running the day to day at No 43 hosts a radio show Beer Session Radio on Heritage Radio.

    He’s also writing a book about the wonders of the pig – from the culinary angle, so this is a man of many talents! Jimmy very generously asked me to be a guest on the show whilst we were there, and he also asked me to stay on afterwards and taste a range of ciders he had in especially for New York Cider Week; yet another plethora of brands and ciders I had not seen before. So many of the ciders I had been tasting this week are making the leap I long for the UK cider industry to make, which is into wine territory – not as a replacement you understand, but as a genuine alternative – a broadening of most drinkers’ portfolios. And doing it with a genuine quality offer, not a dressed up and spun story. Redbyrd North Star did this and then some. At 10% abv, this is an apple wine. The aroma was green and herbaceous; there’s an obvious sweetness at first, but this is balanced well by both good acidity and the hefty body lent by the higher alcohol. The finish was clean and long.

    Redbyrd are a growing band of producers based round the Finger Lakes region of New York, and have a range of other ciders I will be making a beeline for when I see them next.
  • 4. Shacksbury 1840

    There are a few cider bars cropping up around the US these days; Bushwhackers in Portland and Capitol Cider in Seattle. Given the main centre of heritage apple and cider making is over on the east coast, it’s quite surprising that there hasn’t been an equivalent on the eastern seaboard. Well that’s soon to change with “Wassail” due to open in early 2015 – appropriately on Orchard Street.

    Wassail is the brain child of Ben Sandler, founder and owner of the Queens Kickshaw – in Queens. Ben was talking about opening a cider bar back when I first met him nearly 3 years ago. Kickshaw was one of the first outlets in New York to embrace the craft cider scene before many even knew it was coming. He always has a broad and varied range, but Wassail will give even greater scope for his cider offer. When we visited it was taking good shape, and whilst Ben was showing us round the extensive basement I spotted two bottles of cider lurking on a shelf; these had been brought in for Ben to try that day – despite the fact they were open, they were still chilled and in good order so Ben suggested we take them upstairs to try.

    Based in Vermont, Shacksbury aren’t even available on the market yet, so these were 2 rare bottles indeed.  The 1840 is made from foraged heirloom varieties; there’s a bit of a big thing being made about the foraging of apples and I’m not entirely sure what this is supposed to bring to the party – or at least, no one gave me an explanation that offered any serious cider making benefits. Aaron Burr are probably the biggest proponents of it. From what I can make out, it’s what we in the UK would call scrumping, but whizzened old windfalls in the UK have translated into cider makers’ gold in the US. I remain to be convinced of the benefits, particularly when you consider all the potential microbial infections this would offer as a side effect, but that’s a debate for many other days. This 1840 is such a foraged cider; it is slightly opaque and has a toffee stewed apple aroma; it has an initial sweetness that is balanced by a good acidity and has a clean finish. This was almost sour – like a Spanish cider, and whilst I have a suspicion it may deteriorate the longer it stays in the bottle.

    At the time of drinking, this cider had depth and complexity that was extremely appealing. I look forward to trying it again when Wassail opens. 
  • 5. West County Cider – Kingston Black

    This was another from Jimmy’s No 43 “Green Room” session; the only one in my line up that had a distinctly English bent.

    To many cider makers, the Kingston Black is a Holy Grail of cider apples; whilst there are more apple varieties on the planet than grape varieties, apples don’t offer all the attributes needed to make a well balanced cider in terms of sweetness, acidity and bitterness the way many grapes do. Kingston Black it is argued, is the exception to this. Usually, I’m not convinced by this; I find Kingston Black a little overpowering when I drink it as a single varietal in the UK – goes well with certain foods, decent digestive after certain meals but I don’t tend to race for a second glass. I’ve tried a few in the US, but the stand out one for me on this trip was made by West County in Massachusetts. Quite an established producer having started up in 1984, they offer great evidence as to the terroir of apples; from what I’ve seen, US Kingston Black ciders are very different beasts to their UK counterparts. The aroma is all English bittersweet – luxurious cedar wood notes so associated with Kingston Black and other bittersweet varieties; unlike UK Kingston Black though the tannin in this cider was very light and not overpowering. 

    As you would expect from a Kingston Black the acidity gives good drinkability and at 6.8% alcohol you can certainly go back for another.