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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Beerification of Cider

The last two ciders sent to me by breweries arrived in elegant bottles with dark, wine-like labels--Crispin's Venus Reigns and the first Cider Master Reserve from 2 Towns. The latter came in a wine bottle with a cork to boot. But in both cases, I was reminded a lot more of special-release beers rather than wine. Both were good. The Crispin was actually a pear wine (like a concentrated perry) aged in wine barrels. It was heavy and rich, and had huge winy overtones. It was perhaps a little too much of a good thing, though I enjoyed it in a decadent way.

The 2 Towns is exceptional--it's one of the best American ciders I've ever had. It's also winy, but more in the sense that it tastes like a great white. It's slightly tart, but has round fruit flavors; peach, Meyer lemon, quince, and--well, I don't know my fruit flavors the way a wine writer would. Sometimes with "heritage" ciders (or whatever cideries call them), you end up admiring them more than enjoying them. But Reserve is pure pleasure--had Sally not been around, I would happily have drunk the whole bottle.

Nevertheless, it is striking how cider makers are not only positioning these like specialty beers, but pitching them the way breweries do, by discussing the process. Both go into a fair amount of detail about the barrels they used, and Crispin mentioned the process they used on the pear wine.

Cider fits somewhere in-between beer and wine on the spectrum of drinks. It is actually a wine--fermented fruit--but it's roughly the strength of beer and served effervescent. Some cideries have leaned toward wine, others toward beer. Generally speaking, though, high-end stuff is pitched like wine, low end stuff like beer. But maybe that hasn't been working. Now, it seems, cideries are using the language of high-end beer to sell high-end cider.


  1. Jeff, I'm not sure I completely agree that the type of details that they're giving are only used for marketing high end beer. Wineries have given info on crop levels, how the wine was fermented, how many cases were produced, and oak and aging regimens for years. It's not always on the label but it's been part of the marketing literature and web info. You see stuff about tons of fruit per acre, American vs French oak (and often details about whether it's Limosin, Nevers, or Alliers oak), the percentage of new barrels vs older 2 or 3 year old barrels, wild vs inoculated yeast, etc. If anything, it seems breweries started to follow what wineries have done for their high end wines for years and now cider makers are doing the same thing. Thoughts?

  2. Echoing what Bill S. said -- the good beer language regarding process and barrels is a faint echo of winery language, or even whisk(e)y language. I guess I always assumed craft beer deliberately drew on how wineries described their product, focusing on location, sourcing, process, etc. Given that so many craft breweries started in California and the Pacific Northwest, they had many winery models to draw from.

    Bill F.

  3. Breweries don't make cider. Brewing involves extraction using hot water.

  4. Great post--thanks for sharing! Lucky you to get sent two great ciders.

    I was surprised I enjoyed Crispin Venus Reigns even though I don't like red wine.

    I'm still deciding if I want to try 2 Towns Cider Master Reserve as its a bit spendy (around $20) and may be too dry for my tastes. My decision may be made for me though as I imagine it'll sell out quickly, as it is limited release.

    I've found most craft cider discusses the details of their product, such as apple varieties, style, and any aging. To me that is one of the differences between commercial and craft cider, although one could argue Crispin isn't craft cider. And I agree that "cideries" is likely the more accurate term than "breweries".