As part of our recent celebration of hard cider, a few of us at Sur La Table headquarters held a cider tasting.
Because I’m the office’s cider evangelist, I organized the tasting, recruiting six of my coworkers. All of them drink cider, though experience levels varied from casual fans to people who have made cider themselves.
I bought six ciders at Full Throttle Bottles, a fantastic specialty beer and wine shop near our headquarters in Seattle. Erika, the owner, helped me select six ciders that were self-described as semi-sweet, and that were distributed beyond just the Puget Sound area. While I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to find all of these near you, they’re available in multiple states.
Tasters did not know which ciders they were drinking until afterwards. They gave each one an overall letter grade and wrote down a few notes. I also took notes on their conversation.
Here are our results.
Red Tank Happy
Overall grade: B
Four tasters picked this as their favorite cider.
- “Nice acidity at first, then it completely disappears.”
- “Dry apple on the nose. Tart. Flat finish.”
- “Bright, crisp. Weak body. Overly simple.”
- “Very mild. Gets medicinal by the end.”
- “Crisp, light, and a little watery.”
- “Packaging is lame.”
Seattle Cider Semi-Sweet
Overall grade: B-
Two of the tasters picked this as their favorite.
- “Nicely tart with citrus flavor.”
- “I bet it goes well with food, because it’s so neutral.”
- “Very neutral. Lemony. Hard to know what it tastes like, but not in an unpleasant way.”
- “Complex, tart. Notes of lemon, pleasantly dry. Like a sour ale.”
- Several comments on a grainy note: “Grain.” “Bready.” “Cheerio-y.” “A little pie crust in there.”
- “I like that pucker at the end.”
Overall grade: C
- “Honey on nose. Sweet. Slightly musky finish. Aftertaste is rough.”
- “Sugar-covered gummi worms.”
- “Slightly sour.”
- “Don’t taste much apple at all.”
- “Dirty rag smell.”
The rest of the pack
Overall grade for all three: D-
Cascadia Ciderworkers United Granny Smith
- “Nice amber color.”
- “More real apple aroma. Almost a watery, cheap-beer finish. Flat.”
- “The first hit of the bouquet is nice.”
- “Effervescent. Slightly artificial tasting, like an apple sucker.”
- “Tastes like sour beer.”
- “Finishes like water.”
- “Smells like a Jolly Rancher, and it doesn’t taste far off. Very sweet.”
- “Sickly sweet. Big floral bouquet. Too perfumey, too sweet.”
- “Cloying. Sweetness sticks to your tongue.”
- “Overly sweet fake apple flavor.”
- “Floral, bubblegum sweetness.”
- “A taste that I don’t want to revisit.”
Reverend Nat’s Newtown Pippin
- “Nice initial tartness, but the flavor fades too fast.”
- “Butterscotch notes, in a bad way. Coats your tongue, then disappears completely.”
- “Lacking acid, or sweetness. Or goodness.”
- “Not good. Just boring and not pleasant.”
- “No fruitiness. Butterscotch finish — ugh.”
- “This one gets the big F, but I’ll still drink it.”
So what did we learn?
It’s fun to host a cider tasting. If you already love hard cider, or if you want to explore it, a group setting is a great way to explore your tastes and your options.
That said, a few takeaways:
- Know your crowd. If I’d known the tastes of the panel better beforehand, I probably would’ve focused on dry ciders.
- Prepare to be surprised. My personal favorite go-to ciders are Seattle Cider Semi-Dry and Anthem Apple. Tasters liked the former, but were unimpressed by the latter. I actually had a bottle later that night just to confirm that yes, I liked it, and no, I don’t get a “dirty rag smell” from it.
- Save some cider. We had enough cider to give everyone a good taste, but I didn’t keep any in reserve for later comparison. By the time we had tasted #6, some people wished they could try some of the first cider again.
- Go local. Crispin, one of the country’s most popular ciders, was in a dead heat for least favorite, in part because it was one of the most aggressively sweet. In my experience, the more popular the cider, the more likely it is to smack of apple juice. (Disregard this advice if you like ’em sweet.)
- Look for a festival. If you don’t want to buy a bunch of cider yourself, look around for a cider festival in your area. Or even a bar that offers cider flights.
Have you been to a cider tasting? What’s your favorite hard cider? Let us know in the comments.