This weeks cider review comes from Flushing Michigan’s finest: Almar Orchards. Almar is one of the few certified organic apple orchards in southeast MI. Using integrated pest management the Koan family grows over 30 apple cultivars on their 500 acre farm. They also raise grains and livestock including pigs which feed on spent apple pomace after pressing! All of the apples used to make J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider are grown, harvested, pressed, and fermented on the farm.
A testament to their holistic orcharding and cider making practices from Almar owner, Jim Koan:
“This Original Hard-Cider has been made on our family-owned farm in Flushing, Michigan for well over a hundred years. It was first pressed back in the 1850’s. Not much as changed in the process since then. We use the same apples from the same orchards as my great-great grandfather did before the time of the Civil War. We are proud of that. It gives us a sense of history….
Our cider is not only natural, it is truly organic. It always has been. It’s simply a fact of what we do – and how we do it. We use no insecticides in the farm orchards. Rather, I do what my grandfather did. I have a large flock of guinea fowl that wander about and eat the bugs. Fallen apples that have hit the ground are always a food source for pests, so I let my Berkshire pigs wander the orchard and eat the fallen apples. In a fast-paced, instant gratification society all this may seem a little old fashioned, or not “cost-effective.” But, we have a cider that is not like any other, and the idea of playing around with what makes that happen… well, it just ain’t part of the plan.”
They bottle various ciders including their Northern Neighbor Saskatoon Cuvee and J.K.’s Cuvee Winteruption (both of which will be looked at in upcoming reviews). This week’s review will cover their flagship cider known as Orchard Gold Gate. As the label implies, their ciders resemble ‘scrumpy’ ciders from England in that they’re produced in small batches using traditional methods. As a sentiment to the terrior and craft nature of J.K.’s Scrumpy Cider Jim Koan proclaims:
“I consider Orchard Gate Gold as a unique Artisan Michigan Farmhouse Cider, somewhere between English Scrumpy and a Normandy Cidre.
The bottom line is that it could not be made anyplace else. It is reliant on the soil and the climate. Open a bottle and decide for yourself!
After the harvest, we press our organic apples and allow them to slowly ferment for up to six months. We then carefully hand-fill and label each bottle and let it age for several weeks to properly condition.”
Orchard Gate Gold and the rest of the J.K.’s Scrumpy cider line are readily available throughout MI and can be found in 17 other states. Orchard Gate Gold is sold for around $8.99 and weighs in at 6% ABV. Upon pouring the cider is hazy and lacks clarity. Bits of yeast and lees float in the bottle. It has a beautiful golden straw color and the aroma grabs you immediately—it’s somewhere between butterscotch and caramel with the aromatics common of fresh apple juice. The flavor is reminiscent of apple juice left in the fridge to slowly ferment for a month or two. It is very sweet with high residual sugar and has virtually zero sharpness or bitterness. What I’d call a dessert cider. The booziness distinctly pulls through and complements the nearly overbearing sweetness. This cider is certainly not sparkling but it does posses a subtle effervescence— I believe it’d be referred to as a perlant cider. The slight bubliness adds a pleasant mouth feel that also supports and balances the high sweetness. For a sweet dessert cider it is very agreeable and nice, but for me, drinking more than a glass would be too much. I’d imagine Orchard Gold Gate would be lovely served warm and mulled. Stay tuned for coming reviews of other ciders in the J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider line. Cheers!
My enthusiasm for cider drinking, cider-making, and everything involved in the culture of cider, is ever expanding and one resource that’s been monumental for me is The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur. Being a noob to the cider making world, I am beyond grateful to have this gem— and from what I can tell this is perhaps one of the most comprehensive guides to date. The book is beautifully put together with rich text and loads of high quality photographs and diagrams adding even more clarity.
Claude lays the foundational principles behind cider making and outlines all the step necessary for making a good cider, from grinding and pressing your apples to fermenting and bottling the finished product. He compares various types of presses and highlights the pros and cons of different apple grinders. He even shares his basic plans for making aDIY apple grinder that grinds a bushel of apples in 1-2 minutes! In fact, while scrambling around earlier this year deciding how to improve upon our (slow) sink disposal grinder unit and while getting overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite number of plans online and choosing whether to buy an entry level commercial grinder or build our own— Claude’s timely book came in clutch with the ideal plans for us to move forward! Many thanks to Claude we adapted his plan and came up with this nifty, high efficiency home-scale grinder:
Claude has won awards for his craft ciders and takes a detail oriented approach to sharing his deep understanding of the processes involved in making high quality cider. The book covers both the scientific and practical aspects of the process, such as measuring gravity with a hydrometer, testing the acidity of your must, choosing the right yeast strain, and blending apple varieties to make the type of cider you’re after. He outlines the techniques for making sweet or dry cider, sparling or still cider, and even Québec’s finest: ice cider!
With some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement this year, I’ve constantly been turning to the book as a reference. Claude explains potential challenges in the process making troubleshooting a breeze. What Claude has offered to the cider community is invaluable; The New Cider Maker’s Handbook is a crucial resource for beginner cider makers and will offer a range of tips, tricks, and new ideas for the advanced cider maker. Visit Claude’s website to learn more about his cider brilliance.
With the conclusion of the growing season I am starting to focus more energy on renovating the website, adding new podcasts, and writing more— with that I am introducing a new aspect to the blogroll, that is CIDER REVIEWS!
I’m certainly far from a cider expert, but I am extremely geeked on this lovely fermented beverage we call cider. Before going much further I’ll make the necessary distinction between what I’m referring to as ‘cider’ and the raw, unfermented fresh apple juice that most Americans call cider. In England, France, Spain, and practically every other neck of the world the term ‘cider’ refers directly to fermented apple juice, not fresh apple juice that has been misleadingly called cider with the craze of the autumnal trend of cider and donuts.
I digress. There’s an artful craft and beautiful tradition to cider making that is ages old and is making a timely resurgence in North America and particularly here in Michigan. Not to mention it’s the second fastest growing beverage industry next to craft beer! The apple after all has become a universal fruit whose fermented juice is not only an excellent, nutrient dense, preservable food source and inebriating drink, but also a very delectable beverage that can range from sweet and bubbly to dry and tannic, and everything in between. As I write this I can hear the rhythmic ‘plump…plump’ of the airlocks releasing gas on the some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement! More on that later…can you tell I’m a bit excidered?
The cider I’ll be reviewing today comes from the outspoken permaculture expert and tree crop guru— Mark Shepard. New Forest Farmis his 106 acre perennial ag sanctuary in southwest Wisconsin; there he raises chestnuts, hazelnuts, hazelnut finished pork(!), apples, and a variety of other crops. They’ve been producing cider for a few years in an expanding on-farm facility and the cider is currently available only in southern WI (I got mine from a friend who took his PDC earlier this year). His ciders go by the name Shepard’s Hard Cyder. Note the spelling here… cyder with a Y is another variation simply referring to the real-deal stuff made with love and craftsmanship, not the watered down, from-concentrate, preservative ridden, commonly available neo-American hard ciders! Whew.
Out of the three cider offerings from Shepard’s Hard Cider we’ll be looking at one called Adam’s (which you could guess accompanies it’s counterpart—Eve’s). Upon opening it was very gaseous and perhaps too carbonated from being over primed, furthermore we had to open the bottle over the sink and it took a few minutes to settle down. Once poured the cider had a light golden color and moderate clarity, with a foamy head that slowly receded to about a quarter of it’s initial size. In both appearance and aroma it resembled a champagne with a very subtle apple pie fruitiness on the nose. Upon first sip the boldest character was its crispness and effervescence. It was relatively dry and lacked the sometimes overbearing cloyingly sweet flavor so common in the lesser grade commercial ciders. I also appreciate the moderate acidity that gave this cider its refreshing tang. However aside from it’s dryness and mild sharpness, it lacked overall body and depth of character…almost bordering bland after the immediate burst of flavor. I am unsure but perhaps this is because Shepard is using run of the mill dessert apples rather than some of the bitter and bittersharp cider varieties that offer richer body and complexity. For a mid-range gravity sparkling cider weighing in around 5.5% ABV it was GOOD…one I’d really enjoy on a hot summer day. I look forward to eventually tasting more from the Shepard’s Hard Cyder line.