March First Brewing and Boundless Ambitions

If you are unaware of March First Brewing, don’t be hard on yourself. They’ve been intentionally flying under the radar for a few weeks, slowly seeping out to bars and restaurants around town. But this is only the very beginning of perhaps the most ambitious Cincinnati brewery yet.

March First Brewery Taproom

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All I Want for Christmas for Cincinnati’s Beer Scene

With the winter holidays upon us and the new year drawing near I’m taking a moment to think about what I’d like to see develop for Cincinnati next year. WCPO’s Jesse Folk hatched this idea to “pick an aspect of the industry or scene that we’d most like to see or change in Cincy.” I’m pretty satisfied with the brewers, bars, and beer stores in the area, so I decided to think out of the box a bit to other fermented products.

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Cider, really?

[This post was put together by Roger Fecher, a friend of mine and reader of the blog. I’d like to thank him for submitting it to be published. -J]

With the wide world of alcoholic beverages available to you, you’ve probably thought, “Why would I want to try that?” or “That’s not for me” or “Is there anything special about that?” Some of you have even contemplated these very questions while looking at a bottle of cider. Some of you haven’t even gone that far because you discount the beverage outright. And why not, right? In the world of alcohol many of us like to stick to one kingdom: cereal grains. Bread and pasta can be good, even great, but cereal grains come into their own in the world of alcohol. Give me the complexity of a fine beer or a well-aged whiskey and I’m a happy dude.

Sure, you occasionally step out of your comfort zone and have a wine with dinner. You might even order a glass of mead or put your trust in B. Nektar and order a cyser (mead fermented with apple juice or cider). But have you ever given cider itself a chance?

ciderI’m sitting here sipping a Domaine Dupont Reserve cider considering how blessed I am. My brother told me for years about the glory that is cider, but unfortunately most of our domestic product falls short (most of it just plain sucks). It was on a trip to Paris that I made it a personal quest to try a variety of ciders from Normandie one of the areas where traditional cider has been produced for hundreds of years with ancient apple varieties generally not available in the US. In addition many of their ciders are bone dry with a huge effervescence. When so much of the sugar has been fermented out the character of the cider can really shine through.

Truly good ciders have an incredible gueuze-like funk to them with horse blanket and barnyard. There’s a tartness of the tongue, but these aren’t sour. And don’t get me wrong, they won’t blow you over with funk like a gueuze might, but they can certainly hold their own.

This particular cider was aged in calvados casks for six months. Calvados is essentially apple brandy produced from the same apples in Normandie. This cider is produced once a year. The apples for this bottle were harvested in 2011 and matured in 2012.

The bottle pours with a nice white head that diminishes to a small ring but never fades away. The cider is slightly yellow with a touch of copper and a steady stream of bubbles similar to champagne. The aroma is heavenly; lemon, barnyard funk, gueuze, tart apple, leather, and oak – just an incredible mix.

While the base cider was clearly fermented out leaving a bone dry, crisp cider, the calvados casks add back some of that sweetness. It’s akin to the difference between a dry Riesling and a late harvest Riesling. Sure there’s a bit more sweetness there, but it’s a complex sweetness with vanilla and caramel. The taste is both slightly tart and sweet. The finish is completely drying leading to a continual desire to take another sip. The high level of carbonation makes this a super easy drinker. At 6.9% ABV it’s also an easy bottle to open with just one other person (750 mL).

If this intrigues you at all, I highly recommend that you give ciders a(nother) go. Try the ciders from Normandie first, especially from Domaine Dupont. The Domaine Dupont Reserve cider is certainly among the best that I’ve tried. I believe I picked it up at The Party Source for $20-30. TPS seems to get Domain Dupont on a fairly regular basis.

A Tale of Two Ciders

Hard ciders have been growing in popularity along with craft beer during this recent boom, though at a much smaller percentage. Years ago your selection was limited to old English brands then Woodchuck came on the scene and started to dominate. Now there are a plethora of companies making cider and 2 “local” ones that I’ll be trying tonight. My wife has been a cider lover for a long time now and I’ve been meaning to steal one of hers to review and that day has finally come.

The main difference between beer and cider is the source of the alcohol. Beer uses the sugar from malted barley while hard ciders rely on the sugar in apple juice. Don’t think this means hard ciders are light, or low alcohol, in fact the Oliver Original cider I’ll be trying tonight is 8%!

I have come to believe that there is a general perception that hard ciders are for women or something like that. Please note, I am not saying this is my perception nor am I trying to start any kind of sexist war, just stating something I’ve observed. Honestly, I think it’s nonsense and according to some facts from Angry Orchard it is equally consumed by men and women. Anything can be for anyone it’s just all about what their personal preference is. My hope is that this post will bring info about hard cider to our readers and encourage them to give it a go. That said, on to the reviews!

Brewery: Oliver Winery
Beer Cider: Beanblossom Hard Cider Original
Style: Cider
ABV: 8%
Calories: ~250

Fantastically clear and very pale yellow/gold color that honestly looks a lot like Bud Light. No head what so ever, though I’m not super sure if cider’s should have a head on them. It does look a lot like apple juice though.

Very fruity aroma with lots of sugary action and a noticeable amount of alcohol.

Pleasantly sweet taste that screams apple. I was concerned that this was going to be sickening sweet, like Georgia sweet tea, but am glad to find that’s not the case though It is certainly sweeter than most beers.

Very light body with an extremely crisp and refreshing mouth feel. This is probably my favorite part of this drink.

I digg this and can see myself drinking more of them after mowing the lawn on hot summer days, a spot usually reserved for a Rivertown Helles. Though the 8% this thing packs could make for an interesting afternoon, I’m about half way through and definitely feeling it.A few words on packaging before moving on to Angry Orchard. This is a very interesting can, bottle, canottle, cabottle? bottan? It’s a tall aluminum can, I dig the convergence of cans and bottles in this format and would like to see some beers packaged this way as well.

Brewery: Angry Orchard (Boston Beer Company)
Cider: Crisp Apple
Style: Cider
ABV: 5%
Calories: 280

Much richer golden yellow hue then the Oliver had. Also packs noticeably more “head” then Oliver did, it’s not really a normal head as much as just a ring of bubbles around the top rim.

Very strong apple smell with loads of sweet apples, but not much else.

Overly sweet apple flavor that is over done in my opinion. Like the aroma there is nothing else happening here except for the apples.

Nicely crisp, smooth, and light body feel.

Between these two the Oliver is the clear winner in my opinion. It’s got a much better overall experience and more alcohol, on the upside for this beer is that it’s cheaper, session-worthy, and massively available wherever any beer is sold.

I mentioned earlier how both of these ciders were “local”. I’m using “local” because Bloomington, Indiana isn’t in the greater Cincinnati area but is only 2 1/2 hours off. Angry Orchard claims to be from Cincinnati, Ohio. This threw me for a great loop when my wife first spotted it in Asheville, North Carolina of all places. I knew that no place making cider in Cincinnati could have popped up completely under my nose without me knowing at all. After doing a little digging online I quickly discovered that Angry Orchard is a Sam Adam’s product. So yes, it is “local” as it is brewed at Sam Adam’s facility in Over-The-Rhine.

Review: Woodchuck Barrel Select is a sugar-sweet glass of “bleh”

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It’s kinda shocking to me that you’re about to read a review of a mass-produced hard cider from yours truly. For one, I’ve never been a sparking cider fan. I thoroughly enjoy normal cider, especially mulled and with the addition of spirits, but cold, carbonated cider? No, thank you. Even if I were going to forego my other, preferred alcoholic carbonated beverage choice and try a hard cider, it certainly wouldn’t be Woodchuck. God know, with all the meaderies and cider makers popping up now, we all have our options.

But, still, we find ourselves here. So, why did I buy this from the gas station down the street from my house I headed to initially to buy a six-pack of beer? One sentence (or clause if you want to be a grammar snob about it). “Aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels”. When It comes to barrel aging things, particularly beer, I am silly for it. Barrel aging cider just seemed like some Dr. Frankenstein’s monster type creation that I had to try. Like Dr. Frankenstein though, it seems like I would have been better off leaving well enough alone, but I suppose that’s getting the cart before the horse.

At $10.99 (I think) a sixer, I was suspicious out of the gate. I’m not sure why, but I just expected it to be cheaper. If anything, this is a very “pretty” drink. Effervescent and crystal clear, it pours just like the amber of a bourbon. Call me biased, but it was strange pouring a carbonated beverage out of a bottle and it not forming a head. Bubbles, yes; head, no. Don’t mind my crappy picture above. It looked a lot better in the glass than it looks there.

The smell is sweet, sweet, sweet apples with some vanilla; maybe a teensy-tiny bit of oak; and, strangely enough, a ton of maple syrup. I have no idea where that came from, but it was the dominant force in the nose. The taste largely followed in those tracks: cloying apple sweetness mixed with nebulous, somewhat muddled barrel characteristics. AND MAPLE. I can’t stress that enough. Perhaps the strangest thing was that I got no bourbon in either the nose or the taste. The body is light, with prickly bubbles while cold and a lifeless, watery feel when warming (they recommend to drink it at over 50 degrees).

Overall, I don’t like it. To say it is a disappointment would be going too far since I didn’t have too high of hopes to begin with, but I do feel like I wasted $10.00. I suppose ‘dems da breaks for a curious drinker. If this was a dry cider, I think whatever barrel qualities were there would have shined through better, but this saccharine mess isn’t salvageable by the best barrels in the world. Summary: though a curious creature, Woodchuck Barrel Select, to get biblical, you have been weighed and you have been found wanting. Hopefully some of my Christmas guests can finish those other five bottles.

Apple Pie a la Mode Moonshine

On the Halloween Special of The Charlie Tonic Hour, Charlie and I shared the fall-themed drink that I made for our Halloween block party. It turned out great and I am thinking of making something similar to give out for Christmas presents this year. If you want to drink along at home here is the recipe for our Apple Pie a la Mode Moonshine. I originally came across this recipe on Allrecipes.com and was delighted to find that my favorite cooking site also has a lot of other cocktail and liqueur recipes to be found there so I highly recommend you check it out.

Apple Pie ‘Ala Mode Moonshine

1/2 gallon apple juice
1/2 gallon apple cider
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar

Bring these ingredients to a boil and then let them simmer for at least 20 minutes. Once the mix is cooled to room temperature or below add:

3 cups Everclear
2 cups vanilla vodka

Everclear or similar 190 proof grain alcohol is not available in Ohio or Kentucky but it is legal in Indiana. The best substitute is a 100 proof vodka. When I was making this that is what I used and I added an extra half cup of each vodka. You can drink right away but it’s best if you let the mixture rest at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to blend together. Pour the drink into pint mason jars for an authentic moonshine look and it would make an amazing gift.

This article originally ran on The Charlie Tonic Hour.