This past weekend, I went to Bend, OR, a place known for its up and coming beer scene with its Ale Trail. Thing is, this year there have been two new cider companies that have opened there: Atlas Cider Co and Red Tank Cider Company.

We went to Atlas Cider Co first.  They have a large industrial facility that will allow them to grow and better hours to allow you to come visit. Right now, they have two ciders: standard apple and then the same cider flavored with cherry. They are also getting ready to release an apricot version.

Maybe a quarter mile away in a different industrial complex is Red Tank Cider Company. They have tricky hours to visit, but we managed it. Their space is much smaller, but it looks like they are still trying to upgrade before they can go. They probably had a smaller start up than Atlas. I did not see a red tank. They have two ciders made from the same juice that they just have different degrees of dryness on. They also have a cider in which they flavored it with ginger and pineapple, which was unique.

Both cideries had kind of the same business model. Since Bend is a desert and you don’t even really see homestead apple trees, both companies worked with Hood River to obtain juice and then ferment it. One was picky about the apples that went into their juice, while the other seemed to care more about the acidity and sugar. One also used some berries to create some tannin. Both of them work on a beer schedule, producing nice semi-sweet/sweet refreshing ciders that probably the core cider drinking market likes. I drink them, too, but I’ve kind of gotten used to higher acid crispness of a dry cider that has been allowed to age a year.

The experience was very pleasant and a good break from all the beer, and actually better in the high temperatures than beer. Of course, I’m biased, but even Burtle is coming around to the idea that cider is more refreshing on hot days than beer is.

If you are planning a trip to Normandy and want to experience the cider and calvados, here are my recommendations:

  • Never pay more than €4 for a champagne bottle of cider.
  • It is impossible to find ice. Wrap the bottle in frozen veggies to chill it.
  • Sample everything they are offering, which will probably only be one or two things.
  • Consider reading Calvados: Guide to the Region and the Apple Brandy
  • If you are in Bayeux, go to Lecornu.
  • Once you leave Normandy, it becomes almost impossible to find calvados, let alone reasonably priced calvados to take home. Make sure you get what you want while you are there.

If you decide to get a car and go out into the country side:

  • There will be cider everywhere in Normandy, from the D-Day Beaches to Mont Saint Michel and east to Honfleur. The best experience, however, will be on La Route du Cidre.
  • Study La Route du Cidre 
  • Look in every Tourist Information center for information on La Route du Cidre put out by Calvados Tourisme. Pick up any brochures on other cider and calvados producers while you are there.
  • If you do La Route du Cidre, either start at #14 near Beaufour and work your way south counter clock wise and end with #11 Grandval, or vice versa.
  • Go to Grandval.
  • Spring for the GPS unit when you get the rental car. You might not be able to navigate out of the city you picked the car up from without it.

Most importantly, have some fun. This is the land of cider, calvados, cream, and caramels, and apparently rain.

Previous weeks:

After staying in Bayeux, France, we caught one of the many quick trains to Caen to pick up a rental car and started driving out to the Normandy D-Day Beaches. Being that it was cidre country and there were lots of signs for tasting rooms, we couldn’t help but stop and try some.

I am unsure if the places we were going to actually had the apples there, or if they just took stock from other family members to sell. Rarely did I actually see an orchard, and one time I actually asked at an estate, and they waved vaguely at it. The orchards, it seemed, were hidden and not exactly shown.

A gap in the hedge to see a high branch orchard with cows.

Each place has its own tasting room, though they typically only gave one or two small tastes. We never exactly figured out the procedure for this – what they had to taste, how much, and if there was a tasting fee (apparently never). This last issue started us buying cider out of guilt, even though it was only a small taste. This ended up being one of the reasons we eased up on stopping at tasting rooms, as there was only so much cider we could consume before coming home. This coastal region was also not the area we had really planned on having cider at, but instead more inland, so that also played into things.

We did have one unfortunate experience. See, most everything in Normandy is open from 9am to noon, closed until 2pm, and then reopens until 5pm or 6pm. We stumbled across a place around 2:15, but it looked like the family was eating. One woman came over to us, but she did not welcome us over to the bar behind her, but instead stood really close like they wanted us to leave. It was odd, and that also played into our not going to every place.

Not every place really had cider, either. Some made cider for the sake of making calvados, and they were really selling calvados and not cider. Others focused on cider and then made calvados. It was hard to tell which one we would encounter.

The last factor that started playing into us easing up was that it was a little overwhelming. It is like heading over to Napa Valley – how does one choose which wineries to visit when there so many and you have never heard of them?

Actually, a minor other factor was that we were also running out of time and needed to get down to Mont Saint Michel, which was a good two hour drive yet for us.

Next week: La Route du Cidre

Earlier this month, I went to Normandy, France. We actually started in Belgium so that my husband Burtle could have some Belgian beer, and then we ended up in Normandy so that I could have the cider, or cidre, as they spell it in French. I’ll talk about my experience over the next six weeks.

We started off in Bayeux, and we got there during a medieval festival that occurs every first full weekend in July. This was a good thing, as there were a few cider and calvados vendors there giving out samples.

One of the first things we noticed was how much cheaper a 750 mL champagne bottle of cider was. Most of the small farm craft ciders were being sold for about €3-4 and rarely more than that. While we were there, €1 = $1.30, so a €4 bottle cost us $5.20. That is a good deal compared to the United States, and they are pretty darn tasty, too. Unfortunately, not knowing this price point, the first place we came to that sold cider was a shop that specialized in cider, calvados, and caramels, and we ended up buying a €7 bottle after having a sample. Rip off. The grocery stores also sell cider for the lower price, so never buy a bottle for more than €5 in Normandy, if that.

Perry I bought at the festival.

We stayed at a little English speaking bed and breakfast there called Logis les Remparts, where they also had a shop and were aging calvados. They said they had a family orchard, but I got the feeling that other family members ran the orchard, made the cider, and then distilled the calvados. I say this because running the B&B and shop, they probably didn’t have much time to operate the farm. Anyway, calvados was brought to them in Bayeux, where they would age it in barrels in their cellar and then probably bottle. They mostly focused on calvados, but they did have pommeau and the Normandy aperitif and did sell cider, jams, and caramels. I was told the pommeau was 1/3 calvados to 2/3 apple juice, which they also sold apple juice. All of the pommeau I had there was much better than any I had here, but I think we are still also new to making apple brandy (calvados can only be technically made in Normandy).  The shop is actually where they served breakfast with the jam for the bed and breakfast. It technically was a “bar” and you could get glasses of cider and shots of calvados, but it closed at 1800 (6pm), and I never saw anyone just hanging out like you would expect with a bar. However, this became an excellent way for us to get started in Normandy.

Next week: The French Countryside

Book Review: Calvados

July 6, 2012

While getting ready for my trip to Normandy this summer, I found the book Calvados: Guide to the Region and the Apple Brandy by Henrik Mattsson. Published in 2010, it is only really available electronically for about $5. The only way to get a book was to buy a signed version for about 40 Euros, which is about $50 (free shipping world wide).

Calvados is apple cider that has been distilled into brandy, but only in certain region contained mostly in Normandy, France. The book has an introduction, history of calvados, explanation of the terroir and appellations, making, ageing, tasting, an extensive chapter on gastronomy completed with drinks and cooking recipes, 51 pages of producers, a visiting quick guide, and a glossary.

I find this book is informative and fascinating, explaining why calvados is an industry in Normandy, how they construct the orchards, make cider, distill into calvados, and much much more. Thing about this book was that it could have been an excellent guide book with all the French words and translations, signs and label expectations, and a grand list of producers. However, I feel that in order to be a good guide book, I have to have the ability to flip through it, and an ebook reader just doesn’t allow for that. However, $5 is a steal of a deal, and for that it is worth is. Before leaving for Normandy, I did go through the entire book and find all the French words he used to make my own translation guide, and I’m hoping that the rumors are true that the Tours Information will have English booklets on the Cidre Route, otherwise I will be attempting to “flip” though the eBook to find a producer we come across.

Mattson’s website also has a tasting sheet for calvados.

Drink Review: Sea Cider

March 29, 2012

I first heard of Sea Cider when I attended the WSU Mt. Vernon week long cider class in the summer of 2010. In fact, we got to tour the facility located in Saanichton on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada as part of the class. Apparently, they are now expanding, because they are now available in my local bottle shop here in Vancouver, WA. To promote this, they held a cider tasting.

The first cider we tasted was Pippins. It was a straw colored cider that was clear. It was a little sharp, and it hit the back top of the palette, but had a good mouth feel on it. Sea Cider describes Pippins as being made from Newton Pippin apples and is a crisp and dry sparkling cider that is 9.5% ABV. Now, with that high of an ABV, I am suspicious that sugar was added to get the ABV up, as I believe it is hard to find apples with enough natural sugar in them to get much higher than an 8% AVB.  The distributor there to answer questions said no. I’m still not completely trusting of that, as I don’t expect every distributor to know every process of every beverage they sell. He also admitted that cider was new to him, and his comfort zone is with beer.

The next cider we had was called Kings & Spies, so called because it is made with King and Northern Spy apples. It was a milder and smoother cider than Pippin, but it had more tannin, and almost a touch sour. It was at 8.5% AVB, which is more believable for me to be natural.

Next came Wild English, a cider made from English cider apples with wild yeasts. They let it sit in an open container for 48 hours to get the wild yeast out of the air, so they are pretty sure there was some Brettanomyces in it. Brett is actually more like a bacteria that is used to create sour beer, which my husband loves to drink. I think it was a dry yet very balanced cider. Like, even though there wasn’t a sweetness to it, the acid and alcohol did not dominate. This was a 7.2% ABV drink, which is also natural.

Last of all, we had Rumrunner. That was actually what we bought from them back in 2010, only it came in a brown bottle then. Now it is a clear bottle, and here in Washington, they call it Prohibition. What they do it take some barrels and spin some rum into them, and then put the heritage based apple cider in it. The wood and the rum then add flavors to the cider, and more. This was 12% ABV, perhaps though the addition of brown sugar, molasses, or the rum. It was a dark color as if brown sugar or molasses had been used, and it smelled sweet and tasted a little of molasses. Thing is, even though rum is made from molasses, all distilled spirits are clear until they are colored and/or aged in barrels, so Sea Cider probably did add a little bit of sweetener to gain that color and that taste.

I am glad Sea Cider is able to expand and sell down here. I find their products to be quality.

A few months ago, Washington State University released publication PNW 621 titled Hard Cider Production & Orchard Management in the Pacific Northwest. They printed off a limited number of copies, which are available for $8.00 each.

It was written by G.A. Moulton, Carol Miles, and J. King, all of Washington State University Mount Vernon, and A. Zimmerman of Tulip Valley Vineyard and Orchard next door. I had actually taken classes from Moulton and Zimmerman as part of my cidermaking class last summer with Peter Mitchell. In fact, there is a large acknowledgment to Mitchell in this publication, and even a few of the graphs he provided us students in our textbooks. Therefore, I was quite excited to see the research and write up on local production of cider.

The 48 page publication starts out with an introduction, including defining what cider is, the history of cider, defining your business and style, and safety measures. The last two are sort of new to me in a publication. Talking about business, it just touches upon ideas about what consumers expect, a developing a product line, determining who your customers are, and developing a marking plan. This is just enough to get one thinking about important information without actually guiding a person. The safety section suggests setting up a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).

From there, the publication moves into basic cider making, which you can find in just about any cider making book. However, it contains nearly six pages of their research on cider apples, including tannin amounts, sugar quantities, pH, and malic acid or other research on taste analysis of cider from a type of apple. From there, it briefly talks about sources of apples, and then transitions into processing fruit. It talks about apple mills, presses, and containers, giving pros and cons to different types. After obtaining juice, it must be analyzed, which is information you can gain in any cider making book, but this one does walk you through the step by step laboratory procedures to determine free sulfites, total sulfites, and titratable acidity, and talks about the formula to convert SG to potential alcohol and chaptilization. Moving on, it talks briefly about yeast, maturation, and malolatic fermentation. From there, cider is then ready for blending, barrel aging, carbonating, sweetening, filtering, bottling, and pasteurizing.

The real gem in this publication, though, is the last section, which is really the first part of making cider: orchard management. While other books might talk about site selection and rootstock, this publication talks about all that and in addition it talks about required mineral content in soil. The best part is that it has a chart on tree growth habit and another on blooming dates, which is kind of rare information. It does talk about planting, pruning, irrigating, thinning, pest management, when and how to harvest, and storage of the apples.

Overall, I’m excited because this book has lots of information about taking care of cider apple trees that is kind of rare for the United States, and the information provided in the entire book is kind of ideas to think about if one decided to open a cidery. That tone set it apart from other cidermaking books on the market.