There is cider and there is cider.
Most mass-market ciders available in this country are sweet-ish, juice drinks made from concentrate or from culinary apples. This is true even for most of the “better” brands. To make really good cider you need the balance and flavor provided by different types of heirloom cider apples. Not for eating, these apples give sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and tannins that together create ciders of real depth and complexity. The problem is, most of these cider apple trees in this country were ripped out during prohibition. Not too many orchards still grow them.
There are a few. Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire is one of them. Over half of their acreage in two different locations is given over to these odd-tasting fruits. They are the biggest grower of cider apples in the U.S.
The folks at Poverty Lane use the juice from these apples to make Farnum Hill Ciders. They take cider seriously. As their website states, “On Farnum Hill, we use the word ‘cider’ to mean an alcoholic beverage fermented from particular apples, just as ‘wine’ is fermented from particular grapes.” Also like wine, the idea of “terroir” come into play, as the same variety of apples grown in different places will exhibit different characteristics. Farnum Hill ciders embrace the idea of regional cider.
Farnum Hill produces a number of different ciders. I have only seen three in the local market – Semi-Dry, Extra Dry, and Dooryard. I discussed the Extra Dry and Dooryard ciders last May in my Star Tribune column.
These do not seem to be currently available. [I’m told that Extra Dry and Dooryard are available. I just haven’t seen them in a while.] Semi-Dry is in stores now. I tried it last night.
Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Minerals. Red apple skin. Pears and pineapples. So much fruit. There is even a hint of banana in the background. A suggestion of sweetness come in soft whiffs of honey and light brown sugar.
Appearance: Medium gold and brilliant. Low (nearly no) white head with no retention.
Flavor: Same slate/mineral note from the aroma. The fruit also carries over – Tart red apple. Pear. Peaches. Pineapple. Lemon juice and lemon zest. Very low green banana. Like the aroma, so much fruit. Low sweetness – honey. Medium bitterness. Very dry finish. Moderately high tannins grab the edges of the tongue after swallowing. Mouthwatering acidity – saliva floods the mouth.
Mouthfeel: Medium light body. Low carbonation (petilent). Moderate astringency.
Overall Impression: So good! “Semi-dry” is a bit misleading. There is very little that is “sweet” about this cider. It is dry, dry, dry. The tannins and acidity are high. Any perception of sweetness comes from the abundance of fruity notes that balance the bitter. As the website says, “On Farnum Hill, that much-abused word ‘dry’ is taken literally…”