A few weeks ago, upon a visit to Frontier Café, I had a beverage crisis. I wanted to get something of the alcoholic variety, but something very crisp and light, to compliment my meal. While perusing the display of various microbrews and specialty beers, I came across a rather large bottle with several apples on its label, named Scrumpy's, which seemed to fit the bill.
My previous knowledge of cider went as far as "Tubthumping", in which "he" drinks a whisky drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink and a cider drink. (In light of alcohol transports, please do not try this). A general lack of understanding has never stopped me from doing a lot of things, though, so I decided to give Scrumpy's a whirl.
After being assured that the sediments in my bottle were simply pieces of real apple, and not spit from the hipster gentleman that served me my drink, I found ol' Scrumpy's to be quite enjoyable, with the requisite crispness and lightness I had been pining for that evening. What was this world of brew to which I had heretofore been oblivious for so long? To answer this question I did what I always do: assembled a crew and tried some brews.
The brand of cider that I am most familiar with, and which seems to have wide distribution in these parts, is Woodchuck. Hailing from Middlebury, Vermont, Woodchuck comes in a variety of different flavors, all bearing the slogan: "World's Best Tasting Ciders!".
Because of the various flavors and unabashedly cocky title, I automatically assumed it probably wasn't that good, but in the end I was quite mistaken. Woodchuck's Amber brew, the classic New England cider, turned out to be one of the few high-points of the tasting, while other ciders I had high expectations for fell far short.
After tasting what I figured to be a very average cider in Woodchuck, my fellow cider-sippers and I were subjected to a gauntlet of bizarre and undesirable tastes. Strongbow, which I had heard of before, had almost none of the nice apple flavor that Woodchuck exhibited, giving way instead to the fine flavor of cheap beer.
As one taster put it, "it tastes like someone poured Natty in my Woodchuck." Harpoon's take on cider may win the award for most indescribable taste. If you can't imagine a cider tasting like plastic and/or de-ionized water, then knock back some Harpoon (don't).
Two others that I was really looking forward to, Woodpecker and Hardcore, were also disappointing at best (how could a cider named Hardcore be so lame?). Both opted for more of a subtle apple flavor, but, in doing so, once again introduced the phenomenon of feeling like you were drinking watered-down keg beer that someone slipped some apple juice into (worst jungle juice ever).
By the time we got to Hornsby's, from a Californian brewery, we were just hoping that didn't taste like tires and diapers. But, as they say, sometimes it is at the lowest point that we rise up to prominence. Mercifully, when it came to Hornsby's, this was the case. In fact, not only did it stand up to Woodchuck, but most thought it was the best cider of the bunch.
The strong, tart flavor that Woodchuck carried returned with a nice crispness, and the cider exhibited a good dry finish. After the litany of surprisingly sick ciders we went through that night, this palette cleanser was greatly appreciated.