This year’s Lakewood Cider Days featured a hard cider tasting event by the cideries of the Rocky Mountain Cider Association. Over 50 ciders were featured–the largest ever selection at an event in Colorado. I tried many of them, and you get to hear about it…
Lakewood Cider Days has been running for a number of years now in Lakewood, CO–for the most part it’s a kid-friendly harvest festival featuring tractors, animals, cider pressing, food vendors, and booths staffed by local businesses and organizations.
For the last few years, however, the Rocky Mountain Cider Association has been holding a (hard) cider tasting as an event-within-an-event at Cider Days, and it’s been growing in cider selection and attendance. This year’s event kept up the momentum and was the most exciting yet.
In attendance were some of the Colorado cider mainstays like Colorado Cider Company and Stem Ciders, but also some new cideries of note such as Colorado Common and Talbott’s Cider Company, the latter of which showed up with interesting hopped and dry ciders right out of the gate. Clearly, the cider industry is growing in Colorado, and I think we can expect more entrants, more changes and an expanded selection going forward. It’s a good time to be a cider fan in Colorado.
Also pouring at the event were two distributors, Elite Brands and Crooked Stave Artisans Distributing, who bring ciders from various states and countries into Colorado, and Shelton Brothers, who imports ciders from the U.K., New Zealand, France, and Spain. These groups contributed significantly to the breadth of styles and flavors available to tasters at the event.
The breadth of ciders at the tasting event was significant. Of note for me were:
- a wonderfully complex sparkling cider by Eden Ice Cider Company (brought by Crooked Stave)
- two funky, acetic, yet still very drinkable Spanish Sidras by Riestra (also from Crooked Stave)
- a wide range of hopped ciders by Colorado, Pacific Northwest, and New Zealand (the latter was brought by Shelton Brothers)
- a number of bourbon or whiskey-flavored ciders (barrel-aged or otherwise flavored)
- a couple of chile ciders–neither of which were nuclear hot, thankfully, but which had mild, slow-burn heat and good flavor
As I still have some discretion left, I didn’t manage to try all the ciders. Take one look at the size of the list and you’ll see why–even with 2 oz. pours, it adds up fast.
Here are the ciders I tried at Cider Days:
- Hopped Up Pippin by Zeffer Cider Company (NZ)
- Sidra Natural by Riestra
- Ginger Perry by Argus Cidery
- Eden Sparkling Cider by Eden Ice Cider Company — my favorite cider of the event
- Apple Abbey by Finnriver Farm and Cidery
- Fresh Hopped Cider by Finnriver Farm and Cidery
- Wanderlust by Wandering Aengus Ciderworks
- Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider by Tieton Cider Works
- The Pitchfork Pear Cider by Sonoma Cider
- The Anvil Bourbon Cider by Sonoma Cider
- Dry / Seca by Santa Sidra Hard Cider
- Small Batch McIntosh by Montana Ciderworks
- North Fork Hard Cider by Montana Ciderworks
- Just Cider by Medovina Meadery / Talisman Farm — a notable dry, tannic cider (rare for Colorado)
- Summit House Cider by Colorado Common Cider
- Spanish Pear by Colorado Cider Company
- Harvest Hop by Branch Out Cider — my top pick of the hopped ciders at the festival
- 2014 Perennial by Branch Out Cider
- Pear Supply by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Grizzly Brand by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Chester Hoppearcot by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Habanero Lime by Snow Capped Cider
- Whiskey Barrel Chili Cider by Stem Ciders
- Bee Hoppy by Wild Cider
- Pumpkin Cider by Wild Cider
- Scrappy Apple Dry by Talbott’s Cider Company
- IPC Hopped Cider by Talbott’s Cider Company
- Alpine Start by Talbott’s Cider Company
- Remedy by Stem Ciders
- Boondocker Dry Hopped by Snow Capped Ciders
- Redfield by West County Cider
The ciders that I didn’t get to, but which were also at the event:
- Apple by Wild Cider
- Berry by Wild Cider
- Branch & Bramble by Stem Ciders
- Malice by Stem Ciders
- Cherry by Tieton Cider Works
- Rambling Route by Tieton Cider Works
- Wild Washington Apple by Tieton Cider Works
- Alma by C Squared Ciders
- Ginger by C Squared Ciders
- Nona by C Squared Ciders
- Honeycrisp by Snow Capped Ciders
- Sidra by Snow Capped Ciders
- Sour Cherry by Snow Capped Ciders
- Cherry Daze by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Harvest Apple by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Lazy Daze Lemonade by Big B’s Hard Cider
- One Night Fruit Stand by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Orchard Original by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Somerset by Big B’s Hard Cider
- Tempting Sun by Branch Out Cider
- CituAzul by Colorado Cider Company
- Grasshop-ah by Colorado Cider Company
- Newtown Pippin by Colorado Cider Company
- Oaked Dry by Colorado Cider Company
- Ol’ Stumpy by Colorado Cider Company
- Honey Meadow by Finnriver Farm and Cidery
- Perennial 2013 by Argus Fermentables
- Vintage by Henney’s
- Medium Dry Cider by Hogan’s
- Traditional Cider by Oliver’s Cider and Perry
- Demi-Sec by Cidrerie L’Hermetiere
Many of those I missed, I’d recently tried at the 2015 Colorado Cider Circus, however–see my write-up on that event here.
The Hopped Ciders
Since there were so many hopped ciders represented–and since I’ve been devoting some my own cidermaking time to hopped ciders lately–I decided to spend much of my attention at the event to that category. My general take on the category is that hopped ciders are all about the aroma–as ciders are dry-hopped, they aren’t taking up the bittering acids of hops as much as they do in beer, so using them becomes a matter of applying the right aromatic components in the right proportions to complement the underlying cider.
With a few notable exceptions, the hopped ciders at the event–and those that I’ve encountered in general–tend to be semi-sweet ciders made from table apples with the addition of a floral hop such as Cascade. That formula works pretty well, though for me the sweetness tends to mask the delicate hop finish that is so much of the experience in a good hopped cider. It’s the very dry, crisp ciders with a lot of hop aromatics that work the best for me in the hopped category, as the hops really stand out and make the underlying cider more appealing.
For me, Harvest Hop by Branch Out cider was the best hopped cider of the event, with a ton of fresh hop aroma above a complex, minerally, bone dry cider that finished clean, allowing the hops to linger. Very well done, guys!
I think the small batch sizes and use of fresh local hops at Branch Out allowed them to pack a lot more hop aromatics into Harvest Hop than would be consistently possible to produce on a larger commercial scale on a regular basis. Therein lies one of the challenges in the cider world: How does one scale up production and make cider year-round while maintaining quality? It’s not an easy task.
Nonetheless, Stem Ciders manages to consistently do so with their dry, dry-hopped cider, Remedy, which is one of my go-to ciders and a close second for me in terms of the hopped ciders at Cider Days.
Also of note was Talbott’s IPC Hopped Cider, which is fermented with beer yeasts, resulting in a complex, slightly spicy, semi-sweet cider to which hops are added. That yeast complexity makes it unique and interesting, if not quite as crisp as some of the drier, wine yeast-fermented offerings.
Did I mention that cider people are interesting people? Quirky, perhaps, but generally fun to talk to. I tend to gravitate toward those experienced cider folks who are happy to share their deep knowledge of cidermaking, of apple growing–even the ins and outs of running a cidery–and I’m grateful for all the fascinating information that they freely give, both at these events and in general.
By and large, the cider community is an open community, so if you’re at one of these events, be sure you spend some time talking to the folks behind the tables and asking about the origins of different ciders and cideries–you’ll be fascinated by what you learn.
All in all, I had a great time at Cider Days and look forward to next year’s event. If history is any indicator, it will continue to grow, improve, and expand its cider selection ever further, reflecting the growth and creativity of the industry in general. If you’re in the area in early October, put this one on your list…you won’t regret it.
Were you at Cider Days? If so, what were your impressions? Leave a comment below.