Cidersage Visits Colorado Cider Company

'Ol Stumpy, made with bittersweet apples from NH.

Today I made the trek through cold, drizzly weather to meet my friend and former coworker, Chris, at Colorado Cider Company in Denver, CO, on their 2nd anniversary celebration.

Tucked into an industrial corner of Denver, Colorado Cider Company can be a difficult location to find, but if you make it, you’ll be glad you did–they are on the leading edge of the cider reawakening in Colorado, and while that awakening is frustratingly small at the moment, I have no doubt that it will increase over time and that this company, being positioned as it is, will benefit.

Their story starts in 2011, when Brad Page–one of the original partners in Coopersmith’s Pub and Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado–and Kathe Page opened Colorado Cider Company. This was early in the game–they were only the second commercial Colorado cidery behind Blossomwood–one of whose products I’ve reviewed here.

Since then, their flagship Glider Cider and other products such as Pome Mel (a cider made with honey, lavender and rosemary) and Pearsnickety have been popping up at liquor stores and tap houses around Colorado–introducing new generations of drinkers to a beverage that is not new at all, but rather quite old–hard cider, or just ‘cider’ as it was then known, was one of the most common alcoholic beverages of early America. Prohibition resulted in the destruction or neglect of much of the cider apple stock, and now we are only just beginning to rediscover this drink on a large scale.

Today’s event featured numerous ciders, a food truck, and was well-attended both inside and outside, as you can see here:

colorado_cider_interiorcolorado_cider_exterior_1

It also featured some very helpful and knowledgeable staff members who talked me through the products and the cider-making process (thanks, Chris and Cynthia!).

As far as the products go, there were a few noteworthy ciders and cysers (apples and honey fermented together) to be had. I especially enjoyed the Bear Mel (a cyser with only apple and honey, in contrast to Pome Mel, which has both plus herbs to boot), the oaked Glider, and, above all else, the Ol’ Stumpy:

  • Bear Mel works better for me than Pome Mel, because the lavendar and rosemary in the latter are just flat out confusing to my palate.  Bear Mel’s honey notes come through much better and I feel it’s the better product…I hope they consider keeping this one for the long term.
  • Oak-aged Glider Cider adds some body and earthiness to a cider that tends toward the unexciting due to the dessert and table apple blend that comprises it…it’s a good illustration of what barrel aging can accomplish, though the barrel component is relatively mild since these are wine barrels and not, say, whiskey barrels. Don’t think Bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout here; this is a lot more subtle, but noticeable.
  • Ol’ Stumpy is made from some traditional, bittersweet cider apples obtained from New Hampshire, blended with some table apple varieties and then aged in Chardonnay barrels. It is delightfully earthy, bitter, and astringent compared to the others…it’s almost like drinking both the apple and the branch it’s hanging from–leaves and all–rather than just the clarified essence of sweet apple. I realize that’s probably not the best sales pitch in the world, but it works for me. I should probably check my family tree for Beaver DNA.

The process part is where I tend to ramble on, so this is your cue to go play Farmville instead if that’s not your thing. Or…whatever else you had in mind that is less condescending than my suggestion. Please don’t hurt me.

Chris walked us through the outlines of their cider-making process, from taking delivery of apple juice–a blend of table and dessert apples from the Western Slope of Colorado, mostly, already ground and juiced–to fermenting in wine fermenters using a white wine yeast, to kegging and delivery.

They tend to ferment to dryness and then back-sweeten with apple juice after fermentation to re-balance the sweetness factor. This is pretty typical and efficient–there are other approaches that could be used to stop the fermentation before it completes–think cold crashing the yeast out of solution or keeving–thus leaving residual sugars from the original juice mixture, but in practice that can be difficult to achieve consistently. Some of their products, such as Glider, are lightly pasteurized (at relatively low temperatures to preserve flavor), to ensure that the product is safe and to prevent a spontaneous re-fermentation after sweetening the dry cider–I can attest to the value in this–I’ve had a few interesting experiences where dormant yeast re-awaken to eat any new sugar available and create massive CO2 pressure if this occurs in a confined space like, say, a bottle. The results can be explosive and quite dangerous.

They also tend to have their juicers sulfite the juices before delivering it. Except for those with sulfur sensitivities, this is a reasonable trade-off as the sulfites break down spontaneously but not before drastically decreasing the possibility of bacteria or wild yeast propagating during fermentation. That said, a completely wild fermentation (akin to putting an unpasteurized sweet cider in the fridge for a couple weeks and noticing that it’s suddenly self-carbonated and tangy) is frequently quite drinkable and safe, so I’ll leave that debate alone as far as what should be done to prep the juice.

Pictured here are a few of the fermenters used onsite:

colorado_cider_fermenters_croppedNote that these are rounded at the bottom–unlike with beer, their process doesn’t necessarily require the very expensive conical fermenters which are used to precipitate out, harvest, and re-use yeast from fermentations. It’s probably a good thing too, because conicals are very expensive and very hard to find these days–I’ve heard a few horror stories along the lines of finding them.

There’s more to talk about on the process side, but I’ll omit the rest in favor of the most interesting fact: the owners of Colorado Cider have planted 1000 cider apple trees near Hotchkiss, Colorado, with 2000 more to follow in the spring, so that they can create more traditional and/or tannic, earthy ciders in the future. While it will be several years before these trees produce, this is a great sign to me because, while they may be limited in their selection of cider apples today, it tells me they are committed in the long run to vastly improving their blends and delivering some outstanding ciders to their customers. Given how long I’ve waited for outstanding cider produced in Colorado, I can definitely wait for a couple more years to see what they do with this project.

Overall, I’m definitely glad I made the trip to Colorado Cider Company’s 2nd anniversary party. There was a good crowd there that was interested in cider–something that is refreshing to see–a good crew taking care of the guests, and a sense of more of the same to come. They are well positioned to remain at the center of this renaissance, at least as far as Colorado is concerned. Along the way, their customers will get more demanding, but I’m reasonably sure that they’re aware of this and are preparing for it.

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