Like JK Scrumpy’s Northern Neighbor, its Orchard Gate Gold cider has a crisp, tannic snap that I love. It doesn’t have the intense wild apple character that Northern Neighbor does, but it’s definitely chock full of cider apples. This would be an almost flawless example of a classic hard cider except for the fact that it’s very sweet. So is Northern Neighbor, but while the latter has such wild apple intensity that the sweetness becomes a familiar element you want to hold onto, here it comes through a too powerfully against the backdrop of a balanced cider blend.
Orchard Gate Gold is unfiltered, un-sulfited, and organic, with no sweetener besides the juice itself. This is a far cry from the manipulation that goes on with mass-produced cider. The residual sugar content implies that they are either crashing the yeast (quickly cooling the fermenting cider down so much that the yeast goes dormant and precipitates out) or they are back-sweetening it with apple juice after the fermentation. Presumably they are doing the former, as the latter would generally require the addition of potassium sorbate—which doesn’t appear on the ingredient list—to stop further fermentation after bottling the cider (a bottle fermentation would be disastrous with a cider this sweet because the carbon dioxide buildup in the sealed container would cause the bottles to explode). More to come on potassium sorbate in the future when we talk about making cider at home—it’s how you sweeten a cider without killing yourself with bottle bombs (Note: Don’t kill yourself with bottle bombs.).
This cider clocks in at 6% alcohol, which is about 1% less than you’d get if you let an apple juice ferment out completely. As a point of comparison, I measured the sugar content of Orchard Gate Gold with a hydrometer—the reading was1.050, which—after fermentation—is almost identical to the sugar reading I took off the apple juice that I have delivered by my dairy. In other words, it’s as sweet after fermentation as a typical apple juice is without any fermentation involved. How sweet? 1.050 corresponds roughly with a pound of sugar dissolved in a gallon of water. Orchard Gate Gold must start out as an intensely sweet juice before fermentation to have that end result without the use of concentrates to back-sweeten it after fermentation. By comparison, my ciders tend to ferment out to 1.000 on the hydrometer –the density of water–with no residual sugar at all. Unsurprisingly, in that case the alcohol level is higher.
So, the overall takeaway is this: Orchard Gate Gold is an excellent, complex, natural cider: it’s just too sweet for my taste. If I could get it in bulk for cheap (instead of in bombers only at a premium, as is the reality), I’d be tempted to re-ferment some of it to see where I could take the flavor. Oh, well…
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