As Summer slowly begins its stroll towards Chicago, it is time to start thinking about the eventual return of warmer weather and what we should be drinking when it finally arrives. And after Springs late arrival, I will also try to find a polite way to ask someone, if it is just me, or is he an awful lot shorter than I remember?
Warm weather brings plenty of change with a switch from big flavored imperial stouts and robust Cabernets to citrusy IPAs and crisp whites.
On a piping hot summer day, few things get the festivities started like a pint of hard apple cider. It is always clean, remarkably crisp and refreshing.
Fortunately, the Chicago market has an abundance of ciders. Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of preconceived notions about the drink that should first be debunked.
Yes, traditional hard ciders are sweet. The problem arises with the interpretation of the word sweet. Some think all cider is sweet in that cloying-faux green apple-Jolly Rancher sort of way. That flavor profile is an option, yes, but it is not the be all and end all in the flavor spectrum. Thank goodness.
Fortunately, other options are available. Where some people enjoy that green apple flavor, I prefer something dry. Most reputable cider makers will differentiate their products by putting the word dry on the label itself. Personally, I prefer this style because I believe it gives you the opportunity to actually taste the flavor of the apples themselves, instead of the additional sugar that is added to enhance their flavor. When selecting a cider, dont be afraid to ask for assistance from one of the friendly folks in the beer aisle and explain what it is you are looking for. Getting off on the right foot is the best way to establish a new flavor connection. It is also the best way to flee an angry crowd.
I had a cider recently that really stopped me in my tracks and I think would be an interesting recommendation for those people who enjoy structured white wines and the beer people who like a complicated Belgian sour. This was the second time I tried the bottle and I am still thinking about it.
Cidre Brut par Nature is the product of the Pays dAuge in the Calvados region of northwest France. It comes specifically from the farm of Julien Fremont, who works less than 30 acres of orchards. His methods are old world and the end result shows a complexity of flavor that could never be reproduced by using contemporary methods.
After popping the cork, the color in the glass showed me this wasnt going to be just any cider. It was golden orange with a cloudy and hazy body. The first taste reminded me of a Belgian sour; big, really tart but clean on the finish. There was plenty of action in the glass as it had an almost effervescent quality to it. This is the product of a secondary fermentation that takes place after the cider is bottled when the alcohol level hits 4.5%. This specific technique is where the Brut par Nature part of the name is born. It was still feisty and active, considering it was a 2008 vintage.
As it warmed up, it began to show oranges and citrus, but on the underside was a faint, smoked meat flavor that had me scratching my head. In a few minutes the flavor concentrated to an almost poached apple flavor with hints a firm pear as well. It was clean and sweet, with a profound mineral quality to it.
On the nose it stayed citrus, but being from Iowa, I could also pick up the smell of the pasture as well. The alcohol is high at 5.5%, giving it Cidre Brut classification for any cider over 5%.
It was interesting as the first time I tried this bottling, it had been opened and resealed the previous day. Even a day later, you got the big sour flavor, but the smoke was gone. Surprisingly, the flavor I came away with most was that of Camembert, a little musty, with a meaty and savory quality to it. The bottle was still very much alive.
For a food pairing, any of the cheeses of the Normandy region would work perfectly. Camembert, Livarot or Pont lEveque would be great place to start, as well as any ripe soft-ripened cheese like a Brie. Look for cheeses that have softened a little or have a little give to them. Look for some rust color around the rind. A funkier cheese would work better with this cider.
This certainly isnt a bottle for the beginner, but it would be an interesting selection to anyone looking to broaden their horizons in the world of cider, beer or wine. All it will take is a broad palate, and open mind and hopefully soon, some loungewear.
- Jeff Collins is the beer manager at the Lakeview Binny’s
Cidre Brut par Nature is available only at the Lakeview Binny’s location.