Earlier this week, I spoke on Heritage Radio Network about the evolution of the cider industry, where we came from and hopefully heading.
One point that we kept on coming back to is the diversity of cider and the cider industry's inability to translate that to the consumer. Cider often gets lumped together under a single heading, when in reality the range of flavors, personality and approaches found in ciders could not be more different.
I brought with me to the studio a new classic of the cider community: Redbyrd Still Barrel 2015.
Redbyrd Orchard Cider is based in the Finger Lakes, which to me, is the essential East Coast cider-producing region. They have built a classic high-acid, ripe cider that is easy to pick out among a crowd.
Redbyrd co-owner Eric Shatt is one of the most talented cider professionals in the region. Originally a nurseryman with a viticulture background, he now primarily focuses on apples. He and his wife Deva Maas maintain two small biodynamic orchards in Burdett, NY.
In addition to making these excellent ciders and running his personal orchard, Shatt manages the Cornell Orchards in Geneva.
Redbyrd's Still Barrel takes that distinct Finger Lakes style into overdrive. It is made from 15 percent Baldwin, 12 percent Newtown Pippen, 12 percent Dabinett, 12 percent Yarlington Mill with the balance of Roxbury Russet, Brown's, Tompkin's King, Wickson and an unnamed wild apple.
This full-bodied cider comes in at 8.7 percent ABV, which is right in line for many of Shatt's ciders. The cider is fermented and raised in-barrel with frequent batonnage. Batonnage is a typical wine making process where the lees (dead yeast cells that sink to the bottom) are reincorporated back into the cider. This leads to a creamy richness and texture that drinkers might closely associate with Chardonnay or other richer white wines.
Barrel-fermented cider, while certainly nothing new, is being reexamined by producers. The cider revolution emphasized the freshness and brightness of stainless steel tanks rather than the unpredictability of oak barrel. Cider speaks softer than wine so new oak can easily overwhelm even the most flavorful ciders.
Redbyrd Still Barrel is made in a mixture of older, neutral American and French oak that lead to a gentle oxidation and richness without heavy baking spice or vanilla flavors. This runs contrary to the recent of aging in Bourbon barrels that has dominated the craft beer world for the past few years. These heavily-scented intense oak treatments tend to dominate the beverage while the lighter oak in this cider offers more of a supporting role.
In the glass, this cider is brimming with ripe orchard and stone fruit which leads into more savory rocky and herbal aromas. On the palate, the cider is bone-dry but weighty; it has a demanding presence that tastes like licking Finger Lakes shale. Apples like Dabinett and Yarlington Mill offer excellent weight and tannins to the cider, while the citrus-driven Wickson lends a bright acid-driven finish that begins as soon as you take your first sip.
I can't recommend this cider enough-- but Shatt and Maas make only a limited quantity of cider, so supplies never last long.
Dan Pucci is the cider director at Wassail and considered New York City's first pommelier. Follow him on Instagram.