It's apple season. Apple cider just seems to go with the air's light chill and the slow change of colors. While the cider-making process is closer to how wine is made, the finished product seems more akin to beer. Poured into a pint glass, it radiates lovely golden hues while tiny bubbles rise from the bottom. Left unfiltered, cider can even assume the yeasty haze of German wheat beers.
Aspall English cider -- they spell it cyder -- is infused with history and tradition. The Chevallier family has been making cider at Aspall Hall in Suffolk, England, since 1725. The cidery is currently managed by eighth-generation descendants of the founder. The orchards are anchored by a moat-ringed manor house dating to the 1400s.
Aspall's ciders are made as they have always been, from 100 percent fresh-pressed apple juice. The modern practice of adding concentrates goes against family principles. A blend of Old World cider apples is used, including Cox, Bramley and Bittersweet, to achieve the desired mix of sweetness, astringency and acidity.
Aspall is available here in four varieties: Dry, Organic, Demi-Sec and Perronelle's Blush, made with a dash of blackberry liqueur. Aspall Dry is light and vinous, with fresh apple flavor. A sweet start gives way to a gently tart, dry finish. It is a spritzy, champagne-like drink that would be a nice refresher for a weekend afternoon on the patio.
Aspall Organic, with a higher percentage of the astringent Bittersweet apple varieties, harks back to the ciders that would have been made on the estate in previous generations. Rougher around the edges and a touch sweeter, its earthy underpinnings make it my favorite of the lot.
Demi-sec and Perronelle's Blush are the sweetest of the bunch. Apple juice added post-fermentation gives them more apple flavor than the others. The blackberry liqueur makes the blush particularly sweet and fruity. It would be a great dessert cider.
Old mixed with new
Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider shares one commonality with Aspall. Its ciders are made from fresh-pressed juice only, no added concentrates. But where Aspall is rooted in Old World tradition, Crispin embraces New World innovation. It makes ciders that push at the boundaries of tradition and explore what lies beyond the known.
With its Artisanal Reserve line Crispin takes cues from this country's innovative craft-beer industry. Three of the ciders in the series are fermented with beer yeast. The Saint uses a Trappist yeast strain, the same yeast responsible for the distinctive flavors of Belgian beers. It yields undercurrents of marshmallow, herbs and vanilla that complement the red apple skin flavor. A touch of maple syrup leaves a lingering sweetness in the finish.
Lansdown is made with molasses and fermented with Irish ale yeast like that used for Guinness. This one is ideal for October in Minnesota. Dark and rich with suggestions of burnt sugar, it brought to mind my grandmother's home-made apple butter. One can almost taste roasted barley in the background.
Cho-Tokkyu is the newest addition to the line. Fermented with sake yeast, it has earthy and floral notes that almost overwhelm the apple. It just barely maintains equilibrium between fruit and yeast flavors. The addition of highly fermentable rice syrup leaves it extraordinarily dry. It's highly unique.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.