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BOM Club Tasting Notes: October 2015

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PlumpJack Wine & Spirits brings you the beer club tasting notes for October. This month, we’re taking a quick break from beer to feature two apple ciders. Dupont’s is a traditional Norman cider (as in Normandy, France) with protected designation of origin status. The second bottle, West County’s Redfield, is a rose-hued varietal cider from the New World (Western Mass., on the Vermont border, to be exact). Each is a delicious sip of the orchard and a great partner at the autumn dinner table.nike free run sale

Cheers!

Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone


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Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie 2014 Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France 5.5% ABV
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The Norman countryside is filled with dairy cows, rolling pasture, and orchards full of apple and pear trees. For centuries, farmers have been making ciders and perries from the fruit and pairing it with dishes full of cheese and cream. Calvados and Pays d’Auge are two sub-regions of central Normandy, and both are famous also for their apple and pear brandies, known collectively as Calvados, distilled from cider and perry. The French government has recognized the cider from this green, fertile region of France as having tradition, terroir, and quality, and has protected its heritage and future with an AOC — appellation d’origine controllee — to regulate its production and promote its uniqueness. Etienne Dupont was one of the principal boosters of the AOC designation
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has been producing ciders and Calvados under the guidance of a Dupont family member since 1887. They grow 13 varieties of apples, categorizing each as either bitter, bittersweet, sweet, or acid. They celebrate Pays d’Auge terroir, describing the area’s soil as nutrient-poor and full of chalk, clay, and marl, which produces small, intense fruit. (More generous soil would yield bigger, less-concentrated fruit filled with water.) Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie is the producer’s entry-level cider, a tasty, quaffable, sparkling cider. They also produce cider aged in oak, fortified sweet ciders, and Calvados. For the Brut de Normandie, they harvest and press estate-grown apples, then make a blend that is 80% juice from “bittersweet” apples and 20% juice from “acid” (sour) apples. In another nod to terroir, they ferment the juice with indigenous yeasts; that is, the yeast or “bloom” that naturally resides on the apple skins. After fermentation, they bottle-condition the cider, bottling it with live yeast that will produce the carbonation and more fermentation flavors directly inside the bottle. In French, bouchon means “cork,” and cidre bouché refers to this cider that is “corked” or “under cork.” The combination of live yeast in the bottle, the cork packaging, and single-vintage dating (2014, in our case), allows for the cider to age, mellow, and cellar, attaining a slightly damp, musty, leathery note that is complex and très français. (French farmhouse beers, or bières de garde, are known for this character, as well.) The cider drinks with complexity but accessibility. It has residual sweetness — about 5% apple fructose by weight — which the Duponts liken to the apple-y, caramelly flavors of another local specialty: the baked apple dessert called tarte tatin.
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Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie pours a rich honey yellow beneath a tempest of frothy white foam. The initial foam subsides, but a persistent stream of perlage continues to bubble forth. Scents of fruit, flowers, and bread rise from the glass: a Norman bouquet of baked apple, anise, meyer lemon, and bready, yeasty sparkling wine. The palate is off-dry, offering a pleasant nectar sweetness that softens the apples’ acidity and slight bitterness as well as the carbonation’s tingle. The French prize the flavor of noyaux, the meaty nut at the center of an apricot pit; this cider exhibits flavors of noyaux and bread dough from the wisps of spent yeast and apple lees residing at the bottom of the bottle. Slight dampness and mustiness show a bit of this cider’s age. Rather than showing bracing, vibrant apple freshness, this bottle has mellowed and gained complexity with age. Subtle tannins linger on the tongue, offering a structure and astringency that beg for another sip of this enjoyable cider. Pair it at the start of a meal with charcuterie and cheese — the more French and Norman the better, to appreciate the terroir: rabbit rillettes, pâte de campagne, good Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, etc. The Normans cook with cider, too, enjoying it in cidery cream sauces to accompany chicken or seafood. Sautéing some skin-on chicken in butter and shallots, then deglazing the pan with cider and simmering with some cream and fresh thyme would be a simple, delicious partner for a glass of Dupont cidre.
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Redfield Cider West County Cider, Colrain, Massachusetts, United States 6.6% ABV  
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Move a family of Northern California winemakers to the Berkshire mountains, and you get a family with a love of the land and a passion for flavor, along with a thirst for grapes that can’t be quenched. Missing their vineyard, the Terry and Judith Maloney, along with their son, Field, got some tips from their rural neighbors and tried their hand at fermenting apples into cider. From their first harvest in 1972, they were hooked, and by 1984, they made their first commercial sales. Legally registered as a winery, these cider revivalists claim to be the first US winery to specialize in hard cider.
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Their orchards have expanded in the ensuing years, and now with 1400 apple trees, they produce a handful of varietal ciders that they ferment and bottle in their farmhouse cellar. A varietal cider, just like a varietal wine, is a cider made from a single apple variety, showcasing all the nuances of that apple. Most cideries make blends, using the juice of several different apples to get tannic structure from one, fermentable sugars from another, bright acidity from yet another, and a variety of flavors from all of them. Most cider apples, as opposed to table apples that you eat out-of-hand, are too tannic and sour to be enjoyable when eaten. They can make for great cider, when allowed to ferment and age properly, which shows the cider maker’s skill. Redfield is an apple variety that is known in the cider world for its crimson-colored flesh, searing acidity, and bold tannins — pretty to look at it, terrible to eat, and a challenge to turn into a varietal cider. Developed in New York state in 1938, the apple is a cross between a Wolf River Apple and a Niedzwetzskayana Red Crabapple. (Obviously.)

The Maloneys make two different Redfield ciders: a Redfield varietal and a Redfield/Golden Delicious blend that’s 75% Redfield with 25% Golden Delicious; evidently, some drinkers find the Redfield to be too intense an apple to be fully tamed on its own in a bottle of cider. Your bottle of Redfield is the pure varietal, and so the Redfield’s personality (red hue, bright malic acid, firm tannins, and sweet-savory flavor) is powerfully on display in this cider. Furthermore, the Maloneys ferment it with neutral commercial yeast, rather than an indigenous yeast that might muddy the waters with its own flavors. (To taste some more of West County’s terroir, their Kingston Black varietal cider is fermented with wild yeast.) It’s not just the Redfield apple’s character that’s on display, here, but also the Maloneys’ impressive cider making skills, in order to make this Redfield so a smooth and elegant a cider, certainly not as sour and austere as some ciders can be, nor as tannic and coarse as others.
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Redfield pours an elegant salmon rose color, topped with a hint of bubbly pink lace. The delicate nose shows cut apple, persimmon, grass, and chamomile, along with sweet-savory hints of roasted carrots and winter squash. It tastes clean and pure, a perfectly apple-y, refreshing juice at first. Then more intriguing flavors of chestnut, cucumber, and blood orange chime in, intermingling with the smooth acidity and firm tannins. With its restrained carbonation and savory flavors, it has less in common with most bright, zesty ciders and instead recalls an Italian rosato wine — a negroamaro rosato, perhaps. It’s delicious, complex, and shows an alluring, romantic side of cider. Pair this with grains, mushrooms, and dairy products, allowing the cider to provide savory harmony and fruity counterpoint to the pairing. Tagliatelle with creamy-mushroom sauce and truffle (either truffle oil or the real thing — November is white truffle season, after all); squash ravioli with chestnuts and brown butter; a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough; pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, and good salame; or even a quesadilla with queso fresco, chicken, and cilantro would all be great partners with this cider.

 

BOM Club Tasting Notes: August 2015

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PlumpJack Wine & Spirits brings you this month’s beer club tasting notes for August. This month, we look at English craft beer from two different angles. In Coniston Bluebird Bitter, we’ve got a fairly traditional British beer, but its high bitterness takes it a shade beyond the balanced approach of so many British bitters, and the brewery, which opened in 1995, is one of the pioneers of the English beer revival. The second beer for this month is Modus Vivendi, The Wild Beer Company’s flagship English old ale soured with wild Brettanomyces yeast and aged for months in used wine and bourbon barrels. It taps into a sourness more famous in Belgium and the US, but with a yeast that is wildly English.nike free 3.0 v2

Cheers!

Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone

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It’s 2015, and English craft beer brewed has fully come into its own. It’s making waves in pubs, shops, and the media, and the beers are even starting to make their way to the US. In 2014, Britain had about 1,300 breweries, and most of them stick to traditional English ales (which are “craft” in their own right, having never slid entirely into industrial mediocrity the way American beer did prior to starting the craft revolution). Traditional English ales are often about balance, subtlety, and, well, tradition. The English craft brewers of today are brewing with American hops, higher bitterness, wild yeasts, non-traditional ingredients, while cobbling nooks for their oak barrels and second-hand dairy equipment and revitalizing urban cores and country barns alike. Frankly, English craft brewers are hard to differentiate from their Yankee counterparts, which shows how far craft beer culture has come in what many regard as a stodgy, albeit high-quality, beer culture. The more esoteric and extreme beers didn’t happen overnight, though, and pioneering breweries like Coniston Brewing Co. helped lay the foundation for flashier brewers like The Wild Beer Co.

Bluebird Bitter Coniston Brewing Company, Coniston, Cumbria, UK   4.2% ABV   
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ConistaBrewing Tucked in the center of the cozy town of Coniston in the Lake District National Park is Coniston Brewing Co., nestled on the shore of Coniston Water (that’s English for “lake,” to you and me). Ronald and Susan Bradley owned the Black Bull, the town’s 400-year-old pub, and in 1994 they opened a small brewery in a building behind the Black Bull in order to provide fresh beer for the pub.
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They hired their son, Ian Bradley, as brewmaster, and retained brewing consultant David Smith to write the recipes. Within just a couple years, David’s flagship bitter recipe brewed by Ian won Britain’s highest beer award: it was crowned Champion Beer of Britain at the 1998 Great British Beer Festival. The beer is a triumph of English malts, English hops, and English yeast: incredible biscuity maltiness from heirloom Maris Otter malts mingles with orangey, earthy bitterness from classic Challenger hops, while subtle poached pear aromas from the yeast soften the bitterness and garnish the malts. I was surprised to learn that Bluebird’s name is actually more macabre than bucolic: “Bluebird K7” was the rocket boat piloted by daredevil Donald Campbell, who died in 1967 in a famous boating accident at 300 miles per hour on Coniston Water.
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Virtually every British brewery brews a “bitter,” often called an ordinary bitter to distinguish it from the brewery’s slightly stronger bitters, which in turn sport names like best, special, premium, and extra special. While Bluebird Bitter does, in fact, taste bitter, not all bitters are markedly bitter. Bitter, as a style of ale, earned that moniker in the 1930s and 1940s, decades after porter and IPA had had their heyday and wartime rationing and ingredient taxation had reduced much English beer to low alcohol and low bitterness levels. In a time of fewer and fewer beer choices, English pub-goers ordered either “mild” ale or “bitter” ale, two colloquial names that eventually coalesced into distinct beer styles.
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While Bluebird doesn’t set out to be a self-styled “craft beer,” it shows its crafty soul in upending a complacent English beer cart, a beer envisioned in a 1990s brewpub as a single-hop beer charged with the boldness of more than 35 bitterness units (more than most pilsners). If Bluebird was a wake-up call to the steadily diminishing character of English ordinary bitters, Coniston used its momentum and offering more craft brewery calling cards, such as a slightly stronger Bluebird XB with American-grown Mount Hood hops, a crisp, decidedly un-English Continental pilsner, as well as a towering, 8.5%-ABV barley wine (which was crowned Champion Beer of Britain in 2012). But it all started with Bluebird Bitter, still a classic expression of characterful English brewing.
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Pour Coniston Bluebird Bitter in a large glass and make sure sure you let it warm up a bit from refrigerator temperature. Like many English ales, it’s way too tight at fridge temperature, and only shows its soft maltiness and the fruitiness of its hops and yeast when it’s warmer than 45 degrees; 55 is perfect. It’s a gorgeous burnished orange color with a persistent white head of foam. It smells like pears, dried orange, biscuits, and a hint of waffle with butter and maple syrup. A sip of it greets your palate with pronounced, black-tea-like bitterness, a bright Pippin apple freshness, along with dashes of bread dough, woody thyme, and ginseng. Complex, savory yeast flavor and a whisper of salty, sulfate minerality accompany the finish. It’s light in body but bready at the same time, amazingly smooth and plush for only 4.2% ABV (on cask in Britain, it’s even lower alcohol at 3.6% ABV). Pair this, as brewer Ian does, with fish and chips, or else enjoy its versatility with cheeses, veggie lasagna bianca, saag paneer, or falafel and baba ghanoush. In addition to fried food and cooked veggies, it finds great harmony with minerally foods like asparagus, artichokes, and even seaweedy ramen and hijiki salad.
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Modus Vivendi The Wild Beer Company, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, UK   7.0% ABV

Beer is generally made from four ingredients: water, malted grain, hops, and yeast. Brewers Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis founded The Wild Beer Company to brew each of their beers with a “5th ingredient,” be it fruit, oak, or time. When they became drinking buddies, Cooper was training to be a certified Beer Sommelier (a European Cicerone equivalent) and Ellis was an out-of-work California chef who had moved to the UK to marry his English girlfriend. They homebrewed and mused over pints, finally having their eureka! moments while drinking Jolly Pumpkin La Roja and George Gale’s Prize Old Ale. La Roja, from a Michigan craft brewery, was oak-aged, winey, toasty, delicious and beguiling; Gale’s Old Ale is sherryish, toffeeish, and tastes like dates dipped in wine. These are beer flavors and attitudes Cooper and Ellis decided were too rare in England, so they opened their own craft brewery to do something about it.
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To harness the ever-elusive 5th ingredient, Cooper and Ellis tap into a variety of influences, including Ellis’s culinary training, Cooper’s knowledge of beer history, and the terroir of Somerset’s dairy and apple country, south of Bristol and Bath, where the brewery is located. Their proof-of-concept beer is aptly called Modus Operandi, though in the States it’s sold as Modus Vivendi (I can’t find the reasoning online, but my guess is that Ska Brewing Co., Colorado-based brewer of Modus Hoperandi IPA, encouraged the renaming). Modus Operandi/Vivendi is based on a traditional English old ale, a chewy, malty, toffeeish ale often brewed as a winter warmer. Old ales age well, and they tend to develop some winey, sherryish acidity with age, sometimes with a tinge of Brettanomyces yeast. Brettanomyces is Latin for “British fungus,” and while Belgium is more famous for its Brett-influenced sour ales, when Brett was first identified under a microscope, it had been harvested from aged English old ales and stock ales, which often have subtle scents of cellar, wool, and dust (and sometimes pineapple or Juicy Fruit flavors) and a touch of lactic acidity. The barnyardy and horsy flavors Brett is known for are from Brettanomyces species cultivated in Belgium; the British strains on the other hand tend to be less feral in flavor. In 2012, Cooper and Ellis toured the orchards near their farm brewery, picking apples and fermenting them into cider using only the wild, indigenous yeasts and beneficial bacteria on the apple skins. Then they pitched the resulting mixed yeast-bacteria culture into their first batch of old ale and let it age for 3 months in barrels, allowing it to transform into the mature, sour, oaky, terroir-driven Modus Operandi/Vivendi. They first used bourbon barrels for the aging, but found the finished beer lacked some of the desired fruitiness and complexity, and now they age in a mixture of bourbon barrels and red Burgundy wine barrels from Le Grappin. In a 2014 interview with The Grill And Barrel blog, Ellis summed up Modus Operandi quite nicely: “It is the beer that Andrew and I built the brewery to brew and we are only now getting to know that beer.”
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Modus Vivendi pours an attractive garnet brown-mahogany beneath an off-white head of fine bubbles. Immediately, the bouquet promises a complex beer, showing scents of strawberry, hazelnut, chocolate, sherry, licorice root, and rooibos tea. On the palate, it invites you more deeply down the rabbit hole, showing sourness like goat cheese and Balsamic vinegar, the brambly earthiness of an aged red Rioja, and echoes of once-raisiny, once-toffeeish malts that have fermented to a tart, winey dryness. Barrel-aging has dropped out the classic balance and malty treacle of this English stock old ale, and it has emerged from the chrysalis poised, lean, and muscular, trading tradition for attitude in a brave new world of English beer. Pair this beer with rich, earthy dishes, like roast chicken with mushroom sauce, apples and sheep’s milk cheese, New England clam chowder, or Issan-style catfish — sweet, sour, salty, and pungent with garlic and fish sauce.