What you see here is a very spartan account of what's going on. No nice graphics or photos or anything. Just the story.
Talisman Farm, in Hygiene, Colorado, is our home and the site of my cider orchard since 1996. As the orchard matured enough to produce enough juice for cidermaking, Mark Beran of Medovina Meadery in Niwot, Colorado, urged me to start working on "going commercial". Mark and I worked together for several years, producing cider with my juice and blending, at his winery and under his license. Mark helped me figure out what I needed to do, and what would work. We took a break of a few years while I worked on getting my own operation going. But in 2014 I had such an overwhelming harvest of apples, I wasn't ready for it. So again, Mark and I did collaborative ciders, two batches. All of these are described below under "Medovina's 'Just Cider'".
However, in November 2014 after the bountiful harvest, we had a sudden and severe cold spell, with the temperature dropping from daytime highs in the 70's F to a low of -18 F here in the space of a day. This caused severe damage in the orchard; I lost around 200 trees total (mostly 1- and 2-year trees, fortunately). BUT it gave a special opportunity: a lot of fruit froze on the trees, allowing the possibility of an "ice cider". I made a small batch and it came out pretty good, so I entered it in competition in 2016. I named it 'iCider', since my cidermaking interests have always been connected with the Web and Internet.
So what is an "ice cider"? The apples freeze on the trees. They're picked, allowed to thaw just a little bit, then pressed. A lot of the water of the juice stays frozen and is left behind, so the juice is very strong, concentrated in sugars, acidity, and flavor. The concentrated juice is then returned to containers outdoors which partially freeze overnight. The unfrozen juice is poured out of the center of the container and the water (ice) stays behind, concentrating it still further. This gets repeated a few nights.
[For the boffins: typical good juice for normal cider is SG about 1.050. Mine pressed out somewhere above 1.080 and concentrated to over 1.120.]
The process and idea is very much like an eiswein for grape wine: The resulting cider is strong, sweet, and intense. It's more like a cordial, meant for sipping.
This may sound interesting and perhaps even picturesque, but the reality is that until the cider is in the fermenter, it's mostly a cold pain in the butt! Unsurprisingly, the subzero cold was accompanied with snow. So I'm outside shaking apples off the trees, then fishing them out of the snow on the ground. Every time I shake a tree a bit, it brings a deluge of snow down on me, which is OK; that's what parkas are for. BUT it also brings down apples, and sometimes there's no help for needing to be under the tree. A frozen apple coming from high up the tree is no different from getting hit on the head with a half-pound rock dropped from ten feet. If I hadn't tasted good ice ciders, I would have given up. But I saw the promise.
And so I've got iCider, which is an experimental not-for-sale tiny batch for Talisman Farm Cidery, our in-progress cidery-in-planning (with paperwork and construction both in mid-stream).
Nothing elaborate here, just simple notes for the curious about Medovina's "Just Cider". This is a "hard" (fermented) cider, made from pure apple juice. We do not add sugar, water, flavorings, or colorings; it's just apple juice with yeast added to ferment it. We use a small amount of sulfite (just as in winemaking) to protect the cider.
It is a dry cider, meaning that all the sugar has been fermented out. The alcohol content is usually 7-7.5% by volume, which is a little more than half of the alcohol content of a table wine. Because of the types of apples we use, there is a tannic "backbone" to the character (just as in a red wine).
Carbonation: the 2014 and 2010 harvests are/were slightly petillant, but not sparkling. Previous years (2007-2009 harvests) had no carbonation beyond what remained from fermentation plus a bit from the bottling process.
2014 Harvest (500 ml with gold crown cap, 1504/260 on side label):
After some years off during which I was working on the orchard and my own cidery, Mark and I decided to work together again because of the magnificent 2014 harvest. The fifth "Just Cider" is being released in late July of 2015. 7.5% alcohol. All of the fruit for this cider came from our orchard. This cider is sharper (more tart) than our previous blends; you might find this either a bit challenging or more refreshing. Serve cool but not ice-cold.
If you have any of the following ciders around, it's time to drink up, or maybe a bit past time.
2010 Harvest (white bottlecap, 0462/214 on side label):
The fourth "Just Cider" was released in late April of 2011. 7.4% alcohol. All of the fruit came from our orchard in Hygiene. We feel this blend is more approachable for new cider drinkers than previous years, while still retaining the structure and complexity characteristic of true cider fruit.
2009 Harvest (black bottlecap, 9431/204 on side label):
The third "Just Cider" was released in July, 2010. 7.6% alcohol. This blend is somewhat more tannic than 2009, so perhaps more challenging to folks unfamiliar with this style, yet consequently more complex. 98% of the fruit for this blend came from our orchard.
2008 Harvest (White bottlecap, 8421/190 on side label):
The second "Just Cider" was released in August, 2009. 7.2% alcohol. We like this blend better than the 2008 release; we feel we've improved the balance. Time to drink up if you still have any.
2007 Harvest (Black bottlecap):
The first "Just Cider" was released in June, 2008. 7.5% alcohol. It has long been sold out. If you still have some, drink up; it's past its prime.
We suggest serving the cider cool but not cold. If it's too cold you'll miss the full character of the apples.
In the traditional cidermaking areas of southwestern England and northwestern France, pork is a favorite companion to cider. We also enjoy it with poultry and fish.
Cider will offset the richness of cream-based sauces. Also, you can cook with it, reducing it and combining with cream. This is also traditional because the major cidermaking areas also have a lot of dairy farming.
Many firm cheeses pair well with cider; mature cheddar is particularly nice.
We started out using some fruit from our own orchard at Talisman Farm, on the north side of Hygiene, Colorado, along with fruit from another cidermaker's orchard. Our orchard is now mature enough that we're using only our own fruit. All of the fruit was pressed at Talisman Farm; then the fermentation, aging, and bottling were carried out at Medovina in Niwot.
Ciders are normally blended from several varieties of apples; single-varietal ciders are uncommon. Indeed, blending is the cidermaker's art. The apples used for this cider are a combination of American and English varieties.
A few traditional cider varieties have considerable tannin, which gives astringency and bitterness, just as do the tannins in red wine grapes. This adds to the body and character of the cider, and gives it the beautiful gold color. (We do not add coloring!) Tannic apples are noted below as "bittersweet" or "bittersharp". Traditional uses are indicated as cider, dessert (table), multipurpose (eating, cooking, and/or cider).
The list below gives the main varieties we use, as available depending on the harvest:
All blends also contain small amounts of other varieties depending on what else the orchard offered us that would contribute to the blend.
No secrets! I'm not trying to keep the actual blends secret. If you're curious, drop me a note. It's just that it gets too tedious to keep entering a long list for each year. For example, the 2010 Harvest blend uses 8 main varieties plus small amounts of 7 more.
We welcome questions and comments about the cider. Email us at "farm at talisman dot com" (make the obvious substitutions).
Please re-use the bottles if you can, or recycle them if you can't. (We are not allowed to re-use them commercially.) Labels can be removed by soaking in warm water with a little bit of household ammonia. The caps can safely be re-used a few times. Caps and bottles are safe for moderate pressure.
I'm looking at how we will make our cider packaging much "greener". Granted, glass recycles, but there's a lot of energy used in manufacturing glass bottles, and still more in recycling.