Whoever started aging cider in barrels, can I give you a hug? I love dry ciders and typically state-side they can be hard to find. The tendency is to go sweet and I prefer the taste of the real apple and fermentation. Then, when you take this style of cider and age it in a barrel, well, then you have a drink on par with champagne. I know champagne drinkers make be scoffing, but there is truly something wonderful that happens: caramel notes, full-bodied perfection, and something emerges from the barrel that is smooth and well balanced.
To illustrate my point, I have selected three barrel-aged ciders that have stood out over the last three years (which I have spent seeking out my favorite ciders). Please note, I have not tried them all, which is why I refer to these as recommendations, as opposed to my top three choices. Whether heading to a holiday party, meeting friends for a bonfire, or a night in watching a movie, consider a barrel-aged cider this fall and winter. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.
ROSS-ON-WYE RUM BARREL MEDIUM CIDER
Ross-on-Wye is a charming cider maker tucked away in one of my all-time favorite countries: Wales. In November 2013, I was lucky enough to do a tasting here, which transformed me into a cider snob for life (free tasting and poured straight from the barrel--heaven!). I adored all of their ciders and perrys that I tasted, but their Rum Barrel Medium Cider was one of the finest by far. The flavors include a hint of dried fruit (perhaps golden raisins) and nuts, and is reminiscent of traditional English cider.
Virtue Cider's The Mitten
Virtue Cider's The Mitten is consider a winter cider, a blend of last season's best, aged in bourbon barrels, with the new season’s fresh pressed apple juice. This Michigan cider (hence the name) has notes of vanilla, caramel, and charred American oak. The addition of the new season's fresh pressed gives it the right balance - not too tart or sweet. As they say "The Mitten to keep us warm and happy through the long, cold night."
Island Orchard Oak Aged Cider
Island Orchard currently has four ciders available (a Brut Apple Cider, Pear Cider, Apple Cherry Cider, and the Oak Aged Cider). All of them are worth a taste (as I stumbled upon a tasting a few months ago in my neighborhood). The Oak Aged Cider, however, stands out as a champagne of ciders: "Full bodied. Dry, round, and robust." They make this cider by aging their Brut Apple Cider in French oak for an additional three months. Plus the bottle is completely reusable. Tasty and environmentally conscious.