A cider session with Farnum Hill Ciders of Lebanon, New Hampshire
Steve Wood was one of the first cidermakers in America to reintroduce us all to a drink that we nearly forgot in the fall out that followed Prohibition: A dry, balanced wine-like beverage in which the apple shines through, and the cider is an authentic expression of the place where the apple is grown.
Wood laughs about being known as "the godfather of the New American cider" (Wine Spectator said that), but it's true: If you know about American heritage orchard cider, you know about Steve Wood and his co-founder Louisa Spencer and what they started at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire over thirty years ago.
In September, cidrbox subscribers received an assortment of the ciders that created all that fuss, powered by the alchemy of apples that made the Farnum Hill name famous: Kingston Black. Dabinett. Ellis Bitter. Golden Russet. Wickson. Médaille d'Or. And more.
When we visited Steve and Louisa at Poverty Lane Orchards in the middle of a remarkably warm September—where the first of the Ellis Bitter harvest had just begun—we also sat down with the Farnum Hill cidermaking crew to taste the cider assortment that Steve curated for our cidrbox subscribers.
At Farnum Hill the cider tasting is regular and rigorous: A small team of tasters are closely involved in the on-going evaluation of each fermentation batch, sharing notes, and directing the blending of Farnum Hill's fine orchard ciders. In the audio clip above, cidermaker Nicole Leibon and Louisa speak to the sensory analysis muscle that they and their colleagues have developed over time, and you'll experience what that muscle is like in the tasting notes that follow below. The voices that you hear belong to Steve Wood, Louisa Spencer, Nicole Leibon, Wanda Loynds, and Ryan Bishop.
The team sticks closely to a descriptive analysis of the beverage in the glass, with very little hedonistic commentary on the experience or the possible causes behind the resulting beverage, while Nicole takes rigorous notes in the spiral bound Cider notebook that lives in the barn where the work is done.
All of this effort is to ensure that every glass of Farnum Hill Cider that you pour meets your expectations of what that glass should hold and so that you—without bother or fuss—may simply enjoy what Steve calls: "the pure pleasure of it."
Farnum Hill Extra Dry Still • 750ML • 7.5% ABV • Still and dry • Sharp and tannic • Bright balance of tannin, fruit and tartness • Strawberries and mixed berry fruit on the palate
Pale-gold and radically dry, Extra Dry Still displays its richness and range of fruit more vividly than Extra Dry, simply because no peppy prickly bubble sensation can intervene. Beautifully highlights the flavors of food: Try it with grilled trout or other mild fish, chicken piccata, or pork schnitzel with warm potato salad. Also pairs well with mushrooms, artichokes, Thai or Indian curries and even a simple baked potato.
Farnum Hill Extra Dry (Sparkling) • 750ML • 7.5%ABV • Bone dry and sparkling • Bright balance of fruit, tannin, and tartness • Rich aromatics suggest fruits of the earth and the earth itself • Generous, subtle progression of flavor • Pairs well with food traditionally paired with red wine
Farnum Hill Extra Dry does a keen, clean, fruity, aromatic number, lighting up food flavors. The light bubbles and touch of acid are a cheery greeting, and they’d be a perfect accompaniment to many appetizers and finger foods, including chunks of provolone or scoops of smelly, runny Epoisse on slices of fresh baguette; herring in cream sauce; brie and malt vinegar-pickled onions, and, more on the meal side, rich pork carnitas or smoked gouda carbonara.
Farnum Hill 2015 Kingston Black Reserve (Still) • 750 ML • 8.5% ABV • Golden, still and dry • Special reserve, limited release • 100% Kingston Black bittersharp cider apples • Muskmelon, orange peel, bittersweet apple, candle flame on the nose • Lends savor and vividness to food—recommend pairing with subtle dishes • Made from the temperamental Kingston Black apple, long treasured in the UK, as a single-variety cider fruit for its rare balance of tannin, sugar, and acid. In old apple variety names, black describes an apple that is extremely dark red.
Farnum Hill’s Kingston Black Reserve pairs well with fatty cured meats, such as sopressata, prosciutto, or spicy capicola; with fatty fish such as roast salmon in this mustard-y preparation, or a rich Toulouse-style cassoulet, followed by a gullet-clearing handful of green grapes or a ripe fig.
Farnum Hill Semi-Dry (Sparkling) • 750ML • 7.4% ABV • Golden and clear • Gently sparkling • Tropical fruit, citrus and intriguing aromatic, sharp and tannic notes • Clean, fresh finish • On Farnum Hill, that much-abused word “dry” is taken literally, so the semi-dry balances the gentlest sweetness against sharpness, astringency, and fruit (which is different from sweet)
The sparkling Semi-Dry Pairs well with seafood, cheeses, ham, egg-based dishes, crepes—even desserts like fruit tarts and custards • Bracing enough to accompany grilled rib-eye steaks, pre-salted and peppered, warmed to room temperature, and flash-grilled to a delightful medium rare, or accompanying a hearty choucroute garnie.
Cidrbox.com connects people seeking orchard-driven cider with cidermakers who are a credit to their craft. Each month we visit a single, distinctive American heritage orchard — where small producers grow their own apples and fresh press and ferment their cider like fine wine — and we ship their cider direct to our subscribers. We also sit down for a cidertasting with the maker, which we share with you here at cidersessions.com.
Join us in October when we will feature Dragon's Head Cider from the Pacific Northwest.
p.s. When we say cider, we mean hard cider: Artful fermentations of heirloom apples by master cidermakers. You must be at least 21 to drink what we deliver, and you will be asked for your ID and signature at the door.