Downeast Cider House: visit recap

After my business trip was over, I extended my stay in Boston to visit Downeast Cider House located in East Boston. My extra day was Tuesday, exactly the day when their taproom is closed. So I sent an email to the Downeast Cider team and explained the situation. Luckily, Max replied that he would be happy to meet me at the taproom and sample a few ciders with me.

img_0116As for some background information, the first time I came to Boston two years ago, cider from the Downeast Cider House was the first Boston cider I have ever tried. And, frankly speaking, I instantly fell in love with. Furthermore, I was so fascinated with their cider that I even considered applying for the position of cider maker, which was open at the time. Downeast Cider House was established in 2011 by two college students Ross and Tyler who instead of taking the exams and graduating, prefered to make hard cider. Over the years the company has grown and expanded and the production site had to move from the first location in Back Bay to East Boston. As for the visit, Max let me try their regular ciders and special releases. Afterwards, Max gave me a tour of their premises and explained all production steps.
img_0135For their cider, the Downeast Cider team uses culinary and table apples such as McIntosh, Red Delicious, Cortland or Gala, which come from Massachusetts and surrounding states. The juice is pressed at the orchards and delivered to the facility in East Boston where it is fermented with a pale ale yeast. img_0132Once the sugar concentration drops to the desired level, cider is pasteurised at high temperature for 30 seconds. Subsequently, cider is either canned or eventually matured in barrels (special releases).

Their current canning line is capable of producing 90 cans per minute so during a 10-hour shift they can get lots of cider into cans! Also, Downeast Cider wants to upgrade their canning line with the beginning of the new year to a more effective canning line capable of producing 200 cans per minute.img_0137

img_0117In their taproom, I’ve tried their Original Blend (their flagship cider), which is the first cider they ever released, Double Blend, Drier Side, Aloha Friday (with pineapple juice), Drier Side Hopped Grapefruit, Celebracion (special release blended with lime and aged in tequila barrels), and Hard Arnold (special release blended with Earl Grey tea). I don’t have any detailed tasting notes for you as most of the time I was speaking to Max and asking all the details related to their cider production. But, you could tell that the Original Blend is used as the base for all of the ciders from their range. All ciders were unfiltered, with a similar level of sweetness, except for Drier Side, as well as the tartness. They were all dangerously easily drinkable and very tasty, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they were very complex or full-bodied. But they tasted good anyway. Only, I was the least fond of the Drier Side, which was very watery and thin. But as for my favourite, I couldn’t really decide between Double Blend, Drier Side Hopped Grapefruit, Celebracion and Hard Arnold. In the end, I thought that the Double Blend was my personal favourite.

I wish to thank Max from the Downeast Cider House for letting me try their ciders in the tap room, explaining all production steps and showing me around. Also, for being patient and answering my countless questions.  Should I ever return to Boston, I’ll try to visit the taproom during opening hours.

For more information about the cider scene in Boston and tasting notes of the Original Blend and X Cunard No 44 from Downeast Cider, read my latest blog post.

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Cider scene in Boston, MA + tasting notes

Imagine my excitement when my company asked me to travel overseas to Boston. Although I have already been to Boston two years ago and tried a few local ciders, I didn’t really focus on the cider scene that much at the time. So once my business meetings were over, I went on a cider exploration.img_0149Unfortunately, Boston doesn’t have a cider bar dedicated only to cider. But from my observation, cider is offered in almost every bar/pub or restaurant in Boston. Most cider brands that you can find include local cider makers from Massachusetts, New England or at least from the East Coast. Only Irish pubs seemed to traditionally stick to Magners. In addition, you may also visit one of the taprooms run by local cider makers, Bantam or Downeast Cider and try their flagship ciders or special releases.

As for retailers, most supermarkets or liquor stores carry cider in 4-packs, which for someone like me who wants to sample more, without drinking more is a problem as none of the vendors agreed to break up a 4-pack for me and sell a single can. This forced me to sample cider in restaurants and bars.

Here is what I’ve tried during my visit to Boston:

Prospect Ciderworks Paradise (ABV 6%; 9 USD per 473.18 mL can in Babbo Pizzeria)img_0053

Prospect Ciderworks is based in the South of Boston. Paradise is a cider made with orange peel and grains of paradise and fermented with a Belgian ale yeast. It’s a tribute to Belgian Witbier. Appearance: very cloudy, yellow, lightly sparkling, no foam. Medium body. Aroma: orange, cloves, yeasty, bubble gum, a bit of coriander-like note. Taste: medium dry with low to medium acidity, Campari taste, orange, a touch of bitterness. Overall: Interesting, smells like a witbier but tastes like a Campari based cocktail. The taste finishes quickly and doesn’t linger on. No apple flavour at all. But I wouldn’t mind having it again. 3.5/6

Citizen Cider The Dirty Mayor (ABV 5.2%; 7 USD per 473.18 mL can in Back Bay Social Club)img_0076

Citizen Cider was established in 2010 and comes from Vermont. Their Dirty Mayor is a ginger-infused cider. Appearance: clear, pale straw, no carbonation, no foam. Low to medium body. There are signs of carbonation when I pour it into a glass. Aroma: ginger beer, fresh yellow apples with a hint of green apples. Very nice and clean nose. A hint of honey. Taste: medium dry with low acidity, light spiciness, freshly picked green and yellow apples, light watery, no astringency. Overall: It tastes like a ginger beer mixed with some apples. Pleasantly spicy, but not overly spicy hot. Good length. Could be less sweet to my palate. Paired well with oysters. I could have it again. 4/6

Citizen Cider Unified Press (ABV 5.2%; 7 USD per pint in Vito’s Tavern)img_0107

Another cider from Citizen Cider. Unified Press is their flagship cider made from locally sourced apples. Appearance: clear, pale golden, lightly sparkling, no foam. Low body. Aroma: fresh green apples. Nothing more I can get. Taste: medium dry with low to medium acidity, lightly vinous, fresh green apples, Granny Smith apples, low apple-seed bitterness. Overall: After tasting the Dirty Mayor from their range, I had similarly high expectations but their Unified Press disappointed me. It tastes ok but doesn’t stand out in any way. I wouldn’t buy it again. 2.5/6

Angry Orchard Strawman (ABV 10%; 14.99 USD per 750 mL bottle from Star)
img_0097Angry Orchard doesn’t need any introduction. Their Strawman comes from their Ciderhouse collection. It is a blend of culinary and bittersweet apples from Italy and France (likely concentrate?) that was aged on oak. Appearance: cloudy, dark amber, high carbonation with large foam that only slowly dissipates. Low to medium body. Aroma: sweet apple juice, apple mousse, baked apples, apple pie. Taste: dry with high acidity, medium astringency, lemon, fresh green and red apples. Alcohol note, light bitterness, light bitterness, apple skins, vanilla and brandy notes. The taste lingers on. Overall: it’s a farmhouse style cider so it’s clearly not for every palate. It is different to any European cider I’ve tried so far. I can imagine it would pair well with food. Very enjoyable. I could have it again. 4/6

Downeast Cider Original Blend (ABV 5.1%; 7 USD per pint can in Shay’s Pub and Wine)img_0173

Downeast Cider is based in East Boston. Original blend is their flagship cider made with culinary apple varieties such as Gala, McIntosh, etc and fermented with a pale ale yeast. Appearance: cloudy, pale orange, low carbonation, little fizz. Low to medium body. Aroma: red and yellow apples, orange.Not strong. Taste: medium dry with low acidity, red and yellow apples, orange, no astringency. Taste of alcohol. Overall: The Original Blend is extremely refreshing and dangerously drinkable although it’s structure is rather one-dimensional. Anyway, a cider that can please every palate. The amount of sweetness is just right. I would and actually did buy it again later. 3.5/6

Downeast Cider X Cunard No 44 (ABV 7%; 9 USD per pint in Cunard Tavern)img_0142

This particular cider was created exclusively for Cunard Tavern from East Boston. After fermentation, No 44 was aged in rye barrels. Appearance: cloudy, pale orange, low carbonation, little fizz. Low to medium body. Aroma: fresh juicy apple, red and yellow apples, orange, vanilla. Taste: medium dry with low acidity, fresh apples, pineapple, whisky and barrel notes, vanilla, light taste of alcohol, orange, light astringency. Overall: It is pretty obvious that it must be their Original Blend that was aged in rye whisky barrels. Similarly to the Original Blend, it’s extremely refreshing but with more depth thanks to the barrel-ageing. I loved it. 4/6

Urban Farm Fermentory Super Dry Cidah (ABV 7%; 7 USD per 354.88 mL can in Grafton Street Pub & Grill)img_0155

To be honest, I haven’t heard of them before. Urban Farm Fermentory is based in Portland, Maine and for their ciders, they use only wild yeast. Appearance: cloudy, pale straw with green hues, no carbonation, no foam. Low body. Aroma: fresh yellow and green apples, a hint of sulphur, vinegar, hints of funk. Taste: off-dry with medium to high acidity of lemon, watery, low bitterness, a hint of grapefruit, lightly vinous, yellow and green apples. Quick finish. Overall: Super Dry Cidah reminded me of ciders from the Polish cider maker Smykan, which are also natural, off-dry with hints of funk. However, in contrast to ciders from Smykan, the Super Dry Cidah finishes quickly and tastes too watery. Well, I enjoyed it anyway. It would pair great with food. 4/6

Anxo Cidre Blanc (ABV 6.9%; 9 USD per 473.18 mL can in Grafton Street Pub & Grill)img_0166

Anxo is a cider maker from Washington, DC. Their Cidre Blanc is made from Gold Rush apples and fermented with a Sauvignon Blanc yeast. Appearance: almost clear, pale straw with a light greenish hue, low carbonation. Low body. There are signs of carbonation when I pour it into a glass. Aroma: not much. Sulphur is the dominating aroma on the nose, a hint of yellow apples. Taste: dry with low acidity, watery, a hint of yellow apples, watery, a champagne note. Overall: I heard so much about Anxo but now that I’ve tried their Cidre Blanc I felt disappointed. Unpleasant off notes, watery with a quick finish. With this cider, I don’t think you can conquer European hearts. 2.5/6

Bantam Rojo (ABV 5.4%; 6.5 USD per 473.18 mL can in John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House)
img_0171Although Bantam is based in Boston, I couldn’t find many bars stocking their cider, at least in Back Bay in Boston. Rojo is made from locally sourced apples, fermented with an ale yeast and aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns. Appearance: clear, orange with reddish hues, low carbonation, no foam. Low body. Aroma: not so much on the nose. Sour cherry, crackers, bread. Taste: medium dry with low to medium acidity of sour cherry, watery, lingering sour cherry. Overall: Rojo is quite tasty but lacks structure and intensity in both aroma and taste. Cherry flavour is indeed subtle but so is the apple flavour. I couldn’t get any black peppercorn note. Just an average drop. 3/6

In summary, perhaps I’ve sampled only local mainstream ciders, but overall, my impressions are almost exactly the same as those I had after tasting ciders in Toronto. I’ve tried many ciders from a few cider makers from the East Coast of the U.S. Many ciders were made with unique spices or fruits and fermented with various yeasts. Only rarely you can see such amazing creativity in Europe. Nevertheless, most ciders lacked structure, depth and intensity of taste and aroma. All were drinkable but lacked quality. Only the Strawman from Angry Orchard stood out a little. For an average cider drinker, it is perhaps the overall taste impression that counts but if the current trend will continue, cider in the U.S. will never become a world-class quality beverage just like it was in the case of wine from the Napa Valley or even American craft beer. Wake up! Make cider that is not one-dimensional but has an array of flavours, intensive nose and lively and long palate. Unless cider making is just a business venture for you.