I've started home brewing my own hard cider this fall thanks to Emma's book True Brews. Alongside my DIY efforts I've been doing lots of research (the best kind!), tasting every cider I can find and inviting friends over to join the fun. Have you ever hosted a cider tasting? It can be as casual or rigorous as you like, and is such a great way to celebrate friends and fall.
Here's how my partner and I threw a cider tasting with friends.
On a weekend afternoon my partner Gregory and I invited some friends over and asked each person to bring a bottle of hard cider. We also provided several, so there were 14 ciders to taste. Los Angeles may not have the array of ciders that can be found in more apple-centric regions, but we were able to find a decent selection at Whole Foods, BevMo, and good liquor stores. For this tasting we had two cider newbies, three intermediate drinkers, two seasoned cider lovers from the UK, and a budding cider maker (me). Although the mix didn't really matter when it came to having a good time, it was interesting to note our range of experiences and expectations.
A cider tasting need not be any more complicated than a group of friends getting together to sip and discuss. Gregory and I love hosting blind food and drink tastings, though, so we went all out. To prepare we got brown kraft paper and tape to cover the cider labels. We printed out score sheets (more on that below) and provided each person with a pen and a clear glass. We also set out water for glass and palate cleansing (bread or crackers are another option) and a pitcher for dumping unwanted cider.
Depending on the experience (and nerdiness!) level of your group, you could make your score sheets as simple or complicated as you like. You could also focus the tasting on just one type or region of cider. We opted for something in the middle and made score sheets to rate each cider from 1-10 in Appearance, Aroma, Flavor, and Overall Impression, plus room for Comments. We also printed a flavor wheel, which provided us with helpful vocabulary.
Some useful resources:
I arranged the ciders in order of alcohol content (lowest to highest), covered up the labels, and gave each cider a letter. As a group we tasted them one at a time and were amazed at how different they were from each other. The commentary, both written and spoken, was the best part. A few highlights: "tastes like cough medicine — can't decide if that's a good thing or not," "reminds me of a bathroom at All Star Lanes," "old and musty like an old ship out to sea," smells like teenagers drinking to get to third base."
Naturally, the negative or dubious reactions were most amusing, but we did discover a handful of ciders that we truly liked. The overall winner of the day? J.K.'s Scrumpy, a Michigan cider that was described as "fresh", "like eating a good apple," "very sweet but not cloying," "not terribly complex but very drinkable," and "perfect in nearly every aspect."
After all that drinking people were ready for a snack, so we brought out an apple pie and an apple galette baked earlier that day, cheese (for the apple pie or just straight nibbling), and good vanilla ice cream. A perfect end to a perfectly fun fall gathering with friends!