Cider Road Trip: Sonoma County

This summer we had a chance to be part of some amazing cider experiences. With the summer ending we are getting back into our daily routine (including blogging more).

In June I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for work. My parents took the boys to Michigan and Sean was able to join me after the conference to visit Sonoma/Napa. Before visiting some really amazing wineries we tried a couple of the local cideries.

Sonoma Cider

Sonoma 1

Our first stop was Sonoma Cider, an organic cider company started by David (father) and Robert (son) Cordtz. And since only being around since 2013, Sonoma Cider has an impressive national presence. Sonoma’s Dry Zider (see more here) is one of our favorite rose ciders and we were excited to visit the cidery. Sonoma is working on a tap room which will likely open at the end of the year and will highlight their ciders as well as others from across the country. Since the tap room wasn’t open, Robert graciously let us in to the employee lounge to sample their ciders. Somona Cider has impressive production facilities which include an antique carbonation machine that is so efficient, other cider makers wish they could purchase similar equipment. Another interesting fact is that the “holding tanks” are named after pets of the employees. Also on the production floor there is also a cool employee loft equipped with a foosball table, video games and a bed.

We were excited to try some of the unique combination including the limited run line and the distinctive ciders in the reserve line.

Limited Run

FullSizeRenderI really enjoyed The Wimble, a cider spin on the German Gose. Gose is a sour wheat beer with citrus and herbal flavors as well as a strong saltiness.  The Wimble is a blend of apples, rhubarb and a bit of sea salt. The rhubarb and apples meld nicely producing a semi-dry cider accented by a lingering saltiness. For those who haven’t tried Gose you can compare it to sipping on a salted rim Margarita. Not too salty, just enough to cut through the acidity of the cider.

crowbarSean enjoyed The Crowbar, a Habanero Lime cider blend. The cider is spicy, but not “burn your pallet off” spicy. The heat is noticeable when you start sipping this cider, but it is nicely balanced with the lime and apples. The lime notes helps to make this cider a good sipper, but it could also be easily mixed into other drinks (think Spicy Mule).


FullSizeRender (1)Before coming up to Sonoma one of our good friends asked us “What happens when you put cider into a still?” Brandy! And Sonoma had wonderful Apple Brandy for us to try. They make the brandy with apples that were fermented to a very dry – no residual sugar – distilled and then aged for a year in in small, American-oak, medium-char casks from. The apple flavor in this 85 proof brandy was comingled with vanilla, cinnamon and honey and had a very smooth finish allowing it to be a perfect sipper.

Tilted Shed Ciderworks

Tilted Shed Ciderworks was out next stop. 1374722338This cidery was started in 2011 by husband and wife team Scott Heath & Ellen Cavalli. The ciders are made with locally grown organic apples, including the gravenstein apple which grows all around Sonoma county. Scott and Ellen also source traditional cider apples and perry pears from their Sebastopol farm. Tilted Shed is really dedicated to the craft of cider and as such they make small batches with limited distribution. IMG_3575The tasting room (only open on Saturdays) is a small storefront in a Windsor, CA  strip mall where they display their ciders against the backdrop of their production facilities.

graviva-label5-13xWe tasted some amazing ciders and also brought several back to Chicago for us to enjoy. I really enjoyed the Graviva! Semidry Cider. The cider is a 50/50 blend of gravenstein and other cider apples including the rare Nehou, a high-tannin, low-acid French bittersweet originally from Normandy.  The taste of the gravenstein can be described as a crisp, slightly acid with a tart-sweet flavor. These apples melded well with the more tannic cider apples producing a nicely balanced off-dry cider.

tilted-shed-ciderworks-inclinado-cider-sonoma-county-usa-10709651We also really enjoyed the Inclinado, Tilted Shed’s California take on a Spanish Basque sidra, which are often full-bodied with smokey and savory flavors. Sidra can often a bit overly tangy, but this cider, made with gravenstein apples and fermented with natural yeasts in neutral French oak barrels, was a refreshing take on a sidra.

jan bbq smokedWe also tired the January Barbecue Smoked Cider. Our first taste of smoked ciders was at the 2016 Cider Summit Chicago. The cider is a blend of six organic heirloom and tannic cider apples which have been fermented to a very dry level and blended with wood-smoked apple infused cider. When drinking it we could imagine sitting at a backyard barbecue with smoke rising from the grill. The smoky flavor was a beautiful complement to the slightly bitter taste of the cider apples. Sean and I have gotten more into smoking different meats this summer and the nose of the cider reminded us of preparing the smoker with different wood chips. Pairing it with smoked duck or bourbon smoked salmon is definitely a must try! While the cider certainly has a distinct flavor, that lends itself to more of a sipper, it is definitely a wonderful summer cider.