When you think of cider, do you immediately go to a breezy autumn day on a porch swing with bottle in hand? I certainly do. Maybe it's the apples, maybe it's the warm sweetness of cider that just reminds me of fall, but in reality, hard cider is a fantastic choice to enjoy all year round. Much sweeter than your typical bottle of beer, cider has an obviously fruity inclination and a smooth finish. As an aside for all of you beer lovers, check out the tasting we did not to long ago with different beers from across the country. After that great experience, we were still in beer mode, so trying out ciders was definitely a sweet and refreshing twist.
In April, we caught wind of a new cidery opening its doors in our home state of Alabama, a branch of the Singin' River Brewing Co. up in Florence, AL that would be called Dixie Southern Cidery. Not to mention, this would be the first hard cider to be commercially produced in Alabama ever. On top of this exciting news, we learned that the widely known brand Angry Orchard was reveling in the early spring release of one of the newest additions to their insanely popular cider lineup called Knotty Pear. So naturally, we just had to try these out.
Hard cider begins with apples and is prepared under a fermentation process that transforms the sugars into alcohol. One really important aspect to note about hard cider is that it's a completely gluten-free alcoholic beverage, which makes for an enticing option for those with gluten sensitivity. This reason is in fact the starting spark for Dixie Southern Cidery, and remains an increasingly big reason for the popularity of hard ciders among health-concious individuals. Not surprisingly, the drink has been making a significant comeback over the past few years.
With Angry Orchard's Knotty Pear, there was a clear divide among those of us wishing for the regular stuff and those who enjoyed the addition of the pear juice. For those who enjoyed it, it was described as being sweet and full-bodied with just a hint of pear. Other selections from Angry Orchard that we tried were their Crisp Apple and Summer Honey. The Crisp Apple was the clear favorite. It was crisp, sweet, and "tasted like fall." For those looking for a warmer selection, the Summer Honey offers the sweet taste of warm honey, almost like the end notes of a honey green tea. One member of our staff said, "I am always a big Angry Orchard fan," which just goes to show that even with any new flavors they come out with, there's always something to love about their ciders.
From the result of our taste test, local craft establishments like Dixie Southern Cidery are going to give bigger companies a run for their money. The local cidery's flagship brew is their Haila Marie, a light and bubbly cider that received the most unanimous love among our staff, with remarks such as, "That's just good stuff," and "It makes me feel like I could enjoy it the same way I would a champagne." It's a bubbly and dry cider that definitely feels more like a champagne than anything else. For those of us who normally find hard cider too sweet, the Haila Marie was a huge hit. It has a tart sweetness to it that isn't overpowering or cloying. It was described as crisp, refreshing, and a great local option for those of us here in the South. This particular cider will be available in stores in big bottles by the end of May, and you can bet that most of us will be running out to snag a bottle or two.
Along with some great ciders, Singin' River Brewing Co. has a great line up of beers and wines. The brewery itself is new, and first opened its doors in 2014 in downtown Florence, AL, a quaint southern college town with a lot of music history. Florence is nestled right beside the Muscle Shoals area, which is known for it's history of being the home of FAME studios and for lending the "Muscle Shoals Sound" to talents such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The full story can be seen in the documentary titled Muscle Shoals, which received critical acclaim at Sundance in 2013, and can be found on Netflix. The two towns of Florence and Muscle Shoals are separated by the Tennessee River, which has long been known as "The Singing River," a legend that began with an early Native American tribe called the Yuchi, who claimed that the flowing waters of the Tennessee River sounded like a singing woman. Many claim that this musical river has been the source of the town's musical influence. Now, the folks over at Singin' River have taken the helm to continue that cultural legacy with their great beers, wines, and ciders. If you ever find yourself traveling through The Shoals, be sure to take a drive through the town and stop by their taproom to sample some of their latest brews.
One of the best ways to discover new local breweries and cideries is by word of mouth. Have you been to a great local establishment lately with some great brews? Let us know in the comments, we'd love to hear about it!