Readers: Do you have details on the latest new local brewery? Snap a great picture at a winery outing? Taste a cocktail you can’t stop thinking about? Email Toast Editor John Garland at email@example.com or tweet @johnpgarland and let us know what you’re toasting. Each month our favorite submission will receive a Heavy Table pint glass and may be featured in the next Toast!
Cheers to… The HEAT! In this round of the Toast, we’ll discuss a few beverages that might help you relieve some of that swelter. Skål!
Comparing Apples to Crafts
People start to drink some strange things in summer. When the sun begins baking your noggin’, quality be damned, something cold and sweet is most important. The prime examples are the drinks in the shandy family. They’re lazily crafted, but deliver a punch of acidity, a light body of bubbly refreshment, and a sweet aftertaste. They can also be quite low in alcohol, perhaps around 2-3% depending on your mix, warranting a refill or three during a long sunny lounge on the porch*.
Those sticky, mass-produced shandies that lean too much toward lemonade (e.g. Leinenkugel’s) can rapidly wear out the palate. A better option at that volume would be the Curious Traveler shandy from Vermont we’ve been noticing more on tap lately.
Perhaps shandies are better in the comfort of home, where you can control the mix (how about 3:1, beer to scratch-made lemonade?) For a less sweet drink, try variations on the panaché, some combination of beer and a fizzy lemon drink of choice. Those often include a fancy French “limonade” like Lorina, or your favorite lemon-lime soda (but something about a Bass & 7UP combo makes us think we can do better).
That’s why we’re toasting to the Snakebite (below), aka the Poor Man’s Black Velvet or the Black Adder. You may have noticed the recent popularity surge of hard ciders has brought more national brands to our local coolers. The Boston Beer Company’s Angry Orchard has made especially serious inroads.
Ciders from the Midwest, too, are becoming more widely available. After a quick jaunt to a few of our favorite bottle shops, we had no trouble obtaining a varied sample of ciders, mostly from Wisconsin. We found ones both crafty and commercial, organic and from concentrate, filtered and cloudy. The four we tested:
Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery Honeycrisp Hard (Stockholm, WI)
$9.49 (4pk / 12-0z bottles)
We’ve been a fan of Maiden Rock’s ciders for some time and this one reminded us why. It has a subtle sweetness that arrives quickly up front. A mild body, not too acidic or bracing, with some pop to the finish. Finely crafted, a touch off-dry and a very good mixer.
J.K.’s Scrumpy Orchard Gate Gold (Flushing, MI)
$6.49 (22-oz bottle)
USDA-certified organic farmhouse-style unfiltered cider. Light tan and a bit cloudy, with an assertive, robust apple flavor. It’s big, rounded, leesy, and pronounced. Finishes a touch off-dry, which seems remarkable for a 6% cider that has no added sugar. On its own, the best cider of the four.
White Winter Winery Hard Apple Cider (Iron River, WI)
$8.99 (4pk / 12-oz bottles)
Primarily specializing in meads and other honey-wine variations, White Winter also produces some fruit wines and ciders. This cider is almost clear with fine-beading carbonation but not much in the way of apple flavor. It’s mild across the board and hardly alcoholic. Perhaps too breezy and light, but it’s an inoffensive sip, if nothing else.
Ciderboys Mad Bark Apple Cinnamon Hard Cider (Stevens Point, WI)
$6.88 (6pk / 12-oz bottles)
The branding and flavor scheme of Ciderboys recalls that of Angry Orchard, but from what we’ve tasted so far, is not executed as successfully. Mad Bark has persistent carbonation in a pilsner-colored light body. Barely any apple taste and just a hint of cinnamon on the finish closely recalls the flavor of apple-cinnamon Cheerios. Kind of weak sauce, all around.
Which local brews might be good to mix with these ciders in a snakebite? Why, to know that you’d need some kind of beer-cider matrix… and we just happen to have one:
In general, your favorite porter, brown ale, or stout is going to be a hit with a crisp and not-too-sweet cider like Maiden Rock. We had Rush River’s porter on hand and with the more substantial, creamy taste of J.K.’s, it made a soothing pair we deemed best of the experiment. Though the Maiden Rock with Lift Bridge Hop Dish proved an intriguing balancing act between two big flavors.
We found the sweeter ciders were better suited to snakebites. They anchored the flavor with the lighter beers and offered background sweetness to the heavier ones. A completely opposite tasting combo, the White Winter with Badger Hill Stout was the fourth-place finisher for doing a dry, foamy, and convincing impression of a Black Velvet.
A Heavy Table pint glass to the reader who submits the best cider drink or combination (of any kind) tweeted to @johnpgarland by the end of July.
Want to try one of these out on the town? Head to Devil’s Advocate where they just yesterday tapped a keg of Maiden Rock’s Scrumpy — a darker and more hazy rendition than the Honeycrisp Hard. They suggested the Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro tap as a good companion. The apple and lactose sweetness mingling in the rich and lively body was mesmerizing.
We at Toast HQ have long thought Devil’s Advocate to be one of the more underrated downtown Minneapolis watering holes. We just hopped in for a snakebite and ended up tasting all kinds of interesting stuff from Clown Shoes, Brash Brewing, and Cisco Brewers, among others. Starting today, they’ll have a new menu that expands their meatball focus out to crab cakes, fried chicken, pork chops, and more sit-down type dishes. To complement their unique beer selection, they’re shortly debuting a new craft cocktail program as well.
*And on the subject of having multiple low-alcohol drinks, we like the combo of white Port and tonic in the summer. Though the white-grape variety of Portuguese fortified wine isn’t super easy to find around here, you can get Warre’s in a few shops for around $18. We like it in a series of highballs, with a 1-1/2 oz. white port topped with tonic and a handful of lemon wedges.
The Northern Flights
The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild is holding the All Pints North festival in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park next Saturday, July 13. If you haven’t secured tickets yet, you might want to snag one of the spots left on this round-trip bus deal they’ve set up. It includes a boxed lunch, a beer at Bent Paddle, and entry to the event all for $79.
We’ve been paying a lot of attention to the potential of gins being produced by the first wave of Minnesota’s new craft distilleries. So it’s about time we checked in with Phillips Distilling Co., the largest and oldest in Minnesota. They’re expanding their Prairie Organic line with the introduction of a cucumber vodka and, on shelves now, a really nice gin.
The spirit follows much the same lifespan as their vodka, made from organically farmed corn, distilled in Benson, MN. File Prairie’s gin in the realm of the more herbal and vegetal, where juniper takes a back seat to flavors like coriander and sage. Officially released last week, we’ve already seen the slender 1-liter bottles on shelves for less than $20. It may well prove a benchmark to the new distillers in the state as an example of what a well crafted, local organic spirit should taste like.