Let’s take a break from the cards to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Eat, drink and be merry, for Halloween is nigh to kick off the holiday food season! This post talks about adult beverages, so if you’re under 21, scoot off to another article.
I consider it my civic duty as a Masshole to consume pumpkin flavored everything three months out of the year, but as a spoonie with a million medically mandated diet restrictions, I can’t partake of much mainstream, pie-spiced goodness. No gluten, dairy, soy, or caffeine basically leaves me with pumpkin-spiced ciders and pumpkin-spiced things I make myself. Today, I’m gonna focus on the ciders.
Downeast Cider House Cranberry Blend
Made in Boston from local apples, Downeast cider is unpretentious and wicked good. Their cranberry blend is killer. This cider is medium to heavy bodied, with a cloudy, dusky pink color. The balance of cranberry to apple is seamless and simply perfect. Crisp, tart, and juicy, with a little extra cranberry bitterness on the aftertaste, this cider goes down smooth, with tanginess, bitterness, and sweetness in perfect balance. It’s like a Massachusetts afternoon in a can. It’s available year-round, but goes perfectly with everything you’re planning to eat this holiday season. Conclusion: drink it.
I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but I really enjoyed it. I can’t call the Harpoon a true dry, but it’s dry for a flavored cider, which is delightful. The first taste is a sharp, tangy fizz, with a bright, sour-apple kick. The color is a clean, pale gold, with a smattering of bubbles. It contains real pumpkin, and you can tell. The body is light and refreshing. You taste apples first, pumpkin second, and spices third, with cinnamon and clove highlighted. All flavors are well balanced, and fade to a clean, tart aftertaste with a mild, bitter overtone, which nicely curbs the sugar and spice. The packaging may be hokey, but the beverage is quality: bright, refreshing, easy to drink, and compatible with a variety of autumn fare. Harpoon Pumpkin is a solid buy.
This pumpkin cider from California does not contain pumpkin, but adds pumpkin pie spices, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, to a sweet apple cider. Ace Pumpkin came onto my radar a few years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, and found myself planning the food and décor of a friend’s Halloween bash. This stuff is a hit at fall parties and flies out of the Trader Joe’s of LA. It’s clear, medium bodied, and deep gold in color. While very sweet and fruity, it’s not cloying, and finishes with a clean, faintly tart aftertaste. It tastes like honey and eating-apples with light autumn spices. I like that the spices here are present but not heavy-handed. The allspice is notable and nutmeggy, which makes ACE a nice alternative to other cinnamon and clove-dominated seasonal drinks. Overall, this one’s sweet but light, festive, and quite enjoyable. If you're one of those nuts who loves fall spices, but hates the flavor of actual pumpkin, this cider might be for you.
Downeast Cider House Pumpkin Blend
It’s not my favorite Downeast cider, and it’s not my favorite pumpkin cider, but it’s still quite drinkable, and makes for an indulgent fall treat. This cider is a dense, cloudy, heavy-bodied orange-brown, and has a rich, yeasty, brewy quality. I love that Downeast uses local ingredients, and that their pumpkin blend combines fresh Massachusetts apples and real pumpkin. The apple takes the lead, but the pumpkin, while mild in flavor, holds its own. I suspect the natural pumpkin adds some heft to this blend’s thick, creamy body.
Well, this one is different. I’ll confess, I was drawn in by the label. The packaging is beautiful. Crisp graphics with stout and heavy green glass bottles give the brand an old-timey craftsmanship chic. Besides, I love cider, and I love bourbon. I had to give it a shot.
The first sip is dry, tart, and fizzy, with an almost beery quality. (Note that when I say “beery,” my taste is influenced solely by gluten free beers. I have no idea what normal people beer tastes like.) The fruitiness hits you next with apple, berry, and vanilla notes creeping in at the same time, but it never gets very sweet. The aftertaste is smokey and bready. It’s complex and it’s different, but there is a detectable flavoring taste that pulls me out of it. They use “natural bourbon flavoring” to get the bourbon taste, and you can tell there’s an additive in there. I get a fair amount of vanilla with a hint of store-bought-cake, but honestly, I don’t get a ton of bourbon out of it.
The dominant qualities are fizzy and earthy. It wants to pair with something hearty. I drank a bottle with a rich and salty lentil stew. It complemented the stew pretty darn nicely, and the food masked the additive taste.
The Anvil Bourbon Cider is drinkable, but not my favorite. While I enjoyed trying it, I probably won’t buy it again. I’d recommend it if you’re a beer drinker who’s gone gluten-free, and you want a dry cider that’s a bit reminiscent of an autumnal beer. If you really want a bourbon flavored cider, though, I’d recommend stirring a shot of your favorite bourbon into a glass of your favorite cider.
This last cider didn’t work for me. I usually find Angry Orchard potable, and I’m a nut for cinnamon, so I had high hopes for the Cinnful Apple cider. Super fizzy, light, clear, and pale gold, it looks pretty and smells promising, but the flavor doesn’t deliver. The cinnamon spice is woody, heavy-handed, and comes off artificial. It weirdly competes with the apples, probably because it veers more in the gum and altoids direction, and less in the anything-you-would-pair-with-fruit-ever direction. Worst of all, the flavors are inconsistent, and not in a pleasant, complex wine changing on your palette kind of way. I found it undrinkable straight from the bottle. The cinnamon flavor drifts towards the top, punching you in the face on the first couple sips. By the of the bottle, you barely taste cinnamon at all. Pouring it into a glass helps somewhat, but it still comes off inconsistent and somewhat unbalanced. I won’t be going back to this one.
To sum it all up: don’t judge a drink by its package. If you’re looking for some fun, gluten free brews to round out your Halloween party spread this weekend, you can’t go wrong with the Harpoon and Ace pumpkin ciders. Make sure to add Downeast ciders to your repertoire at home. Steer clear artificially flavored beverages and choose blends with real ingredients whenever you can. While Angry Orchard does have some good flavors out there, don’t bother with the Cinnful Apple.
Halloween comes this Saturday, and we’ve a full super-moon tonight. Drink responsibly, and be safe. Do try these at home, just maybe not all at once, ok? Have fun this week!