Archive for November, 2017

Apple Cider for the Holidays

(Published in the Helena IR, written by myself)

What is more American than apple pie, baseball, and fireworks on the Fourth of July? Not much, but Johnny Appleseed seemed to think that apples were an integral piece of American culture.

In Montana, there are at least six cideries, in Florence, Hamilton, Red Lodge, Bozeman, Darby and Missoula. There are many more cideries in the northwestern U.S. than one might expect, but they aren’t as publicized as breweries. With a growing interest in apples, and local cider, hopefully, that will change.

There are numerous styles of cider, and even more apple varietals. The least common style of cider is dubiously called, “Common Cider.” This category consists of “Farmhouse” and “Draught” ciders. The farmhouse is the equivalent of a brewery’s small production beer, and often made with fruit from commercial or private orchards. This style is often dry, using ambient yeasts for fermentation, resulting in a more varied product.

The second style, the Draught cider, is what we, in America have come to expect on tap at any given bar. It is made with juice from concentrate, added sugar, and added alcohol. These ciders are, thankfully, in my opinion, becoming less and less popular, in lieu of the “homegrown” variety of Farmhouse cider.

One of Montana’s hidden gems is Montana Ciderworks. The artist responsible for these treasures is Lee McAlpine, one of the only women cider masters in the United States. This cidery is located just south of Darby. Montana Ciderworks makes four types of cider, the North Fork Traditional, the Darby Pub Cider, the McIntosh, and the Small Batch single varietal cider.

The North Fork Traditional cider offers a fantastic balance between a round, full apple fruitiness and sharpness from crab apples that give it a fantastic, clean edge. The Darby Pub cider offers a gentler approach, with woodsy cinnamon, almost apple pie like notes. The McIntosh single varietal cider uses heirloom apples, grown in the Bitterroot Valley. It is a floral, yet crisp cider that is a wonderful accompaniment to food, but also stands on its own as a party treat. The Small-Batch Cider is made with Dolgo apples. It is oak aged to allow for vanilla flavors to round out the crisp, green apple notes. The green apple character in the Single Batch cider is surprising since the Dolgo apple itself, is not green.

Wandering Aengus, of Salem, Oregon, makes a deliciously crisp variety of ciders that bear no resemblance to the super sugary “grumpy apple juice” in the grocery stores. The two most available lines of cider from Wandering Aengus are the Anthem, and the self-titled Wandering Aengus ciders.

The Anthem cider line focuses on being more approachable, coming in cans and bottles that are perfect for picnics. These ciders are simple and straightforward, with flavors, like pear, cherry and hops. The Anthem Cherry cider is my favorite, by far. It is made with Montmorency and Bing cherries, which give this cider more depth and subtlety than expected.

Wandering Aengus’s high-end releases, the self-titled Wandering Aengus Ciders, are the Wickson Single Varietal Crab Apple, Wanderlust, Golden Russet, Oaked Dry, and Bloom. Each cider possesses its own personality, more sharp than sweet. I appreciated these ciders best with grilled food. Their tart nature washed down the sweet smokiness from the food beautifully. I found the Golden Russet cider to be the most enjoyable of this line. It was fruit forward, but still dry enough not to be syrupy. It would be perfect with a sharp cheese or savory pasties.

Apples are perfect for this time of year, for pies, stewing, drying, or to drink in hard or non-alcoholic ciders. An apple a day, eaten or sipped, keeps grumpiness away.

Link is:


“The Criminal” 2015

“The Criminal” is one is a Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County cab. This is one of the California cabs I grabbed when I had the opportunity.

This California cab is beautifully inky rich, almost enhanced, with thick black fruit. Thie nose of this wine oozes with black cherry preserve, and laced with cinnamon that opens to apple flesh, cloves, and unripe black plums.

On the palate, The Criminal is still thick, immediately open to a luxuriously compiled fruit bomb. This wine is is a linzer torte in a bottle.

The Criminal would pair beautifully with a hazelnut chocolate mousse, raspberry glazed ham, or even a game bird.


It is important, from time to time, and somewhat frequently, to examine my relationship to alcohol. I have a number of acquaintances who are part of/participate in AA and Al-Anon, and what I tell everyone who takes a moment to ask me about alcohol, is the following:

A relationship with alcohol is just like any intimate relationship. You have to look at it carefully, and know exactly where you two stand with one another. Open, honest communication with yourself (yes, yourself) is really the important part. I’ve always said that if ever there is a time when you find yourself wanting it too much, to distraction, then you need a break from your partner. If enjoying only losing yourself in your partner (being drunk or tipsy) is what you look forward to, then you probably need to re-find yourself, without them so that you can re-set yourself. That person (when it is a person), in a healthy relationship, didn’t get into the relationship to only use you as a mirror for themselves, but for who you are, standing on your own. It also could be argued that you can only really be part of a relationship when you bring yourself to it as a whole being, not two parts of a whole, who are incomplete without one another. (They call that co-dependence)

Culturally speaking, here in Montana, we rarely have any social interaction that isn’t part of an AA gathering, an underage gathering, or a church event that is not based around, or inclusive of alcohol. Every night after work, tired, fed-up workers go to the bar for a beer, go home for a beer, or meet to celebrate some event with wine or cocktails. It’s just part of the culture. It seems to mimic EUrope’s reputation for having alcohol ever-present in society. There is a large, rather unavoidable difference. In Europe, I have rarely seen anyone who is actually drunk. There is a major difference in the amount of alcohol consumed, I think. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, except my own personal experience, so bear with me, I’m not part of the “Prove it or you’re wrong” culture we seem to promote these days online. In the US, everywhere you go, on any given night, you can find at least one person drinking to get drunk.

This is a complex examination, the study between people and alcohol, but that’s all I have to say at the moment.