If traditional cider is delicate and nuanced, ice cider is its complex and assertive counterpart. Served extremely cold, ice cider takes the best aspects of cider and intensifies them, layer upon layer, for a sipping drink bursting with the full spectrum of cider flavors.
Ice cider begins its life like any other cider: with fresh apple juice direct from the farm. The unfermented juice is then set out in the cold as winter settles in and the freezing weather begins to separate pure water from the juice. This slush, or ice, is removed, leaving a concentrated, sweeter, juice behind. Afterward, the juice is fermented, filtered, and bottled. The final result is a rich and strong (8% to 13% ABV) beverage. It takes over eight pounds of apples to make a single 375ml bottle of ice cider.
Ice cider—also called Cidre de Glace—was developed in Quebec, Canada only about a decade ago. Lately American farmers in cold regions have been embracing the style, too, and making some amazing ice ciders.
Which bottles should you seek out? Here are our impressions of a few American examples of this emerging cider microcosm. Our favorites had rich, earthy apple flavors, plus pronounced tannins and acidity to counterbalance the sweetness.
Eden Ice Cider Calville Blend West Charleston, Vermont This powerhouse of an ice cider gets its unique punch from the inclusion of Caville Blanc apples. The nose hits with big aromas of caramel, burnt sugar, and ripe apples. The palate follows with a puckering green apple character with a healthy tannic backbone. This combination of tart flavors and tannins provide a counter-balance to the cider's innate sweetness making the Eden Ice Cider Caville Blend one we could revisit again and again. Apple Varieties: MacIntosh and Empire, Russets, Calville Blanc, Ashmead's Kernel 4.5/5
Boyden Valley Winery Vermont Ice Cider Cambridge, Vermont The sharpest of all the ice ciders we tried, the Vermont Ice Cider also had added complexity from aging in French oak. The oak comes through slightly on the nose, mingling with notes of caramel and crab apple. The palate is vibrant with nice acidity. Notes of grape skin, lemon drop candies, and apple seeds are warmed with an undertone that reminded us of nectarines. While definite cider characteristics are still present, the Vermont Ice Cider trades big apple flavors for more complex earthy notes. Apple Varieties: Vermont grown Northern Spy Dry, Empire, Macintosh 4/5
Slyboro Ciderhouse Ice Harvest Special Reserve Granville, NY Produced from a particularly dry yield in 2006. This is a rich, complex dessert/sipping cider with notes of pineapple and other tropical fruits rounded out by a subtle, yet spicy, finish. The Special Reserve is sweet but not syrupy, but with fewer tannins than the Calville Blend or Vermont Ice Cider to balance out the flavor. 3.5/5
Eden Ice Cider Chaplain Orchards Honeycrisp West Charleston, Vermont The most delicate of all the ice ciders that we tried, this single-varietal cider is loaded with floral notes. Tropical fruit flavors follow, with a hint of preserved lemon on the finish. Apples: 100% Honeycrisp apples from Vermont's Champlain Orchards 3.5/5
Northern Natural Winery Iced Hard Apple Cider Produced in the traditional ice-wine style, this was the only ice cider we tasted where the fruit was left on the trees to concentrate. The resulting cider has less apple flavor and more sweetness than the others, playing up brown sugar and cotton candy notes with only a hint of lemon in the middle. Apples: Organically grown Michigan Northern Spy, Jonathan, Ida Red 2.5/5
Disclosure: All ice ciders were provided as samples for review consideration.