I think we’ve moved past the point where someone can get away with throwing out a blanket statement like, “I don’t like ciders.” That’s like someone saying they don’t like country. Really? You don’t like any country artist, ever? Even though it’s a massive genre with artists working in all kinds of nuanced sub-genres, from the Carter Family to Hank III? Seems a little closed minded, like maybe you made up your mind about country music when you were 15 and decided never to let your opinion evolve. Cider is in the same boat. A lot of craft beer drinkers made up their minds early on about cider and haven’t adjusted their opinion in years. But the truth is, the cider industry is so large and varied, with small cider houses in every corner of the U.S. putting out interesting takes on the traditional drink, that there’s probably a cider out there for you, whether you realize it or not. Enter Shacksbury, a small outfit out of Vermont putting out hand-made ciders that highlight the complexity of the apple. Shacksbury did well in our massive cider blind tasting, earning the #11 spot for their big-bottle Farmhouse cider, which we compared to a rustic, French saison. Given the success of their big bottle, limited release, and the fact that they’ve just started canning some of their regular lineup, I thought it’d be prudent to take a look at two of Shacksbury’s flagship ciders, the Semi-Dry and Dry.
The Semi-Dry pours clear, with no head and not much of a nose aside from a vaguely yeasty, apple aroma. It’s interesting—far more interesting that I was expecting, in the same way that a good apple cider is far more interesting than a store-bought apple juice. Shacksbury used a mix of dessert and bittersweet apples handpicked from Vermont and England for the Semi-Dry, and it lands softly on the sweet end of the spectrum without being cloying in any way. You get a layer of sweet apple, sure, but also white grapes, some tart green apple and there’s a puckering affect on the back end, much like what you find in a lightly soured beer. In fact, there’s even a layer of salinity going on, making this cider reminiscent of a very light gose.
Shacksbury used a similar makeup of apples for the Dry, which looks the same in the glass, but has a slightly zestier nose. The sweet notes are muted in this cider, which is exactly as it’s labeled: dry as the desert. While a lot of dry ciders come across light and ethereal like Champagne, Shacksbury’s Dry takes a left turn and ends up in a different destination entirely. Instead of going into the heavily-carbonated, whispy world of Champagne, the Dry delivers the much-more grounded experience of vinegar. Without the heavy notes of sweet fruit, the tart and acidic element that played a subtle role in the Semi-Dry steps forward and dominates this cider. It’s a little salty, a little astringent, and puckering on the back end as the cider disappears on your palate. And then you immediately want to go back for another sip to experience it again.
Fans of sour beers take note: Shacksbury might have a cider for you.
Cider House: Shacksbury
City: Shoreham, Vermont
Style: Hard Cider
Availability: 12-ounce cans