Oh man. Cider. From Austin, Texas. In retro-cool cans. Does it get any more hip than that? Maybe if all of the apples were picked by letterpress artisans on a lunch break, but otherwise, this cider oozes hipster chic. I mean, look at those cans. It’s like you’re holding a Schlitz Tallboy from the ‘70s, but it’s actually a refreshing dry cider inside. And did I mention it’s made in Austin? Sooo hip. Like, Father John Misty playing chess with Sufjan Stevens, hip.
Austin Eastciders has been around for a few years, but I only recently crossed paths with their juice. Here’s the quick background: A dude from England who used to own a cider bar across the pond moved to Austin and started to make his own ciders using the best ingredients he could find. They use a juice concentrate from European cider apples and a white wine yeast that makes things all bubbly. The ciders aren’t as sweet as you might expect; in fact Austin Eastciders claims to have two thirds less sugar than most of their competitors.
I like that. And I like the branding because you know, Father John Misty playing chess with Sufjan Stevens. I had the chance to try half a dozen different varieties of Austin Eastciders. Here are my thoughts.
Beer drinkers take note: dry ciders are where it’s at. And Austin Eastciders makes a hell of a dry cider. It’s well-carbonated with lots of pretty bubbles and a Champagne like mouthfeel. It’s only vaguely sweet and only vaguely tastes like apples, and it finishes so fast you’ll immediately want another sip. If you close your eyes and hold your pinky out, you might actually think you’re drinking a glass of Champagne.
I expected this cider to pour with more of a red tint, but it’s only mildly orange and pretty damn hazy, looking like one of those new-fangled IPAs that everyone is raving about. The orange flavor itself is pretty minimal, adding an orange marmalade quality that underscores the dominant apple note. I might sound like a curmudgeon here, but I’m not sure that an additional layer of fruit is necessary in a cider. Because the drink is already made from fruit, and it’s already sweet enough, right? Austin Eastciders uses blood orange concentrate and blood orange purée. The result comes off like a sweet malt liquor I’ve had in the past. I wanted more citrus bitterness, and less citrus sugar.
I was skeptical when I poured this one, largely because of my prejudice against overly sweet ciders, and I assumed this one would land on the saccharine side because of the addition of local honey. But I was wrong. The honey contributes as much to the mouthfeel as to the taste, providing a full, almost thick body. It’s not as carbonated or as sharp as the original, but the honey is an interesting addition, lingering on your tongue after the sip disappears. I dig it a lot more than I thought I would.
And the surprises keep coming. Remember when I said cider doesn’t need any additional fruit? Austin Eastciders proved me wrong with this one. This cider pours cloudy and pale yellow, with no head and yeah, it smells a little bit like pineapple. And it tastes like the juice you get at the breakfast buffet on a tropical island; there’s plenty of pineapple, but the surprise is the underlying zest from an acidic layer and the sharp edge of the carbonation, both of which work in tandem to undermine the sweetness of the pineapple. Imagine if you cut your pineapple juice with a squeeze or two of lime, and maybe a splash of Sprite. This would be incredibly easy to drink on a hot summer day, especially if you live in Texas.
At this point, Austin Eastciders seems to be hell-bent on proving me wrong about that fruit additive comment. The Ruby Red adds a faint pink hue to the hazy pour. This one is the most opaque of the bunch, so thick that I expect to find pulp. But the apple dominates the nose. It’s on the front of the sip too, coming off like a straight cider, a little on the sweet side, but then the grapefruit kicks in and it really takes over, cutting through all of the sweetness with a strong acidic layer, delivering a really dry finish that’s even a bit puckering on the back end. As if there’s a souring element at work. This is the most interesting cider of the lot, and it has a lot going on for it. There’s even a bit of salinity to it, almost like a Gose. I dig it. It reminds me of the kambucha my wife makes me drink.
Because I’m a beer drinker first and a relatively new convert to the world of ciders second, I was most excited about this Hopped version. So, I saved it for last. I have no idea what this cider is hopped with, but it certainly smells…herbal. Dank. Okay, it smells like weed. Like weed and a Miller High Life. It’s definitely hoppy, but in the way that a pilsner is hoppy. It’s biting, with a note of pine. Just like with the nose, there’s an herbal element that comes off a little savory in the sip. It’s like having some well-seasoned vegetables with your apples. And it’s good. The finish is super dry and the mouthfeel is light bordering on ethereal. If you’re a beer drinker, this is the cider for you.