Okay, it’s February, and I really, really hate February. Like, the winter is still going, but by now every single shred of Christmas cheer has been removed, so there is nothing but the vague hope that February will eventually end to keep spirits high. At least, that’s how I usually feel about February. But the weather has been unseasonably warm (thanks, climate change!), some friends decided that we needed to veg out for a weekend up in the mountains. The STEM Ciders winter seasonal, the Spiced Black Currant, in bottles since October, have finally found their way to the liquor store next to my house.
Obviously, the minute I saw this cider in the store I picked it up, despite it’s slightly steeper price tag (perfectly understandable for a seasonal release that is – spoiler – this good). Some of you might see this review as a cheat, since I did review this particular brew during my visit to the STEM Cider tasting room a few months ago. But – and I cannot emphasize this enough – this cider is so good I really thought it needed its own article to really emphasize the goodness (STEM, I am seriously obsessed with this stuff. Can you tell? I thought I was keeping my chill).
Spiced Black Currant: The Basics
Cidery: STEM Ciders (Denver, CO)
Style: Oak Aged, Spiced with Cinnamon and Juniper Berries
Spiced Black Currant: The Details
I’m going to change the subject for a hot minute to wine, mostly to recall a trip I took to New Zealand to ride bikes and drink white wine for a few days (I promise this has something to do with this Spiced Black Current cider. Really). Anyway, as a young 20-year-old lass, I discovered the wonders of oak aging. Obviously, this is a technique that gives Chardonnay in particular its particular smokey, wonderful flavor. In my very humble opinion, oak aging is a technique that is severely underutilized. But I think I think this because if I had my way, everything would be oak-aged into oblivion. Sitting in an oak barrel for a year, the Spiced Black Currant cider sucks up so much amazing oak flavor and aroma, it nearly makes up for the fact that every single wine, cider, or beer in the world isn’t like sipping out of an old, burned out oak tree.
Popping the top off of the bottle fills my face with – you guessed it – delicious smokey wonder. Just underneath the smokey are aromas very similar to rich red wines: dry, dark red fruits. I mentioned this in my short review of this cider, but the aromas remind me of Thanksgiving dinner: there are the sweeter red fruits – cherries and cranberries – mixing with the deep savory flavors of the oak smoke that fill up every conceivable space in my sense of smell. It’s hard to explain in some ways, but my face feels so full of the potpourri pouring out of the bottle. Indeed, one of my mountain weekend buddies said that as she sniffed the bottle: “It smells like potpourri!” Pouring the brew out if it’s dark purple bottle reveals another one of the many true delights of this brew: it’s unreal garnet-red color. It’s like a big old gem sitting in my glass – in the sunlight it sparkles and reflects such a warm red light that really speaks to the full, warm nose and mouth on this cider.
There are few words that better describe the way this cider tastes better than “full.” Just as the aromas are nearly all consuming to the nose, the flavor is nearly all-consuming for the mouth. It’s as though it fills your entire mouth with sweet/savory brew. Another friend said that tasting the cider was like experiencing everything all at the same time. Again, cherries and cranberries are prominent in the top of the mouth, a little bit of sweet apple on top of those deep, red undertones. The finish is long, dry, and this is where the juniper and cinnamon really come through. The website doesn’t describe whether or not there are tannins in this cider, but the slight bitterness on the finish definitely reminds me of a dark red wine – both in color and in intensity of flavor.
STEM’s website describes the Spiced Black Currant cider as the “perfect winter warmer,” and I cannot disagree. As I write, there is a big old snow storm blowing up towards our little mountain getaway, and I feel warm, happy, and totally content with this by my side. As I look to the long slog through the rest of February into when it will finally, finally be spring again, STEM’s Spiced Black Currant cider brings me back to the excitement and warmth of the holidays, where you are happy (and a little drunk) inside, watching the snow fall as you celebrate with your nearest and dearest friends and family. And guess what? That makes February pretty awesome.
I cannot, cannot, cannot overstate this: go out and drink this cider while it is still available (and while there is some cold weather to contrast this warm, spicy wonder). Just do it. Seriously. Everyone should take a note from STEM’s penchant for oak aging and incorporate more of it into their work, because then every drink would be so divine.