For those of you who remember, not too long ago we did a spotlight on Wandering Aengus, the homegrown boutique cider maker out of Oregon.
After putting the spotlight together, I had an opportunity to meet some of the representatives over at Wandering Aengus and ask them some questions about the new Anthem brand and what we should look forward to in the near future.
Wandering Aengus are cider crafters who are known in the cider business for their excellent heirloom apple infused small batch creations. Ciders like the flagship “Bloom” have won numerous awards, and set standards for apple fermentation with their complex yet accessible profiles.
Originally imported from Europe, these apples eventually spread to the east coast in the early days of American cider making.
Today there are only about 300 of these heirloom cider orchards producing these apples in the area and Wandering Aengus harvests from 80 of them.
That’s quite a lot of apples, but with the new-found popularity of craft ciders, and the diminishing heirloom apple orchards this remained unsustainable for growth.
Out of this conundrum Anthem Ciders was born.
Given the limited total availability of Heirloom apples, Wandering Aengus looked to many of the apples we already know and love aka, Dessert/Table Apples, to create a new series of ciders.
Although heirlooms, and other varieties like crab apples are known for their complex biting flavors that lend well to cider making, “eatin’ apples” are no slouches in the flavor department, especially in the hands of the cider wizards at Wandering Aengus.
An almost infinite supply is surely a nice feature as well.
Anthem has continued to keep everything local sourcing all their fruit from Washington and Oregon, and doing all production in Salem, OR.
Once the fruit is received, it is immediately sent off to Hood River Juice Company (Ryan’s Juice) in hood River, OR.
Once there the apples are blended and then juiced to Anthem/Wandering Aengus specifications.
The 5,000 gallons worth of juice is then loaded into a tanker and sent off to where the magic happens in Salem, OR.
4000 gallons of the juice heads off right into the fermentation tank, with the remaining 1000 gallons being stored in the cooler.
Both Wandering Aengus and Anthem ciders use a traditional Champagne yeast called DV10.
Champagne yeasts are not uncommon in ciders, due to the way the yeast tends to accentuate the apple flavors rather than the yeast itself.
Once the fermentation process has finished and the yeast has consumed all the sugars, the pressed juice is added back into the cider. This helps to bring some sweetness back to the cider.
In the case of the cherry and pear, the juice is added to taste by the head cider makers to insure the flavor is dialed in.
In addition to the year-round ciders, Anthem has given Wandering Aengus a great platform in which to experiment with additional flavors.
For instance, on the agenda this year is a Hermiston Watermelon Gose’ cider.
(For those of you who don’t know, a Gose’ according to Wikipedia: Gose is a top-fermented beer that originated in Goslar, Germany. It is brewed with at least 50% of the grain bill being malted wheat. Dominant flavours in gose include a lemon sourness, an herbal characteristic, and a strong saltiness (the result of either local water sources or added salt). Gose beers typically do not have prominent hop bitterness, flavours, or aroma. The beers typically have a moderate alcohol content of 4 to 5% ABV. Because of the use of coriander and salt, gose does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot – it is allowed an exemption on the grounds of being a regional specialty. It acquires its characteristic sourness through inoculation with lactobacillus bacteria after the boil.)
Given the popularity of Hermiston Melons, it was a no-brainer.
Of course this unique Gose’ will also include Jacobson Sea Salt from SE Portland to give it that extra special bump.
Next up later in the year (and the one I’m most excited about) is a Honeycrisp cider.
Honeycrisp apples have been commanding quite the price at the super market for a while, and that’s because they are delicious apples. (It’s the only apple my girlfriend and I buy. Apple a day keeps the doctor away right? So maybe a few ciders is even better?)
The Honeycrisp cider will be a straightforward Honeycrisp profile. No need to mess with a flavor that already rocks.
Other one off’s include;
– Fresh Hop: A Blend of local Salem hops, plucked fresh and put directly into the cider tanks. Last year’s cider utilized a blend of Cascade and Sirachi Ace hops, giving it a fragrant hoppy floral aroma and a lemony finish.
– Barrel Age Series: Both a Rye Whiskey barrel aged cider, and a Gin barrel aged cider. All barrels were sourced from a local distiller and the ciders were aged for 4-5 months. During the process the ciders are checked regularly to achieve their peak aging flavor.
– Tropic Thunder: A one-off small batch cider that was a blend of fresh hopped cider with fresh peppers and mango puree. Strong on the pepper flavor, the mango puree added just the right amount of sweetness to cut into the pepper, and provide a very unique finish.
– Watermelon Blackberry: A previous watermelon incarnation made for an event. It was a standard anthem cider fermented with watermelon and then finished with blackberry puree after fermentation.
When I asked about the difference in crafting ciders for the two brands, Kennan Clarke had this to say:
“We started with Wandering Aengus, which is a high end specialty cider, almost boutique in profile and like most high end brands we wanted to get more people engaged in our craft. But, unlike many companies out there we kept all the same practices and never cut any corners when we launched Anthem. Some companies will try to push a knock off of their higher end product with cheap concentrates, flavored additives and extra sugar. Anthem isn't a knock off of Wandering Aengus. It stands on its own two feet by accentuating the flavor of the actual apples used, we just use different apples.”
I had the opportunity to sample the Anthem brand recently (as well as some older Wandering Aengus Classics) and having had the boutique, glass bottled brothers, I knew Wandering Aengus wouldn’t make a “meh” cider, but would it be something I’d still be excited to have my friends try? Cider junkies and newbies alike?
What stood out right away was the accessibility of their flagship Anthem Cider. The sweetness from the table apples were certainly there, but that awesome craft cider bite was not lost against the extra apple sugars. As a hop head and fan of desert dry ciders, I found this to be the most pleasant surprise.
I felt like they had really nailed that sweet spot for “gateway” ciders. If you love something, you want to share it with people, and the last thing you want to have happen is scare them off from a potential love affair with something great.
My biggest gripe with a lot of canned modern ciders is their all too often “apple juice” like profile. What makes ciders engaging is the crisp, sharp acidity against the sweetness of the apples sugars.
This classic cider forward taste is present in all of Anthems new flavors.
Recently we saw the addition of the Pear, Hops, and Cherry flavors to the Anthem line, further bridging the gap between casual cider drinkers and a “craft only” crew.
The Pear has been wildly successful for Anthem, quickly becoming one of their most popular flavors and the second to make the transition to 6pk cans.
Both Cherry and Hops have seen a surge in popularity recently as well, and should soon make their way to cans.
Which is not a new practice for Anthem, who have been ahead of the can game for quite a while launching their 6pk 12oz can offering back in 2014 before it became the craft trend we see today.
In keeping with the new tradition, Anthem plans on releasing many of their seasonal offerings in cans as well and hope to be the first (if not one of) to offer a craft cider variety 12pk that includes their 4 base flavors, and their rotating seasonals.
It’s something we are very excited about here. A craft variety 12pk of excellent ciders, will be a very welcome addition this summer as people continue to branch out into craft ciders, and discover there are a lot of great brands like Anthem carrying the torch of affordable, uncompromising ciders.
Be on the look out for Pear in 6pk can’s as well as Hops, and Cherry that will hit the market soon.
And make sure to pick up a 6 pack of the Anthem Cider and share with friends, you won’t be disappointed.