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Salud! Flowers, wine barrels and berries give hard apple ciders a rosy hue

Salud! Flowers, wine barrels and berries give hard apple ciders a rosy hue


Barleypop Tap & Shop’s Jason Hadjik is confident that the main reason rosé cider is pink is because it looks pretty on Instagram.

“People like the color,” said Hadjik, who pours carnation-to-magenta hued ciders from Crispin and his neighbor down the street, One Barrel Brewing Co. “That’s the driving reason behind it … rather than the standard cider colors. That color is pretty hot right now.”

The wave of rosé cider has crested in Wisconsin, with more than half a dozen options now populating liquor store shelves.

They range from Angry Orchard ($7.49-$8.99/six), which the internet describes as tasting “like melted Skittles” and “apple juice for grown-up babies,” to The County Tart ($13.99/750 mL at Total Wine and More), a tart cherry/apple cider from Island Orchard in Door County.

Like the standard hard apple ciders, rosé versions can range from sweet to dry. And their profile is rising — writers from Cosmopolitan to the Chicago Tribune have taste-tested the best for summer sipping. Strongbow, which makes a pink grapefruit-colored cider sweetened with sugar and pear, even partnered with “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan van Ness (yes, honey).   

“It seems like there’s been a bunch of them out of nowhere,” Hadjik said. “They’ve been received well. I think it’s really just about the color more than anything.”

To look a little further into this trend, we set up an impromptu taste test on our Concerts on the Square blanket. The new Total Wine & More on Madison’s west side lets customers purchase single cans and bottles, ideal for our highly scientific purposes.

I grabbed eight ciders, including one bone-dry “control” cider from Pacific Coast in Lodi, California, ($2.99/16 oz. can) and an outlier, a black currant/lavender cider from Finnriver ($9.99/ 500 mL bottle).

The usual way to make rosé wine is by taking purple-red wine grapes and crushing them like a red wine, then pulling the juice off when it has just a little bit of color.

Producers who want their hard cider to be pink have to figure out a different way of getting that color. We looked for color-giving ingredients, and found everything from rose and hibiscus petals (Crispin), aging in red wine barrels (Seattle Cider Company) to the juice of cherries, berries and currants.

One of the sweetest ciders in our tasting was our first. The Strongbow Rosé Apple ($1.79/11.2 oz. bottle) tasted sugary and slightly flat. It’s the kind of thing that starts out mildly pleasant but quickly leads to pounding headaches.

We’d drop a little more for the Crispin Rosé Cider, which at $1.99 cost “20 extra cents well spent,” my friend observed. This was more peachy in color, fizzier and drier, making it more refreshing on a hot summer day. (It’s also easy to find; a six pack costs $9.36 at Steve’s on University.)

Two of our options came from Seattle Cider Co., including my personal favorite. The 2016 Gravenstein Rosé ($9.99/500 mL) gets its dark magenta color from mourvedre red wine barrels, and the little bit of tannin with the fruity apple balanced just right.

Both the Seattle Cider Berry Rosé ($3.79/16 oz. can) and our locally made cider, One Barrel “Gentry’s Own” Rosé Cider ($1.79/12 oz. can) veered toward sweet apple flavors.

Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries give the berry cider a dark pink color, but it was much less complex and interesting than its Gravenstein cousin. And the One Barrel was disappointing, quite sweet with an odd aftertaste. Gentry adds color and flavor with pinot noir grape must and aronia berry puree.

Island Orchard, a cider company near the tip of the Door County peninsula in Ellison Bay, pinks up one of its ciders with tart cherry juice, making a pretty cider that was perfectly balanced between tart and sweet.

We finished with the deeply purple Finnriver, which tasted so much of currants I could swap it out for cassis in a kir royale. More complex than most with a nice edge of tartness, it reminded me of wine in the best way.

It snapped a pretty good picture, too.

“Rosé is a fun way to make a simple apple cider a little more exciting,” said Gentry, who thinks of cider as his passion project at One Barrel Brewing. “You can add color, sweetness. … People have caught the rosé bug of late, so it’s a good way to get people to try it.”

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