Cider is a great fall treat that’s sadly been smothered by the wave of pumpkin spice that overtakes New England when the leaves start to change. Tart, tangy, sweet, a punch of apple to the taste buds, the underappreciated cider is a robust beverage that truly deserves to be celebrated. Franklin County knows this. The 21st annual Franklin County CiderDays will be held Nov. 7-8. For this celebration, orchards, eateries, farms, and outdoor rec areas across the county plan cider tastings, pressing demos, feasts, and parties. We wanted to find the best cider in the Pioneer Valley, so Advocate staff headed north to the apple orchards and snapped up as many jugs of the autumnal ambrosia we could find. We conducted a blind taste-testing of cider from Whately, Easthampton, Southampton, Colrain, Westhampton, and Amherst and graded the juice on a scale of 1 (yuck) to 5 (yum). This month’s Taste-Off! judges were editors Jeff Good and Kristin Palpini; designer Jennifer Levesque; and staff writer Hunter Styles. Our guest judge was Advocate and Daily Hampshire Gazette photo editor Carol Lollis. Here’s how the ciders ranked from worst to first:
Quonquot Farm, Whately – 6TH
Kristin: It’s syrupy, like maybe they used corn syrup, kind of velvety, but I get this smell when I bring the cup to my nose, kind of chemically. Maybe it’s the jug?
Jen: I taste molasses. It’s not strong enough on the apple.
Hunter: I’m pretty sure this is just apple juice; it’s not particularly tart.
Jeff: Pass the pickles. This is way too sweet and syrupy for my taste.
Jen: I really like it, but I wouldn’t drink a whole glass of it. Maybe like a shot glass would be the right amount.
Hunter: With rum? I agree with Jen — this would be a good mixer.
Kristin: Kind of tastes like a melted candy apple.
Carol: Kind of mellow. It’s begging for a bite.
Jeff: This was nice and has a little tart edge to it. It kind of reminded me of Easthampton; a little cider on its way up.
Jen: I liked it, but I don’t like the aftertaste.
Hunter: It’s just apple juice with kind of a bitter flavor added. But it’s not as sweet as the others, so I appreciate that.
Jen: Macs were definitely the apple used.
Hunter: I enjoyed this solid cider. It kind of reminds me of red wine and how it can be grapey or drier. This cider was very appley in the way wine can be grapey. Thick, but not too interesting.
Carol: It is like wine, but this one didn’t linger. It hit the back of my tongue and it was gone.
Jeff: A grocery store cider. It’s sweet and good, but I could have bought it in Omaha.
Atkins Farm, Amherst – 2ND
Kristin: Sweet and tangy. I could drink this for a while. Smooth and bold.
Jen: Really fresh.
Hunter: It’s cut with tartness. I like this one.
Jeff: Capital ‘T’ for tartness. The tart champ of the day.
Carol: I was the only one who didn’t like this. It was thin, with not a lot of backup.
Pine Hill, Colrain – 1ST
Jen: I definitely like this. Not too sweet, no molasses.
Kristin: That’s cider! Tangy, a hint of sweet. Clear, but not thin.
Carol: This is a sweet one. I think it would be good cut with some sparkling water.
Hunter: A little more zingy tartness than the others we’ve tried.
Jeff: I’m definitely pro-tartness. This has a nice tart edge.
Kristin Palpini can be contacted at email@example.com.