At the upcoming Dan Berger International Cider Competition, a panel of judges will evaluate numerous ciders. They will know the category of cider (Spanish Style, Dessert/Ice Cider, Traditional Dry, etc), but beyond this nothing else will be known. Not the name of the cidery, not the name of the cider, not the harvest date, not the price, not the geographic origin.
Is This An Effective Way to evaluate the quality of a set of ciders?
The answer to that question depends upon the goal of a Cider Competition.
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DAN BERGER INTERNATIONAL CIDER COMPETITION
What’s interesting about all Cider Competitions in the United States is that they are a relatively recent phenomenon for the precise reason that cider is a relatively recent phenomenon. Though cider has long been produced in the United States, only in the past five or so years has its popularity and selection exploded. Today, there are hundreds of cideries and they are located in nearly every state. Ten years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find more than one cider stuffed away somewhere on the beers shelf or in a bottle behind the bar.
With hundreds of cideries and 1000s of individual ciders both domestic and international in the market today, it is now possible to carry out a professional assessment of ciders in the form of a competition. This fact alone is cause for celebration.
The goal of the Dan Berger International Cider Competition is to expose as many members of the beverage trade and consuming public to the outstanding quality and diversity of ciders that are now in the marketplace. The Competition is designed to identify those ciders in a variety of categories that stand out qualitatively.
The question is what’s the nature of a stand out cider and can the qualities of a stand out cider be identified collectively by a panel of judges? The first question is the most interesting, while the answer to the latter question is undoubtedly “yes”.
While different people respond to this question somewhat differently, I believe the following criteria for assigning “stand out” status to a cider is largely accepted by most serious cider drinkers:
- 1. The Cider Possesses Balance
By this we mean that the primary components of a cider that create its structure are in harmony with one another: Tannin, Acid, Sugar, Alcohol. While under rare circumstances (consider a cider made from only Wickson apples) you might applaud a cider that displays an abundance of one of these elements, in nearly every case a cider is more pleasing and more interesting when one or more of these components are not overbearing or when one or more is undetectable.
Another way of expressing the concept of “complexity” is by speaking of layers of flavors and aromas. Great and interesting drinks, those that one keeps coming back to and intrigued by are not one note liquids. They possess layers of flavors and aromas that most often intermingle with one another and reveal themselves with repeated encounter. A drink that merely smells and tastes of nothing but, say, ripe apple might be satisfying but they will often become boring. Consider on the other hand a cider that possesses hints and nuances and threads and layers of various flavors, including perhaps both dried and ripe apple. This is complexity.
3. Fruit Authenticity
Surely a cider made from pear ought to possess authentic aromas and flavors of pear among others. And surely a cider produced from apples ought to have flavors of the apple, be they ripe apple, dried apple, stewed apple, or tart apple. On occasion, one encounters a cider that possesses a dominant, overwhelming flavor that is decidedly not a derivative of the fruit from which it is made. Occasionally, one encounters a cider that while made from, say, apples, includes an additional flavor (hops, spices, barrel notes) that overwhelm and disappear the fruit characteristics. These occasions are unfortunate.
These will aspects of the ciders that come before the judging panel at the Dan Berger International Cider Competition will be important, if not paramount considerations in identifying standout entries; those that are awarded Best of Class awards and medals.
The hope is that real, increased interest in cider will be generated when the results of the competition are revealed.