The Explorer & The Scout: Incline Cider

I currently work for a craft hard cider company in West Michigan. The founders are big explorers, outdoor enthusiasts, love buying local and, of course, supporting small and genuine businesses.

So when they came back from a trip to visit family in Seattle, Washington and brought back locally crafted goodies, I knew they had to be good. Well, that, and we all drink a lot of cider, so if something gets the rec from our founders, it’s probably something special.

Incline Cider from Auburn, Washington currently carries three types of canned ciders: the two I tried here, The Explorer and The Scout, and a seasonal release, The Legend. Each cider sits at 6.5 ABV, are all gluten free, non GMO, and made with close-to-home ingredients. If you meander over to Incline’s website, you’ll see they even have an “adventure pairing” for their ciders-

“Camping, hiking, picnics, boating, golfing, beaching, birding, brewing, reading, doing chores, mowing the lawn, dog walking, dog running, kayaking, rafting, bonfire burning, safaris, mushroom hunting, canoeing…if you’re still reading all were trying to say is that this cider is ready for any of your adventures (when enjoyed responsibly of course).  Cheers!”

I tried to find ways to creatively photograph Incline’s modern looking cans, and I don’t know if I did them justice. My 7-month old kitten Uma decided she would help me with this by getting in most of my shots.

 

Lets start with The Explorer: Hopped Cider.

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I’m not one for hopped ciders myself-I’m biased and really enjoy my company’s hopped cider, but most others I’ve tried end up being either far too hoppy, too dry, or bitter. I would say The Explorer is perfect for people looking to try hopped for the first time.

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The Explorer is super pleasant-it’s extremely drinkable, and that’s coming from someone who just can’t seem to get on the IPA bandwagon (YES I’VE HAD FOUNDER’S ALL DAY IPA. Leaveee meee aloneeee). There is a beautiful balance in this cider between light and refreshing, citrus-y hops, and crisp and sweet apples. The hops are almost a breezy after thought, making subtle appearances with a vinegary apple flavor, and a light and citrus-y aroma. It sits more toward the dry end, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I could seriously picture myself drinking this on a hot summer’s day!

If you’re a hop head and for you more is better, you may not appreciate the subtlety of the flavors here, but I sure did. Why oh why must Auburn, Washington, be so far away…

Up next, The Scout: Hopped Marionberry Cider.

I can’t say anything about the flavor before I talk about the absolutely beautiful color of this cider. I was surprised to see a deep purple-y red pour from the can, similar to a dark red wine. The head was a unique milky pink.

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This cider packs a real punch not only with aesthetic appeal but also with intense, fresh flavors. Floral and deep blueberry/blackberry tones are the base of this cider, chased by an immediately hopped finish.  Similar to The Explorer, The Scout is juicy and a little citrusy from the fresh hops. Again, this cider is really well balanced. While The Explorer was light and crisp, this drink lies on the heavier and more flavorful side, with a little extra subtle sweetness.

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Overall, I was extremely impressed by Incline’s ciders. I can’t wait for the day they’re carried in Michigan. If you get the chance to, give them a try. Try new things and support small biz!

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Monte Cristo @ Peppermill Grill

If you’re like me, you like the savory with the sweet (especially in breakfast food). Let me tell you about my new favorite breakfast that delicately balances both flavors- the Monte Cristo.

I was introduced to this perfection at the humble Peppermill Grill in Standale, Michigan. Talk about a place that simultaneously gives you the comforts of a hole-in-the-wall tacky diner and the warmth of a familiar home cooked meal.

You may not know the origins or what even a Monte Cristo is…don’t worry, I did the work for you.

Straight from Wikipedia herself…

“A Monte Cristo is a fried ham and cheesesandwich, a variation of the French croque-monsieur. In the 1930s–1960s, American cookbooks had recipes for this sandwich, under such names as French Sandwich, Toasted Ham Sandwich, and French Toasted Cheese Sandwich.[1]Emmental or Gruyère cheese is typically used.”

Sounds pretty amazing right? Here’s the breakdown of the one I ordered at Peppermill:

  • Bread, french toasted and sprinkled with powered sugar
  • Baby Swiss cheese
  • Layers upon layers of thin sliced ham

and the most important piece to this dish…dark red raspberry jam for dipping.

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You read right. A perfect combination of robust, savory meat and cheese flavors complimented with an ultasweet, fruity sauce. Soft and mildy sweet bread, thick ham and gooey cheese. A little of the dark raspberry sauce goes a long way. The one downside to this plate of comfort is the mess that occurs almost instantly, as the bread absorbs the sauce and the juicy ham. Just don’t wear your favorite crisp white t-shirt and you should make it out of this one alive.

Just a short post today, but I have a few plans for future drinks and dunks soon. Keep your eyes out for those, and if you have a favorite recipe or restaurant that serves a Monte Cristo, please share it!

 

Pumpkin Beer Showdown

Let’s not make this any more awkward than it has to be.

So we’re back, for now, but hopefully for the rest of the season. Summer took hold of my schedule, and although I did try some very delicious breakfast foods and bubbly drinks, I let Doughnuts and Daiquiris slip onto the back burner. But enough of the silly excuses- on with the beer!

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It’s autumn, the season Michigan was made for. We’ve all been waiting for it: the crunchy leaves, wind-breaking coats and pumpkin spiced lattes….and most importantly, pumpkin beers.

Back in September I went to my favorite local bottle shop (shout out to Siciliano’s) and perused the aisles for 20 minutes looking for the perfect sounding pumpkiny ales to try and compare. The winners were:

Ballast Point’s Pumpkin Down

Arcadia Ales Jaw-Jacker

O’Fallen Brewery Vanilla Pumpkin

Each sounded unique and delightfully fall inspired so I picked them up immediately. Which one will I grab again? Read on to find out.

  1. Ballast’s Point Pumpkin Down

I enjoyed Pumpkin Down while hunching over a presentation group meeting one night late in September. Popcorn in hand, eyes sore from staring at Power Point for hours, I eagerly drank this ale with high expectations.

I was immediately washed over with real pumpkin flavor- not that artificial pumpkin spice crap that’s in your favorite latte at Starbucks, but like the squash. Then, a hint of cinnamon-y spice. Not too much spice to distract you from the pumpkin. This was a true pumpkin beer, with mild sweetness and an easy to drink balance of pie spices. This one also gets points for it’s label- I mean come on, its super cool.

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2. Arcadia Ale’s Jaw-Jacker

I enjoyed Jaw-Jacker (bought almost soley for the name) during a spooky movie night  after it had drizzled all day. Talk about fall up-the-ass.

This one caught me off guard…although looking back, it shouldn’t have, because its literally called Jaw-Jacker. Think spicy PSL with a strong beer taste. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not opposed to the taste of beer when I’m having a beer, ( I know those people exist and they remind me of myself as a Freshman in college) but when I’m expecting a sweet pumpkin ale I don’t think “beer” should be the number one flavor.

I’m not trying to rip this one a part, I just really wasn’t into it. The spices were actually a little hot- like cinnamon gum hot. Upon checking Arcadia’s website I realized that there isn’t actually any pumpkin in this recipe, which explains the competition between the strong spice and beer flavors. If you like fall spices and simple beer, you’ll probably enjoy this one more than I did.

3. O’Fallen Brewery Vanilla Pumpkin

I don’t remember what quintessential fall activity I was partaking in when I finally cracked open this fragrant ale, but I’m sure it involved a crisp breeze and some squash eaten in some form. Anyways, one of the first things that drew me to this one was the bottle. O’Fallen’s bottle has a skinny neck with a textured logo popping out from it, and for some reason it feels satisfying in the hand of the drinker.

The vanilla is really doing favors in this one, which makes it one of my other favorites from this list. Its creamy and sweet like vanilla bean ice cream, which does a magical thing to the pumpkin pie spices found on the second taste. Vanilla combined with cinnamon and nutmeg swirl together to make a delicious dessert style beer. O’Fallen describe it as a piece of pumpkin pie with a scoop of ice cream on top, and I think that nails it exactly.

Each pumpkiny brew was unique in it’s own way which was impressive. It excites me to think of all the possible flavor combinations I haven’t tried yet. How many different ways could a brewery inject a drink with fall spices and pumpkins? I’ve only got until Halloween to find out.

Although this is a short, inexperienced review (I suppose that is really the flesh and bones of this blog, but) expect to see more and hopefully higher quality posts in the future.

Cheers!

JAKE’S VANILLA BEAN PORTER

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Disclaimer: You’re about to read a review of a beer by someone that does not typically reach for or enjoy them. Proceed at your own risk.

Listen, I know what you’re thinking.

I’m not a beer person. In fact, I didn’t start drinking beverages with carbonation until I was 19, and I still don’t enjoy it. However two of my four room mates mostly only drink beer, preferably dark and strong. So from time to time, I’m persuaded to try something new and, to my surprise, delicious.

And if I’m going to have a beer it has to be flavored. My friend Sam, a lover of all things Michigan craft beer, says that what I need is “a good dessert beer.” I’ve tried to get around it, but I almost never finish a plain dark beer. Once it took me four hours to finish off a New Holland Poet.

Then why review a beer? It’s nearly “Beer Week” in Grand Rapids, Michigan- otherwise known as beer city USA. So I present to you my newest favorite, Jake’s Vanilla Bean Porter from Paw Paw. Brewed in the wild of Paw Paw MI, this probably isn’t your grandpa’s favorite beer.

I found this puppy (Ha-ha, get it? dog puns) as a single in a Family Fare in Allendale, MI. I don’t believe they’re available at every Family Fare store, though, as I’ve tried to find it in another one a few miles away from the original location I found it at and alas. It was less than two dollars.

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Whats not to love about this beer? It’s adorned with America’s favorite dog, the yellow lab. I have a yellow lab myself at home in the north so I was attracted to the label immediately. The beer is chocolaty and malty (stay with me here, I’m trying to use beer drinker lingo) with a strong vanilla flavor after finish. YES, I said CHOCOLATE AND VANILLA BEER. This is as “girly” and delicious as it gets.

If you’re into lighter beers, you probably wont be into Jake’s. Also, at 6.3%, its a little bit higher than the average craft beer, which is pretty awesome too. This is a rich beer, and I don’t suggest having many at once. Unless that’s your thing. In that case, do your thing.

Another beer not featured here but I think deserves a mention is the Vanilla Java Porter by Atwater. This one is dark and yummy too, but instead of chocolate, it has a strong black coffee flavor paired with a toasty vanilla, almost like a golden-marshmallow-coffee-beer. This porter has the qualifications for a perfect breakfast beer. Don’t act like you’ve never been there.

I would consider these two porters similar to each other, so if you’ve tried one and enjoy it, be sure to try the other. The Vanilla Java Porter is available in more locations around Michigan as well.

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