All right, I know that Sonoma is a cidery, not a brewery, but I love craft cider as much as I love craft beer, and I tend to weight them equally if the cider is good. So, the fella and I decided to head north from Sonoma, CA, on our recent wine and beer weekend (we also visited Mad Fritz) to see if Sonoma Cider had something at their Healdsburg location that could top The Anvil. I love The Anvil.
As a Chicagoan that spent time in MIchigan, I am so spoiled on the cider front. Few things ciders to Vander Mill, Scrumpy, Uncle John’s, and Virtue for me. They are all Michigan ciders and all available in Chicago. When we moved to New Jersey (temporarily), I brought a bunch of Michigan ciders with me to make the transition a bit easier. Although New Jersey is known for having great fruit orchards and farms, I never found a cider on the east coast that was worth drinking to me. And when we moved back to Chicago, we detoured in Michigan on the way and stocked up at Uncle John’s Cider Mill.
Anyway, we were excited to try our first cider company in California.
Although it was a lovely Sunday afternoon in November, Sonoma Cider was really quiet. I actually called ahead before we left Sonoma (the town), since some of the reviews said that it gets busy, but we definitely didn’t need the reservation. We had the bar to ourselves when we came in, though as our tasting and meal continued, business started to pick up. It’s a huge space inside with a game area that featured cornhole and free Skee Ball. The big windows let in lots of light in the afternoon, and it feels very open and airy. I was there for the free Skee Ball.
I was surprised by the number of taps! I think that they usually have 18-20 of their own ciders on tap, plus about 8ish guest beers. They even have wine and spirits available. The fabulous Desiree, who helped us throughout our experience, said that she’s surprised by how many people want wine, so she’s glad they have a selection. I guess it’s a must if you’re in Sonoma County. Anyway, all of the ciders (even the specialty ones) are available in flights, which are served in sixes. We ruled a few out and planned two flights, although we asked her to just pour one, so half of the ciders didn’t get too warm while we were tasting the first batch.
The Hatchet: One of their basics. A little sweet for both of us, but a legitimate apple-y flavour. Made with a blend of Pacific Northwest apples. Fella: 3, Me: 3.5.
The Anvil: Bourbon extract is added to cider for this one, and the blend is caramely and sweet, but in a boozy way. I love it, and I don’t always love sweet ciders. This feels sweet with a purpose, to me, and it’s one of my favourite ciders on the planet. I had it for the first time at a huge two-story beer bar in Chicago. Fella just thinks it’s too sweet. I cannot convince him otherwise. Fella: 3.75, me: 5.
The Washboard: We had this once before in Chicago, back in 2015, so it does get around a bit, but it’s not as prevalent as The Anvil. It’s a cider with sarsparilla and cider, so it tastes a bit like if you threw some apples in a vanilla cola. Strange, but it works for me. Couldn’t drink it all day, though. Fella: 3.75, me: 4.
The Jax: This one is fun. It has a pronounced apple cinnamon flavour, like an apple pie or a breakfast cereal. I’m guessing the name means that they were going for Apple Jacks. Fella: 4.25, me: 4.25
Dry Barrel-Aged Hatchet: A micro-release created by aging The Hatchet in red wine barrels. Red wine barrels are a quick way to the fella’s heart, so he loved it. I thought it was a little flat in texture, and had more flavour from the barrels than from the apples. Fella: 4.25, me: 3.5
Strawberry Fields: We were hoping for more fruit flavour in this one, but it only has strawberry juice added to a red wine-fermented cider. We should have expected it from the dark red colour (see above). It tasted a little too vinegar-y for both of us. Fella: 3.25, me: 3.25.
WestCider: A unique blend of apples form the base of this cider, and we could tell the difference. It’s made with heirloom apples from a small farm in the Russian River Valley, and it’s a unique blend of varietals that you don’t find in every grocery store. It tastes very natural and artisanal, but it is also very sweet. Fella: 4, me: 4.25
Bananaweizen: The description for this one sounded totally up my alley. Cider + bananas + hefeweizen? Yes. Except I found this to be vinegary and sour. Not sure why my palate hated it so much, but the fella found it quite pleasant with a little bit of tartness and banana flavour. Good thing he was there to finish this taster! Fella: 3.75, me: 2.75
Gravenstein: We both got a strong acidic taste from this one, with strong apple flavour up front that tapered off nicely. Fella said that it reminded him of pears, because—spoiler alert—their pear cider didn’t remind me of pears at all. Fella: 4, me: 3.5
Winter Banana: Not flavoured with actual bananas at all, but named for the winter banana apple, since it’s a single-varietal cider. Super local fruit, also grown in Healdsburg. I loved the dryness and the depth. The fella actually got more banana notes than I did, and wasn’t as much of a fun. Fella: 3, me: 4
Dry Zider: This one isn’t on tap anymore, according to the website, so I suppose that we caught the end of its limited release. Aged in Zinfandel barrels, this cider adopts that dry mouth feeling that some of the rich red wines give, and it’s very crisp and apple-y, more so than some of their other aged ciders, I thought. Fella didn’t love the aging on this one. Fella: 3.5, me: 4.25
The Pitchfork: one of their flagships, this one is an apple cider blended with a pear reduction. This made it way too sweet for both of us. Fella: 3.25, me: 3.25
We snagged a few more tasters after our flights, including the Dry Golden Delicious and The Imperial. The Imperial is aged in both whiskey and brandy barrels, and it was a little too much of everything for us. We both gave Dry Golden Delicious four stars. Fella said it was because he loves golden delicious apples. I generally steer clear of any “delicious” branded apples in the store, so I was surprised that I liked it so much.
Since we had plenty of food and wanted to stay and play some games, we decided to have a couple of full pours. I chose The Anvil, because even after so many special ciders, it was still my favourite; fella chose Gravenstein, I think. Our high-stakes Skee Ball tournament ended in a draw before we had a chance to play the final game; a couple of kids wanted to play, and we didn’t want to be awful humans and continue to hog the Skee Ball.
I had one of the salads and the fella had some sort of sandwich. I can’t remember the specifics, but the food was pretty solid. They have a rotating, seasonal menu, with enough offerings to classify this spot as a brewpub. We didn’t have time to wander around town, but I’m guessing that this is one of the better casual spots in town for drinks, food, and good times.
They are canning their flagship ciders now, so we took home a six-pack of The Anvil and a four-pack of bottles of The Washboard and The Jax.
Visit Sonoma Cider:
44F Mill Street (around the back of the shopping center)
Open daily 11am-9pm
Bring your kids (games!), bring your dogs (they even have a doggie menu)
Disclaimer: The fella works in the alcohol business, and Sonoma gave us an industry discount.