Welcome to Liquid Lowdown, a column that will explore the strange, beautiful world of local drinks. Each entry will spotlight one craft liquid, made right here in metro Phoenix (or just beyond). Lowdowns will feature mostly beer, but we’ll also take detours into other alcoholic beverages. So snap open a can or thrum the cork from a bottleneck. Cheers. Let's get weird.
Name: The Hoppy Stoic
Style: Wet-hopped apple cider
ABV: 6.5 percent
Fermentary: Stoic Cider
Address: Prescott, Arizona
Lowdown: In centuries past, settlers who moved to Prescott planted apple trees. They planted various kinds of apples, evidenced by the many apple varieties that thrive in the area today. At Stoic Cider, a team of ambitious apple lovers tap into the rich but under-appreciated apple culture in the pine- and juniper-treed heights just north of the Sonoran Desert, turning this great American fall fruit into cider.
Cider made from crab apples and aged in Arizona oak.
Cider cold-fermented, taking a slow trip from juice to final product.
Even a cider layered with, get this, wet hops.
Wet hops refers to whole hops in their natural state. Usually, because hops grow so well in regions like the Pacific Northwest, they are shipped across the country dry. But on Stoic Cider’s 60-acre farm in Prescott, hops have been growing for many years, since before Stoic even existed.
“My father-in-law Don planted these hops for home brewing about 20 years ago,” says Tierney Routson, one of Stoic’s four founders. “They’ve gotten a lot better taken care of and maintained since the cider came around.”
Stoic Cider released its first commercial batch in December 2017. Since then, the small-batch operation has made about a dozen kinds of cider, with eight or so available now, in bottles, if you look around the Valley at places like Total Wine, Whole Foods, and FnB.
The Stoic team unites cider makers with formidable brain power.
Tierney is a field biologist. Her husband and co-founder, Kanin Routson, has a Ph.D. in population genetics of the Pacific crabapple. Kanin’s brother, Cody Routson, Stoic’s paleoclimatologist, also has a Ph.D. And Cody’s wife and the fourth and final co-founder, Clare Stielstra, is a hydrologist.
With this team, Stoic can go deep on apples and apple cider.
Stoic grows apples on its farm, which is actually owned by Cody and Kanin’s parents. But these cider gurus also source apples from other parts of northern Arizona, and even beyond. There are more than 10,000 varieties of apples. The cider possibilities are vast.
One possibility: imbuing a cider made from Newtown Pippin apples with wet Cascade and Chinook hops. This cider is called The Hoppy Stoic.
And what a cider it is!
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The Hoppy Stoic might be the driest cider I’ve ever had. It seems to have utterly no sugar. Instead, where you would normally expect sugar, there is salt, a multidimensional salinity that lasts from beginning to end of your sip. It's like the saltiness of gose, the German beer style, but without tang. The perfume of hops comes through, not on a huge dank level but as a low, muted florality. You get some notes of bright citrus, like lemon.
Sipping through The Hoppy Stoic is seeing apple in a convex mirror. The brightness is elongated, the acidity slightly warped. Its crispness comes but in an unexpected way, changed by salt. It's almost more like a white wine, like a Vermentino or Cava, than a drink teased from hardy-skinned fruit. There isn't the lushness of a robust, dark, unfiltered, sweeter apple cider. This cider lives by different rules completely.
A 500-milliliter bottle of The Hoppy Stoic will cost you about $10. Born to be matched with food, it pours a pale bright gold, the color of baled straw seen through a train window, and has an assertive carbonation. Bubbles madly swirl in the glass, bursting on the brim, hinting at the flavor to come.
Endnotes: Check out Stoic Cider's website to see where in the Valley, and beyond, you can find its current ciders and future releases.