While its been almost two months since the Great American Beer Festival there was one aspect of my trip to Denver that I’ve fully intended to write about but I’ve been unable to find the time to post. That place is Stem Ciders and outside of the Convention Center, it was probably the bar I spent the most time at during my 5 days in Colorado.
This year my wife decided against getting a designated driver ticket for GABF,knowing that she would rather spend her time exploring Denver than hanging out with a bunch of drunk beer nerds. So for the first night of the festival, I went to the convention center and she explored the River North neighborhood, where we would meet later for Epic Brewing’s 50 Firkin Fiasco event.
Once I wrapped up my night at GABF I jumped into a cab that brought me to our meeting spot – Stem Ciders – a small tasting room tucked into the back corner of an industrial building. I walked into the bar and there was my wife, getting zwickle pours from one of the cider makers and making best friends with every brewer and cider fan that stumbled into Stem that night.
I think we ended up back at Stem almost every single day of our trip. My wife absolutely fell in love with their ciders but it is also a very comfortable and laid back tasting room that was a bit of a safe haven from all the GABF insanity.
The ciders that Stem produces are bone-dry and incredibly refined and complex, taking their cues more from wine than from your typical American or English style ciders. Their Remedy cider showcases a beautiful dry-hop from cascade and citra hops, bringing a lovely citrus character with just a slight resiny finish. My wife’s favorite was a one-off whiskey-barrel aged hatch chili cider, which hits your palate with waves of flavor. First: bright apple, followed by earth and vanilla from the whiskey barrel before hitting you with the chili flavor and heat. It’s a truly beautiful cider that really shows off what Stem is capable of – balancing potentially overwhelming flavors to produce exceptionally drinkable ciders.
But the cider I kept going back to was Le Chene, a perfectly crafted blend of traditional cider apples, fermented to dryness and aged in red wine barrels. This cider showcases just enough fruit character but backs it up with some earthy oak and subtle tannic qualities from the wine. Its a cider that is perfect for casual day drinking with friends but also fits right in at a fancy dinner party.
By the end of our trip we had about 8 different bottles from Stem packed into our luggage for the trip home and they remain in our cellar untouched – we are terrified to drink through our stash and find ourselves Stem-less until our next trip to Denver. Believe me, I’m itching to crack one of our two bottles of Remedy.
For me, Stem was reminiscent of my favorite cidery from back in Toronto: West Avenue, and really sums up what is missing from the cider market in Los Angeles. While the cider shelves at bottle shops and Whole Foods have been expanding significantly over the last year or so, the bulk of the ciders fit into two categories. The first being clean, apple forward ciders which are easily accessible and refreshing. The second being the increasingly popular funky wild ciders. While I certainly enjoy them both, Stem is doing something special – demonstrating how complex and refined American craft cider can be.