The glorious craft beverage revolution has raised America's drinking standards to levels of nuance and excellence that were lost during Prohibition. But sadly, one American libation has largely been left behind. Hard cider, once the preferred beverage of Anglo-Saxon colonists, still languishes in the sickly sweet company of alcoholic sodas. Macro ciders like Vermont's Woodchuck and Ohio's Angry Orchard drink sugary and simplistic.
The difference between these and Ice Cave Cider House's brews is night and day. Open a year, this Monument-based cidery churns out cider that lands somewhere between lager and Champagne — crisp and effervescent, with well-defined flavors and a clean finish.
All varieties fall between 6.4 and 6.9 percent ABV. The signature Crystal Creek Classic Dry, for example, bears a whisper of fermented fruit funk on the nose, belying what it's made of. But that funk doesn't show up on the tongue. Instead, there's a supreme balance of dryness and tartness, with only a hint of apple flavor, sans all sweetness.
Ice Cave sits in the rear suite of a one-floor complex, quaint and small-town as can be. Behind the bar and the cidery's six taps, the wall bears all manner of tips and regulars' shenanigans. Buy a pint for the "go cider me" customer of the month to enter the drawing for next month — there's an engraved glass and pints aplenty on the line.
It's clear that Julie and David Troudt know how to treat their customers right. Julie's family comes from Great Britain, and her taste in hard cider errs dry as a consequence. She found most U.S. hard ciders too sweet, so she and David started brewing their own. The Troudts get their source cider pre-pressed from Colon Orchards in Cañon City, supplemented with cider from Palisade.
When they're in season, Palisade peaches form the excellent Pikes Peach cider. Off-season, the Troudts make it with peach juice — local, but David wants to keep his sources secret.
The results still satisfy. A concentrated peach essence dominates the nose and leads the flavor. It's not as tart as the classic dry, but it wouldn't be accurate to call it sweet.
Fruit fans will also adore the Black Forest blackcurrant, the Troudts' sweetest offering, though it's still drier than anything you'll get in bottles. Actually, that little sweetness helps mellow the tartness of the currant juice, which David imports from England. Still, I prefer Raspberry Mountain, which uses fresh raspberries, also locally sourced, and has a pale pink hue. My drinking companion and I toss around the term "intensely fresh."
Of course, the Troudts brew two ciders to serve as entry points for beer lovers. Henry's Station dry-hopped sees local Twisted Bine Cascade hops and non-local Mosaic hops in the brew. The result bears a bright, hoppy nose with a little bitterness playing interesting games with the base cider. For something a little more straightforward, the Belgian-style cider ferments with Belgian ale yeast and orange peels. Try it for a sipper more rounded than the sharp classic dry, but don't expect a Chimay-esque bouquet of fruity Belgian yeast.
Channeling English sensibilities, the Troudts have taken a step toward elevating an American standard back to its former glory. Ice Cave warrants a visit, for cider lovers and non-fans alike, and growlers are available so you can share the love at home.