Review: Mr. Beer - Archer's Orchard Strawberry Hard Cider
Mr. Beer offers various hard cider brew packs. These range from the standard apple cider to flavors including blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry. The fruit flavored kits use 100% fruit puree for the fruit flavoring. It's a 1:1 ratio of apple juice to fruit puree that goes into the fermenter, along with some yeast. At $17.80 plus shipping for enough for a 2.5 gallon batch, this is a good deal. This past winter I decided to take a break from brewing Porters, Pilsners, and Belgian Wheat beers and try my hand at a strawberry flavored hard cider.
Low End, But Does The Job
More experienced brewers kept telling me that cider takes about a year to brew so I was skeptical about the Mr. Beer kit. It's instructions call for a mere 4 weeks total. Mr. Beer doesn't exactly cater to the experienced brew master. Their kits are low quality and aimed at the Walmart crowd. Not GIT-R-DONE rednecks mind you, but rather, people who walk past these kits and say "Hey, I'll grab one and try it". I have to say, with their promise of making brewing simple, it's what finally got me to try this out earlier last year. Yes, for roughly twice the price you can get larger, more durable equipment. And that's what I hope to upgrade to at some point. But Mr. Beer's promise of idiot proof brewing got me involved. My usual opinion for taking on something new is that if I'm not going to do it right, I shouldn't do it. This self-imposed barrier to entry raises the bar too high oftentimes and I end up abandoning too many projects.
A Mixed Bag
The strawberry brew kit ended up being a mixed bag. The taste of the strawberry puree that came with the kit was absent in the final product. Strawberries are a relatively weak flavor in and of themselves, but this was an extreme. About 5 people I gave samples to all agreed that there was no hint of strawberry in the cider. The mixture was brewed 2/8/09, allowed to ferment for over a month and a half, then bottled on 3/22/09. Temperature and other variables were within acceptable tolerances. For whatever reason, the "strawbery cider" tasted like... cider. Regular cider. And here's the mixed bag part: the cider was delicious. It wasn't bad at all. Yes, the strawberry wasn't there, but so what? For my first ever cider batch, it was quite refreshing. Unlike Magners and other commercial ciders, this was much lighter. Don't expect to be overpowered by apple-awesomeness. If you want a light, refreshing home brewed cider, this is for you. In fact, I plan on making another batch soon for the summer. The fermenter currently has a heavy Porter brewing right now. That's great for the winter, but not for those hot New England days.
Final Verdict: Buy
If you like light ciders, pickup a Mr. Beer Hard Cider brew kit. To get some actual fruit flavor, use something like a fruit "essence", an additive used in wines.