These last few weeks, summer storms have been in full swing in the eastern part of San Diego County. They’ve made it unbearably humid at lower sea levels (where I live), and they’ve dumped rain and hail relentlessly up at the higher altitudes.
My dad called me one Friday afternoon and asked if I wanted to drive up with him to experience the maelstrom first-hand. He wasn’t doing anything on account of a finger injury that made HVAC work difficult. I wasn’t doing anything besides sending out job apps and attempting to fend off looming depression. A trip to the mountains sounded splendid.
We drove to Julian, CA, a quiet mountain town about a 40 minutes’ drive from my house. The rain dumped on us something fierce… for about an hour. To our surprise, the storm moved north fairly rapidly and we were left with nothing but sweet, sweet summer sunlight. It was too early to go home, so we figured we might as well find some beer and a comfortable place to drink it.
I moseyed into a ye olde general store on the shore of Lake Cuyamaca and came upon a small fridge full of Julian Hard Cider 22 oz. bottles. I had never heard of this brewery before, nor of their five cider variants. A mystery was afoot, and I needed to do some sleuthing.
I chose the Black & Blue cider because blue is one of my favorite colors. Not much more to it, sorry.
Bottle art: The biggest thing to comment on here is the surprising quality of the branding. I mean, the beer comes from a town of 1,500 people, but design-wise it looks a lot better than some of the big name brews. For example, craft beer all-star Alpine Beer Company used to put this on their bottles. What the heck is that? Some marketing intern got paid in school credit or “exposure” to throw that together in a week using the dusty PC in the back room. Of course, ABC is famous now, so those bottles are kinda cool in an ironic, ugly throwback uniform sort of way. But they had to earn that coolness — the design used to be just plain ugly.
The Black & Blue bottle features an eagle mid-swoop above the “Julian Hard Cider” text logo. In its talons, it holds a banner that says “American to the Core,” which may be the first apple pun I’ve ever seen in my 22 years of life. This eagle thing also happens to look pretty similar to the American League logo, and I was initially impressed at the balls Julian HC had to commit blatant copyright infringement.
The cider is aptly and cleverly named Black & Blue ’cause it uses blackberry and blueberry juice in the pressing process. The reference to pugilism is made complete with a cute little pair of blue boxing gloves underneath the text logo.
Smell: It smelled like crisp green apples. It wasn’t all that different olfactorily from any other, more pedestrian hard ciders, such as Angry Orchard. I’d say the smell was a little heavier, though; it had that extra punch (haha!) to the senses, that extra booziness. It also has more actual booze (6.99% compared to 5%).
Appearance: My dad and I drank the cider while sitting on a public deck overlooking Lake Cuyamaca. That was probably illegal. Oh well.
I was drinking straight from the bottle, so I wasn’t able to see the color of the actual cider until I accidentally spilled a few drops of it. It’s the exact same reddish-purple color of blueberry syrup. Absolutely delicious looking. It gave me an overwhelming desire for pancakes.
Taste and Overall Impressions
Super sweet and super tart all the way through — as my grandfather would say, it had pucker power. It was pretty sour, but not terribly so. I’d compare it to the first bite of a very ripe green apple. It really revs up your salivary glands. It hurt just enough to appeal to my masochistic side, but it was just sweet enough that it didn’t scare me away.
The blackberries and blueberries didn’t so much add flavor as much as they altered and augmented the cider’s sourness. They made the whole thing a bit juicier, a bit more exciting once swallowed. Nevertheless, there was a bite to the drink that I suspect would have been missing without the berries.
The finish of this beer was the most remarkable thing to me. It was perhaps the cleanest finish of any brew I’ve ever drunk. It’s sour as all hell and then you swallow it and it’s like a street cleaner came through. There’s no lingering taste of fruit or hops, no weird malty flavor left on the tongue — just a lot of nothingness in your mouth. The sourness brings just a little bit of flavor and then BAM! It’s gone. Straight scorched Earth, no evidence that anything was ever there in the first place. You’re left with a palate that’s clean and dry, which just makes you wanna take another sip.
And taking another sip is easy — this cider is the definition of chuggable. After crunching the numbers, I’ve concluded that the biggest factors contributing to this are its fairly casual taste (like a sour juice), its alcohol content (a hefty 6.99%), and its abundance in 22 oz. bottle form.
Unfortunately, these factors also make it a deceptively dangerous beverage. Not that I did it, but I can imagine some poor fool would be able to finish the whole 22 oz. bottle in one or two minutes tops. And then they might be tempted to crack open and guzzle another one before the buzz has a chance to catch up. Kids, make sure to take it slow, and make sure to read your labels. Remember: just ’cause it’s yummy doesn’t mean it’s safe. Do not ever chug out of ignorance.
If the time comes where you must chug, and if you’re doing it of your own accord and with the loving support of your buds, then rejoice! Just be aware of what you’re getting into. Ideally, chugging a beer (or cider, in this case) should be akin to childbirth. The right environment is key, as is a proper balance of nervousness and excitement. You shouldn’t do it by yourself, and it’s always handy to have a more experienced person nearby for guidance.
This was a delicious brew. And to think I might have never heard of it if I hadn’t walked into that general store. For beer newbies or for those unfortunate folks who “hate beer,” Black & Blue has everything you could want: tartness, sweetness, juiciness, alcohol, and no hint of those dreaded hops. It’s the real deal.
Recommended for: beer newbs, beer haters, sour/Weisse beer lovers, those in need of a dessert beer, people who want a buzz without “bad” taste.