When I snagged this (at least at the time) somewhat rare (in Houston) bottle over at D&Q, the friendly proprietress talked my ear off about how important it is to support locals, even when they're 162 miles away. She waxed poetic about the contents, too, saying "this isn't like other ciders." The way she described it sounded a lot like my first, slightly unsuspecting taste of Isastegi Basque Cider, but I knew better.
You see, I'd had the chance to sample this particular cider once before, at a Justin Vann pairing at Money Cat Brunch. It went quite well with buttery fish and pungent pepper sauce. It's not quite as arresting as Isastegi, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Isastegi can be a bit polarizing. When poured at my parents' house, for a tasting involving five people, two didn't like it. Too strong, too tart, too funky, too much. All those toos are what I love about the stuff, but I can see how it can be a difficult beverage. Gold Top, on the other hand, splits the difference between Isastegi and more familiar commercial ciders quite nicely. It's like the gateway drug of ciders.
Gold Top pours a tawny gold, almost like Sauternes. Vibrant carbonation results in some sudsy capping, even leaving a little bit of lacing on the glass. The liquid appears bright and light-filled, and is quite lovely.
The aroma leads with a restrained but notable phenolic funk, band-aids and melted plastic creeping out of the glass, subtle but insinuating. Grass, lemons, and fresh Macintosh apples lurk in the background, cleaning out the more challenging aromas, seeming almost like an olfactory reassurance. The slightly sulfured, oxidated smell of dried apples provides an earthy undertone.
After the slightly bracing aromatic introduction, the cider comes on sweeter than expected. A mix of fresh and dried apples leads the way, with the slightly darker sugar quality of dried apples providing a solid underpinning. The phenols fade, coming on as a slight tug at the sides of the mouth, masquerading as bitterness.
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The sprightly carbonation lends it a creamy texture, with light tannins providing a very slight drying sensation. Green almond herbals, with their associated astringency, creep in. Pears, stone fruit, and a hint of hay round out the flavor profile, with just a hint of freshening acid. Even with that, though, it finishes a bit less cleanly than I would like.
While it might not be as complex and interesting as Isastegi, Gold Top offers a higher dose of instant gratification, especially for those not yet ready to embrace the full effect of something like Isastegi. It tastes like what you think of when you think cider, only better. It tastes like my childhood memories of fall, all grown up. I'd love to see Gold Top embraced and fostered; it's a way forward for the popularity of proper cider, and that's something I can get behind, even from 162 miles away.