A cider slushie (left), along with a flight of very distinctive ciders
High heat and heavy traffic. That’s what I faced, as a detour led me through Scripps Ranch. Then, with fateful timing, the Newtopia Cyder tasting room appeared before me like a boozy oasis, and I turned in, embracing the chance to spend my time enjoying cold refreshment while skipping rush hour altogether.
10045 Carroll Canyon Road, San Diego
The moment I spotted the slushie machine, I knew it was the best decision I’d made all week.
Craft cider hasn’t made a ton of noise yet in San Diego, but the handful of creative cider producers who have set up shop are working hard to capture the local imagination. If a cider slushie can’t do that, I don’t know what will.
On this day, Newtopia filled the slushie machine with its Unicorn Blood cider, which it describes as featuring strawberry, watermelon, and “magic.” On its own, Unicorn Blood deftly blends the distinctive fruit flavors to balance the cider’s dry, white wine-like esters. The slushie ice didn’t change that, but did evoke a nostalgia for long summers off from school, updating the joyful iced beverage experience for my adult palate and forever replacing cherry as my reigning favorite slushie flavor.
It was almost a pity to switch from slushie cider to a flight of the regular stuff. Fortunately, Newtopia furnishes a selection of apple wines that can hardly be considered regular. It wasn’t long before I was comparing the Mosaic dry-hopped India Pale Cyder (IPC), one of the cidery’s flagship beverages, to a newer concoction named Cosmo-Hop Smash.
Whereas the “IPC” takes inspiration from dry-hopped West Coast IPAs, Cosmo-Hop takes its lead from a newer style called the milkshake IPA, which adds lactose, a.k.a. milk sugar, to a hazy IPA to give it greater sweetness and somewhat creamy mouthfeel. Featuring blueberry and strawberry, in addition to Mosaic hops, I’m eager to see this boundary pushing pink cider enter the slushie machine. The winey, fruity, hoppy, and smooth beverage tasted at once familiar and entirely new.
That’s par for the course at Newtopia. Along with its usual offering of wild yeast and oak barrel aged ciders, the board featured several collaboration ciders. Newtopia cofounder and cider maker Rick Moreno has been very active in the local brewing community, and I noticed both a cider-beer combo made with Nickel Beer Company, and a cider-sake blend made with Setting Sun Sake.
With so much experimentation going on, it’s easy to overlook the fact that traditional ciders really are the heart of this business. Dry-hopped and blended versions may provide a nice gateway for craft aficionados, but in truth, the dry and fruited ciders here ultimately taste better, and if I were new to the drink I would start with the single origin Fuji La La, derived from Fuji apples, to get a baseline of what cider can be.
Then, order a cider slushie. Because, yeah, it’s made with magic.