You’ll often find craft cider at most beer bars, but mostly as an afterthought, with a cider selection or two tacked at the end of the beer list. At The Cider Junction, which recently opened in San Jose’s Willow Glen, the roles are reversed. Fruit rules over grain with a wide variety of ciders and other fermented fruit beverages dominating a row of roughly thirty taps, with a few beers selections at the end. They also serve up a selection of small plates, in the form of sliders and flat breads, in addition to cheese and charcuterie boards. A few bottles and can of various cider are available for take home sale.
My wife and I biked to the place last weekend to check it out. One thing that’s apparent from over 25 different ciders to choose from is, well there’s a lot of different ciders out there. Some are made with heirloom apples, some are made with a blend of different fruits, like cranberries, cherries, passion fruit or plums. Hops have made their way into a couple ciders, but frankly, I find hops work better in beer than in cider. But if hoppy ciders are your thing, you’ll find at least a couple different ones at The Cider Junction. Not going to bore you with a lot of tasting notes, especially since I was too engrossed battling my wife in a few games of Connect Four to write things down, but let me just say we enjoyed a number of fresh, interesting, and flavorful fruit concoctions.
They sell ciders either by the pint or 10 ounce pour, or you can tasting flight of four 4-ounce samples. I recommend going for the tasting flight, since they always have something new rotating into the tap list and plenty of the selections appear to be limited releases. As for the small plates, we split a jackfruit slider, which came disguised as a pulled pork sandwich. I’m not a fan of non-meat masquerading as meat, but this was delicious. The chopped up fruit slaw, bathed in a tangy sauce was a wonderful riff on traditional barbecue. That was the only plate we tried, so I can’t vouch for the others, but I’d have to think there’s plenty of good stuff on the menu based on the strength of this effort.
Now for the bad news. The Cider Junction has this weird, counter-productive “no sampling” policy. You can order a four glass tasting flight, but you can’t order a single tasting glass, or add a couple extra samples to your tasting flight. Most places will let you do that Told I couldn’t add a couple extra samples to my flight, I asked to taste a plum Jerkum before ordering a 10-ounce glass of it, to see if I liked it. (A jerkum is a plum wine.). They wouldn’t do that either. It’s pretty standard in the industry to provide small, 1/2 ounce samples to customers so they can order a pint with confidence they’ll enjoy it. Heck, they’ll even do that in hotel bars. For a place that you would think would want to reward trying new things, The Cider Junction seems to stifle it with an inflexible policy. Not only do I find it frustrating as a customer, they’re leaving money on the table. People are more willing to spend money if they know what they’re getting ahead of time.
Without the benefit of a taste, took the risk after working through my flight and ordered the Plum Lovin Criminals Jerkum from Mission Trail Cider. As the waitress brought over the glass filled with cloudy beige liquid, it looked like one of those hideous hazy IPA’s I can barely stand and my expectations sank. But lo and behold, I loved the fresh tart plum flavors in this little number. So while The Cider Junction won’t let you taste anything before you order it, whatever you order, it’s probably going to be pretty good.
This “no tasting” policy gets under my skin, it’s really a minor quibble. The Cider Junction seems to be emerging as a neat little hangout in the middle of Willow Glen and already our friends are asking us to take them there. We’ll certainly be back.