Monday 23 February 2015

Domaine Pinnacle Cidre de Glace

400 blog posts published. Phew. Didn't think that would ever happen! To some degree, I am not sure I ever wanted to make this many posts - well, this many reviews anyway. As a cider maker, I would much rather leave this job to those who drink cider. There were very few who reviewed or promoted ciders as a part of a blog when I started: the Cider Blog started around the same time as I did (great minds n'all that), and Ricky Hammond was posting one or two videos on Youtube (good n fun by the way). But now, well, now there are plenty to choose from. With that, however, you get the usual mix. Some are great, fun and informative. Some are biased and poorly done. Some make me wish they would stop. On the whole, it is a good thing though.

Let me be honest, however. This isn't the 400th review. In fact, I think it is the 359th. But, never one to miss marking an occasion (by the way, during my lapse of posting reviews I notice the blog has passed the quarter of a million mark) I wanted to select something extraordinary to try.

This 'cider de glace' is quite a rare thing, a dessert cider. An 'ice cider' to be exact. I have tried it once before and therefore knew it would be fitting for this occasion. See - not everything I do is reactive:-) I remember it being a very accomplished and complex drink which was served after a few glasses of cider at an event last year. Yum.

So, let me tell you a little about it. It came from Marks and Spencer and had been discounted to only £20 for a 375ml bottle. Hmmm... that may be stretching its value for money just a bit although you have to realise that it is made in Quebec (Canada for those whose geography is as good as mine).

As you can see from the photo, the presentation itself is an occasion - I really like the tube, embossed logo and stuff. In Quebec, it has won over 60 awards and was 'best product of Quebec' in 2011. To a degree that is lost on me as I have no idea what else Quebec makes! But then, I am never sure what any town or county in the UK might make either, so that is not an insult:-)

Ice cider is a little bit of a mystery to me. I know how ice wine is made - the grapes are left on the vine until a sharp frost freezes them at which point they are harvested by people wearing lots of protective layers (it gets cold in Canada). I am not entirely sure this is made the same way, and have seen reports of people freezing the juice before extracting the bit in the middle for a more complex and sweet taste. But isn't that Apple Jack? Anyway, the end result is similar to ice wine: a thick and rich cider that is naturally sweeter and higher in alcohol than a standard cider.

Anyway, the cidre de glace is served as a dessert wine, chilled and a little at a time. It looks deep golden and rich in colour. Very polished. The smell is also rich and deep - I am not getting massive tannins, but almost a hot apple pie and custard aroma; not knowing what apples are grown in Quebec, I assume from this that they are mainly dessert fruit in a similar way to the USA... though I cannot be absolutely certain (and it doesn't really matter).

The taste, at this second tasting, is not as much of an event as the first - perhaps it is because I am sipping it in my kitchen as opposed to around a table with others eating fine food etc. It is very sweet - which is what it should be - and the flavour is pretty punchy and not a little syruppy. There are some complex flavours going on but sitting here it seems that it is more the interaction between the apple taste and the high alcohol that is driving this. It is dessert like - which accounts for lack of tannin, though the style of cidre gives it a fine body.

The aftertaste is sweet and lingering.

On the whole, I find cidre de glace quite satisfying. I would only choose to drink this on an occasion and not as a cider in its own right, which could be read as a flaw - though to e honest, how many people go out to buy a dessert wine without having other more standard wines to enjoy beforehand (or afterwards, if it is an apperatif). I do know that there are others on the market closer to home too - Once Upon A Tree produce a fine example made from Blenheim Orange (another dessert apple which has excellent character). So, if you are looking for something a little different then give it a go.

Cidre de Glace scores a sophisticated 80/100 to earn a silver apple. Very pleasant indeed if you can find the right occasion for it.

As for Cider Pages? Well, I shall continue when I have the time to commit to doing a review properly... it would be good to top 400 reviews:-)

Wednesday 14 January 2015

"Cider can be made from any apple." Discuss...

Apologies. One for the more hardened cider drinker than perhaps those who are exploring the different tastes and flavours that cider has to offer. If that is you - if you are just seeking good ciders to drink then 'Yer tiz!!'. You have a far more important job to do than worry about apple varieties... though if you get hooked, then perhaps you will come back to this post:-)

To those who just want a quick answer: Yes. Cider can be made from any apple. I guess the question is "SHOULD cider be made from any apple." Personally, I have made cider from all sorts of apples over the years, though these days many are a single gallon just to explore the end result. From personal experience (and notes):

Braeburn: Quite sharp and very uninteresting. Thin. Offers nothing (in fact, Braeburns greatest contribution to the world is that it is shiny, crisp and sweet. None of which (apart from the amount of sugar) is of any interest to a cider maker!

Bramley: Massively sharp and yet a fairly high sugar content too. Horrible cider to drink. I have heard that if you leave it for several years the acid dies away). Useful for providing a slight background acidity - i.e. protecting the cider from rope/mouse etc.

Kanzi (I think that is how it is spelled - it is known as something else commercially as it is grown under licence): Produces a very high sugar content but very little flavour and, quite frankly, not good at all..

Royal Gala: Quite a thin cider without much character. Good sugar content and blends well.A bulking cider.

Russet: Interesting nutty cider and rather dry. Thin but pleasant. Odd aftertaste sometimes. Makes a good SV but needs care. Acid drops after 12 months and becomes dull.

OK, that represents a few single variety ciders I have made - and focuses on dessert apple varieties as that is what is often available to anyone outside of the magical 'Ciderland'. I have tried others that have been very interesting; Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black and other cider varieties (in fact, I was so impressed with an SV Michelin cider that I almost made it on a larger scale). Trouble is, most people making a small amount of cider will find getting hold of cider varieties quite tricky - its hard enough for some commercial cider makers!

So, can dessert apples make cider? I mean, ultimately that is what it boils down to... isn't it?

In the UK, we have two distinct traditions of making cider - Eastern style and Western style. One is predominantly made from dessert fruit and the other from cider fruit. Both are equally valid (even if one or two cider makers don't think that is true... perhaps they should leave Somerset once in a while!) and both have venerable histories stretching back hundreds of years. And, if you want my own opinion, both are equally interesting (although there are more examples of good western style cider than eastern currently!). So in that sense, anything goes.

However, a brief story from my early years of cider making. The first year I went around my 'hood and found a dozen or so 'wilding' trees, growing at the side of the road. That cider was thin, acidic and I was the only one to drink it. The second, I was offered windfall Cox apples, which went in with the roadside apples. Better. The third year I was introduced to an orchard owner who let me have some dessert and cider apples... I let the roadside apples go. It was much, much better. The fourth year and onwards I have determined to just use known varieties from growers that I respect (and pay).

So yes, by all means make cider from whatever apple you can get hold of. I secretly smile each time someone says proudly "I made a bit of cider last year... it was easy" and then go on to tell a tale about how it nearly killed them to drink it! It isn't that easy... to do it well the most important thing is not kit; it's that you learn the apples... and that takes time and patience and a willingness to make mistakes! If you want to use wildings, make sure you try and eat one first to see what its like and please, if you do make and sell the stuff - make sure its something you can be proud of.

There you go. See, I am not just about reviews eh:-)

PS - feel free to agree or disagree. I already know one well known cider maker who dismisses anything made with dessert apples as crap. But then, he is an idiot and I can only recommend his cider, not the man who makes it!

Saturday 10 January 2015

Chaplin & Cork's Somerset Reserve Cider

I feel that I have a bit of explaining to do... for the sake of being absent for so long. Well, lots of things getting in the way and running this blog could not really compete. I do regret leaving it for so long (and to those who my pre-written remembrance piece has annoyed - my apologies, although not for the piece... just for leaving it as the lead item for so long!)

Anyway, I want to get on with putting up a few reviews before Christmas... and this is one of the 'bigger' ciders to have been launched during 2014.

Chaplin and Cork's is a cider made by Shepton Mallet Cider Mill - I am not sure how this is still related to Gaymers. I suspect it is still owned by them (or is it now just Matthew Clarke?) - if memory serves... it is all quite a complex thing these days! Anyway, this is a cider of the two Bob's - Bob Chaplin and Bob Cork; both of who are (or were) employees of the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill. In fact, Bob Chaplin was Supreme Champion at Bath and West in 2014, so he sure does know a thing or two about cider making (whatever they practice at t' Mill!) I have to say that he didn't win with this though, or any other cider produced at the Cider Mill).

And what little gems do I have about the cider itself? Well, I understand that the 'Chaplin and Corks' range replaces the Devon, Stewley and Somerset blends. This is a shame as they were my favourite of the range... though there wasn't huge competition to be honest. So, whatever the reasoning (and I can't help feeling that this was for some shareholding economic reason as much as recognising the Bob's). Lets crack the bottle open and give it a go.

I guess the first thing to note is that it is very clean looking – rather bright indeed. Also very large is the smell which, although a touch syrupy is full and bittersweet. Really quite nice actually – although I would also say that the smell is very ‘clean’ too. What isn’t large, however, is the carbonation which is quite low key.

The initial taste is quite clean too – well rounded and a bit safe if I am honest. There is some bittersweet in there and the result is a pretty full bodied cider. It is missing something though – and reflecting on the many Stewley ciders I have had it does feel a little in the wrong direction for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind this cider – I just wish it was a bit more bold and a little less safe. After all, Stewley was aimed at more discerning cider drinkers.

It is, as expected, medium dry and the low fizz is persistent. It has a fairly safe character – controlled and reasonably fruity (although not too much). And this means a balanced acid in the background – just enough to allow the tannin to dominate (a bit).

So it isn’t my favourite. But I would drink it again if I had to. With a score of 66/100 it just misses an apple.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Three Saints Bishops Fancy Perry

OK, this is my last review for Winchester Real Ale and Cider Festival 2014. I promise. I do hope that you can see why they deserved to be published - each of them a treat! And this last one is no different (although it is a bit if a fix). I had tried all the others on offer and this is the best perry of this evening! Apologies if you thought I would finish with an absolute stinker... I opted not to:-) Not that there were any truly bad ciders on offer - okay, let me frame that by saying that there was an apple/pear 'pyder' that tasted of orange squash and another which was very sweet indeed. But out of 20 or so ciders and perries I can only take my hat off to whoever put that little lot together!

As much as I disapprove of the nonsense that is CAMRA APPLE - with its clique and unelected committee, self pats on the back and squabbling about the most irrelevant of issues (like pasteurisation) - cider and perry features more and more at festivals around the UK. And CAMRA are spearheading this. It surely must be only a matter of time before CAMRA start holding cider led festivals. No, wait... sorry. What I should have said was that, if they had any sense, it can only be a matter of time... I do not have any expectations in reality (but wouldn't it be good!) Still, CAMRA are a big organisations and as a large stone it has certainly gathered some moss in its time. And no, I do not ask your pardon for abusing that particular saying:-)

Now, onto my notes for Bishops Fancy. Three Saints don't have a website to browse, but searching through the Welsh Cider and Perry Association (they are a Welsh producer) I can see that they are a full juice, traditional company based in Monmouthshire. It also says 'using rare Welsh perry pears and cider apples. Not sure if I could name any apples or pears that are unique to Wales... but I am sure there will be some. Anyway, this is about the perry isn't it:

The perry is medium dry, fairly bright and pale in colour. It has (what I noted as) a flowery smell, albeit a touch light in the nose. I have also written a 'Tappy smell' - though I really cannot make out what on earth I was going on about. Over this though I have written 'nice' so, with several months between the tasting and now, lets go with that.

The flavour confirms the floral pear taste. It is very pleasant in the mouth and does taste a little stronger than its 4.6% abv. I would say this is an all round perry - it could be more individual, but then it is very pleasant as it is. The medium dry is accurate and I would be quite happy that this may not be back sweetened - as pears contain sorbitol which is unfermentable.

The aftertaste is moderate in length and the note I have against that is satisfying.

At the end of the day, whether I can recall what the notes say or not, it is the score that matters. With 76/100 this goes down as one of the better examples of the art of perry. A bronze apple (which, thinking about it doesn't sound quite right for a perry:-)

Friday 2 January 2015

Ciderniks Kingston Black Cider

Happy new year to all! OK, starting the new year by still catching up on reviews from March 2014 is a bit daft but there you go. These cider should not be missed! There is only a couple more months to wait until the next Winchester Beer Festival, although I have no idea yet whether I will be able to wangle sufficient brownie points to make another trip (would be my third time I think).

Moving on to a cider with a more familiar name, but staying with Ciderniks, we have a Kingston Black single variety cider. There were actually two of these at Winchester, but this is the drier of the two and I have already tried (and reviewed) the New Forest Cider version.

I have tried quite a few Kingston Black SV ciders over the years, I am not entirely sure that there is anything left to say about it that I haven't already said more than once. So let me tell you a little about Ciderniks instead.

Based in Berkshire, Ciderniks is a small scale traditional cidermaker who produces a fair few different blends (though I am not sure if they are all available in the same year). They pride themselves on making cider with just juice - no sulphites, additives or anything else... well, they say no sweeteners too, but this cider is most definitely sweetened! Still, websites are a pain to keep up to date eh! and I don't believe that Ciderniks should be seen as anything less than a good, honest cidermaking company that uses traditional methods (and the non sulphiting route is too fundamentalist even for me!!).

Once again, this is a dark golden and flat - exactly as I would expect both from Ciderniks and from the mightly Kingston Black. It does seem to be quite clear, although this could well drop as clear as this without filtering (though sometimes unfiltered Kingston Black cider can be quite 'chewy'). It is described as a medium - which must be sweetened or keeved (and you would not put a keeved cider into a bag in box!)

The smell is exactly as I expected; fruity, tannic and typically Kingston Black. The taste, although sweetened (sensibly, although perhaps a touch more than medium for me) is precisely Kingston Black - tannins, sharpness and a bunch of cider apples! The tannin is funky too, giving it a bit of a farmyard feel. Spot on.

The aftertaste is medium in length and nice.

So, this is an unadulterated, straight example of a single variety Kingston Black from a cidermaker who does not like to adulterate or alter his wares. A great example if you want to see what Kingston Black tastes like on its own. Albeit a sweet version.

A score of 72 sees Ciderniks with another bronze apple from me. Well done!

Monday 29 December 2014

Handmade Cider Rough Diamond Cider

You will have to pardon me for clearing the decks a little by drawing back on unpublished reviews from earlier in 2014. Not that these reviews are not great... far from it - these are some of the best of traditional cider found in the UK. However, in an effort to keep the reviews moving on I feel they should be completed and added to the list on Cider Pages.

Finding a draught cider from Handmade Cider is quite a thing for me - I have some bottles of their to try shortly and it is going to be interesting to compare notes on them all. You see, often producers treat their bottle cider differently from their draught - on tap is normally unfiltered, unpasteurised and still whereas bottles may be all of the above - bottle conditioned etc. etc.

This isn't a bad thing, or indeed in any way dishonest - it is different. However, the profile of the cider changes and makes it interesting for us drinkers. We should celebrate this - not seek to have everything taste the same... its what makes cider so exciting!

If I am going to be brutal, this facet of cider makes all cider blogs and reviews somewhat redundant... or at least more hard work than we can give it. A cider that I tried three years ago (with the exception of things like Magners etc.) will not taste the same now. OK, there is a grey area... I am not convinced this rule applies to Westons or Thatchers in the same way that it doesn't apply to Bulmers, Magners etc. Anywhere that talks of 'recipes' and has a lab is to be viewed with suspicion as far as I can see... but let's not pick hairs - reviews are mere guides. Please don't take them too seriously!

OK, getting on with the review! This is a dark golden cider which is hazy, flat and rather tempting. It has a light aroma coming off it too (and as it is served only ever so slightly chilled I think that is accurate). It is deep smelling, with that petroleum smell that I sometimes get (and I still haven't figured out what apples give that smell - though I am certain it is a cider variety).

The taste is also deep; farmyard, leather with a touch of selotape (I know what I mean)... there is a very slight sourness going on somewhere in the background - not in any way dominating and actually making it a bit more interesting. If you think West Country style, then this is that in buckets.

The aftertaste is bittersharp and long. Very nice.

With a score of 74/100, Rough Diamond gets itself onto my apple award list with a bronze apple. One of these days, I shall have to host a cider festival with only apple awarded ciders in the line up. Wouldn't that be a thing!!

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ciderniks "Ten Years After" Cider

Now it is time to cast my mind back to March... Apologies for the delay between this and the last review from Winchester... I lost my notes (temporarily) so only had part reviews written that I couldn't. Well, I know I make it look easy (ha ha) but it's not... honest:-)

And so, on my list of ciders to try at Winchester Ale and Cider Festival was something with a bit of an odd name. No, I don't think its a ten year old cider; cider isn't like whisky (though it will keep for several years before starting to lose quality) and I would have thought it would be a bit of a mess after all that time.

No, this is a cider blend to celebrate ten years of cider production by Ciderniks. Doing a touch more digging (post festival), this cider is described as: a blended cider to celebrate 10 years of Ciderniks' cidermaking and also in memory of Alvin Lee (1944-2013), one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists. I had no idea about the Alvin Lee connection, but the essence of this cider is that they attempted to replicate the first cider they made... I think!

Here is where I digress. I would not wish to replicate the first cider I made! It was thin, acidic and quite a challenge to drink. I doubt that anyone would appreciate any subtle qualities in it - not that there really were any. BUT. I learned a lot from my first year - well, I learn a lot each year to be honest but the first year I realised that there was a whole lot more to it than just squishing apples. So, in a way, it is brave of Ciderniks to do this (unless his first blend was inspired!!)

What does it taste like then? Well, it is golden, hazy and still... proper traditional stuff then. It is marked up as medium dry - I am guessing this is done through sweetener though I do not think that is a bad thing. Smaller producers often find the cost of setting up pasteurisation or micro filtration prohibitive.

The aroma is quite cheesy - possibly hoovered carpet (I know - weird concept, but that is what it reminded me of). There is definitely some tannin to the smell too - it is quite a strong smell. Don't get me wrong about the 'cheese' - this is not necessarily a bad thing!

The taste is interesting and quite unlike the aroma. It is quite sharp (in fact, this sharpness lasts through the taste, aftertaste and on!). There is some nice fruit in here though. Towards the end, the tannin cuts in and is drying. So it starts as medium dry and by the end seems more dry. I have written a question mark over the use of culinary fruit.

The aftertaste is long and appley with a sharp undertone all the way.

A score of 70/100 sees Ciderniks earn a bronze apple. As a representation or celebration of what they have done over 10 years, I like it... though I suspect either they made great cider right from the get go or else they have tweaked this recipe using the experience they have learned over the 10 years...