Friday 16 November 2012

Gillow Kingston Black Cider

Okay, last one for this round of single variety ciders. I have to admit, I have learned something from this exercise - you see, as a cider maker I am interested in ciders expressing themselves differently - not simply the dry, medium and sweet that many ciders can be found. As a full juice cider producer, there are only two ways of doing this: through process and through choice of ingredients.

I love the idea of 'western' and 'eastern' style of ciders because they are very different. However, that is not the same as all cider varieties = western and all dessert = eastern. In this regard, eastern is more tricky as there are more dessert varieties that make bad cider. For me, you need to hunt down the very best. No, I am not going to provide a list, although there are a few obvious bad choices - Bramley, Braeburn, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious are all poor choices in my view (I understand that a properly ripe Golden Delicious does work... in America!)

The same is true of cider varieties, so I am still inclined to feel that blending is best. But that doesn't have to simply be as many varieties as you can get your hands on! I have tried some really interesting combinations where only 2 or 3 varieties are chosen. And that is really the point of this exercise. Try, say, a Brown Snout with a lighter variety, say Michelin, and you could well be onto a winner. Acid and tannin in balance with Michelin rounding of the edges of both tannin and acid...

Clearly the obvious final choice for these SV reviews had to Kingston Black. I have tried a few already on Cider Pages, but I hope I can approach this one a little differently.

What is Kingston Black then? Well, apart from reportedly being the ultimate vintage quality apple, it is a mild bitter sharp apple, with a bit of tannin in them that gives it more balance than many other apple varieties. What do I think of them??? Well, I am a bit ambivalent. They are a pain to grow well and are very fickle with fruit which can be prone to brown rot. However, my experience is not necessarily prescriptive and they do produce really good juice. Add to this the fact that I think, like Bramley, Kingston Black has been over promoted and you will understand what I have against it. But then you come back to the quality of the juice and I doubt anyone could truly dislike this variety.

On to Gillows version of the SV Kingston Black then. In its bottle it is a golden liquid with a loose sediment at the bottom. This just means bottle conditioned (well, mostly it does... some filter and then add in dead yeast for effect and so they can call it 'cloudy scrumpy', but this definitely isn't that!) On opening there is a nice fizz - a product of bottle conditioning, although as the sediment is fairly free it does mean that you get a bit of floating yeast in the glass.

Its aroma is fairly light and fruity. It is earthy but at the same time I don't get a whole lot of tannin in the smell. This is definitely Kingston Black - just a little lighter than I am used to.

The taste is sharp and fruity with a little tannin which doesn't really interfere with the fruitiness too much. This is odd - Kingston Black is a bold cider apple with big flavour... I think the driest cider I ever tried was a Kingston Black single variety... this is almost a watered down version. The tannin and fruit is fairly weak, although the sharpness is most definitely there,

There is a short aftertaste, which is pleasant. Actually, this cider is odd and NOT entirely great all the way through. This isn't Kingston Black as I know it - and I have tried a few now. It could be 'terroir' but I think its much more than this...

This cider holds a lesson - of sorts - for cider drinkers and makers alike. You can take an apple like a Kingston Black and make a cider from it. And this cider will taste different from a Kingston Black cider that was made in a different part of the country (indeed - different country too). Why? Well, as with wine, each and every tree grows in different conditions. Each region is subject to different climate/weather. And even the way an apple is harvested, kept and pressed may have a bearing on the outcome. Consistency is not something that we should aspire to as cider makers! Embracing difference is actually pretty liberating:-)

Now, the question I have with this version of Kingston Black is whether there has been a bit of jiggery pokery in the process of production. At 6.6 its not a bad strength at all, but it just simply doesn't have a number of KB 'key markers' for me. Saying that, it is not horrible. A score of 68/100 is not quite a bronze apple.


  1. Enjoyed your run of reviews of SV's - We blend most of ours but are keen to try some SV's - We have started to save a gallons' worth of apples from single trees and press just to see what transpires.

    It's just a little annoying that we do not know the names of any of the apples that we press.

    Laurie -

  2. Thanks - its been an interesting journey for me too - it will be interesting to review these reviews next year with my own small batch SV's.

    If your apples are proper cultivars (i.e. not in a hedgerow) you might want to talk to Brogdale in Kent about identification. Its often a long shot, but you never know.

  3. We have collected a small amount from trees along a railway line but no wild crabs this year (have'nt seen many). The bulk are from domestic gardens, locally, a mix of dessert and cookers and an Orchard in Somerset with genuine Bittersweet cider types but names unknown.

    Agree about Brogdale but it would involve time, money and still could be none the wiser so sha'nt bother.

    Laurie -