Monday, 29 April 2013

Millwhites Chisel Jersey Cider

I know, I have only just finished a bunch of draught cider reviews and now I am on to more. And to be honest, it isn't strictly my thing - I don't get out enough for a start! But occasionally, I do and on another business trip to London I get a chance to visit the Cider Tap once again for another couple of halves before boarding a train home again.

Whilst much of the board looks the same as the last time I visited, there were a couple that got my attention - with this cider from Millwhites being the first. It isn't that I have come across this cider before, more that Chisel Jersey is an apple that I have a little of experience with. The other notice worthy thing about the Tap on this particular evening was that it was actually really busy! Not as busy as the Euston Tap across the road, which was over flowing to the kerb, but it was either perch at one of the barrels in the middle or hover around the bar. Taking photo's of cider in a pub makes me look like some kind of 'ticker' in any case, but in the middle of a tiny, crowded pub was always going to catch some attention!

Going back to the apple variety, Chisel Jersey hails from Somerset (all Jersey's do). It is a late bittersweet apple, which generally means its a reasonably heavy apple - my own tasting experience informs this too. It is another one of those early 19th century apples - why did the majority of apple cultivation happen at that period, often done by people passionate about apples. I am interested in what it turns out to be like. I couldn't get sufficient of them last year to make even a gallon of single variety, so this could be my surrogate for that. However, given that its on draught and I have limited time to give it, I am not going to make it a cider 101... that can wait for a bottled version:-)

As you can see from the photo, this cider is golden and quite hazy. It is also flat and rather a heavy hitter at 8%. The smell is gentle in the nose, but full of fruit and orchard - deep and tannic. I am expecting it to be full bodied and heavy.

It does have a full body, but not in a heavy or sluggish way. It is almost orangey to the taste, with rather more acid than I expected. This acid lifts the tannic body and, together with the sweetening, it is only a touch puckering. The orchard-ness remains and comes across as a musky note in the cider. As I sit with this drink, there is rather more acid and rather less tannin than the apple warrants, though it isn't classified as a vintage, so that could just be how it turns out.

All this without mentioning the sweetening, which is a touch too heavy - though probably not beyond the medium label. Mind you, it does dumb down some of the more interesting flavours.

The aftertaste is moderate to long, with quite a punchy tone to it.

I rather like this cider. Its not the best I have ever tasted but as a medium cider its not at all bad (and better than some of the others on offer at the Tap! A score of 71/100 earns a bronze apple for Millwhites - albeit a light one.

Friday, 26 April 2013

King Brain Sweet Cider

My final review of the night – well, being responsible, it was the last review I think I was fit for… and I didn’t want to review ciders in an irresponsible way:-) This King’s Brain was labelled as sweet; the barman was convinced that it was in fact medium dry (hence that hand written note on the label). That is quite a difference, so I figured I would try some to see what the fuss was about.

Sweet ciders are not really my thing. In fact, I was pleased to hear that the more popular ciders at the festival were medium dry, and even the dry ciders were getting a fair showing. Perhaps (in Winchester at least, the sweet tooth is giving way to the search for something with more flavour?! Well, I guess it could be read that way – probably more likely is that those seeking to satisfy a need for sugar were not drinking cider or even at the festival.

Other than being made in or near Yeovil, Somerset, I can find very little about this producer online. Having said that, as I have already said for at least one of these ciders - I like the fact that the internet has passed some businesses by almost completely.

This cider came nice and golden and really quite clear. Not bright, but clear. This is possible without filtration (and lets face it, if it were last years cider it has had plenty of time to clear). The aroma had plenty of fruit in it too, which is pleasant, although I didn’t get much of a ‘western’ feel of it at first.

The taste is delightful. It is a western style of cider, fitting for a Somerset cider with a good balance of tannin and acid going on. ‘Delightful’ sums it up nicely, as it is not odd or challenging – it is in fact pretty good on all levels; a medium tannin with a medium acid with a small earthy component and moderate fruit. There isn’t anything that leaps out and grabs you, but it is well put together.

Incidentally, the medium dry nomination from the bar staff seemed to me to be wrong. It wasn’t sweet, but was much more medium than dry. However, this suited the cider well – and if the maker did feel it was sweet, then perhaps they are a dry cider drinker (“If I have to make it sweet, then it will only just be sweet”).

My scoring by this time was starting to develop signs of weakness, so a second eye was cast over the figures to make sure that I wasn’t just being lazy. Sure enough – “all 7’s” seems to have been the joint conclusion – albeit that I feel this was a little harsh given that I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Perhaps I will revisit this cider some day.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Days Cottage Medium Cider

Time for another half. My mates had gone off in search of something hoppy so I figured I would try something different. A medium this time (although someone had scribbled in tiny writing that it had a dry finish). As had become the norm for this festival, I opted to ask the advice of the barman – or lady this time. “It’s pretty good… not that dry though”.

Making cider out of Gloucestershire, Days Cottage aren't just a cider maker - they make award winning apple juice too (that's the stuff like cider but without the %!). Not only that, but if you wanted to learn rural skills like hedge laying, grafting and budding, then they are the place to go.

Now, this cider is hazy and golden. As expected from Gloucestershire, it has a good full-bodies smell to it that had plenty of flowers and farmyward in it. Rough and ready, I guess you could say. There was also a slight ‘cheese’ coming from it… which whilst not off putting seemed a little out of place.

Sure enough, this was a medium cider with a dry finish. The cheese had something to do with the drying of the finish, although it only really came out after the rest of the flavour had ended. This is a fruity and tannic cider, with some acid (though the tannin is the winner for this cider). Its rather nice actually, and quite alcoholic tasting too. The cheese is odd, I guess it must either come from the fruit varieties or else be a slight storage problem… again, it isn’t putting me off enjoying this cider.

The aftertaste is long. It’s the tannin that makes it dry – there really is plenty of it… a funky fruitiness which you sometimes get from a full on bittersweet cider.

A well deserved bronze apple for Days Cottage – although if I want cheese with my cider I would prefer to have it separately:-)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Marcher Man Medium Dry Cider

One and half pints drunk so far, and there are still a few left to try. Well, there is a limit to how many I can drink... and I suspect that the limit on how many ciders I can usefully review is a lot less than that! So, I figured I would go for a cider that several have said is very good. When I say several, I mean a few have tasted it at the bar and liked it – ever encouraged by the people behind the bar.

Whilst very helpful, I cannot help thinking that the guidance towards the Strawberry cider that seems to be going on defeats the object of introducing people to cider. After all, its simply a cider based alcopop – how can you expect people like that to make the transition to a proper cider (which is what I figured CAMRA cider bars were about). I was informed that it was a ‘good introduction’… well, not nearly as good as actually drinking a cider, surely!

Grumpy moment aside, this cider is made in Herefordshire by Marcher Man... except, that doesn't make sense. I know a little, but more research tells me that Marcher Man are a part of the Marcher Cyder Circle (that is cyder with a y!) Beyond that, it appears that the circle is made up of individual Welsh cidermakers (or should that be cydermakers) from around about the Welsh Marches. So, perhaps Herefordshire may be accurate, but on the Welsh side of it anyway!

Being medium dry, its not too far out of my comfort zone, and amd expecting a nice well rounded cider (judging by the slurping and slapping noise of the last person to try it:-) When it comes crystal clear to me it is a little bit of a surprise, I hope it isn’t too mucked about with!

It doesn’t have much of a smell to it – though most flat ciders don’t exude aroma. What I do get it mildly fruity and pleasant. The taste, however, doesn’t hold anything back. It is a generous, fully rounded and fully tannic cider. Earthy and apple fruit with almost a citrus tang of acid – all balanced together. Saying balanced, it is a nice version of the word – not tamed. Each part is fairly full on, but they work together very well.

I think I may even be wrong about the filtering. It doesn’t seem to have lost a lot of its profile and fills the mouth with flavour. The aftertaste is moderate in length but leaves a nice taste. I do feel I should have done the pint, but for the sake of reviews I will move on:-) Oh well, sometimes it isn’t all drink, drink, drink you know. Oh wait, yes it mostly is!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Bollhayes Dry Cider

Turning to Devon for my third cider – its worth noting that this festival isn’t just the Herefordshire/Somerset fest that I have seen quite a few times – although clearly the cider mostly comes from Hampshire (of which I have tried all of them that are present here – with the exception of the Perrys (which aren’t cider) and the Strawberry Cider (which isn’t cider either – and not entirely sure what place it has at a CAMRA event… another fine example of APPLEs power and might at branch level).

Now, I know a thing or two about Bollhayes without having to trawl t’internet. The owner, Alex Hill, is also the owner of the largest supplier of cider making kit to the cider  making industry (well, the full juice bit of it anyway).  And if you ever want to witness ‘cider-porn’, take a look at his Vigo website (make sure it’s the professional’s website as opposed to the hobby site). It teases you with large machinery and as with this kind of thing leaves you hanging as there are never any prices!

Alex is also the current Chairman of the South West of England Cidermakers Association. SWECA for short. This is one of the three producers organisations around the UK – these are the ones that actually watch out for cider and, although committees are committees are committees in my book, the three regional organisations at least reach out to the smaller commercial producers.

And now I have been sentimental and complimentary (I think) I should try his cider! It is fairly clear and golden in colour. Naturally, being draught, it is still. However, there is a bit of a fruity smell coming off of it – alongside what I have described as an almost detergent smell. I have no idea what this might be, and it could be something not in Bollhayes control…

The taste is moderately fruity and tannic, although the one thing I would say is that it is brier sharp! I am not sure that you could cut yourself on it, but it is close. There is good tannin along with it, but this is not a balanced cider in any respect. I expect this is made from just cider varieties – though the bittersharp/sharp fruit seems to have run a coach and horses through the bittersweet.

It is a little puckering, but not in the way that other ciders, generally Bramley-esque ciders, are sour and sharp. This is drying. The acid and tannin working together to suck every last drop of moisture from out of your mouth. The aftertaste is, therefore, long – although as it is dry the natural reaction is to drink some more… and round we go:-)

I am not 100% sure about this cider. It is well put together and has character, but after half a pint I was more than ready to move on to something a little less, well, challenging.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cider101 - Filtering

Taking aside the nasty 'scrumpy' that you used to get as a 'grockle', what is more traditionally cider? Cloudy, hazy or bright and clear? The proper answer (now that cider has regained its quality after many years of rubbish and gloop) is all of it really… except perhaps for the super bright that looks like water and the kind of cloudy that gave cider a bad name as scrumpy that was rough (both of which I have no doubt can still be found if you look hard enough).

image taken from Voran website
The filtering of cider has been around for some time - not just for cider, but for all drinks. It clears out undesirable bits... doesn't it? To some extent I can understand why it is done, although having had a few years practice at making cider without filtering I can say that as a cider matures the yeast drops to the bottom. OK, this is a general principle; there will be years that things don't quite work out  - though use of racking (transferring cider from one container to another, leaving the dead yeast behind) generally means that a cider is clear by the time the drinker gets to it.

To look at filtration (as with any addition or subtraction from full juice cider), you have to ask ‘what are the benefits’? Generally, the answer is to produce a clear cider that doesn’t drop any additional sediment. Also, heavily tannic or acidic ciders can be adjusted through filtering. However, in a well kept traditional cider which is well balanced this should not be really necessary. And as with other additions or changes, it is best done sensitively and with good judgement. Too much and you will start to strip away the flavour and body of a traditional cider. When reviewing, I am conscious when a cider tastes weak, with a short aftertaste; this can often either watering down or heavy filtering.  Either way, to me, it’s a shame as the original drink may well have been bolder, more individual and tastier. It is a sad thing to me that so many ciders have been filtered without any regard to this.

As mentioned in my last Cider101 post, filtration can also take the place of pasteurisation when sweetening a cider. Done in a clean room environment and to the correct degree, all yeast cells can be removed at the point of bottling to eliminate any chance of renewed fermentation. The pay off? Well, its not only yeast cells that are being removed. If you think in terms of flavour, aroma, body, tannin and acid – some of this can easily be removed along with the yeast, leaving the drink somewhat the less for it- very less for it!

I am not sure where CAMRA stand on filtering (and, lets be honest, why would anyone care really what they really think... do you really think that its based on good working knowledge of cider?) The CAMRA website simply says 'no micro filtration' which is a bit ambiguous and doesn't really give any reasoning. So, whilst they are 'debating' the pro's and con's of pasteurisation, perhaps they should be focussing on filtration as process that can change a cider more than any other.

Me? Well, I don’t think it’s such a crime when done sensitively and lightly but it can be more damaging to a cider than pasteurisation. It’s a case of needs must… and for a lot of ciders, there is no need. As is pretty clear on this, if I had to put the 'techie' processes in order of badness, filtration would be the worst, followed by additions (well, if you have a full juice cider it shouldn't need much eh).

Trouble is, when you start to go down the route of most of these processes you end up doing more than one of them. Then PR companies get involved and then shareholders and before you know it, you are looking at the HMRC guideline of 35% and wondering how you can get around it. Ha, OK - extreme but... I would like to know what percentage even the big 'family' cidermakers are down to these days!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ciderniks Combe Raider Cider (Dry)


Another review from the Winchester Cider and Beer Festival... and what to go for next? Well, as there was quite a lot I had yet to try I figured I would go for something a little different. Ciderniks is one of the upcoming small cider producers based in Berkshire. Saying that, whilst I have heard of Coombe Raider previously I have never actually come across it before.

One comment about this particular cider bar - I am very impressed by the number of dry (or dry-ish) ciders on offer. I almost feel spoiled for choice.  Its not that there are hundreds of ciders on, just a decent variety including more than a token nod to dry ciders. So, a good cider bar... and some pretty good music too!

Now, this cider is quite clear - I am not sure if it has had any filtering or not. However, it looks deeply golden and still. I am getting quite a faint smell from it; again its likely to be because it is a still cider at room temperature.. there is apple going on though (as you would expect). I am also getting a little ascetic from it too.

The taste confirms this, though it doesn't detract from the drink too much. A bit like 'old cider' it seems a little oxidised. There is plenty of fruit taste here and it is tannic as well as acidic (mind, the acid is the bit that comes across as ascetic, so it does drown the tannin just slightly more than I would like. In all, this is a fairly light cider, and I am not sure whether it's going for west country or eastern style... I think more likely its just doing its own thing!

The aftertaste is very pleasant - it is long and delicious and the oxidised bit of the taste wanes away. The tannin stays on though which leaves a pleasant hint of the cider.

Now, I haven't scored this cider down for its ascetic quality. Partly because I am not sure whether it's just been badly kept or bagged like this. It doesn't detract from the taste either - rather adds another interesting dimension. However, I would have preferred it not to be there. So in all, this cider scores 74/100. A good cider worthy of a bronze apple (in my opinion). I am sure it could have got more.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Allen Old Style Dry Cider

My first beer and cider festival of the year, Winchester is always a chance to meet up with friends and hopefully get some ciders sampled in a lovely setting. Last year, we went on Saturday which was a mistake - they had sold all the good stuff and had been restocked with Mr Whiteheads lesser ciders (such as blackberry rubbish and strawberry cocktail). So, this year we opted for the Friday - and the next 6 reviews are the result of that!

I do hope to do a few more festivals this year. This is not least because its not a bad place to get to grips with some of the more obscure ciders that are not always found in bottles. I think its more of an 'event' trying draught ciders anyway. Each barrel is going to be slightly different (more/less matured, better/worse condition) - in bottle it is so much easier to control. Having said that, for reviewing purposes this can cause a challenge in that what I try at a festival may be at odds to when others try it at a different festival. NOT that I am complaining. This is to be celebrated: it is unique and individual - the craft at its most traditional!

My first cider of the session was chosen simply because the bar man said it was his favourite. Having just heard a justification as to why yet another CAMRA festival was selling Strawberry cider (and why this was OK and the CAMRA definition was wrong) I figured I would take the risk and have a go.

The photograph above doesn't really do justice to this cider, which came out almost green in colour. I have no idea why this should be so... it cannot be copper or brass, as I would expect the cider to be black - and it didn't taste metallic in any case. However, it was a little odd! Just a cheeky thought - perhaps it was made from green apples... just one for all those PR fools out there:-)

All I can find out about Allen Cider is that it is made in Gloucestershire... which is pretty much what is on the bag in box in the photo. It is somewhat encouraging that even now not all cider makers see the internet as a useful marketing tool:-)

It has quite a light smell, as is common with ciders that are still and also draught. However, what I get off it is fruity and pleasant.The tastebacks this fruitiness up. It has a full bodied tannin which is lovely, though not that drying. It is a dry cider - well, off dry I reckon, with a balanced acid and a slight earthiness going on. Its well done - albeit for the green hue it has in the glass (still have no idea why!)

The aftertaste is moderate in length and yummy. As a dry cider, its aftertaste is slightly drying the tongue, but no fear... I soon had the next sip!  I like this cider, and wish I had spent more time writing things about it to describe it properly. It is well worth a try if you see it and, with a score of 75/100 earns Allen a bronze award

Friday, 5 April 2013

Carlsberg Somersby Cider

There has been a little bit of a fanfare about this cider online... no, not from the #ciderarmy (as I think they are called) but amongst the PR and marketers of the world. Something along the lines that Carlsberg want to get on board with a cider and add something to the market place. Brand managers wet dream no doubt. Personally, I guess I start from a position of being surprised it isn't being sold in a can:-)

OK, with a more objective head on, I notice that this bottle says it is 'made in Herefordshire'. Who by? I suspect it is a part of Carlsberg UK as opposed to a cider maker, and I do recall driving past a rather industrious looking site a while back which had some name like UK Beverage (or something like that). A search online reveals that it is a subsidiary called 'Bevisol'... I can also now see from their website that this is sold in both can and bottle (answering my question above). The website also bangs on about 'refreshment' and claims that their cidermaking team have over 120 years combined experience. So is that a team of 2 with 60 years or 1000 who have been on a training course?

OK, apologies about the flippancy. I just find it amusing when marketeers and PR people try to spin some kind of authenticity and tradition together... humankind at its most deceitful and, sadly, most obvious.Lets get on with trying this cider then. I am clearly expecting this cider to be the polar opposite of what their marketing department say. After all, its Carlsberg right? Its sold en masse in competition with Stella, Bulmers and Magners... So, if Magners is 'pressed in the dark' (probably not a bad thing for them!!) then Carlsberg being 'refreshing' (whether chemically or otherwise) is just par for the course.

At opening, the cider is foamy settling down to a persistent and moderate fizz. It is slightly golden, although to be honest looks more translucent than golden... the smell is of apple sweets; juicy and sugary. I am not really getting anything particularly deep or individual and am even considering dulling it with some ice!

The taste is, well, interesting: apple squash is the closest I can get to it. Fizzy apple squash. It is more than just a touch watery in the mouth, although the sweetness does give it a little body. Unfortunately, it is a ghost of a cider - light, faint and... well, a touch cardboardy!

The aftertaste is very short and nothing really screams out at me. I am left with the feeling that I am not sure what this drink really is... and I am honestly trying to be objective! In a punch up between this and Magners, I would take the Magners. If it were with WKD I would probably take tap water.

I think this cider is a lesson in the fact that you cannot necessarily create cider in a laboratory. The score is 45/100 (and I feel that is being generous). If it were only available in a can, I wouldn't have had to try it!!! I notice that Strongbow is in bottles now too... though I refuse to buy 6 of them so am safe for now!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Worley's Premium Vintage Cider

I am the sort of person who would save the best till last. Of course, it doesn't always work out that my perception of what is the best is borne out... I guess that is the curse of assumption! But, normally I am on to a reasonably safe bet with vintage ciders. And so it is with Worley's. The cider I knew about, Mendip Hills, wasn't bad at all... but I reckon this is going to be the winner.

I do have a question for Mr Worley: Why add the word 'premium' to call it a premium vintage? Do you sell more than one kind of vintage, and this is the better one? Okay, apologies for being flippant. There is a more serious point here though; adding the word 'Premium' to a drink generally makes me suspicious - whilst it ought to have be meaningful it has been abused to almost worthlessness by those huge beverage companies who slap it onto whatever tripe they put to the public...

Anyway, I guess it's none of my business.

Premium Vintage is a 6.2% cider "lightly sparkling vintage cider from Somerset". Or so says the label. Pressed back in 2011, it has certainly had sufficient time to age properly - although I fear it looks filtered and processed (i.e. filtered, pasteurised and carbonated). Lets see - and if it is, lets see how much is lost.

Despite this cider having been run through filtering/pasteurisation/carbonation/wrung through hot towels and made to sit several exams, I am getting a smokey aroma to it. This is great and to me indicates that it is a proper vintage cider. It is also quite interesting as filtering and pasteurisation often wipes this sort of nuance out! There is bittersweet fruit and acid in the smell too and, without being too la-di-da I am getting fruit blossom in the nose too.

The taste is great. The smokiness doesn't come through in the taste so much but this is a fully tannic cider with a little more than a touch of acid to balance things. It is quite a dry cider, with the acid providing background noise to the fruity and complex cider taste. Very drinkable!

The aftertaste is moderate in length and dry. The tannin wins in the end and it is slightly puckering.

I like this cider a lot. It is certainly my favourite of the Worley's and well worth looking out for. I bought this one from the Bristol Cider Shop, but I am sure its available in many more places around Somerset. Sure the processing has had some impact on the flavour and profile of the drink but it is done pretty lightly. If I know anything of Pershore (who do this sort of thing and I believe did so for Worley's) they have a good handle on the process, however, they do it to order so hats off to Worley's for getting it done gently!

A well deserved silver apple with a score of 86/100.