For my 300th cider review, I wanted to try something special. I have a couple of special ciders sat around at the moment and so have a bit of a choice (sorry if that comes across as bragging:-).
James Marsden, also known as Gregg's Pit (after the location where he lives and makes cider and perry) is a habitual award winner. His ciders and perries win, by volume of production, an extraordinary amount of accolades during the space of a year. They also seem to sell out very quickly too. This bottle, which is bottle fermented (considered one of the marks of a skillful cider maker), has been on my shelf waiting for this very moment.
Perhaps it is appropriate to distinguish bottle fermented cider from bottle conditioned, although in principle the practices are similar. And both of these should be distinguished from what a lot of mass market ciders have, forced carbonation. Firstly, forced carbonation - it is a bit like a sodastream version of cider (for those who don't know what sodastream is, it is where you take a still product and inject Co2 into it). It is quicker than the other two methods and works with the industrial processes used to produce commodity cider.
Bottle conditioning is simply allowing the cider to naturally create its own sparkle. Often the cider is primed with a little sugar at the point of bottling. This then ferments slowly in the bottle and creates a natural sparkle. You can spot a bottle conditioned cider by looking at the base of the bottle. If you can see a small amount of sediment then it is likely bottle conditioned. Now, some larger companies who like the idea of 'product profile management' actually put dead yeast back in to a force carbonated produce to make it 'cloudy' - the cider is not conditioned, it is just to make you think that it is naturally produced. I could name them, but I rather suspect it is fairly obvious.
Bottle fermentation takes this one step further. On the bottles, you will see such names as; 'bottle fermented', 'traditional method', 'methode', 'English method' etc. Essentially, the priming of the cider is much larger and the bottle is a punted champagne bottle. These are left to ferment and once finished the yeast is removed (as with champagne wine). This is a very fine style of presenting cider and bottle fermented cider commands higher prices than normal cider.
Gregg's Pit can be found (nearly) opposite Westons cider mill in Herefordshire and presents a contrast in both processes, orcharding and quality of cider/perry. In his small orchard, there are a couple of very old, very large perry trees. I can say, having been there, that if you get the chance to visit Gregg's Pit; perhaps as a part of the Big Apple Blossom time or Harvest time celebrations (I don't know if tours are always on the itinerary - though you can also visit Dragon Orchard/Once Upon a Tree at the same time!)
An feature of Gregg's Pit ciders that has interested me for a while is the use of a couple of varieties within each blend. Generally, I have always worked on the principle that the more the merrier - a more balanced cider. However, balance isn't everything - character is just as important. So I will be curious to explore that in this drink. Better get on with it then.
The cider is foamy, golden and bright in the glass. It has a lovely distinctive smell to it - fresh and lively with citrus/orange notes. Very classy.
To the taste - there is lots of tannin with some deep (and very nice) acid running right behind it. The acid is lemon tart but compliments the bold tannin and mature cider fruitiness. This is quite complex as a drink, although the balance is definitely in it's boldness. There is a slight warming in the throat, which gives away the strength of this cider.
Brown Snout is an apple I haven't used before, but I can only imagine it is a very sharp variety - working alongside the Chisel Jersey it certainly stands out. The balance of bittersharp vs bittersweet apples is good and the Dabinett, while providing some great flavour doesn't really add much in terms of extra tannin to the heavy Chisel Jersey.
SUBSEQUENT NOTE: Brown Snout is, in fact, a bitter sweet variety - so I am a little puzzled as to where the acid comes from. However, this shouldn't detract from what is a really accomplished cider!
The aftertaste is drying and long. It's all rather refined and the bubbles last throughout the glass.
For my 300th review, I am really glad I reserved this one. It is a very competent cider and serves as a celebration... I guess I had better update the scoring summary then!!
A gold apple for Gregg's Pit with 91/100 points. Lovely!