Sunday 18 August 2013

CJ's Surprise (GBBF)

Prepare yourself. The next bunch of reviews are of ciders that were found at this years Great British Beer Festival in London. No, I am not going to get into why it doesn't move around the country to properly represent the UK. Take a look at it and the bars found within it... it is a great festival! It is easy to get to from just about anywhere (if less and less cheap thanks to 'we're all in it together' Dave and Gideon).

The cider bar (or cider area) is not quite as impressive - it is one bar amongst many. However, it is a big bar and it is certainly one of the busier bars too! I think the line up was somewhere in the 70 different ciders this year. I am thankful for two things: firstly, innevitably there were a good chunk of them that I have already tried. Secondly, there were a lot (a larger number than really should be) of ciders graded 3 (medium sweet), 2 (sweet) or even 1 (very sweet). I will get into that as we go along, but I have something to say to CAMRA and particularly the APPLE bods:

Well done!!! The choice and quality of the cider this year was significantly better than last year. All the hard work and effort that goes into this particular bar could be argued to be excessive, but it really did exemplify the best of British ciders. Now. Why the bloody hell do you then give Westons a stand next door? That is, perhaps, something else I will get into as I progress...

I had a list with me. Looking at it now, I can see that out of the 18 ciders on the list, I managed to get through 15 of them. A couple were de-listed for being too sweet and one or two were not on. But 15 was pretty good going for the space of 8-9 hours (thank god for sausages and mash!!!)

This first cider is one of the two I had to try here: CJ's Surprise. The silver winning cider from this years CAMRA Champion Cider Competition earlier this year. To be fair, I have tasted it before now - but wanted to give this years batch a proper review.

There is not much to be found about CJ's - I cannot find a website, although they are located in Usk, Monmouthshire. So a Welsh producer and, on the whole, the things I see online about them are positive. But what is it about this cider that won the award?

CAMRA have little 'helpful' stickers on the labels of their tubs - for CJ's it has a symbol for cloudy and for tannic. Past experience of this combination hasn't fared so well on my reviews here - and I am curious as to how a cloudy cider would win an award from an organisation where punters like clear to bright drinks...

Sure enough, it is quite cloudy... basically, it is all of the above. It is deep and golden and cloudy. It smells quite tannic too.

A word on cloudy cider. Last season was a particularly hard one for making cider. Not just because it was persistently wet and sugar levels were down, but things took longer, were more tricky and, well, as you can see many ciders haven't cleared properly. One of mine hasn't either (and it normally does). So don't fear cloud too much... it is just a feature of natural, full juice cider and those of us who don't filter sometimes have no control over it.

Wow. The taste is all of it's medium description! It isn't badly done though and the fruit flavour is right at the forefront of the taste. It is also quite tannic, but the sweetening prevents it from being remotely drying. Working through the sweetening, there are some heavy tannins in here which come through as a funky overtone to the drink.

This is a good, full bodied example of a western style of cider. The aftertaste is quite long and is very pleasant. However, the sweetening wins through right at the end and it is that that lingers most.

This is not a heavy cider in itself - quite nice in fact. If I was looking for a cider to 'make my own' as an individual choice of craft cider, this would be a great one to go for. Whether it is worthy of it's silver award from CAMRA... well, I have tasted a lot worse and a few better but its all about what you see at the moment of the competition (cider is a live thing and changes as it matures and each year... that is good!)

A score of 77/100 sees a bronze apple to CJ's and a good start to my GBBF 2013!

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    let me comment on one particular scoring criteria: the Character. I try to understand, how your internal scale on this one works.

    (I'm reading your blog mostly from the start, so I'm also going to compare you to your younger self.)

    It is easy to see that if a cider is too safe, it easily gets 10 or 11 points for character.

    But why this one got 14? It is the same as Westons Old Rosie, far below Westons Vintage 2009 that scored 17. Is it really positioned like this?

    Another ones that have got 14 for character were Green Goblin or Cornish Rattler. Is it really true that CJ's Surprise, though otherwise well done, has its personality no more specific than these two?

    BTW, I have just noticed that Henney's Vintage has got 16, so it's _character_ seems to be one point less than Westons Vintage 2009. I love the latter one (yes, I still have several 2009 stored) and I have never had any of Mike Henney's ciders. Yet from our reviews this comparison seems surprising.

    I understand that high value for character helps to reward certain interesting ciders, that do not score so well otherwise. But aren't you a bit harsh to ciders that do have their own character, just don't happen to be weird?

    I understand it is extremely difficult to keep the same scale in mind over the years. I hope this reflection helps you. (And I apologize if it doesn't help.)