Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sandford Orchards Devon Scrumpy

Moving from Somerset to Devon for the next cider... Devon Scrumpy. Hmmm. I remember Devon scrumpy from when I were a nipper. Summer holidays in Kingsbridge - tasting something that could strip paint... do they still make 'Cripple Cock'?

Interestingly, this idea of 'scrumpy' is a bit of a current topic on-line about cider. No, not scrumpy itself, but that there is a vast difference in quality across the cider industry. Some of this comes from cider makers themselves, bemoaning the surge in new producers (funnily, it is some of the newer entrants to the market that are most vocal about it... which is perhaps a bit ironic). However, as someone who makes it their business to try cider, I can confirm that there is some truth to it.

This variance could be for many reasons - large producers aim at mediocrity with their 'brews'... and some see that as the goal. Trouble is, with full juice cider there is a fine line between good and poor, and what many of these producers end up with is poor to potentially undrinkable. The other problem (as I see it) is that there are some producers that simply cannot be tasting their cider. Or if they are, they cannot be trying others to see that theirs needs improvement. That is, after all, why I started trying other ciders. I just took it one step further... and in all honesty I was doing it to share the bounty - to promote good cider and measure it against what you can expect from the supermarkets.

Anyway, on to this cider: I have a clear idea as to what I expect scrumpy to taste like - dry, flat and rich. If done well it will be a nice 'farmhouse cider'. If not, well, it will be a challenge! On the label, it seems to say the right things too - "for the true scrumpy drinker, nothing else will do" and, probably more telling, "unfiltered" and "long bittersweet finish".

Sure enough, it is not bright (although not cloudy either) and is a light gold colour. Being still I am not expecting a huge smell, but there is bittersweet in the aroma... and it does come across as being sweetened too; this cannot be true if it is the 'true scrumpy drinkers' drink. 

Agh, it is true. It is sweet. Scratch the marketing on the bottle, it is too sweet. Now, to be fair, there is bittersweet in here... it isn't a bad cider (or scrumpy) in it's components - I don't get enough acid in the taste but the sweetening is probably killing it off to be fair. Needless to say the tannins aren't drying - it is a bit narrow in flavour (in my opinion) although what is there is OK. I am getting some fruit tones as well, but nothing complex going on.

The aftertaste is medium in length and mostly sweetening. Overall I think this is scrumpy for beginners - a kind of cross over sweet cider that is a touch rough, but really not that much. As a result it lacks the depth of flavour and any dryness that real scrumpy demonstrates very well.

A score of  67/100 demonstrates that decent scrumpy is hard to do well.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Dunkertons Breakwell Seedling Cider

Having now got the Great British Beer Festival and my trip to France out of the way... lots of lovely cider (or cidre, depending on your perspective). Anyway, taking a glance at my cider shelf, I can see that it has grown somewhat (and a bit dusty too). I am constantly amazed at how much cider is around these days (although perhaps the quality/standards of some of the cider needs a post in its own right!)

Heading for the one that has been shouting 'drink me' the loudest, I opened a bottle of Dunkerton's odd single variety ciders. Breakwell Seedling is an apple that comes from Monmouth (I know that 'cos it's on the bottle'. Digging a little deeper, it appears that the variety was propagated by a guy called (guess what) Breakwell, in Monmouthshire. It is a bittersharp variety - so there should be some aid going on. Something that would be interesting to those who think about such things is that it is an early variety. This is significant - most earlies tend towards poor storage/bletting - which means that it needs processing fairly quickly. The other thing that I would say is that most early varieties are pretty thin... especially when compared to later varieties.

So, having done that research I am not sure what to expect of it now. Surely Dunkerton's wouldn't release a cider that was below par...

It has a moderate sparkle and is fairly light golden in colour. However, the smell is actually rather rich - fruit and a bit of farmyard going on. It settles down well and I am ready to go.

The taste istelf is fairly fruity. Not huge on tannin and more sweet than I would expect from a medium dry (though not badly done by any means). It does have a pretty fruity flavour which dominates both acid and tannin. The acid is light and kind of sits in the background a touch too far for me.

The aftertaste is quite sweet still and moderate in length. At the end it is a little drying... the tannin must sneak up a little.

Overall, this is a really good, drinkable but not hugely challenging cider. I like it. No, I am not mellowing to SV ciders... just to good ones. As with all ciders, if all producers could make cider as well as Dunkerton's then the industry would be in safe hands!

A silver apple for this cider - perhaps the scoring is a little high, but I will stand by it.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bio Village Cidre Bouche

Image courtesy of

Last cidre of the holiday then. I have to admit that I am a bit of a Francophile – much of France looks (on the surface) so much like Britain in appearance. Much more sun mind (although whether that is just my choice of timing or not I cannot tell). However, I have never been to the South before. Boy, is it hot down here!

Once again I have to confess to having failed completely to take a photo of this bottle before chucking it away (well, recycling it anyway). So, once again I am at the mercy of someone else to get a photo at the top of this review! I do think images are important - if you are in a supermarket and have a review open then the image helps reduce the wasted time trying to find the damn thing. See - it's not so I can show off my photography skills (?!?!?!)

Please allow me to indulge in a little story telling by way of introduction to this review. When I first started making alcoholic drinks I opted for wine – bought several vines and waited several years for the fruit to ripen. However, in the UK, you will have several years of unripe grapes to one of decent grapes. Mind you, I learnt how to make wine during this period – strawberry, ginger and plum wine mainly. Until someone I worked with (who had very good sense) suggested that apples were a far more reliable crop in the UK – world beating probably. And the rest is, as they say, history. 

Why do I mention this? Well, I had never seen vines at their best – and there are plenty of them here and judging by the crop on them they are doing very well indeed. Grown much in the same way as modern orchards, they are low and trained along cables with only so much fruit per vine. It is far too hot to grow apples here… they need to slowly ripen to be ready and ripe during the autumn… in this temperature they would be dry and fairly nasty. Don't get me wrong, there are orchards out here - if you can call them that. Trained in much the same way as vines, they have additional protection of a cloche overhead to limit the sunlight. It all looks quite a faff to be honest!

Anyway, on to the cider. I thought it looked a bit ‘supermarket’ but on closer inspection see that it is organic (or ‘bio’) – it is even certified in some way though I am not at all sure what it is or how it stacks up. What I am much more impressed with is the use of an ingredients list, "jus de pomme a cidre fermente, carbon dioxide, So2". Wow, pretty good eh!

 So, it is highly sparkling, golden and bright. There isn't a huge smell to it. OK, it is cold so perhaps not going to give off too much, but when I let it sit a while the aroma is still faint, light and a little appley.

The taste is quite juicy - very juicy in fact. And sweet. It is pleasant but it isn't far off apple juice to be honest. I can find some body but that isn't through the tannin - it isnt that acidic either. I find it balanced. The aftertaste is short to medium and, again, it's juicy.

I like this cider - it is quite refreshing. It is also actually much better than I had expected from - better than the label that represents it!

Unfortunately, this cidre falls just short of an apple at 67/100. However, it is above average and (as with some of the others) if its all you can get hold of in a non cider producing region of France then go for it.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Les Goelleries Cidre Fermier

I guess of the two cidre from this producer I have been looking forward to this one more. It doesn’t bear the PGI, but it does say ‘pur jus’ on the label – so I am hoping for a good rich flavour. Being a farmhouse cider, it should bear the character of the producer too… in all quite a good example (although, having bought the bottle from E Leclerc in Gaillac (not exactly cidre country) I won’t hold my hopes up too far.

There is not a whole lot of small to this cider – sure it is clean (what I am getting) but there is not much apple going on in my nose.

Once again, this cidre tastes quite clean and soul-less. There is very little tannin and the acid is quite washed out again. It’s a shame – French cidre clearly doesn’t bear dilution as much as certain UK ciders. The aftertaste is also quite short and fairly dull.

There isn’t much more to say about this drink. I find it odd that out of two ciders, made by the same producers, one is really quite good and the other is not good at all. My only advice is to try stuff and find the good ones for yourself. Getting hold of cidre outside of the traditional cider making areas of France is certainly hit and miss.

I do find it curious that, although this suggests it is 'pur jus' it doesn't bear the PGI certificate like its sister cidre. Recalling the PGI rules, anything labelled pur jus was not allowed any dilution - so the only logical conclusion would be that this cidre is diluted and therefore not allowed to bear the PGI. After all, why would a producer have a PGI for one product? Why not have it for all products... unless they are disqualified for some reason.

Also, to give this review a little context, think small gite in the south of France, 10.30pm and 31 degrees inside. Also think of dangling legs in a pool  - so its not as though I was writing this in a bad mood - and it is not as if this cidre would put me in a bad mood either!!

A score of 54/100.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Les Goelleries Cidre Bouche Breton

Well, words fail me! For the first time I have failed to have a photograph to put at the top of this review. In actual fact I did have a photograph but managed to delete the frot image (probably the more important one) without downloading it. Oh well... I have pinched one from the website for the supermarket where I bought it - E Leclerg. Hope you don't mind!

Another evening by the barbeque in the south of France and another cidre to try out whilst I am relaxing. I have two cidres from Les Goelleries and this one happened to be in the fridge at the right time. To be fair, writing a few reviews down is a small nugget from home that I have quite enjoyed over the last week or so. I am not exactly the sort of person who can just laze around with nothing to do and the rest of the family haven't felt like exploring too much. So the reviews (I have only really done one a day) have been 20-30 minutes of 'me' time - though the family have sampled and offered opinions:-)

Once again, this cidre bears the PGI – so I can be fairly sure that it is pretty well traditionally made - even if you could in reality drive a coach and horses through the PGI (within reason).

As a Brut it is around the 5% mark and, as expected it is the usual golden colour with a moderate to high sparkle. I am getting the rich fruity smell this cider – it does smell a little sweet and I am sure it is a bit light and sharp too.

To taste it is really quite nice. A sharpness compliments the juice and, as with other Breton cidre the tannins are soft and understated.  It has a juicy body to it that lasts well into the aftertaste – although the aftertaste itself is not that long.

Working my way through the bottle, I have to say that there is nothing to say that is either exceptional or poor about this cider. It is a typical Breton cidre with all the elements that make it good but not outstanding. I suppose it is rather gassy, but perhaps that is just trying to find something to say.

I do like this – and I think it deserves an apple (I say that without knowing the score yet). Not a great apple, but it is very competent and good that it is available freely.

The score is 73/100, so a bronze apple for Les Goelliers - deserved and one to find (if you cannot find anything direct from a producer!)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Heritage Velderance du Cidre, Cidre de Bretagne (Les Celliers Associes)

Apologies that I have so far failed to get in any unique or special cidre from France yet this year. To be honest, it is going to be fairly unlikely unless I can pick something up from northern France on the journey home. However, this isn’t a review blog only for those places where special cider is found!

This cidre, made in the ‘bouche’ style is actually made by Les Celliers Associes, a cidre cooperative found in Brittany. In operation since 1953, this cooperative is formed of some 300 growers and uses some 10 to 15 thousand tons of apples... so quite big then!! This bottle has the PGI stamp on it too. I happen to know a little about PGI, so can go away and check the ‘Cidre de Bretagne’ PGI to find out to what standard it has been produced.

The PGI for Breton cider is interesting - if a little open (a bit like the three counties PGI to be honest). Dilution can occur (although it requires the water be added to the pomace 'to extract extra sugar'). Up to 40% of the content of the cider may be concentrate, although if a cider is labelled as 'pur jus' with the PGI, it has to be just that - no water allowed. Filtering and sweetening are allowed. It doesn't give any total juice content requirement though; and often these things are about what isn't said as opposed to what is - you only have to look beyond your nose in the cider industry to realise that this is exactly how the larger companies have exploited lower juice content.

And so, I am sat here, at 8pm in a temperature of 30 degrees ‘C’. The sunburn is calming down a little and I am ready for this cidre. The bottle comes straight out of the fridge (in these temeperatures it is the only way to drink it!) It is presented in the standard French format (gold/sparkling/bright) and pours out with a flourish. There is some tannin to the smell which is lovely and this is backed up by a sweet fruity smell that just leaps out of the bubbles at you.

There is quite a long and complex taste to this cidre. It is more cidery than the other cidre recently. The tannin is very soft and doesn’t win against the acid and sweetness. There is a long aftertaste which is simply more fruit – I am not sure what apples are typical of Brittany but they deliver a low, soft tannin that provides character and a touch of body, whilst the acid is much more pronounced (yet not sour at all).

This is a surprisingly good cidre found in a national supermarket. A good example of the style!

A score of 76/100 sees a bronze apple (and it is the best cidre this year so far!)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Chants Singing Cider (GBBF)

Sorry all - the final GBBF review had to wait until I could recharge my tablet (which had the notes on it!!!). And as I had lost the charger things have had to get a little out of order. So, finally, here is the last review for GBBF!!

I wanted to finish with a floury, so the last choice for me was some Chants Badger Spit... no, isn't it Singing Cider... no - is it Naishs... no wait. Oh, I give up!

Apologies, I found that quite funny. A touch of history before I begin with the review. Paul Chant is better known as Frank Naish's right hand man. Not only that, but he has started selling his own cider too. For anyone who doesn't know who Frank Naish is, simply Google him. I couldn't put into a blog post all that he is renowned for: oldest cider maker in the UK, Somerset based and with some great cider producer opinions on stuff and a real heritage to his cider!

The above joke relates to an incident recently of Chants cider being 'rebadged' and sold on. At one point, it was feared that someone else had essentially faked his label onto some other cider. This is quite simply fraud and it isn't the only example of unscrupulous people re-labelling ciders. To be honest, I feel that taking someone elses cider and re-labelling as your own is a poor practice in any case... and yes, it is done.

On with the cider review though. Yes, by this point I was contemplating calling it a day but wanted to get to 15 ciders in all. So I took some time out - I watched CAMRA bods bidding for 'antique' beer mats and such like and the set up of the evenings band. I bought a new t-shirt with a beery/cidery surf wave on it. I had another go at Northamptonshire Skittles and nearly decapitated the poor guy watching over the stand. I wasted some time.

And so, I am handed a glass of golden hazy liquid with a bit of an identity crisis. Advertised as Badger Spit and then as Singing Cider (and add to that some odd brandings by some odd wholesaler). The bottom line is that it smells very nicely west country - deep, rich and tannic.

And the taste is good too, though disappointingly it is far too sweet. OK, its a medium but its at the sweeter end of that too. Working my way under it, there is a good level of tannin and not a lot of acid (there may be some, but its hard to find). Its a shame that it is sweet, I would have liked it much drier than it is. Still, never mind. It does occur to me that perhaps I am not doing this cider justice by it being my last cider of the night... but there had to be a last cider!

The aftertaste is moderate in length and sweet.. quite sweet. I do like this cider, but would not choose the medium version again. However, it was good enough to get a bronze apple with a score of 73/100.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Auchan Cidre Bouche de Bretagne

Sometimes pictures just don’t tell you the story well enough. By taking images of the front and back of the bottles there is as much information as someone needs who is seeking to try a cider for themselves… after all, what’s the point of ranting about a cider without showing what it looks like… On this occasion, however, I thought it might be nice to show you the ‘other’ picture by way of context...

Yes, I am trying to make you jealous and showing off (a bit). But just in case this turns out to be a terrible cidre with a great review, its probably helpful to provide a suitable excuse beforehand!

This cidre, Auchan’s ‘own brand’ cidre, is perhaps not the most auspicious of cidre to present at a sunny barbeque. However, I was boyed by the Loic Raison review so am going to keep an open mind. Sadly, I have no idea who actually produced this cidre for Auchan (so if anyone else kmows any more, then do tell)

And to the review. It is (guess what) golden, highly sparkling and bright. A standard French cidre then… I must find an abbreviation to sum this up quicker as it gets a bit dull to read that something is bright, golden and highly sparkling each and every time!

The smell is very clean. Too clean if you see what I mean. Sterilised almost. Faintly fruity and vinious. It smells more like an apple wine to be honest (although at 4.5% it’s a fair bit short on the alcohol!) I am struggling to find anything particularly interesting to say about the smell – it’s a bit of a ‘ghost’ cidre so far.

The taste is very clean and, well, fairly tasteless to be fair. There is some apple to it, but it is just watery apple drink rather than anything remotely complex or remarkable. Just a bit too dumbed down (is it a standard aspect of cider found from supermarkets that the buyers require something that is a bit like cider but not really). Mind you, it is more refreshing that Carling for the simple fact it is cold (perhaps the Carling marketeers should have looked at temperature when they were doing their ‘refreshment survey’).

Staying with this cider, there is a hint of Bretagne cidre about it. I suspect the base cidre from which this was diluted was pretty good. Unfortunately for this cidre, they rationed it out far too much and killed it.

The aftertaste was short although, considering what I have said above, was quite nice.

If this is all you can get (and even in Southern France it isn’t) then I guess it is either this or wine. It is cheap and pretty freely available. However, if you are wanting an experience of cidre then this isn’t going to satisfy. A score of 57/100

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Loic Raison Traditionnel Breton Cidre

Paris departed and now sat in glorious sunshine somewhere between Gaillac and Toulouse. Well, that was earlier and am now sat inside and ready for another cidre.

This plastic bottled cidre is probably a step away from the usual high quality cidre. I don’t normally ‘do’ cider in plastic bottles but I have never come across a cloudy ‘traditional’ cidre within France. The vast majority are bottle conditioned or cidre bouche, method traditionnel etc. and therefore clear to bright with little sediment. The question about this one is how close to our scrumpy does it get? Is it still and cloudy or is there some Co2 life to it?

The other thing that I notice is that this is a 1.5 litre bottle… made for sharing then. It says on the bottle that it is ‘naturallement trouble’. OK, this made me giggle a little but, while my first instinct was that it meant 'naturally fizzy' using my English expectation of the word 'trouble' it actually means naturally 'cloudy'. And I can confirm that it is that. Whether it is natural or not - well, lets not get all Westons Old Rosie on it yet shall we!

Lets see how I get on with it. Well, it is sparkling though not highly so and smells juicy, sweet and fruity. It is quite a lot fainter than the Le Brun but not a bad smell in all. It is rather cloudy and looking at it I do wonder whether this is deliberately been done or whether it is the result of a natural process (i.e. is the cloud manufactured by industrial process so that it hangs about?). My own is cloudy whilst fermenting, but soon drops clear once fermentation is complete. If that process happens in a bottle, there is sediment at the bottom – it doesn’t stay in solution.

It has a very juicy taste to it – fresh apples but very little body over and above this. It comes across as quite watery, although actually it is very refreshing – it is chilled which helps a bit. It isn’t especially sweet, which is I think where the traditional bit comes in. The French are not renowned for dry ciders and this is a nice change. I do have to say that it doesn’t compete with half the UK dry ciders though:-)

The fizz dies down fairly quickly in this cidre, and once settled I do get some tannin and a bit more acid from it. That is good as it isn’t just relying on it’s juiciness to give it character. The aftertaste is fairly long and pleasant.

As a session cider, this is rally rather nice and I would recommend it to anyone in a non cider producing region of France. Incidentally, try having a chat with a Frenchman in a wine region of France and mention that you are a cider maker… the facial expression is priceless!

A good score for this one – perhaps better than it ought, but that was what it got. 73/100 and a bronze apple.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Cidre Le Brun, Cidre Artisanal 'Bigouden'

And that, for the Great British Beer Festival, is that! Phew, it was a session by any standards although I was very glad to have many hours to do the reviews. And as a result, we are now in October... some months away from the festival itself! I hope that it does act as an advert for GBBF though. I know I have issues with CAMRA and their lack of interest in cider, but the more people want cider the more they have to stock!

Going backwards a touch now (my trip to France was a bit obscured by the GBBF reviews). I have some more French cidre to interest (or bore) you with:

There is going to be a bit of a problem in reviewing cidre this year – I am in France again, but the location – Toulouse and Gaillac (Mid-Pyrenees) – are not known as cidre producing areas. And in France that can be a problem; if you live in a wine making area the number of cider makers is going to be pretty negligible (if there are any at all)… certainly commercially. To the French, this is a way of protecting a region’s speciality and tradition. To me, I prefer the UK way of doing things although would rather that we could do more to differentiate the ‘pur jus’ ciders away from the ‘non jus’ ciders.

To reacquaint myself with the French tradition of cider, I opted to try a cidre from a name that I know and respect. Le Brun seem to have exploded across the French cidre scene (if French cidre can explode!!) and a couple of days near Paris meant that I had a chance to visit Auchan. I confess to being a bit surprised to see it. As a note, I also found this cidre in Gaillac (at L’Eclercs – which I think are associated with Auchan). I have seen only too well what happens when a product ‘goes national’… recent nationalised ciders in the UK seem to have chosen quantity over quality (I intend on retrying the Orchard Pig range soon as I fear that the score may well have dropped).

Anyway, lets see what ‘Bigouden’ has to say for itself. Not surprisingly, Bigouden is a small region within the larger Brittany area of France. There is not that much to say beyond that, although check out the traditional head gear for the ladies - clearly designed to prevent them from going though doors etc.

This cidre is presented in the traditional way in a 750ml bottle with a caged cork.  It is golden and highly sparkling. Actually, it is rather too highly sparkling as I failed to chill the bottle before opening it (and nearly killed a member one of my travel partners in the process!).

I can smell the cidre pretty freely – a part of having a highly sparkling drink. It is fruity in the nose, there is a bit of sulphite in the smell too. It seems to be quite juicy – though it is a brut (the French equivalent of a dry).

The taste is mild and juicy. There is not a heap of tannin to it; though it does seem to be full bodied in the mouth. There is some acid going on in here too. I have to say, in all it is a fairly average cider – it isn’t setting me alight in any case… not like the last Le Brun I tried. I am getting lots of flavours from the drink though – aside from the very pronounced orchard fruit, there is the taste of peach and raspberry which makes this drink feel rather summery (so it isn’t all bad!)

I have to say that this cidre could have benefitted from being a bit colder. Temperature is a subject that deserves it’s own ‘Cider101’ – and may be soon. Cider is a sensitive drink and environment, temperature and even weather can influence perception.

There is a moderate length of aftertaste, which is pleasant.

Overall, I did enjoy this cidre. It wasn’t quite what I expected from Le Brun, but it was a reawakening to French cider. And for that it didn’t disappoint. I would be interested in hearing from any French cidre drinkers to see how they see the quality of Le Brun and whether it has dropped: not that I would be surprised to learn that it has a bit… how many British ciders could you point at and say that it is worse than it used to be as it grows in popularity? It’s a hard thing to get right (especially when profits are all important!)

A bronze apple with a score of 74/100