Friday, 15 November 2013

Thistly Cross Cider Traditional Cider

First off, my apologies for the absence. Last year I had this season planned... this year I failed to do so! So I find myself very busy with lots of cider sitting on the shelf waiting to be tried. Well, finally, I am back!

I figured it would be nice to open one of the three Thistly Cross ciders that I have sat on my cider shelf. I had opted not to say this, but as Thistly Cross call themselves the 'original Scottish cider makers' I really suppose I have to: Cider is not normally made this far up north. Well, it never used to be. Now I think we can safely say that wherever you go in the UK you are sure to find someone making cider.

Part of the reason that cider is not traditionally known in Scotland is the availability of high quality apples with character. James Grieve, I believe, originated in Scotland - but that is a hardy sharp apple more related to cooking than to cider making. So, to some degree, I am expecting this to be a cider in the 'eastern counties' tradition than something with tannic cider fruit in. There were a couple of  'non apple fruit' themed ciders on offer that I opted not to buy - so they are exploring other flavours. So perhaps they don't get the full choice of cider fruit that others do (who oddly don't venture into 'non apple themed' flavours. 

So, lets get on with this cider then. It is presented in a 330ml bottle which seems a bit odd as the price didn't really reflect that. However, I like the label (and the Saltire on the cap). A couple of things that stick out from the label: “Premium Scottish Cider”. This tells me that Thistly Cross are a successful company who are courting the supermarkets and wider distribution (I am forming the theory that anything with a broad distribution has to be called ‘premium’. The other is “classic Scottish session cider”… at 4.4% I was wondering what it was – it cannot be full juice in any case. However, the ingredients list (also on the bottle) says ‘apple juice and sulphites’. OK, so it may be – although where I come from the use of water counts as an ingredient.

It pours out very pale golden and brightly polished. There is a moderate fizz that settles fairly quickly. The smell is quite faint and light – I am getting something like sharpness in the nose though; I expect that the main fruit crop in Scotland are going to be dessert and eaters so this is not surprising.

The taste is rather interesting. Firstly it is indeed made with cookers and dessert apples. It should be very sharp… but this is almost totally masked by the sweetening. It tastes a bit apple juicy, though I am not convinced it has been back sweetened with juice or if it is artificially sweetened and naturally a fruity cider. There is no tannin in here at all, but I am not getting a lot of sharpness either – just sweetness.

So, it is like a sweet apple juice – I noted that it isn’t dissimilar to WKD, although its credentials are far better and, actually, it is a bit nicer (and no boiled sweets!). However, it is not a favourite by any stretch. Too sweet to start – and it is naturally rather a thin and sharp blend.

The aftertaste is short.

Overall, I don’t really go for this cider on a number of levels. It is possible that the signs of a cider heading towards mass production are there… low abv, high use of sweetener (even the use of language on the label). It scores an actually respectable 62/100.


  1. Thanks for your review of our 4.4% - it's always good to get feedback. We did want to clarify that Thistly Cross does not add any artificial or natural sweeteners, or any flavourings or colourings. Hope you enjoy your other Thistly Cross ciders. Best, TCC

  2. Thanks for also feeding back.

    One question - You say that you don't use and artificial or natural sweeteners - which to me says that you don't back sweeten at all. How do you make it so sweet then?


  3. So it looks like, to me, that they are maybe using apple juice to make the cider sweeter? It tastes like that to me... Just be honest with us guys, we want to know the truth:) Your cider is sweet, very sweet, and it's not 2% or 3% type of sweet French cider, so you must have used something...

  4. Well, I wouldn't quite put it like that (actually I haven't quite put it like that), but what they have said above is this: They don't artificially sweeten... OK, I don't fall out with that particularly. They go on to say they don't naturally sweeten... which rules out juice and sugar. So - your question is valid, how is it done. I highly doubt that they are stalling the fermentation at 4.4%... it can be done OK, but then if they are using traditional techniques that is tricky and unstable (unless they are keeving - which is a highly skilled French method - and one that fetches a much higher mark up and served in champagne bottles).

    I am going to take a punt based on what it tastes like... and Thistly Cross guys pleas tell me if I am wrong:

    They are pressing or using concentrate or both (and possibly raise the starting gravity with glucose). They terminate the fermentation at 4.4% (the raised gravity could leave it sweeter) by pasteurisation or asceptic (clean room) filtering and bottling, carbonating it in the process.

    If this is true, then the comment about a cider business 'going large' would be more accurate than I figured and TC would be less 'traditional' and more 'mainstream' than I had anticipated.

    Food (or cider) for thought...