Sunday 27 February 2011

Henney's Vintage Cider

When you don't live in Ciderland, the main source of any kind of cider is the off licence or supermarket. Its not as simple as trundling down the A303 or M5 and finding a cider maker off every junction (though I am sure its not that simple, even in the cider making counties!). So, where do you find really good cider? Online... festivals... by getting in the car/on the train. It is possible. However there are plenty to review just from the supermarkets; which is why there are few artisan producers reviewed here yet.

I think Henney's probably comes as close as you can get for a producer that supplies nationwide. Sure, there are others, but not so widely available.

Once again, I like the use of bottle and label - a darker look for the Vintage style. I really hope that these vitage ciders, with the year named on the label are truly that - its going to be interesting reviewing the next years vintage against the current one.

When its poured, I notice two things: Its a flat cider (i.e. no carbonation). Also, its a good deep colour - golden is a pretty good description. At 6.5% its unlikely to have been cut with water too much (going by Henney's own website, they only cut to get to a desired level - unless I am misreading it!). As a flat cider (i.e. no carbonation) its not going to appeal to everyone. But its not a bone dry cider either. This was a bit of a surprise to me at first, although its not made from just cider fruit, so there is some residual desert sweetness about it too.

I like this cider - I like it a lot. More so because I can go back to Sainsbury's tomorrow and buy a lot more to share with friends! First off, it has a nice cidery nose to it - not just apple arome, but a real cider smell. Then it is a rich mouthful, with tannins coming through, but also sweetness too which balances it out. Finally, there is a lasting taste - a good taste too. The cider I made last year had a similar aftertaste. My cider was full juice, I have no problems with this one at all.

So, why does it only get a silver then? Well, for one, only my absolute favourites should get a gold - its not meant to be easy! Second, whilst I like this one a lot, I do have a question mark about its character which is reflected in the score. It does so much well; its a good Herefordshire cider. But its still lacking something that I have found in the very best ciders. Its a little bit sweet beyond the sweet/bittersweet apples and is pasteurised too, which (and I never thought I would be able to tell) leaves it a bit too.. well... stable I suppose.

With a score of 80, its the first to get a silver apple from this cider fan! Well done and thanks, Mike Henney.

Friday 25 February 2011

Aspall Dry Premier Cru Cyder

 OK, must get my ciders/cyders/zyders right on this one! Eastern style cyder is 'the other' style of cider historically found in the UK. Arguably (and I have seen several histories of cider) it is older than the western style... lets not get into that though. Whereas the west country have specific cider fruit, the eastern counties (Kent, Suffolk, Sussex) were the garden of England - with many quality desert and culinary apple varieties.

This doesn't mean that cider apples aren't used in eastern styles. They just don't have to be used. This produces a lighter, more acidic cider with lower levels of tannin. I should add that I am not referring to just any old desert apples - I doubt whether Granny Smith or Golden Delicious would make a good cider of any style.

Aspall, based in Suffolk, and they do use some cider varieties in the cyder. However, it is most definitely an eastern style - more akin to the French style of cider than the west of England. And they have been doing it for a long time too. Another family owned business that are significantly big.

It has always puzzled me why Aspall don't make it on to CAMRA list of 'real' ciders. They claim to use 100% apple juice (in big writing at the top of the bottle). I suspect that they are using manufacturing processes in the same way as Thatchers, Westons and Sheppy's... but would be happy to be proven wrong! I confess that Aspall - especially their Premier Cru - has been consumed here rather often, although never in comparison to other ciders. It will be an interesting one, this.

First off, its fairly fizzy - this is OK with eastern/French style cider as it offsets the sharpness common when using mainly desert fruit. Secondly, its a nice straw colour which is common to ciders using dessert fruit.

Taking a glug, its a good light (but not watery) taste. There isn't much aftertaste on this one - maybe as there is less tannin. Its like a bold French cider - more body and a deeper flavour. However, something about it seems a little homogenous - a similar feeling to that of the other large producers. Don't get me wrong though, I could drink this all night. its got a zingy, tangy taste to it.

Of the score, 67 includes a good overall style score, but it lost a few character points because of its 'safe' feel. This may be a little unfair to the large producers - things have to give with large production. However, as a consumer seeking the best, I have to take that into account. There are not that many people making heritage cider in the Eastern style - and this is probably the easiest and most accessible of those... so don't take this as a bad cider by any means!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Henry Westons 2009 Vintage Cider

The vintage ciders from the larger producers seem to be going down fairly well on here at the moment. So I come to Henry Westons 2009 Vintage cider. I have had this before - at Westons too no less. At the time I had guessed that at 8.2% it was full juice... not so though (I was told that it all starts at about 14% and is then cut back). I am not going to be drawn into it, but on that basis you should be able to calculate the juice content.

I remember this being one of my preferred Westons drinks, and I am glad to see it on the supermarket shelves locally. It is 'oak matured': I am going to have to do the experiment to see if oak aging actually makes a difference to cider, or whether plastic/stainless steel is the same.

Its a heavy hitting cider - some quite distinct tannins within it, and not a huge amount of acid to combat it. With this in mind, the medium dry sweetness is all but taken up by the tannin, leaving a dry mouthfeel. I rather like this (being a fan of dry cider), and the bittersweet notes together with the tannin gives this a nice character. 

Its a bit watery though - I would expect it to feel thicker at 8+%. Its also pale yellow - almost straw colour. Colour doesn't score anything - this is just a desciption; but I must admit I wasn't expecting such a deep cider from this. Its also rather too fizzy for me and singles it out from the other vintage ciders I have tried, where carbonation is fairly scant.

I can see where this cider is going - its certainly not safe or dumbed down. For that, it scored 68 points on my little notepad scoring card. I wonder what others would give it.

Monday 21 February 2011

Gaymers Somerset Cider

After the last one, I have been keen to get stuck into this one... and so we move on to the Gaymers Somerset cider.

Now, one thing you ought to know about Gaymers is that its owned by C&C. So if you are after artisan cider, you won't get it here. C&C also own Magners, Addlestones, Bulmers and also produces things like K, Diamond White etc. (which I am afraid I won't be trying on here unless I run out of everything else!). This does not mean that they cannot produce a good cider - there are those out there who would argue this. However, all their ciders will have been made using various 'industrial' techniques and would not be full juice. I wish that they would though... undoubtedly they would be extremely good.

Their Somerset cider is  labelled as a medium dry, with a strength of 5.8%. It is made using Somerset varieties of bittersweet apples. I particularly like the note on the website saying "A lively and refreshing mouthfeel that combines the fruit flavour with a little dryness in a medium length fruit hit." Lets see.

Well, I am not entirely sure about this one. Sure enough, there is a light fizz and an appley aroma to it. Its a little watery - which is common amongst ciders that are mass produced. None of this is so much an issue as its tangy flavour. There is plenty of bitterweet flavour there, and a mellow tannin (almost no acid at all). But its the funky tangy flavour and aftertaste that put me off slightly.

Now, this may be simply that I am not getting it. There is nothing wrong with it (either as in its not a fault, and it is quite drinkable). Maybe I am turning into a cider snob. Thinking about it, I have tasted this kind of tanginess before, but with more tannin to offset it - so maybe its the medium dryness that makes it stand out. And it is right on medium dryness.

The score of 65 probably is how I felt about it. I think I prefer the Gaymers Devon.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Thatchers Vintage of 2010

I feel as though I gave Thatchers a bit of a hard time in the post about Thatchers Gold... not, I am sure, that they would worry too much about it - Gold is a very popular cider. With John Thatchers Vintage of 2010, we must be talking about a different beast.

On the label, is claims to be made from 'only the best apples from the 2010 crop'. 'It should have a touch of sparkle and a fruity floral aroma.' Well, that is the label - something I try to avoid reading until after I have tried it. So here goes.

Well. the label is pretty spot on with this one. A fairly light fizz and a nice golden colour... not a natural carbonation, but it is held back so not over the top. A smooth mouth feel too - nothing like Gold, its not watery at all.

In the mouth, there is a good measure of tannin, but also sharp too - unfortunately, a tiny bit sour (on my palatte). I have tasted this before; I am sure that there are a decent amount of bittersharps in this cider. The trouble is that sometimes bittersharps overtake the sweets and bittersweets. That said, this cider has a distinct character - its definitely not bland! There is nothing wrong with erring on the sharps either.

This is a punchy drink - you don't get the full 7.4%, even in the aftertaste which is quite long and sharp too.

I liked it. A favourite it is probably not but as an individual cider it stands up well - just not what I would consider a heritage cider.

It scored 71/100 so it gets a bronze apple.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Henney's Dry Cider

Mike Henney started his cider making life as a hobby cider maker some 15 years or so ago. However, the fact that his cider can now be found in many supermarkets is surely a testament to hard work (and a lot of cider making!)

Henney's make a fair bit of the fact that they don't chaptalise or add sugar to their cider. And in nice clear writing on the label it says "Made from 100% fresh pressed apples". This is something that is impressive indeed - it does away with the idea that, to be a large producer, you need to adopt certain methods. However, a small word of caution... not long ago there was a case of an entirely different beverage which advertised 'made with 100% pears' which actually meant that the juice portion of the beverage was 100% pears, NOT that the drink itself was 100% pears. Doh! However, that is a digression. I have heard nothing to counter Henney's claim and I am very happy to accept it as a full juice product.

First things first though... and it is a bit sad - I like the bottle and label. Not being one especially taken with pictures of 'Olde England', this is a nice clean bottle with a clean and professional label. Not that appearance makes a difference of course?!

Its a golden coloured cider, with a light carbonation that could almost be in bottle fermentation rather than force carbonation. It also smells of apples - very lightly too.

Lightly is a word that could be used to describe this one. It a dry cider but this isn't through the tannin, which is in the background. Tannin in cider can really give it a puckering dryness; this isn't like that. Its a gentle cider with a gentle taste. It does feel a little watery, and I am sure that it must have been cut in order to get it to the 6%, which is slightly low for a full juice cider. Don't let this detract from it though, it has an almost home made sense to it which is very pleasing (it may be that I have been drinking mass produced cider for the last week and this is different?!).

Henney's Dry almost suffers with being such a slight and gentle cider. The acid almost gets the better of the tannin. But it doesn't. This cider certainly is testament to Mike Henney's aim of not using industrial methods in making his cider.

A good bronze apple with a score of 76.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Waitrose Vintage French Cider

Waitrose, that traditional family cider producer... no, wait, thats not right. Start again.

For those that weren’t aware, Waitrose make their own cider out of apples from the Leckford Estate in Hampshire. This was once the residence of Mr Lewis (I presume of John Lewis, the company that own Waitrose). However, on the label it says 'Made from Normandy apples' and 'Produce of France' - not that it ultimately matters, but it is a little confusing.

French cider (or the French style of cider) is different from a traditionally English cider in a couple of ways. Firstly, the process is slightly different, producing a drink which is naturally sparkling and lower in alcohol. This is done by stopping the fermentation process earlier. By stopping (or slowing down) a fermentation cider can be bottled sweeter (without adding anything more) and use the Co2 created by any residual yeast action to carbonate. Do note, though, that there is nothing intrinsically French about this process

Whilst the French styles will still use cider apple varieties, they will also use high quality desert apples – hence the cider is lighter and more acidic than your western styles of cider. Anyway, enough  babble already! What does this one taste like? 

Its described as a naturally sparkling dry cider. Well, I like natural bubbles (honest, you can tell the difference!) and I do like dry cider.It is not dry like you would find a still dry cider, the bubbles enhance whatever sweetness is left in the drink. Its also a very light cider with an easy going sharpness underlining the appley flavour. There are little or no pronounced tannins at all. Its very much a nice summer drink... which on a rainy February day does feel a little out of place!

As with most drinks, the French authorities control their cider industry fairly rigidly (even this Waitrose drink has been via the Controllee). And this is a fine example of a particular style of cider. There are better French ciders - from France, but this is easier to get hold of and well worth a try.

The score of 68 is pretty good - its a pretty good cider...

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Thatchers Gold Somerset Cider

If I recall correctly, Gold was one of the first ciders that drew me away from Magners and helped me realise there was more to life than Irish cider.

There are several cider makers in the UK who are rather large these days – almost outgrowing their 'family owned’ monika’s, but who hold on to the tradition. Thatchers is one (as well as Sheppy’s, Westons and Aspells).On the up side to this, while the ciders are still seen by many as traditional scrumpy/cider/cyder they are found all over the country. On the downside, the processes adopted to produce such volumes have led many traditionalists (itself not exclusively a positive term) to criticise that the ciders “don’t taste like they used to”. I am not old enough to know what they used to taste like but I suspect they were fine ciders.

I have heard this comment about Thatchers Gold a couple of times. But it is what it is – you can only gauge it on what the bottle sat in front of you tastes like.

On pouring, it is a very fizzy cider although this doesn’t last too long. I am not a fan of super sparkling cider – unless it is naturally produced or very lightly carbonated. It is also a pretty yellow cider – which is unlike a lot of west country style ciders.

The first mouthful is pretty watery too. Saying that, the second is better (why is it that sometimes the first sip of a cider is different from the next – maybe the mouth is cidered up by then!) It doesn’t seem to smell of much, although I did get a bubble up my nose when I stuck it in!. In fact, as the score suggests, it was a little thin and safe to drink on the whole.

Its definitely a western style of cider – there is some nice acid balance to it as well. However, its another safe drink – feeling rather sweeter than the medium dry label suggests. All said though, its a fair drink and better than others.

As far as my novice cider drinking friend goes, I am a little stuck on this one – I could probably give them this or Stowford Press or Old Rascal to drink and the difference would be minimal... though I haven’t reviewed either of those yet so lets not get ahead of ourselves!

The score of 57/100 is fair, for me. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with it... surely its not changed since I last had it??? (that last bit was tongue in cheek, by the way!)

Monday 14 February 2011

Sheppy's Vintage Reserve (2009) Cider

Continuing the major brands theme (well, they are the ciders that most people will find sat in their local supermarket) its time to try out a Sheppy’s.

Sheppy’s are one of the four or five medium to large cider makers in the UK currently – not at the level of Gaymers, C&C (Magners) and Bulmers, but one that can still make something of its ongoing heritage and family based structure. Like Weston’s, its worth visiting them if you are ever near Tauntons to see what is made of cider and apples – there is a museum and you can take a tour of the business (as well as buy cider).

The Vintage Reserve (or 'Oak Matured’ Vintage Reserve as its called on their website) has even won an award. So no pressure there then – before I have even opened the bottle I am expecting something good from it.

Now, its worth bearing in mind that pretty much all of the major cider producers are run more like manufacturing plants than the traditional businesses they once were. This includes filtration, pasteurisation and back sweetening to appeal to a wide audience with a consistent (but often safe) product. This blog is not in judgement of this. There are many sides to the cider industry and the more traditional producers cannot produce the same volume of cider as the larger concerns. Each cider should be taken as just that – a cider. Whatever people think of the processes, surely its the drink that matters (at the end of the day).

So, onto the cider itself... Its a nice colour - somewhere in between amber and golden. The bubbles are a bit of a bother though - this carbonation in this cider is very moussy and almost leaves a head on the cider! Once its drunk though, its a nice smooth (creamy?) mouthful that is distinctive and very full of bittersweet fruit.

As far as oak goes (the Vintage Reserve is descirbed as a Somerset Cider matured in oak), there is a taste of it - nicely, it isn't too much. Mind you, it would take a lot to overcome the cider apples in here. One thing I would say though is that I thought Somerset ciders should have more sharp to them than this - its more of a Hereford style... although this is much of a muchness.

At 7.4%, you can taste the alcohol in it - which lasts through to the aftertaste. It is sweet though... yes, I know, its a medium.

On the whole, this is a carefully put together cider and is nice - my imaginary friend who I am leading to cider would definitely try this on their journey. But the moussy carbonation, which never fades. I fear detracts from it, plus the sweetness which just isn't my taste... is it just me, or does carbonation increase the sweetness? On the verge (but not quite) a heritage cider.

I thought the overall score of 74 looked a bit tight, but its the first cider to win an 'apple'. Double checking the individual scores, I am happy with each and therefore its right (for me). A nice cider that deserves a look in.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Gaymers Devon Medium Cider

Gaymers, today one of the largest cider producers globally, is different in all but name from the original Gaymers of Norfolk. Through many acquisitions (as is commonplace amongst brands) it is now based in Shepton Mallet in the South West and is a very large business indeed.

As a company, Gaymers have been responsible for some good, some bad and some ugly brands of cider including ‘K’, Blackthorn and even Diamond White! Do I really need to try these out??? We shall see (though there is no category for ciders in a can, so maybe not!). However, some parts of the group (acquired over the years) have included some fine names such as Addlestones.

Their County Range of ciders is at the higher end of Gaymers offerings, although these are still readily available through supermarkets – Waitrose seems to have a more complete range than others.

Its has a fairly golden colour to it – although a bit more amber than golden. On opening it is very fizzy. As this is not really to my taste it was left to settle down a bit. However, once the bubbles have calmed a little it is a rather nice drink. There is little aroma to it though, and you really need to take two mouthfuls before the flavour kicks in – but it is a nice, smooth, western style cider with a reasonably distinctive aftertaste.

Gaymers Devon Medium is a fairly smooth and well rounded cider. There is tannin in it too, which offsets the sweetness and leaves it more a medium dry than the medium stated on the bottle. My notes state that it has 'a fairly long aftertaste’ – which means that the tannin and taste last beyond the initial taste. In all, not a bad effort.

However, on the down side, this is another example of a cider that has been manufactured. It has been 'engineered’ to consistently taste this way through the use of sugar, water, filtering, pasteurisation and carbonation. Cider can (and arguably ought) to be as good as this without the need for any or some of this. On the other side, this is a commodity – there is no room for margins in flavour profiles or a 'bad batch’. It can also be produced to taste like this in huge amounts. So whilst as a drinker I like this cider and would gladly drink it if I couldn’t get hold of anything better, having made a little cider I feel a little more cautious about it.

But hey, there are no cider snobs here. Not all ciders are the same... that is fine by me. Its definitely worth trying if you are out to discover cider for yourself.

It scored 66/100; so whilst not quite reaching a medal is very respectable I think.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Westons Premium Organic Cider

Okay, you’re out with your friends or partner and you want to drink a cider that’s a step up - and you happen to be in a Wetherspoons. What's the main choice? Well, whenever I have been in that situation the obvious choice for me has been the Westons Organic. Mind you, this ought to be qualified by the fact that I can count on the fingers of one (okay maybe two) hand(s) the times I have i. been in a Wetherspoons and ii. consumed Westons Organic. There are some of us like that out there!

Westons produce 4 million gallons of cider each year, increasingly under manufacturing conditions as they grow around the UK. This fact has been thrown at them by the label 'industrial’ cider in a derogatory sense. I would be more generous to them but would still see a clear distinction between a manufactured cider and the crafted one (I can hear arguments on both sides – it’s just how I feel about it).

The Organic is not just organic. Its 'Premium’ Organic. This is not an impressive term to me. A lot of self labelled premium brands that are simply just not. Its a non word! And then once I have got over the premium bit I am faced with organic too. I get the idea of organic. I don’t really agree with it very much – certainly as far as apples are concerned. However, many cider orchards could be classed as organic as no one sees the apples (they don’t have to be perfectly shaped or even crunchy). But they only qualify if they have the membership of the organic brigade... OK, stepping off of the soap box!

This is not a bad cider, after all that. Its a nice amber colour and even smells of apples faintly. Whether this is really apples coming through I don’t know, but its pleasant. At 6.5% its just about right too. Cider is naturally a stronger drink than beer and should feel it. Its a western style cider, with a quickly reducing carbonation. To taste it has a definitely mild western (bittersharp/sweet) flavour. There is a hint of acidity coming through too and soft tannin which gives it a slightly drier mouth-feel than my medium classification suggests.

However, there is still something missing. Maybe, as with Magners, its just not interesting enough. In fact, I don’t think I am doing it a disservice in calling it a posh Magners. It isnt that it does anything badly par se. Sure it is balanced and tastes of cider. Could it be that the fact that its not 100% apples and has been filtered, pasteurised and carbonated under manufacturing conditions... is it this that deducts something from it and makes it just safe? Its more than that, although maybe a result of it. It is thin and doesn't leave a taste in the mouth as though something has been 'experienced'. But then, this realisation only comes through trying ciders that do really make an impression.

If I had friends who knew little about cider, Westons Premium Organic may make it onto the list of ciders I would take for them to try as a first experience. Being always consistent and readily available from supermarkets, its a safe bet and better than many of its compatriots in the manufactured cider market. Having said that, I would try to move them on to more interesting and exciting ciders

Its score of 60 may be considered generous by some, but it’s my game and its just about right for me.

Friday 11 February 2011

Magners Original Cider

Magners. Yup. The place to start. A lot of ciderati would scream 'infidel’. However, why not? Because its an 'industrial’ cider? Sure its produced as a manufactured commodity, which is a mile away from the artisan cider producer. But that is the price of catering to the masses and we have to start somewhere. As a cider commodity, Magners represents a huge part of the market for cider worldwide. Its looking at a totally different market space than the artisan producer. Quantity over quality? Well lets see about that.

Its hard to be totally objective about ciders like Magners. I spent my late 20’s and early 30’s consuming the stuff before discovering what many describe as real cider (although a number of the large producers make cider in similar ways). Since then, not a bottle has passed these lips – so this is both a step back in time, and also time to be serious for at least a minute and put preconceptions aside.

So, to drink 'over’ ice or not? What a silly concept! And surely its drink 'under’ ice? Ice floats in liquid  ergo the cider is under the ice! Anyway, I wouldn’t put ice in my beer, or in my wine, so no thanks. However, as a gesture to this feat of marketing, I chilled it.

And what of Magners as a drink? Well, its a cider. Its probably better described as a session cider... kind of like the 4 pack of lager that you buy to take over to your mates house for a Barbeque. Easy going and undemanding. And generous too (though I smell a whiff of marketing in the pint sized bottles too).

At 4.5% its a bit lighter than most ciders, and it has a watery consistency – these set it apart from traditional, full juice ciders (yes, yes, I know, there are other factors too). However, it looks like cider - a bit orangey maybe. Its carbonated; though a little too heavily for me, and it tastes like cider. It’s not an inspiring taste though, with little aroma or distinctive character about it. In fact, it is an average cider in just about every way I can think of. Maybe average is not the right word here. Simple is probably more accurate - without wishing to cause offence to the good people of Clonmel, it is a bit of a dumbed down cider.

And that is probably the best summary of Magners – it has an average taste, with average sweetness, average style and average character. Maybe that is the secret to its success - its not challenging. Exceptional, however, it is not. Well, except for the marketing that it:-)

The score of 49 pretty much sums up how I felt about it.