Thursday 31 March 2011

Westons Oak Aged Cider (Medium Dry)

Putting my cards on the table I am a dry cider man. That and preferring either still or only 'spritzig' cider (low carbonation for the layman and unpretentious:-). So, should I stick to what I know best, or explore other styles? The answer to this is clear - after all, those people coming to real cider from an industrial cider background generally seem to start with sweeter offerings than the drier ciders.

OK, so this is Westons. I know that its not a full juice cider. If I were blogging about ciders that met CAMRA's criteria, or criteria seemingly set by a few on t'internet it wouldn't qualify. But, just like Magners, Bulmers, Gaymers and a couple of others, why should it not have a place. After all, these companies are offering cider - not alcopop with cider in the title.

Support for Westons et al over, lets judge this with the criteria and form already used for the others. I know this has turned out a lot of mid 50's to mid 60's ciders so far. They have predominantly been supermarket offerings which should really be scoring rather better than they are to be honest. To me it speaks more about the mediocrity of supermarkets than it does about the cider makers. When these have run out, and the real full juice offerings are tested I do expect scores to be both higher and lower. It was stinky cider that opened the door for industrial/manufactured cider in the first place... and I suspect this won't have ended completely.

Anyway, moving back to the cider on hand, this is a medium carbonated variant of the Westons Oak Matured family. Sure, I would have preferred a drier version, but there you go. Its a nice golden colour too - rather deeper than the Old Rosie stock blend, and with what seems like more bittersweet fruit in it too judging by a more full tannin that comes with both the aroma and the taste.

There is a definite character to this one too over Old Rosie. I am not entirely convinced, but there is a flavour coming through that is specific of one or two varieties (though I am not experienced enough to pin it down). Its a nice flavour too. Despite its extra sweetness, which fights against the tannin and drowns any real acidity, its not a bad one this.

However, it's not one that lasts on the tongue with the aftertaste fading too. I suspect this is due to its making rather than the sweetness - a lot is filtered out and there is a pay off with pasteurisation too.

In all, I must admit I am a little surprised. Its well balanced for its medium dry standing. And with a score of 68/100 I clearly enjoyed it!

Monday 28 March 2011

Aspall Peronnelle Blush Cider

A really hard one this. It would be far too easy to bash it for not really being cider and following the 'fruit' laced cider trend... it would also be too easy to support fruit (other than apple) cider and unwittingly fall into something that I have strong feelings about.

So, this needs to stand up as a cider, for me. Not as a 'girls drink', not as a 'fruit laced cider', not even as an alcopop. It needs to be a cider. And I ought to make it clear how I feel about these drinks... just 'cos its got 'cider' on the label, doesn't make it cider in the bottle. I am still thinking and weighing out whether I want to try Koppaburg or Reordeligg on here - even trying to be objective would be so tricky!

Anyway, This is quite a hard one for me.

First thing to note is that it has a blackcurrent and cider smell. Yep, almost separate aroma's coming off it. Its also deep pink (indicated 'red' on the sheet as I didnt think to make space for a pink cider. Again, the carbonation is gentle but leaves a foam on top, which seems to give it a bit more body in the mouth.

To my taste, its a little odd. There is a 'Premier Cru' taste about it - definitely an Aspell cyder underneath, but over the top there is a berry taste. Let me expand. This isn't a 'Ribena' taste. Its not at all sickly (and medium dry seems to be just about right). And while it doesn't completely take control, it does linger into the aftertaste as the dominant flavour.

Hmmmmm. I am a bit torn. Aspall haven't overdone things (I have tried some of the others, so know what overdone tastes like). Its a very posh alcopop if it is one at all. Having seen people buy up bottles of fruit adjusted 'cider' alcopop in the supermarkets, I actually believe this a step in the right direction. So a score of 67/100 is deserved. For what it is it is well done. And as Aspall sit on the edge of the bit commercial cider producers I think they are exactly the people to do it well.

Mind you, I don't really go for other fruit in my cider. Its just as bad as ice!

Friday 25 March 2011

Thatchers Green Goblin Cider

OK, here is the first thing about Thatchers Green Goblin. Well, its the first thing I noticed anyway. The goblin on the label is blue. At least, this is assuming I am not colour blind (which I am not).  Come on Mr Thatchers... lets have a green one at least:-)

Seriously, this is an oak aged cider and (according to the back label) the green goblin is from deep in the wood... the oak vats that this stuff is aged in presumably. Hey, I have heard less reason given for the name of a cider!!

Its meant to be a medium dry cider, made from a bittersweet blend of apples and 'beautifully' balanced . Well, there is oak in the aroma and, once the fizz has died a bit, it is a smooth mouthful with not too many bubbles getting in the way.

It does live up to its dry finish, and I would say that the balance is struck fairly well in the taste, though it doesn't have a very long finish to it. The levels of acidity are also interesting - there are bittersharps or sharps in there as well as bittersweets I think... though I would have expected that from a balanced cider. The oak is lost in the taste - which I must admit I am pleased about.

So, it is a well balanced cider, fairly dry and not too fizzy. A little sharpness too in the finish. Why did it only score 68/100 then? Well, its not the silly name (or the even sillier explanation of the name). I think its a good cider, and got a good mark. However, compared to some of the others - especially the vintages - it just misses the depth of character and personality that makes a great cider (in my book anyway - I spoke to someone today who raved about Sheppy's Oakwood... so its all horses for courses).

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Vintage Cider

A Sainsbury's cider made by Thatchers for the Taste the Difference range. After the last one I expected this to be a slightly down graded Thatchers cider. After all, their own Vintage cider scored its very own bronze (I know, it doesn't mean much from here but at least it gets on to my own short list of a kind). The label claims "Medium dry with a depth of flavour" - "A rich and fruity cider with a touch of sparkle".

This cider is a 2009 vintage cider made from Dabinett and Redstreak apples. Now I have a lot of respect for both Dabinett (a very good bittersweet variety) and also for Redstreak (a full Bittersharp). These are good apples to lay claim to, and ought to produce an interesting cider. The stakes for this one are raised!

On opening, its a medium fizz. I would say more like a 'dab' of sparkle than a 'touch'. Now who is being picky?! Its a nice gold colour - which I am coming to learn is a common colour for a west country cider.There is also a distinct aroma which offers both tannin and acidity.

Here is the odd thing though - the cider taste doesn't deliver much acidity at all. Sure, there it is in the aftertaste, but not in the mouth. It does taste a bit sweeter than its medium dry, so may be that counters it. The bubbles may also lift the sweetness a touch too.

I am definitely getting the dabinett and, although the aftertaste carries a tiny amount of sharp, its mainly tannin that comes through. Would say that there is more dabinett than redstreak, although it is strikingly more balanced than a dabinett single variety.

This is nice and drinkable though, with a good character to it. A nice blend. I only marked down because it also definitely has a safe, pastuerised flavour which is common to many ciders that have been 'adjusted'.

Given that, not bad at all. I would recommend for those searching for something good with only a Sainsbury's to hand (although Sainsbury's also stock Henney's Vintage - so I'd go for that instead). And what do you know. It scored a bronze apple. Actually, having just finished it, I am not surprised. Its a good one.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Bulmers Original Cider

OK, I had to do it sooner or later. Anyone that is reading this blog who is sensitive to such things please look away now, as you may be offended.
Yes, I believe that Bulmers deserves a review as much as anyone else. If Magners is the yardmark, then Bulmers ought to place too. I know cider makers that would disagree with me. But then I am/would be happy to put my cider up against Bulmers at a taste test, so why should I be worried about it? Also, it is one of the most popular ciders in the UK - so if there is better stuff out there ought we to engage with this drink. There I go, sounding like some kind of missionary with a zeal to convert the masses. This blog isn't about that. Its about measuring things from my own perspective. And I have an open mind. So here we go.

Its Magners shaped, its Magners sized. Its best served 'over ice'... Let me guess who Bulmers is in competition with:-) On that note, Bulmers is more or less judged by most. However, it is not Magners. Its an English cider made in Hereford.

Its also like a beer! On pouring, it develops a head unlike any cider I have ever seen. And this foamy carbonation has staying power. For someone who likes only a hint of sparkle, I waited this one out and lost! Interestingly, this foam is not that fizzy (does that make sense?). It actually gives body to an otherwise watery cider. There is an aroma, and the aroma is of the west country style of cider - tannin, cider fruit with not a lot of acid going on.

As for taste its more cidery than Magners - not surprising given its Herefordshire parentage. It is a very bland cider though. No doubt, Bulmers could produce a cracking cider if they wanted to, but this isn't it. Its very safe indeed. It makes the right noises, but is clearly far from full juice. It tastes and feels like an engineered cider - tailored to taste like a general western style, with little or no acidity - what is there is countered by its sweetness. There is an aftertaste, albeit a fairly weak spirited one.

Saying this, it is different from Magners - a step in the right direction, although only a single step - and its score of 50 more or less proves that for me.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Healey's Cornish Rattler

"I'ts cloudy, it's cyder, it bites!" Well, a bottle with an image of a surfer looking over a sunset with a clean, unbroken wave coming in to shore would have probably meant that I would have bought some without even thinking about it 20 years ago... maybe that's the point.

This is my first Cornish cider... sorry, cyder for a while. And I don't know that much about Healey's either (other than you can get it in Sainsbury's just outside of Bridgwater in Somerset. It also instructs you to "just chill" - so no ice cubes then:-) Well, I guess its just the packaging... or maybe I really am a cider snob after all. The taste will decide.

I have to admit, when I was young I thought that cider came from Devon and Cornwall - after all, that is where we always ended up on holiday. My father always used to stop off for some 'Cripple Cock' or something like that near to Dart Meet on our way to Kingsbridge with family sized tent, trailer and (usually by that time) squabbling family. He always used to moan about the cider too if I recall. But it was the tradition that mattered

Doing a little more research, Healey's is Cornwall's largest cyder producer, with their main brand being Cornish Rattler cyder and perry (or should that be pear cyder??). The pictures on their website are of a large scale production, with tankers and great big stainless steel vats on their farm. OK, so you need to have a bit of capacity to be able to supply such a large area as the south west of England.

Opening the bottle, its more hazy than cloudy - not a problem. If I am honest, I prefer a clear or hazy cyder to a sparkling bright or cloudy one. Carbonation is moderate and dies off fairly quickly too. There isn't a whole lot to smell though (I know, you don't buy drins for their smell, but this is meant to be a review so I have to stick my nose into it eh!).

And... it doesn't exactly bite either. I expected some bittersharp to come through, but all I get it a balanced taste with not a huge aftertaste. After the first couple of tastes, I fear it is another safe one. Though there is more acid in this than my first impression, its not a whole lot of it. Definitely western in style (well its a Cornish cyder after all), its a little watery - which is surprising given the tannin in it.

In summary, having finished the bottle, I would say its not bad - I didn't think it would be. However, if it is a snake that bites, its had its teeth removed first.

A score of 61.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Tesco's Finest Single Orchard Cider

Enough Sheppy's for now (don't they make a lot of different varieties!!!). Back to Tesco's and time to try one of their own. Well, when I say one of their own what I mean is the one that is made for them by Thatchers. Its hard to decide whether to tag this as Thatchers or Tesco... maybe it should be both.

The dead give away with the Tesco 'own brand' ciders (apart from the fact that they are honest enough to state who made it on the label), is that they use the producers bottles - hence this one comes in a bottle that is essentially a Thatchers type bottle. Another thing that is worth noting is that this cider came from a different Tesco; and the range is still pretty poor.

Never mind. Moving on to this cider, I expected it to be like another Thatchers cider - though the one it was most like was the Vintage which scored pretty well here. Its a golden cider with a moderate carbonation - so not over the top at all. It also has a nice cidery smell to it, which makes me want to take a great big gulp... but hey, I am trying to be sophisticated (had to look up that word:-).

There is a good full measure of tannin in this drink, with little acidity to haul it back. The sweetness does though, so it isn't at all mouth puckering. There is some good bittersweet flavour to this cider, although this doesn't really last very long (on the finish, I believe it is called). In fact, it does suffer a little from a lack of distinctive character about it - no one bittersweet rules or defines it - which is a shame as the vintage scored well on aftertaste. Maybe the comparison is a bad one then.

Overall, I found nothing to dislike about this cider, although I found nothing to rave about either (if I am going to be negative about it). Its worth trying, and with a score of 65/100, I reckon it won't disappoint too much,

Sunday 13 March 2011

Westons Old Rosie Cider

Well, I had to get round to this one sooner or later, didn't I. In searching for great cider, and thinking of my imaginary friend on a discovery of cider, its almost impossible to think that they (or I) wouldn't try this one.

Old Rosie was a tractor used at Westons and clearly was important (or peculiar) enough to warrent a cider being named after it. It is sold both on draught and in bottles. As I don't get out much, I am trying the bottle! It will be interesting to see how it scores (I guess it is on mass cider like this that I am declared a cider snob or cider slob...)

The first thing to note about Old Rosie is that it is a 'cloudy scrumpy'. There is a layer of dead yeast at the bottom of the bottle which gives it a light haze. Don't mistake this for in-bottle conditioning though - the cider itself is filtered and pasteurised and the yeast is added at that time. Anyway, if you want it cloudy, shake the bottle - if you want it clear pour it gently off the yeast... or buy a cider that isn't cloudy:-)

Old Rosie is a lightly carbonated, fruity cider that smells of fruit and has a pretty distinct acidic bite to it. This acid lasts through to the aftertaste. The tannin however, dies with the taste - leaving the acid on its own. Its not bad - just different. At 7.3%, its strong cider too - which comes through in the drink, although its a refreshing cider. I did feel that the 'cloudy' bit was a bit redundant - it doesn't actually add anything other than making it hazy. Nevertheless, generally its only the artisan full jucie cider producers who make cider that isn't bright and clear as a bell.

Some of Westons practices have been criticised a lot by many purists. Full juice, unpasteurised, unfiltered cider it is not. Magners it is not either. Westons are actually fairly open about their practices - they are a major business which sells some 4 million gallons a year.

This one isn't going to make my list of the best - its not even going to get an apple, but I am quite sure that most cider fans have tried it at least once and are not too disappointed when offered this as an alternative to a more 'less juice' brand.

Friday 11 March 2011

Sheppy's Somerset Draught Cider

So, two Sheppy's in a row... I think this is because Asda doesn't have the widest range of ciders. Having bought a couple and sat them side by side, they are exactly the same colour and alcohol content. The Somerset Draught has the ring of being Sheppy's 'stock' cider - the blend from wich the other creations are made.

This is a light, fizzy cider with mellow tannins and a good fruity taste. There is little oak taste to it (I am still oaked out after the last Sheppy's), but it is a full cider taste with good acidity to match the tannin. It hasn't got the distinctiveness of other Sheppy's ciders - not a complex or deep cider like the Vintage, and certainly not the same character as the Oakwood. But I like it - though granted, at a low 5.5% its nore a session cider (but not a watery one).

On the journey to find the best ciders available, this probably falls a bit short. On the journey to find good examples of an English cider this is really not bad at all. 

It scored 67, which is better than the Oakwood. Its definitely more drinkable, but suffered a little as it doesn't offer a character that is particularly complex. Sheppy's are doing OK in the scores though...

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Sheppy's Oakwood Supreme Cider

This is a Sheppy's I hadn't met before... which probably demonstrates a sheltered existance! Oakwood Supreme plays heavily on its oak fermentation and maturation. Its a medium sweet cider - so its a lot sweeter than I am used to or would naturally choose... but lets not prejudge it. At 6% it is about right too.

Despite the initial 'pfzzz' the carbonation is actually quite restrained. First impressions, however, are made through the aroma. Oak. lots of it. Then the first taste is... no, wait for it... oak. lots and lots of it! This is a very oaky drink. This gives it a stack of unique character; and it is eminently drinkable. But the oak competes with the tannin to dominate this cider and the overall experience is oak and tannin.

I would liken the Oakwood Supreme to ciders which have been matured in 'Rum' or 'Whiskey' casks - too often these are overdone and end up ruining the drink. Its not unpleasant, but having tasted oak matured cider in the past this one is a bit over the top. Oak may be traditional, but it should be in the background if it needs to be there.

I like this cider. For character alone, this deserves a place on the list of ciders to try for anyone interested in exploring new ciders. Not in my top list though.

Monday 7 March 2011

Symonds Founders Reserve Cider

As I have nearly exhausted Sainsbury's range of ciders I took a trip to Asda to see what they had. A few Sheppy's to try, a Westons or two...well, one Westons actually. And this bottle from Symonds - who (I am afraid to admit) I have not come across before.

"Est. 1727" means that Symonds are an old producer. In fact they hail from Hereford and call themselves "Cider Pressers". Does that mean that they don't ferment the juice? I digress. Its found in a Magners shape bottle, which is curious. No reason it is curious, other than Bulmers (who also hail from Hereford) also use these bottles. Hey, everyone uses similar bottles... Gaymers and Sheppy's bottles look remarkably similar to each other too.

OK, I have to say that I am either ignorant, or just a bit dim. Symonds are/were the producers of 'Scrumpy Jack'... now I have heard of that one. Taken over in 1989 by... go on, have a guess. Bulmers. See, there is a dectective Poirot waiting to burst out! Although I now suspect, before I have even tried it, that many of my cider drinking compatriots have already condemned it to the bin of 'non real cider', I am determined to keep an open mind; after all, there is not a single ice cube mentioned on the label.

What I have to say though is that the first thing that hit me was a weird aroma. Not fruit. Not cider. I would be loathed to say its a chemical smell, but its odd. Its also high carbonation too, and boy is it sweet. There is a bit of tannin there too, but the sweetness grabs it by the throat and throws it into the background (hey, was that an Oz Clarke moment of writing?).

Once again, as with most of the ciders that are aimed at being a mass comodity, it is a fairly safe flavour. There is not much wrong with it (apart from the smell, fizz and sweetness). But then, fizz and sweetness are probably what it is all about and I suspect is what the 'mass' market expects from cider.

In conclusion, I drank it all. It was not the finest cider by stretch. Its score of 50 is probably a little unfair to Magners which scored 49.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Sainsburys Taste the Difference Suffolk Cyder

As with many supermarket 'own brand' ciders, they are produced by a third party and then sold on under the supermarkets name. With this one, its not exactly hidden - its right there in big letters on the front label. Aspall are a good, solid cider maker from Suffolk who make really nice cider... sorry, that should be cyder... in the Eastern counties style.

Does the fact that they have made this for a supermarket mean they are bad? No. Does it mean the cider itself is bad? Well, probably not - we'll see. Does it make it not cider? No, it looks like cider and smells like cider. The 4.5% is a bit weak - that is almost a second pressing of the apple pulp strength. Its also more expensive than many of Aspall's own labelled cider at just over £2 for a 500ml bottle.

So, is it love at first gulp? No. Once I had waited for the fizz to subside a bit, I just felt a bit disappointed by it. Having bought Aspall's cider quite happily in the past, I just thought this one let it down a bit too much. OK, so with the low alcoholic volume it was likely to be watery, but it just feels a bit too sweet and acidic... and rather non committal for an eastern style of cider.

On the label it says this cider balances sweetness and acidity. Sure, but does that count when the sweetness and acidity drown most other flavours out. That is a bit unkind, there is a refreshing lemony taste to it. But its not a winner for me, I am afraid.

I think the 62 points it scored is a bit generous, although it is better than more market leading alternatives. Sorry Aspall!

Thursday 3 March 2011

Sheppy's Dabinett Cider

OK, working through the supermarket ciders (well, ciders that are available in the supermarkets) I was bound to get to a single variety cider sooner or later. This is a new(ish) trend for cider makers. In much the same was as wine producers have a tendancy towards single grape varieties, single variety (SV) cider is (or puports to be) cider made from a single apple variety.

Is there any single apple that has all a cider needs? As it is commonly believed that a good cider needs a balance of tannin, acid and sweetness, this seems like this may not be achieved without a bit of tampering and adjustment. Never the less, is it any good? That is the important bit. Does using a single apply variety produce something with character and style - sure its going to be different.

There are a few varieties that are commonly used for SV cider. Generally, they have been cider varieties - Dabinett, Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill and Stoke Red stpring to mind easily. More recently, you can get desert quality SV ciders - Katy, Egremont Russet, Cox. This rewrites the rulebook as far as 'balance' goes.

And so on to the first SV cider. Sheppy's Dabinett is probably the most widely drunk SV Cider. Partly because it is so widely available... although if it wasn't popular, I suspect they would move on to another variety. It says on the bottle it is a Somerset cider... well, Dabinett originates in Somerset, so I guess that would qualify by default then:-) It is classified as a medium cider, which is quite a lot sweeter than I expected - so there has been quite a lot of adjustment to it.

Saying that, it is a nice golden colour (with rather too many bubbles...) and gives a slight smell of cider. On the first taste, it is a bit syruppy, although goes down smoothly enough for me. Its all a little tame though - I expected more character out of such a distinctive apple as Dabinett... though I expect its in the sweetening that there is the pay off. Dont get me wrong it does have a distinctive taste, its just that Dabinett is a pure bittersweet and generally there is only a litte acid in it. This one is more balanced - more dulled if you like.

It went down pretty well. As an SV cider, its not one that you will either love or hate - I like it although am not bowled over by it. It doesn't rock me either way. Although I must confess I have yet to find an SV cider that does bowl me over - they can (and do) rock you one way or another. As a mass produced cider, its definitely not bad... sadly still far too many people don't stop long enough at the cider shelves of a supermarket to raise their eyes above the Diamond white or supermarket 3 litre own brand for under £3.

If I were asked to teach someone about cider - this would be on the list. Mainly because its so available, but also as it is probably as easy and accessible SV cider as you are likely to get.

A score of 65 is actually pretty good, I think.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Mr Whiteheads 'Heart of Hampshire' Cider

When in Rome, buy some of their cider. That is not a bad lesson to learn actually. I found this cider in a Tesco last weekend - its clearly not going to be in every Tesco (I could be wrong, but haven't found it elsewhere). Although selling 'local cider' is something that Waitrose started off, its nice to see other chains starting to look a little more locally for their produce.

One thing I noticed on the bottle is that it offers ingredients... a rare thing on any alcoholic beverage in the UK and is to be welcomed! Well, you want to know what you're drinking don't you:-) Saying that, it lists the ingredients as apples. No water (not a bit of it) and no sulphites. I do question whether Tesco's would allow this, but what do I know...

First appearance is that it is almost beyond straw colour - kind of pale yellow. It is also a flat cider which I personally prefer but may not be everyones cup of tea. On tasting, it is light, fairly acidic and well, well balanced really. There are very few (if any) cider apples in the drink, which isn't a bad thing (although the acidity does reign a bit too free for me personally)l. Its a bit watery too, which could be due to the type of apples (there is very little tannin to give it much body). I would say that this is one of the more extreme Eastern ciders that I have tried.

Still, its not a bad cider, and being able to buy it in a Tesco's is an achievement and Mr Whitehead should get a pat on the back for that alone - seeing artisan cider makers in supermarkets, even if only locally, is a very good thing indeed. So if you see it, I encourage you to buy it!

Heart of Hampshire scored 65 out of 100. Not an apple, but nothing to be frightened of (and I believe it is a high juice, heritage cider!)