Monday 29 August 2011

La Fauconnerie Cidre de Bretagne

And now on to the last of the French cidres that I bought home with me a few months ago. Have I saved the best till last??? In all honesty, I am not sure - I was lucky enough to try some really nice cidre from Normandy. However, lets have a try on this one to see how Bretagne compares.

Looking at my CAMRA 'Cide' book, it says that cidre from Brittany is possibly dryer than its Norman counterparts, although the climate is slightly hotter too - so should I expect a dry, strong cidre?? Yum!. Finding it in a Supermarche in Normandy is not exactly visiting the farm though... ah, so what.

Well, opening the bottle gives the usual 'pop' expected from a cider made in the typically French style - whether it be Bouche or Champenoise its all fizzy (but you would expect that to be naturally so). However, this one had a big, big fizz... and I had chilled it first (well, it has been hot here recently!!)

What about the taste. Well, it would seem I both got what I paid for and also what I deserved in trying to stretch my taste buds as far as Brittany without actually doing the mileage. Let me take that back a step. I feel that this cidre tastes a little too played with. Its Okay, don't get me wrong (the properly engineering gloop that you can get in France is definitely poor) but its just, well, tame and odd. Whenever I slate something, I always try to back it up with 'its only my opinion'... and that is true of this.

So, starting from the beginning. There is very little aroma to it - lots of bubbles, but little aroma. And then the taste is like apples that I would never put into a cider; red delicious sprang to mind immediately. Definitely something ubiquitously red or green with a crunch, and not that interesting.

There is some acid in here, and its a lot less tannic than other French cidre. But its not thin... nor is it syruppy. Its just okay.

Like the aroma, the aftertaste is notable by its (mostly) absence. The sweetness lingers though (and whoever said that Brittany cidre is drier than Normandy is so far wrong).

And that is pretty much all I have to say about it. If you are stood in France in the same supermarche I was in (and I forget where exactly - maybe Neufchatel en Bray) then as long as its relatively cheap give it a shot. If its expensive then move on to the Deli down the road - they will have a better choice:-)


Friday 26 August 2011

Tutts Clump Traditional Farmhouse Cider

I picked this up on a recent trip to Berkshire and have been meaning to try it for a few weeks now. Its made by small craft cidermaker, Tutts Clump - who are based in Berkshire. I will be expecting it to be a full juice cider with interesting character and not necessarily crystal clear.

On the side of the bottle, it says its made from desert and cooking apples. To me, this means that there will be very little (if any) tannin but a good sharpness to it that is typical of an eastern style of cider. With it also being full juice, it should be rather more sharp than its more tamed counterparts from larger producers.

And when its poured out, it looks exactly as I had hoped - yellow in colour, no carbonation and a light and crisp aroma. Its also a hazy cider - so no filtering here either. I do get a faint whiff of sulphites but these are far in the background and I would be surprised if Tutts Clump didn't use sulphites to keep things in check and fresh.

Its labelled as a medium dry, but I guess with the lack of tannins it does feel a lot sweeter than that (although 'medium dry' or 'medium' can mean very different things to different people). There isn't much tannin at all to this cider. It is fresh and crisp with an almost lemony flavour. The shame is that in order to compete with the sharpness there is a full mouthfull of sweetness that detracts a touch - even going through into the aftertaste (where you would expect the acid to bite through).

On the whole though, it is a good cider that demonstrates that small producers can do better than their larger counterparts with a lot less fuss and dance. Sure, I would rather that the sweetness was toned down a bit - well a lot actually - but its not trying to be anything its not - its a nice, full on eastern cider - nothing added.

It scored 72/100, which is a bronze apple. I have another one from this producer to try which is a dry...

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Westons 1st Quality Cider

Here we have the first draught I have reviewed on here. To be totally honest though, its not actually the first draught cider I have reviewed... I started (as with the bottles) with the Magners 'Cold' (or Extra Cold... I cannot remember). However, I do not wish to line myself up to be sued, so I left it at 'Notepad' stage. I may resurrect it sometime - maybe.

Now, this cider is a draught cider from a bag in box. By draught, it usually means that its a still cider. As its from a bag in box (which doesn't do well with carbonation!) its definitely still. I am not entirely sure whats in the name - although I generally don't ask that question (and there are a lot of ciders with iffy names!!) Incidentally though, I have it on fairly good authority that 1st Quality is also known by the name 'Marcle Hill' for the Wetherspoons chain of pubs. Maybe that will help some people recognise it.

1st Quality isn't available in bottle (so if you want to try it, you will have to hunt it down).

On pouring, its a very light gold colour - obviously its bright, having gone through Westons conplex filtering system. Sadly, it doesn't offer up much in the way of an aroma either. If I am pushed, I would say there is a slight appley smell - but if pushed even harder, I would also say that there was a hint of sulphite behind it.

To taste, it is very juice like. There are definitely cider apples in here, and at 5% its not too far away from what I would expect from a full juice cider. But a full juice cider it isn't. The same authority who told me about Wetherspoons, also mentioned that it was not sweetened with sugar, but with apple juice. Westons pasteurise the juice and blend in some pasteurised apple juice before bagging in a clean room environment. This essentially means that it won't referment in the bag in box. Many will bang on about the sacrilige of this. I think they would be wrong - Westons could easily have used sweeteners (splenda, aspartame etc.) or even sugar. Blending with juice is a more natural way of doing it - although it necessarily means that filtering and pasteurisation are necessary.

Unfortunately for this cider, in my opinion, they have overdone it. The taste is far too juice like. It drowns out most of the tannins and acid, and I am left with a drink that doesn't really know if its cider or apple juice. The aftertaste too is very juicy.

Having said all that, its not a terrible cider - I have had worse by far. It only scored 53/100 though - which whilst being a bit mean does rightly suggest that I won't be hunting this cider down again in too much of a hurry.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Aspalls Imperial 2010 Vintage Cyder

I am not normally one to rush out and buy something 'cos its new. But when I was sent out to pick up some goodies from Sainsbury's earlier I couldn't resist having a peek to see if the new Aspall's cyder was in. As it was (well, I wouldn't be reviewing it here yet if it wasn't!!) I thought I would share my thoughts.

I like the bottle. It has quite a stylish colour (and I have always thought the Aspalls bottle shape is stylish). Of course you cannot see the liquid inside clearly enough, so I will just have to pour it out to see if the drink is as stylish as its marketing:-)

This cyder is meant to be produced to the same 'recipe' as the Aspalls 1921 award winning cyder. Hmm, I suppose ciders do have a recipe of sorts - which apple varieties to use. However, its not ale... its not really a recipe that can be controlled very much by the cyder maker. Still, if they want to call it a recipe then who am I to argue (well, I 'spose I would argue, just because I can - but I guess that doesn't make anyone right or wrong).

At 8.2% its all your recommended daily allowance of booze, so I am not sure if its one that is meant to be shared. Mine wasn't but, hey, some of us like to live on the wild side occasionally!

The Imperial is very different from any other cyder Aspall has available. You can tell this by simply filling your glass. It is a deep golden colour and smells all Western style with a full tannic nose. The moderately foamy carbonation is still there though, so at least that is the same as the others. But it almost glows - is the bittersweet going to turn out to be Yarlington Mill by any chance. Yarlington does produce an almost reddy golden cyder, which this is. Mind, I guess it could just as easily be something like Dabinett, although this produces a more brown style of cyder.

OK. First taste. Yum yum yum. My initial thoughts are that this cyder is clearly produced with the same quality that several of their other cyders have going for them. There is also a huge confirmation that this is very different from any other Aspall. It tastes western. I guess this is a bit of a knock back for me, as I see Aspall as being the main provider of eastern style cyders. But why on earth should I think that - Aspall can make what Aspall want to make. Its up to the rest of us (punters) to make the judgement on what we think of the cyder itself.

It is a fairly thick cyder - almost syruppy but not quite. Its clear as a bell, so its been through the usual pasteurisation/carbonation process that all Aspall's seem to go through these days. The carbonation dies after a little while to perform its background duties pretty well - lifting the tannins and sweetening the cyder a little. But this cyder is bordering on the outstanding. It is really very nice indeed.

Although it is different, you can still taste the acid clearly in the background - Premier Cru in style (i.e. pretty good acid) the acid doesn't overtake the tannin but seems to be singing its own song (like the use of poetry here:-) The aftertaste is fairly long and rich. I could drink this all over again!

I admit that I do have a bit of a soft spot for Aspalls. I think its a shame that they don't produce more traditional versions of their cyders - you know, truely unfiltered and unpasteurised. But then, I guess that isn't cost effective. Which is a shame. But what a nice new cyder!

It scored 80/100 which gives it (I think) their first silver apple.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Three Cats Cider (GBBF)

Finally for the Great British Beer Festival reviews we come to a cider from that well know cider county Derbyshire.

Before reviewing, I ought to tip a nod to the organisers of the CAMRA festivals - not just the Great British Beer Festival, but all the regional events too. These people have a passion - OK its mostly about beer, and I have met some CAMRA people who really don't get or like cider having a part. But this nod is't to them, its to the people who volunteer to give us all a chance to try something new and have a set of principles that ensure (mostly) that drinkers get an honest and traditional product.

I have to say that I went on to drink a couple more ciders before having to go and chase a train to get home. I would have loved to review them for here but that is maybe for another time. Needless to say that there were some fantastic ciders at the festival this year and there were also one or two that, on the whole, were a little off the mark. Two stick out in my mind as falling into this category and, thankfully, one of them was after I decided to stop scoring and just soak up the atmosphere. The other, in my own opinion, was this one.

On the tag, I think it cam out as a 3 - a medium sweet. It also poured a golden coloured cider - rather more clear than I expected, but then cider can drop clear (as I have said rather too many times before).

What I get with this cider is sweetness. It kills the apple/cider flavour - well, almost any other flavour that could be found in a cider. I didn't get tannin, although I did if I tried hard to find it. I didn't get any acid - it was overpowered. In the end it just got plain sickly - and on speaking to a bar 'person' I found that other people who had tried it had pronounced pretty much the same verdict.

I have to say that forming an opinion on this cider was tricky. It resembled the sickly sweetness of some of the commercial ciders whilst being a full juice cider (well, I am not entirely sure if there was more sweetner than apple juice). So I have two conclusions: Either this is what the maker intended - in as much as the maker intended it to be this sweet because they thought that real cider drinkers like sweet ciders. Or, their hand slipped when they were adding the sweetner. Therefore, either way, I believe they misjudged something.

In scoring, I have tried to be as fair and honest as I can. I don't like slating full juice ciders without good cause, but I truly feel that this was just far too sweet (and I have tried other Derbyshire ciders which are really very nice indeed).

Sorry Three Cats - a score of 56/100

Tuesday 16 August 2011

West Croft Janets Jungle Juice (GBBF)

You may have noticed that there is an absense of alcoholic strength on these Great British Beer Festival reviews. Not entirely sure why, but this information wasn't either published or put on the polipin labels. I guess I could have asked, but then I suspect its a device to stop people from just ordering the strongest ciders. A good idea (if that is the reason) although it does go to show how daft some people are. Whether you go for a 6.5% or a 7.5% cider, its pretty much going to have the same effect... and if that is the only reason someone drinks a particular cider then they have a lot to learn about cider!

In part, that is why I started blogging publically instead of just keeping it to myself. If just one person can see these ramblings and explore different ciders then the job is done. If someone can move from an industrial alcopop type of cider (cider in its very loosest sense) to something more sophisticated and honest, then job is an absolute goodun.

OK. Moving on. This next cider was my 5th cider. Yes, there had to be a point at which reviewing cider got too tricky, but as the GBBF sold cider by the 3rd as well as the more traditional half or pint, it lent itself to trying a lot of ciders. In fact, I think I reviewed 6 before I decided to stop and just... well.. enjoyed a few more:-)

West Croft's 'Janets Jungle Juice' is a festival favourite. I don't come across it that often, but it was certainly at the Winter Festival and a few others that I have been to. I must admit, I have only tried it once before now but seem to recall enjoying it. Not only is it popular, its award winning too - being voted CAMRA's 2007 champion cider. A Somerset Cider Maker who has done big things.

Well, it smells full of fruit. Doh. That sounds very dumb, but it isn't true of all ciders - not even full juice ciders. Its nicely golden with a little haze to it which suggests no filtering or mucking around. Don't you just love full jucie, simple cider?!?!

Now, to the taste. Its not exactly straightforward. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with it technically - the fruitiness in the smell is followed through with a rich taste, a strong tannic body and a hefty bit of alcohol to it. Its pretty bloomin sweet for a dry/medium dry cider. There is little acid to offset this, so it could just be that its all made bare with the tannin. However, it does feel as though the sweetness is there to cover some of the dryness.

Two of us were trying Jungle Juice and my friends first reaction was 'vinegary'. He could be pardoned for this as, although I don't agree with it being vinegary, there is an odd taste to it. Before I could describe it, I simply wrote down 'almost chemically??'. On discussion, we developed that (with the aid of a third person) to 'petroleumish' (don't you just liove the technical descriptions... I bet there are some reviewers who would be plain jealous at our abuse of the English language!!). On reflection, I wonder if it wasn't kept in a flavoured cask - rum or whisky which imparted the odd flavour. It did detract from the enjoyment for me though.

For those considering Janet's Jungle Juice - go for it. It is a good cider - I just think my one was one of those batches that others just won't get (depending on what Mr West Croft stores the rest of his cider in...)

It scored 73/100. It should have got a silver... but it got a bronze.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Johnsons Goobledegook Cider (GBBF)

From the Isle of Sheppey in Kent comes the next review. I am sure it ought to be 'Gobbledegook', but I will go with the spelling given by CAMRA. Johnson's are a very small concern, making cider from their own orchard (as I can't find a website, I cannot give too much information on them).

This is exactly the sort of cider that is promoted at beer festivals. Stuff that you cannot easily get anywhere else. I did notice a few that were, lets say, easily obtainable. However, for the most part, GBBF did very well to provide a huge and bvroad range of ciders from all over the UK.

Now, as far as reviews go, this one is (I think) perhaps the most scrutinised. Mainly because three of us were drinking it and making comments about it. So, the scoring ought to be pretty well accurate for it eh!? And for once all who tried it were i pretty much the same opinion. It is very good.

On the nose, it is pretty faint. Its also pretty clear too (Not that you can see it in the photo!!) Could that be a touch of filtering... although I have really no issue that this my have just dropped very bright. It happens more than you might think - which is why I do wonder at the excessive nature of some filtering!

It as a bit of acid to it, as well as a moderate tannin. A very nice and fairly simple taste to it as well. I suspected that this was a mixture of desert and cider fruit... but that is so difficult to work out when there is both tannin and acid present. Its in a nice balance though, which makes the cider really very drinkable.

It is dry though. The '6' classing (very dry) is just about right for Goobledewhatever. Not a bad aftertaste either (though its still pretty dry on the tongue.

If only it could be an easier name to spell:-)

It scored 78/100, so goes onto the bronze apple list of really very good ciders.

Friday 12 August 2011

Gillow Tom Putt Single Variety Cider (GBBF)

Tom Putt's are described as a triple use apple, and are rated by many good cider makers as an excellent addition to a blended cider. What is a triple use apple? Well, its one that is both a culinary, eating and cider apple... It is a sharp, cooking apple. It is also, if left to mature, edible. And when pressed produces some very nice juice indeed.

Does it make a single variety cider though? My first thought was 'brave', but I don't see why not.... except you have to bear in mind that I am always sceptical of SV ciders.

Its a little hazy in the glass, and very light in colour. It also has a pretty light aroma to it as well, although I am already suspecting that it is going to be a pretty sharp cider. And I am right, it is hellishly acidic! Biting - with gnashing teeth, and actually makes me pucker each mouthful. Forget its medium dry status, any sweetness is totally lost in this cider.

If Gillow are after a cider that is different, they have done it well. There is nothing wrong with this cider - it just has more harsh acidity in it than any other cider I have tasted... ever (probably). Once you settle in to the drink, it becomes more bearable and in the end I did actaully enjoy it more. However. Wow. It is sharp!

As expected from Tom Putt, there is no tannin in the cider. That is good, as it makes this an honest cider that reflects its ingredients. However, I wonder how tempted Gillow werre to adjust it?!

So, it is recommended. But you could practice for it by sucking a lemon first:-)

A score of 67/100

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Brimblecombe Straw Pressed Cider (GBBF)

Moving on to the next cider I tried at the Great British Beer Festival, I come to something a little more risky. Whilst very traditional, pressing juice through straw is one of those things that that vast majority of makers avoid like the plague - not simply because the world has gone health and safety mad, but also because it must increase the chance of things that you don't want in a cider getting in.

Saying that though, if you want to taste cider like they did 'in the old days', then straw pressed cider must be one of the ways of achieving that. Looking at Brimblecombes website, they appear to be cidermaking farmers in the real sense - operating with old equipment and keeping the old 'ways' alive in their use of ancient cider press and wooden barrels.

This one is either going to be lovely or odd.

Its quite a hazy cider, though aren't any bits of straw flaoting in it (Okay, that was a joke - there wouldn't be, would there!). It smells fairly deep, although reasonably faint (though I confess that this could just be because I was in the middle of a festival and didn't concentrate sufficiently!)

To taste, I have to say I think the straw does make a difference. Whilt being more dry than the grading of medium dry (which is done by GBBF in any case), it is a very mellow cider. It is all cider fruit again, with very little acid to offset the drying in the mouth. The tannins are bvery rounded and don't impose too far though, and I think this is the affect of the traditional method of production, which is much slower than the modern mill-it, press-it all in a short time.

I really like this cider. It has a loooong aftertaste which just sits in the mouth nicely.

So far, so good. A score of 83/100 gives the GBBF suppliers another silver apple.

Monday 8 August 2011

Dunkertons Cider (GBBF)

I had some other reviews planned for this week, though I have moved them to make space for 'reviews frm the Great British Beer Festival'. I would have let them go in turn, but as I am a little ahead of myself with reviews at the moment it makes sense to make them as timely as possible.

Reviewing draught cider from craft/artisan cider makers has a few complications that don't tend to crop up so much with the stock supermarket offerings. These are often standardised, stable products that rarely change from year to year. Well, when I say change, I expect some (Henney's etc.) do change, but not that significantly.

On the other hand, draught cider can vary from batch to batch, let alone year to year. It can also be badly kept (though keeping cider in good condition is still easier than cask beer). Add to this the tendency of large festivals to insist on using plastic polypins, which allow air in as soon as the first glass is poured, and you have a whole lot of things out of the cider makers control.

I think that diversity and change are a strength for craft cider. Ciders mature and age, taste different in different conditions. The flip side is that any review is a sapshot in time. I tasted some good cider and some fairly iffy cider at the GBBF... and if I am to review the cider I have to comment on it. But that is a little unfair, especially as how the cider is kept and how long its allowed to oxidise in a polipin is way out of the control of the cider maker.

Helpfully, none of the ciders I tried had any faults like this. So credit to GBBF. The iffy ones were either sweetened within an inch of their life, made from what seemed like Bramley apples or else just plain odd. Still, variety is the spice of life, so they say!

My first candidate for review from GBBF is the Dunkerton's Cider. I am not sure if this is Black Fox or (more likely) their Old Fashioned Still Cider. It was rated as a Medium Dry cider and cameout nicely hazy - even cloudy.

The sweetness in this cider was definitely present but not exactly intrusive by any measure. It is a cider that is packed with fruit and had a great mild tannin that ran through from the smell to the aftertaste. There wasn't a whole heap of acid either, which did make the cider a little biased to the tannin. Saying that, all this did was to give the cider a deep Herefordshire character (well, Dunkertons are from Herefordshire eh!).

A good, mellow cider which is very drinkable - unfortunately there is far too much here to try so I won't be buying another. Recommended.

As an afterthought, I would say that Dunkerton's really are masters of cider making, and this is a bit of a safe, reliable starting point... no, the cider itself isn't 'safe' - its just that every time I have ever had a Dunkertons it has never once disappointed me.

A score of 84/100. A silver apple. A great start!

Saturday 6 August 2011

Gwynt y Ddraig Yarlington Mill Cider

Yarlington Mill. One of my very most favourite cider apples. Along with Tremletts Bitter, Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey (well most of the Jersey breed), Redstreak... OK, the list is fairly long. But its a great apple to work from!

As a single variety though. Hmmmm. Not the maddest of fans of SV cider (as anyone who has read any of the reviews about SV ciders will already know). It could work. It is more likely not to, unless it has been balanced. Sorry Gwynt, just my take on it. I have yet to be persuaded. Then again, I haven't tried this cider again. Its a shame though. I understand that they also do a Tremletts Bitter Single Variety too. Now that is worth a try - as anyone who has taken a bite out of a Tremletts knows - it should really really not work, but may be so odd as to be nice!

I know I have only just reviewed a Gwynt y Ddraig cider, but they were both in the shop... I didn't want to go trudging back again so soon... and as the last one was so good, I couldn't resist. I quite like being challenged, so lets see what I think.

Its a lovely golden colour with a hint of redness to it - typical of ciders made from Yarlington Mill. I have previously had a cider made from Yarlies that was positively glowing red! One thing I do notice straight away is that this cider has a pommeau smell to it. Could be as its so strong - at 7.2 its no weakling although I haven't come across other ciders with such a rich and deep smell as this.

Tasting it, there is rather more sharpness to it than I expected - although its taste of Yarlington Mill is very evident. Soft to medium tannins with an aromatic apple taste to it. Nice measure of tannins but with this mysterious acidity that I cannot figure out.

It does have rather a good character to it though (although very alcoholic too mind.  It actually warms in your throat and tummy... Goodness!) This drink is almost like caramelised cider - deep and velvety. I like it, although do think its been balanced out a bit on the acid side

I have always thought that Yarlies are a great addition to a cider blend - giving more to the cider than other, less classic apples. On its own, it is a strong flavour with medium but fairly significant tannins. Gwynt y Ddraig's cider has most of that going on. Aftertaste wise, I think the alcohol and warmth are the most distinctive things, although the tannin stays with you.

If you are exploring ciders, then this is worth trying. As a single variety... well, I kind of put money on it being more balanced than on its own - however, its a pretty darn good blend if it is... and if it truly is an SV, then I am surprised others are not making theirs to taste the same!

A score of 79/100. Very not bad indeed!

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Sheppy's Falstaff Cider

There is so much to say about this cider. First off, I have to take my hat off to Sheppy's who seem to produce every variant of cider that they possibly can!

Falstaff, as it say on the bottle, is a cultivar of James Grieve - a cooking apple albeit a very early cooking apple that turns into an eater if left on the tree long enough. So there should be plenty of acid going on - but not so much that a Bramley comes to mind.

This should really be a very light cider - possibly fairly strong (which it is) but with little tannin. Come on - thing of the last time you took a bit of a cooking apple and grimaced for the tannin in it? What does tannin taste like? Well, think of a cup of tea... preferably black tea, that has stewed a bit. The mouth drying, dry taste is partly (well, I think quite a lot) to do with the level of tannin.

So, lets get on to the Sheppy's version of Falstaff. It is very light. Straw sums it up very well. A low carbonation to it. And the aroma is very light. All good. A bit of sulphite (not very much, but its there). Its also a fairly fruity smell too. Nice. And different too.

The taste is a bit at odds with the smell. It doesn't taste 'out there', but its a little bit dummed down too. Well, that is a bit unfair. Actually, its a lot unfair. This cider needs to be thought about when its drunk. Too many of the ciders I have bought are quaffing ciders - strong but not much going on behind it. Less are the ciders that actually require you to stop and contemplate the taste. This is one that is worth doing just that.

There is plenty of acid in it, but gently so (not something that can be said about many 'acids'). Not much tannin there ... which is absolutely spot on for this style. I think it has been rebalanced a bit, which is probably a good thing (and I am not against cheating as long as it is context with the drink).

The aftertaste is pretty acidic and eastern - though a little more balanced . Yum. I would definitely have this one on my desert island list.

I am please to say that I would recommend this one as worth a try. If you like Aspells, you will like this cider. At 81/100, its got itself a Silver Apple from me:-)