Monday 31 October 2011

Wessex Bottle Conditioned Dry Cider

This is another cider from Coombe Bissett Stores. Well, when I say another - it was the only other one I haven't already tried. I should also say that I haven't come across this cider anywhere before, so it may be a main outlet for it. I do love coming across things like this; you have to go an extra mile to find them but invariably they are traditionally made, full juice and individual to the maker.

OK, so visitng their website, they appear to be a traditional/craft cider producers based in Wiltshire and using mainly bittersweet varieties of apples. So I can expect this cider to be tannic and pretty dry in the mouth.

It pours out quick and fizzy, but dies down to a low carbonation really quickly. Typical of many bottle conditioned ciders, although it did die a little fast. However, I can attest to it being a natural sparkle as the bubbles are more moussy and smaller (but I did figure it being more persistent).

Bottle conditioning a cider is a great and natural way of promoting bubbles in a still cider. And when the cider is dry, this process can lift it from being bone dry to quite delicious. Some people refer to it as a 'second fermentation', but this would be incorrect (and leaning a little too heavily on beer making). Its only an extension of the first fermentation. You see, cider (craft cider) is a living thing. The yeasts that ferment it are not filtered out, so there will always be a few about. To bottle condition, either the cider is bottled before the fermentation has finished or else (much more controllable and I suspect widespread these days) is that the cider is left to finish fermentation, then bottled with a small amount of priming sugar. The carbon dioxide released from the fermentation within the bottle is trapped in solution and, 'voila', you have a dry, sparkling cider.

That may sound a bit basic, but in essence its a natural process. And yes, it does make me wonder why its not more common than the less carbon neutral method of force carbonation.

I digress. The cider smells light and fruity. Delicate almost. Not expecting a rough and tough cider, but something more complex - although as I am thinking there are bittersweet cider fruit in here, it is quite a fragile aroma. It is one of the more complex ciders too. Not highly tannic, but there is some. Its a little watery to the taste too - although this is almost certainly to do with the low tannin in the cider. I suspect this is due to terroir more than anything - the soil and conditions for the apples.

Acid wise, I think there is quite a lot of it... and uless I am very mistaken there is a variety in there that is very sharp... Bramley perhaps??

These things aside, its a nice light cider that is neither eastern or western in character. Its not particularly dry - but I think that could just be apple varieties (there are desert apples in here). I cannot decide if its been filtered or not - its dropped very clear. Referring back to their website, I am happy to give the benefit of the doubt. Everything that they do sounds contrary to filtering. Nicely clear cider though!

The acid does run a little wild at the end of the drink.. its the one lingering taste that comes through. I know I have said it before, but this level of acidity cannot come from bittersweet fruit. Mind you, getting acid right in a blend (unless its an eastern style of cider) can be tricky to get absolutely spot on.

Overall, I like this cider. There is an honesty about it that is pleasant - even if the tannins are restrained and the acid levels quite high. These things are not faults, and give the Wessex cider the nice character that I hoped for. It scored 73/100. So thats not bad eh!

Friday 28 October 2011

Friels 100% Pure Apple Cider

Where do I start on Friels cider? Well, to start its all a bit odd on the bottle stakes:

"For true freshness sulphites not used". Hmmm. Not entirely sure what the point of that statement is; a majority of traditional, artisan (i.e. non conglomerate) cider makers use sulphites - apples even contain it at tiny levels! And anyway - the drink looks darn near filtered to within an inch of its life - and I'll bet it's pasteurised too.

I am expecting it to be dry though - no sugar or sweeteners. I suppose that doesn't include more pasteurised concentrate though does it.

And exactly who are they appealing to with the skimpy clad lady on the front of the bottle? (it was the first comment my wife made about it!).

Yes, I have taken a little exception to the labelling. Especially when I have poured a glass and it smells of boiled apple sweets (read: WKD!) And it is only 4.9% - below the 'safe' level of alcohol for a naturally and traditionally made cider... though if it has been processed (as I think it may be) then I suppose there is little natural about it.

"Each pint has the juice of 10 apples"... is that actually a fact or a generalisation? I am trying to think of how much juice 10 apples gives. But then, I don't have to. In a feat of 'careful marketing' I can see that this cider is made from concentrate, reconstituted with water to bring it to a consistant 4.9%.

OK, so I am not a fan without even trying. But I think their marketing guy needs to be taken down a peg - honesty neither means brashness and knowing thy subject. High quality cider is not made this way (notice I skip the word 'premium' for the valueless word it is).

And boiled sweets it is - with a touch of syrup (tastes a little like medicine) and a vast sweetness to it. I guess you can do all that with concentrate. The aftertaste is not huge, but all the way through it is apple juice syrup that is not majorly unpleasant, but it is not cider as I know it to be.

Sorry that the most of the review was about the bottle. I really don't have a whole lot to say about the cider inside it.

It scored 34/100

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Cider By Rosie Dorset Craft Cider

 What a better way to review my 100th cider than to try out a full juice, traditional cider from an 'uber' small producer? Well, to do the review about a producer who has twice lifted Supreme Champion at the Bath and West Show in Somerset must have my expectations raised!?!

I have a confession to make - I have a bit of a soft spot for Ciders by Rosie. Having tried it first (well, not this version) a couple of years ago I must admit that I am perhaps not the most objective an audience for this cider. However, will this just make me all the more critical? It is a medium dry, after all...

One more note before reviewing. I bought this bottle from Coombe Bissett Stores in Salisbury. It used to be 'Abbey Stores' - a renowned cider purveyor, but they have moved and closed the original stores... They still sell cider though:-)

It pours out golden and hazy. An unfiltered cider which, so far, complies with the statement on the bottle 'to recreate the full flavoured soft dry farmhouse cider, traditional to Dorset'. Oh yes, Rosie is a Dorset cider maker - and not a shy one at that. Her blog can be found on her website ( and it goes into massive detail about her 'Cider Making Year'. Well worth a read if you want to know what makes a decent cider.

SO, to the taste. Not withstanding the medium dry monika, this cider is really, really good. Rose must have tasted her cider before writing the caption on the label - it is soft; with soft rounded tannins (a lot of them), and a mild acidic note behind it. And it has body to it - and legs. The aftertaste is warming and long, tannic and mild at the same time.

The sweetening doesn't interfere with this cider. Its still a dry, but I reckon a little sweetener has cut off the harsh edges of the tannin. I do like intelligent use of sweetening (as opposed to the overkill common to many sweet ciders who seem to just be trying to appeal to thenations sweet-tooth). The mouthful almost has an orangy taste - full and satisfying. That said, it does not taste of orange. Its just what came to mind!

To say its a rough cider is doing it a dis-service. Its an honest cider. Not played around with. Not trying to be more than the sum of its parts. I already know its going to score well, but adding up the total gives it a massive 94/100. I think that may be the highest score I have given so far...

Saturday 22 October 2011

New Forest Cider Kingston Black

I think anyone reading this blog will think I am showing favouritism to New Forest Cider. It could be that whenever I visit somewhere (like a cider maker) I will try to buy a range of their drinks. I do try to space them out a bit though... but then I am a bit of a fan of their cider anyway so I have no idea what I am apologising for.

I guess a lot of the full juice ciders I have tried have been from outside of the Herefordshire (et al)/Somerset borders. And whilst I do think that a hell of a lot of cider is made inside 'ciderland' one of the things I am very encouraged by is the number of cider makers outside of that territory. Cider, traditionally, was mostly made by farmers who did so as a part of their occupation. And this was not restricted to certain parts of the UK... so I am pleased that the passion to make quality cider does not respect location! Incidentally, its only because I havent visited Somerset etc. for a while - I usually do a fair amount but just not this year so far.

Another Kingston Black single variety. As good as it is as an apple, does it make an outstanding cider? Hmmmm. This is a beautiful cider, I have to say - to look at, that is. Its deep and golden, with an aroma to match. Big cider apple smell, you know where you just know it is full juice and alcoholic!

The taste is incredibly fruity and tannic. A bit sharp (which is what you should expect from a bittersharp apple) but its not too much. Sure, its unbalanced - its made from a single variety - but its a tangy fruity cider. Its a bit like the apple equivalent of a juicy orange:-)

I do think it's a shame it has been filtered. Mind you, the taste is still fresh and strong. Not exactly bone dry (a little sweetening perhaps??). The aftertaste lingers and its really very nice.

And score? What do you know, its another silver with 82/100. I guess my comment would be its a little limited through its filtering, but still retains its fruity, gently tannic and rather more-ish.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Sheppy's Taylors Gold Cider

Yet another of the Sheppy's single variety range - my they do a lot of them. Taylors Gold is actually made from Taylors Sweet, which is an early sweet cider apple.

Having said that, this is not why its a sweet cider - sweet apples do not make sweet ciders. Sweet apples (as in, high in sugar) make stronger dry ciders. All ciders end up dry unless there is intervention either before the cider finishes fermentation (i.e. keeving or low nitrogen) or after the cider finishes by sweetening. If that is done with sugar or apple juice, the cider will require pasteurisation to stop it refermenting. Alternatively, many cider makers these days add sucralose (recently allowed in commercial cider) or aspartame (more common than you might think!).

Anyway, the point is that although this is a medium cider, its almost certainly not because of the apple (though that is not to say that Sheppy's are not clever or skilled enough to halt a fermentation by keeving or reducing the nutrients somehow - they certainly are).

Sitting on the table in front of me whilst I write this, the carbonation has all but gone, and it remains a lovely golden colour - inviting! A fairly light cidery smell is also pretty welcoming. When I say light, I mean that I am expecting the tannin to be light and maybe even a touch of acid to it.

First taste confirms this. It is a lightly bittersweet cider. No sign of any real acids (well, I would not expect a sweet cider apple to contain much acid). So its true to its single variety pitching - but it is still fairly balanced. And sweet!

My word it is a little too sweet for my taste. I am sure there are many that would love it. Thinking about it in a market where sweet ciders are the most popular still, this must sit at the high end of that - its not obscenely sweetened and has a good character behind it. It makes some, where they are just sweetened to hit a market, a bit bland.

OK. Judgement. I like it. Not so much the sweetness, but I don't mind it at all. I think I have been fairly hard on Sheppy's so far, but there are a few than do really show off the skill of the cider maker.

A score of 79/100

Sunday 16 October 2011

Aston Manor Knights Cider

Another Aston Manor for tonight. It doesnt say whether it is dry, sweet etc. It does say, however, that there are no added sweeteners, colours or added flavours. Also says its made from apples from their Crumpton Oaks Farm... could Ston Manor be getting a bad press generally. Mind, seeing their operation in Aston, Birmingham (which looks like a small chemical works) there is definitely no chance of an orchard next door!!

So its back to the old philosophy: don't judge before you have tried. And this seems to be the right approach - at pouring it has a light scent/aroma to it. Also a light golden colour - looks appetising enough.

Moderate cider taste - a bit watery though. Nothing really odd about this cider at all. It has a little tannin to it, although this is washed away fairly quickly. There is a very light acid behind it too, although again, its quite faint and disappates pretty fast.

Aftertaste is really short, and while I can accept that this cider hasn't had too much added, I do wonder if its been cut a bit too far. Having said that, its not a terrible cider at all, and does have some character to it. It doesn't taste particularly dry, although I suspect that if it hasn't been sweetened then the reduction in tannins (and I must say I am hazarding a guess about it being cut!) is due to the wateriness of the cider - hence it doesn't particularly feel that dry.

Not a bad cider from Aston Manor. As I found it in a Morrisons (where variety of cider is often fairly limited) I would probably go for this over many of the other offerings. It scored 64/100. So not the best, but definitely not the worst! If I had to write a list of 10 ciders for a WKD drinker to try in order to move them to a more traditional apple based drink, I am still unsure whether I would include it - it just isn't 'heritage' enough for me.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Gwynt y Ddraig Gold Medal Cider

"Our Gold Medal cider is a blend of our bittersweet varieties with some of the true sharp varieties of cider apple to produce a very well balanced cider which won us CAMRA's Champion Cider of 2004"

So, not much to expect from this cider then:-)

In all seriousness, I was a little intrigued by this bottle of cider. With such modern looking designs for Black Dragon (etc.) this one looks totally out of place. But, quoting from the bottle above, this is a celebration of their CAMRA win... lets hope that i. this cider isn't from 2004 (cider keeps - but I doubt it keeps that well), and ii. the blend they used in 2004 is still as good in 2011.

It is a lovely colour - to start with. Deep and golden, with little fizz or fuss. And its smell is also deep and rich and cidery. Cider apples create a distinctive smell to a cider, and this has it in buckets. I wish that they wouldn't filter quite so much though... I am sure there would have been more to it without being so harsh with it.

The taste is quite simply gorgeous. True - there is nothing but cider varieties in here. And there is a nice amount of good acid too which offsets the tannin which actually isn't harsh at all, its rounded and mellow. The sweetening (usually a negative for me) rounds off the edges of both sharp and tannin even more, and this is rather too easily drunk! At 7%, you have to be fairly careful!

One thing I was a little surprised with is that the carbonation, whilst low, is very persistent. This works, as it breaks the taste up a little so its not quite so full on.

I am very pleased with this cider indeed. If I had a friend who was learning about cider, they wouldn't see this one for a while - I'd keep it for myself! My only niggle with it is that Gwynt y Ddraig felt that it needed filtering and mucking about with. Shame.

A score of 92/100 and a begrudging Gold apple to the Welshies (surely I am allowed to say that, I have been married to a Welshie for 10 years!!!) Nice one Gwynt y Ddraig!

Monday 10 October 2011

Tillington Hills Premium Cider

Ah, another supermarket cider - smaller supermarket this time and a cider that I have heard is actually pretty good. Never having tried it myself, I am keen to remain as open minded as possible.

I do like to read the blurb on the label when I try a cider. For many large scale commerical ciders and supermarket brands this is often created by marketing types. I am often left wondering whether said marketing types have ever actually tried the cider themselves or whether they think certain terms will just suck the drinkers in. Also, sometimes, with the more thoughtful descriptions it is interesting to compare what I think of the cider to what the maker themselves think.

Why am I mentioning this for this review? Well, because the Co-op have got some good information (including the type of apples they grow and, one presumes, should be found in the cider).

It is deep gold in colour, with a fizz that is barely noticable when the bottle is opened. It looks earthy and cidery - and has a deep cider smell to go with it. Once in the glass, there is a reasonable fizz - although nothing that gets in the way or needs settling out first.

It tastes delicious too - its fruity with a nice amount of bitter sharp to it that unseats the full on tannins and offers some balance to it. This cider has stacks of character as well. Judging by the colour there are plenty of Yarlington Mill in there - and this gives a medium body to the cider (although I am sure the other apple varieties are adding to it as well as balancing it out.

It says it has been filtered - I guess I can tell this as the aftertaste dies fairly quickly - but its bitter and its sharp and there is no fuss or fizz or background sweetening to ruin the taste. Filtering in itself is not the devil to cider - its filtering a cider to within an inch of its life that ruins a good cider... in an exactly converse way, I have tried some ciders that clearly need filtering - I think its having the judgement to know when something should be filtered and doing it with respect for the cider itself that seem to be what I would like... What do I know though eh!

Getting back to Tillington Hills, it is very yum!  It has scored a very impressive 84/100. Which is a silver apple and proclaims it current king of the supermarket ciders. I will definitely be buying this one again!

Friday 7 October 2011

Gospel Green Sussex Cyder

Gospel Green is a very small producer of cider (sorry that should be Cyder) based in Sussex. There is not a whole bunch of information that I could simply find online about them, although I believe that they make 7500 litres per year and it is all produced in the Champagne style and bottled like this. What I have found out about them online (as opposed to talking to people who know more about them than I do) is that they have had high praise from various restauranteurs and celebrity chef types.

Being champagne style, the cork (although being locked down tight) comes out with a nice pop. More than any of the cidre bouche it pours and (indeed) even looks like champagne. It has a high fizz (doh... of course it does!) and the thing it makes me immediately feel is that I need a special occasion to have opened it. Well, I have worked pretty hard today and have family staying so I guess that is occasion enough.

Here is where the review starts to get odd. Although there is an distinct appley (desert appley) smell it actually has a champagne aroma. Could it be that this is what the historians meant by cider so like wine that it could replace it at the dinner table?

The answer to that question is a big fat 'yes'. This is a very vinious (is that the correct term) cider. That it is made solely from desert and culinary apples makes it light and acidic. the style of production has raised that to a whole different level. Its not a quaffing cider at all. Its a high quality, high status cider (and I still feel as though I am cheating for not having a decent enough excuse for drinking it).

The taste is light and acidic, although this is mellowed as the cyder is a two year old vintage. It is very much like a sparkling wine or champagne in the mouth - although even at a whopping 8.5% (the maximum for a cider in the UK) it is weaker. If it is competing with high end sparkling wines, then it does very well. The aftertaste is acid, lemon (or citrus) and satisfyingly rich - though its not one for the cider cup as it goes straight to the head!

If I am being 100% honest about this, ciders that compete with wines are not always my thing. However, this is excellently done and, as a celebration drink it would definitely compete with the bottle of champagne for New Years or Christmas. Finally, I ought to point out that making cider to this level is really, really not that easy and demonstrates the skill of Gospel Green at producing something heritage cider. Well done Gospel Green!

It scored 84/100 and earns a silver apple - its a very special cyder... and that may be as much a negative for it as a positive.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Morrisons 'The Best' Vintage Cider

Moving on with the supermarkets 'own brand' ciders, I come to one of the supermarkets who I believe have a little catching up to do. Morrisons do have some ciders that are alright, but mostly stock the largest commercial (some would say industrial) producers.

The Morrisons 'The Best' brand is, I suppose, equivalent to Taste the Difference or Finest ranges (not being a regular Morrisons visitor I haven't been exposed to this much before. The bottle looks familiar, although it doesn't state who makes it on the bottle.

Inside, its a normal golden cider, with a moderate fizz which doesn't really interfere too much. If you are trying this cider though, make sure you have a good sniff as the aroma is very faint. What there is is pleasant though.

It has got a pretty nice taste to it, with a moderate tannin and acid behind it. It is a bit on the safe side - I suppose I would call it semi-vintage. It is rather sweetened though - not syruppy or sickly at all, but a bit too sweet for my taste. The aftertaste is nice and the flavour of cider fruit continues on the tongue - the sweetness does too though, but doesn't drown the apples out.

So, its very Herefordshire in style - dare I say very Westons in style (I was already suspicious of the bottle). Without checking, I would put my money on it being a Westons made cider.

I scored this at 63/100.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Sheppy's Cider with Honey

OK, so technically this doesn't qualify as cider. Well, thats what HMRC says anyway! Its a made wine. Does that make sense? Well, in actual fact, this is a traditional drink in its own right - called cyser. And for that fact, I think it qualifies for a review (see,I don't go by the labels... although I suspect most people do).

I cannot think of that many producers of cyser these days - the fact that it doesn't qualify as cider under the rules laid down by government means that those who do sell it have to pay something like 3 times as much duty as on cider. So I guess the profits don't add up well enough. However, Sheppy's seem to produce a bit of everything so they are clearly the obvious producers to have a go:-)

I have tried cyser before - in fact, I have even made it before. The honey/cider mix makes for a delicate drink that is anything up to 2% stronger (a lot of sugar in honey!). This one sits at 5.4%, which is fairly weak (I would say) so I guess its gone through the usual processes and been controlled. Lets not judge it before its had a chance though eh!

In colour, this Sheppy's is very light - I have said 'yellow' on the sheet, but its much more light gold than that. The fiz doesn't appear to be very strong (which always makes me happy) and, well, it just looks appetising. This is helped along by a generous cider aroma to it. I cannot really smell honey in it. This is likely due to chemical changes as the honey and cider ferment together. The honey loses a lot of its own characteristics in the process (well, cider doesn't really taste of apple juice normally, does it?) and adds a background flavour to the cider.

I said that almost as if I knew what I was talking about eh! I ought to say that the above is just my opinion and based on my own experience!

The first thing I noted when tasting it was that I was wrong about the fizz dying off - its very much there, but just doesn't look like it. More over though, this is a really nice drink. There is the honey providing sweetness in the background, coupled with a lovely tannic body of cider flavour. These two things pretty much drown out the acid though. Thats not really a problem as it all just works very well together.

The aftertaste is nice and what I was expecting. Going from my own experience (again) it is far too easy to overdo the honey in cyser - that makes it very strong but the honey ends up adding an odd quality. This Sheppy's cyser is well controlled. Enough to add a great charisma to the drink, but not over powering.

If only Sheppy's made a 'full juice' and 'unfiddled' range, I would probably be a huge fan!

It scored 79/100. I nearly pushed it up to 80/100 as I'd have loved it to get Silver - but then I haven't done that yet. I would rather go with my original figures which I feel are the more accurate. Not that it matters really, its all only my opinion. However, if you come across this cider do try it - its definitely different in a good way.