Friday 30 December 2011

Severn Cider

I like small cider producers. They are not tied to the strings of efficiency or wrestle with the problems of economies of scale like so many of the larger producers. On the other side, they don't often have access to the kind of kit and skill set that many larger producers do. This so often comes through in the individual and sometimes variable tastes and textures of the cider.

Craft cider producers (as I think they should be called - lets save 'artisan' for the professional and larger producers) are a neat bunch of folk who have many opinions and practices; from pressing through straw to even washing apples in bleach for fear of bugs (hmmm - I doubt many do either of these things). Not all craft ciders are for sale - I suspect only a fraction actually make enough, but you can measure their production in the hundreds and thousands of litres rather than hundreds of thousands! Often these are hobby makers who are turning to commercial production to fund the passion or even are starting out to bigger things.

Browsing through such resources as the Cider Workshop - a forum for small producers (mainly), these makers have as many questions as the larger producers but without the network or experienced personnel to obtain answers. The Workshop is like a window into the cider makers world - and probably of interest to hardcore drinkers as well. Well worth a visit!

So, drawing myself back off the tangent I have written myself into, Severn Cider from... well... Severn Cider kind of fits into the craft cider ethos. Its full juice and dry. Looking at their website my guess is that the company is perhaps into the tens of thousands, but by no means a Thatchers of Sheppy's.

I ought to mention the bottle, as it has been drawn especially for them - a striking depiction of where abouts they are and what they are about. It even has May Hill in the background. Reminds me of a Levellers album cover.

When it is poured the aroma is very tangy - there is clearly a lot of bittersweet going on in here. A nice low fizz lingers too, although it is really a very bright and clear cider.

As expected, the taste is very fruity with some unusual bittersweets going on in there... Actually, thinking about it, it's probably the bittersharp flavours and it has a nice acid background which lifts the drink. Saying that, its not particularly dry in the mouth - the tannins are mild and the acid mellow. I would say it tastes more medium dry in fact. I doubt its been sweetened though, its probably the battle between the tannin and acid (and the bubbles).

I don't think this a particularly balanced cider - well, not balanced in the commercial sense of cider. It all works really well though and, quite frankly, I don't care if its not balanced - its delicious!

The aftertaste is moderate (along with the rest of the drink). Not too long but very nice whilst it lasts.

Considering my friend spreading their wings into traditional ciders (which I haven't for a while), I would think this cider is a bit of a challenge for them. Not because its too dry, but because it really does taste like a crafted product that doesn't strive to be like all the others. Maybe I'd keep this one for myself:-)

A score of 84/100 and a silver apple. Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Westons 2010 Vintage Cider

One of the great things about artisan/craft cider is that it changes each year it is produced. In a real sense, each time you try a cider it will be different from the last tie you tried it. The same should be true of beer and wine too.

Now, of course, this isn't so true of ciders that have been produced by more industrial processes. They are checked and balanced to give a common flavour. Weston's are, for me, in that grey area where they use industrial processes as well as more traditional ones - so to some degree I am not entirely sure what to expect of the 2010 version of their Vintage. The 2009 wasn't bad by any stretch though.

Well, it has a faint(ish) smell - although if you concentrate its actually quite a nice smell; albeit a little 'juicy'. By juicy I mean apple juicy. You may or may not have noticed, but during a fermentation apple juice loses its 'juicy' character to something less sweet and complex.

It has a moderate fizz but settles down well. And to drink it has a nice flavour. I get the tannins and there is acid in here too. Not a bad balance, although as they generally sweeten with juice you can tell it's there... or is that because I know they use juice I can taste it. In any case, there's not that much in the drink.

The aftertaste is actually on the acid side of things, although is still good. It gives it more character than I am used to from Westons. However, either I have no idea what 'oakiness' tastes like or else I can't find it in here. Mind you, its been filtered/pasteurised and etc. etc. etc. (and as the lady at the Weston's factory told me; "it all starts out at 14-15%" - so its been cut. Mind you, 8.2% is not to be taken lightly!

I rather like it. I have to say its not a hard-core cider. But I doubt any Weston's really is. Consistent is the word, and this one stands very well with other vintage ciders.

In conclusion, the 2010 Vintage compares favourably to the previous year - 72 gives Weston a bronze apple. I hate to admit it,  but this is Weston's first apple.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Magners Spiced Apple and Honey Cider

I think this is an appropriate choice for review for this time of year. Its very nearly mulled cider (but oh so far as well!) and its a little different.

I was a bit surprised earlier this year that Magners saw fit to jump on the flavoured ciders bandwagon. I guess its partly because sales are slipping and partly because flavoured ciders are 'on trend'. Why am I reviewing a flavoured cider? Well, its not far enough away from cider for me not to - I have reviewed a mulled cider and I have reviewed Honey Cider under the premise that both drinks are traditional and therefore ought to be included. I can safely say that I will not be reviewing the rhubarb concoction though! Rhubarb is for eating with custard and in a crumble... I don't want to drink it.

That over, I am unsure whether or not to warm this up and compare it to Heston's mulled cider. Being Magners I expect it suggests serving over ice... which is the last thing I shall be doing (sorry Magners marketing people:-).

A word on warmth. Well, actually a word on the temperature of cider for drinking... although being the middle of winter I expect its one to repeat nearer to the summer! Referring to Proulx and Nichols "Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider", it essentially says that the sweeter the cider, the cooler it should be. Therefore a dry cider should be served ideally at room temperature, whilst a medium dry/sweet should be chilled. I find this a reasonably good guide, although I would naturally chill an eastern counties style cider as I find it more refreshing cold. That aside, I think that is generally good advice to follow. Note I haven't mentioned ice cubes at all! Also, some of the sweetest andmost chemically of ciders would probably be best frozen before serving... that way you cannot drink them at all - which may be a blessing!

OK, I have put this drink off for long enough.

Its a bright, light coloured drink - lighter I think than Original even. With a high fizz to begin with it soon settles down. It smells a little mulled, although to be honest there isn't that much smell going on. I guess this is to be expected (see my review on Magners Original). This drink it based upon original, albeit that there is some spices more familiar with mulling cider.

On the taste it is actually pretty interesting. THe honey does come through gently, and there is even a sticky aftertaste to it... mind you, that could be the cider:-) There is also cinnamon in there too which makes the honey, if anything, more pronounced. However, the citrus is lost on me. This isn't a bad thing. If cider is anything, its not citrus! Mind you, its nice to see that Magners are playing by the rules and not calling it honey and spice cider - which doesn't exist under UK law (a bit like Strawberry Cider!)

Asides from this, it is still very sweet, and this dominates throughout. I guess that it the market they are playing to. Its not chemically tasting though.

At this time of year, this Magners Special fits in nicely. I am not entirely sure how well it would taste heated though, and certainly would pitch it against many mulled ciders I have tried that are properly done with all the spices and a full juice cider.

So, for score. 55/100. OK, so its not a great scorer, but it is a step in the right direction!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Perry's Premium Vintage Cider

I have been looking forward to this cider - Vintages seem to always be the best of a producer and I have noted that Sheppy's, Westons, Thatchers all do corking good vintage blends! Generally, however, they are dry - au naturale you could say. Perry's version is described as a medium, which although unusual I guess it may be that it needs it to get the most out of it... hmmm.

Saying that, this is a proper vintage. The cider is held in wooden barrels  for 12 months before bottling. This kind of maturation should round off the tannins and lower any acidity within the drink. I guess by doing it in wood they are aiming for am oaky flavour. Mind you, the bacteria that cause an MLF (malolactic fermentation) - the process that rounds off a cider and gives it sometimes a vanilla flavour are often more easily obtained in wooden casks than stainless steel or plastic.

One niggle. Perry's. Please drop the Premium from the name! The term premium has been so abused by supermarkets, mass produced ciders/wines/lagers - well, anything that has a marketing team attached. As far as I can tell, 'Premium' has no value and doesn't mean what it ought to mean (i.e. the best of something).

On to the drink. As with the rest of Perry's ciders so far, the initial fizz very quickly gives way to an almost flat drink. It is also a lovely golden colour, albeit bright and filtered. The smell is a lovely vintage nose though; gentle and tannic and western.

And so on to the taste. It does have a lot of body to it, mainly in the form of an excellent balance between sharp and tannin, but also the fruit is mature and, well, all the bits complement each other. This is a first rate vintage - the medium is more or less knocked dry by the tannins and you don't get a lot of sweetness back from it. This cidery taste is long and satisfying... well into the aftertaste!

Thinking about it, there is a hint of sweetness as you sip, but the drying body of the cider soon catches it up and, well, thats it. A fabulous drink and I do actually think probably top of the Vintages for me (lets just forget the premium bit eh!)

I totally recommend this cider - I must go and get another one!! It scored 93/100, so that is a gold apple for Perry's and my desert island drinks list gets a little longer:-)

Sunday 18 December 2011

Waitrose Heston's Spiced Mulled Cider

Mulled cider is generally something that you make, but feeling in the festive spirit I have been keeping my eye out for a bottled version to add to my reviews. And I have found one! In truth, we shall see what it's like - I find some of Heston Blumenthal's output great, and some is decidedly not in my universe.

To prepare this cider, you have to warm it. So, being careful not to let it boil, 4 of us are going to give it a go. Hang on - just checking the label, it says "... great served warm or perfectly refreshing over ice."  Are they quite insane? I truly hope that this is being ironic and not a serious suggestion!

Now it is warmed up, lets see what we have. It didn't have a huge aroma prior to warming, but now it has a warming spicy smell. Sadly, this isn't backed up by a huge cider flavour; the spices do tend to dominate. It tastes warming and lovely though. After a while (and maybe it has cooled a bit) there are cider flavours coming through, although very definitely as a background feature to the mulling spices which run the show from beginning to end. This is a bit of a shame, as the cider does have a role to play too in mulled cider. Oh, and forget the 'oak matured' bit - that is lost with the rest of it.

The aftertaste is all spice too. I guess this is the same for mulled wine too - the liquid is often drowned out and its all about the spice (clove, cinnamon and ginger in here).

I am sure the cider will score differently for me, depending on whether you are drinking it properly warmed or trendily over ice - I am not sure how warming it would at a cold wassail with ice! Warm it scores 71/100, so a hot bronze apple for Hestons Mulled Cider.

Now. For those of us who would prefer to do it properly, I have included a recipe for mulled cider (I believe my scrappy piece of paper is from BBC recipes, so thanks to them):

First off, find a decent flat cider which has some good flavours going for it. Ideally, if you are buying this, you will find a dry, still cider without filtering would be ideal direct from a producer. If you are having to buy in a supermarket - well, why not search through the reviews here to find one - Henney's, a vintage Sheppy's or even Westons would do (if it has bubbles, then probably best to let these get out of the way first). As with many things, mulled cider is a sum of its parts and if you put rubbish in, you will get rubbish out.

For myself, I tend to use the last of my cider to mull. Generally this will be from the bottom of the barrel and be a bit yeasty - it all adds to the flavour. I don't like to use early cider though as this hasn't developed or matured enough (and at this time of year should be being left alone to finish fermenting!).

For this recipe, you need about 2 litres of cider (or you could use apple wine).

Now, for the mulling spices:

Presuming you are doing this with guests, stud a couple of apples with cloves all over. Also, get hold of 4-6 cinnamon sticks and 5-6 allspice berries (or a couple of teaspoons of allspice).

Now zest an orange (I also generally squeeze half the orange in too). Finally (if you want) splash in some dark rum. There are other things that work as mulling spices - a stick of ginger adds a bit of a kick (and the odd chilli can add some heat to the drink too).

Let this warm through over a low heat but don't allow it to boil. I expect it should take about 20 minutes or so. And hey presto - mulled cider without paying Waitrose prices:-)

Have a fantastic festive period!

All the best from Cider Pages

Thursday 15 December 2011

Lancaster Brewery Copper Cider

Having been rather spoiled for choice recently, I headed back to the supermarket to see if I had covered everything. I thought I had covered most of them, but found this in the local Asda. Labelled up as 'Red Rose' cider, 'hand selected' by the Lancaster Brewery, this is one of those ciders that Asda pulls in as a guest from time to time in order to offer an alternative to the mainstream obvious ciders.

Looking at this cider label, there is not a whole lot to say about the description. The description is a little 'beery' - but as the producer is a brewer I guess that is OK. The label also clearly says that the cider is made 'for' the brewery... which is pretty honest (but doesn't go on to say who makes it!). Finally, of note it claims 'Traditional cold fermentation'. Again, this must be a beer-ism; in the cider world it is rare to find a cider that hasn't gone through an ambient 'fermentation' - cider is pretty much always filtered at the ambient temperature... if the yeast gets too cold it goes dormant and wouldn't ferment anything.

However, to the drink itself. True to its name, this is a copper coloured cider. It also smells very pleasant and is very definitely west country in style. So far so good, although when tasted, my opinion is that its a little engineered. It definitely has the 'right' taste for a west country cider - tannin a plenty (I think) and bittersweet fruit coming through - tangy and with a good body. However, it has a tailored taste to it that I cannot escape from. A bit safe I think but any rough edges that you would expect from this kind of cider have been well and truly rounded.

This isn't helped by the fact that it is very sweet. Perhaps this is the difficulty I am having with it. The aftertaste is pleasant and tannic, the smell is too... but I am not sure what is going on with it. I am a bit disappointed - the bottle stating that this bottle was a 'premium dry'. It must be the curse of that silly word 'premium', but its very definitely not dry at all!

I will put my money on this cider being reverse tamed - it is clearly filtered and back sweetened (although this is not a sin!), though it is quite heavily done. As a score, it fetches a bronze apple with 70/100. Which I think is fair.

Monday 12 December 2011

Perry's Morgan Sweet Cider

Perry's Morgan Sweet is described thus: "The Morgan Sweet apple produces a sweet cider with a strong persistently fruity flavour." Ummm. Now, I am not going to pretend to be as much of a ciderist as the Perry guys but I would like to set one thing straight about this before I have even tried it. Sweet apples do not produce a sweet cider. If you want to halt the fermentation to produce a sweet cider, or if you want to back sweeten a cider, then that is how it would be done. Sweet apples ferment to dry in the same way that all other apples do.

More and more cider makers are putting sweet apple = sweet cider and I find this misleading and (to be quite frank) bloody annoying. Note to cider makers. Please stop it! I know its a niggling thing, but marketing can really nark me when its just trying to be clever!

The apple variety, Morgan Sweet is an old cider apple variety which is classed as 'sweet'. What that means is that it has a lot of sugar and very low acid in its makeup. As a cider variety, I would also expect it to have a modicum of tannin to it as well. It was/is popular in Somerset... which would make sense as that is where Perry's are based. It is also a pretty early apple.

OK. Apples aside. I have the bottle open and there is no holding me back now:-)

Sure enough, the fizz is there to start as a flourish but settles down quickly to next to nothing. Getting your nose into the glass whilst the bubbles are working does help with the aroma a bit (generally), and this has a light cidery smell that is appealing.

On the taste, there are some gentle tannins with very little acid to counter them (in this case that is probably a good thing as the tannins are very subtle). Its rather nice actually - not too sweet, but more than a medium dry. In the mouth it is fairly tamed to the taste - there is nothing wild about this cider and it is all very civilised.

I cannot help but criticise the single variety-ness of it though. Sure it is an interesting cider that is different from quite a few ciders. However, if I am being honest with things, I would almost go as far as to say its a very nice Magners. This is by no means a bad thing though - if Magners drinkers could turn on to this cider, which is going to be pretty much full juice then their journey to more individual and crafted cider realms would be fairly well assured.

The aftertaste is pleasant, which sums the cider up for me. Pleasant. Doesn't knock my socks off, doesn't really challenge me or need me to do much work with it.

Would I drink it again? Yes. It scored 70/100. This is in my opinion quite a harsh scoring and I may think about coming back and trying it again at some point soon. However, it hits the bronze apple list which I think is about right. However, the next time I see "sweet apples = sweet cider" on a label, its getting docked 5 points! (and this cider proves you don't always need clever statements - the cider more than speaks for itself!)

Friday 9 December 2011

Pips Dry Cider

Back to cider bought from the Bristol Cider shop. No, it’s not a never ending supply (I wish) but I did get a fair few bottles to try (well, gotta make it worth the travelling eh).

It’s also another Herefordshire cider, this time from Dorstone. Not having ever been (or, to be honest, heard of it before) I am not entirely sure where abouts they are... though they are somewhere near to Hereford. Mind you, has anybody bothered to count the number of cider makers in Herefordshire? Must be must be well into the hundreds by now; more variety that way:-)

Now, this cider came in a 75cl bottle, which is actually something I like for cider. Being a social drink, I cannot think of a better presentation for a drink that is, in its natural/traditional form, pretty strong. At 7.5% this cider kind of demonstrates my point pretty well. It is a shame that so often drinkers associate cider with beer and go for a 500ml bottle.

What to expect of this cider then (no, I haven't taken to second guessing the drinks... too much fun in trying them! However, its crystal clear (so likely to have been filtered), golden in colour (so, in the true Herefordshire tradition lots of bitter sweet and sharp fruit). But, I suspect that the filtering has tamed the tannins so it won't be bone dry. Lets see how I fare:-)

OK, to go with its crystal clear golden-ness, it is also moderately carbonated (not a huge amount). It has an odd smell though - at first I thought it might be washing up liquid... like the glass wasn't rinsed properly. However, it comes out of the bottle too. Now, in order to prove that whilst I can pick up an odd smell I am rubbish at defining it, it then smelt of marzipan?! I really can’t place it; its not unpleasant, but very odd and I wonder if the cider has been oaked or fermented in some kind of spirit barrel?

The taste confirms the odd flavour but also makes me wonder what varieties were used to produce the cider. Again, its not unpleasant but I was a bit distracted with it which limited my enjoyment. Just as well its in a bigger bottle too, as it gives me the chance to get a second opinion.

So. My second opinion.

In all I did enjoy this cider. There is a warm glow in the tannic aftertaste which makes the oddity really rather OK. If you can get through the strange taste, then its got a good balance of tannin and acid from the pretty much full on cider fruit used. It certainly is dry (not bone dry but not bad!!) In my scoring, and remember you must try it and make your own mind up, I think it did get a little bit of a hit on the taste and smell. I have honestly never tried a cider like it before... not bad, just odd.

A score of 71/100. May be a bit light for a full juice cider, but a bronze apple nonetheless.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Brothers Bitter Sweet Apple Cider

So, after this one, I think I may have ticked off pretty much all of the main cider 'like' drinks that make up by far the largest bulk of cider produced in the UK. I find that thought rather sobering to be honest, and whilst I have really (honestly) tried to maintain an open mind about these drinks they really don't end up surprising me on so many levels.

But, an open mind I must keep as I try the Brothers cider. Once again, I was shocked to find a cider from Brothers that actually had an apple variety! Without going into its contradictions too far, I must admit the Brothers marketing team have gone to town on the packaging (although I fear they may not be as familiar with cider as they ought). The idea of a bittersweet cider that is 'crisp' is a little bit of a mystery... or maybe what they mean by crisp is different to what I mean?!

Of course, the Showering name has a long history in commercial cider production. Well, not so much cider actually but do you remember Babycham? Well,  that was made by Showerings. Now, the sons of the Babycham Showering (I believe) have turned their hand to making commercial ciders once again.

Anyway, best get on to the drink eh. So, what am I expecting... a very light colour, high carbonation and a smell that is more apple juice than cider... that is, going by its predecessors. Well, it has the high carbonation (check!), is crystal clear (check!). But hold on, it is golden in colour and faintly smells cidery without much apple juice going on at all. It is rather a faint smell, but it is definitely bittersweet and there is a hint of tannin in the smell too.

And then there is the taste. Bah. Its isnt medium dry by a mile - it is massively sugar loaded and that kills the promise of tannins dead. In fact, sweetness is all you get right the way through the drink. Pooh. Disappointing when I was hoping I would be wrong! It feels engineered, and I guess fits in well with its competition.

Now I have to finish it:-( There are so many more interesting, appealing and natural ciders out there, even ones that are pretty sweet themselves. I guess, if you are drinking a Brothers cider, next time why not give Henney's Apple Sweet a go. I very much doubt you will be disappointed!

Sorry Brothers. Even with a (semi) open mind, it doesn't satisfy me (personally!) A score of 39/100.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Newtons Court In Bottle Fermented Cider

Weighing in at a (what I believe to be) perfect 6.5% is the next Herefordshire cider for me to try, from another artisan producer, Newton Court Cidery.

Cidery. I have a conversation last night with some friends who had visited some French 'cideries' and who wanted to know if it was the same in the UK. "No", I said. Well, I am a fool. Here is the term, alive and kicking. Is it a proper word in English though? Oh, who cares! Yes, I like to think it is (although it does sound a little odd!)

I am a little surprised to find an In bottle fermented cider in a standard beer/cider bottle. I guess the pressure must have been alleviated somehow or it will definitely have popped by now. And at 6.5% its gone through most of its fermentation (i.e. the sugar has pretty much all turned to alcohol).

I will have to look more into this - I thought that in bottle fermentation created a more fizzy, champagne style cider... but then it could just be more like bottle conditioning, where a cider is allowed to finish its fermentation in the bottle.

It certainly pours fizzy, and is a mellow golden colour with a nice tangy bittersweet cider smell to it. It is hazy too, which just shouts 'natural' to me!

To taste, it is a fairly straightforward west country/Herefordshire cider... although to put that into its perspective, its a really good west country cider. It feels a little sweeter than medium dry though - it must be because the tannins are very understated and there is a good measure of acid to balance things out.

Balanced is a word that I would use about this one. The sweetness and tannins linger together through a fairly long aftertaste. Mind you, I didn't leave it for too long before my next gulp!!!

Overall, I really like this cider. Whilst its competing with some of the best cider in the country, being in Herefordshire, it holds its own and deserves its silver apple with a score of 86/100