Monday 31 December 2012

Should auld acquaintance be forgot??? 2012 top 10

Well, another year has gone by and whilst I consider January weight loss and giving up alcohol for a bit (hic) I figured a recap on Cider Pages favourites is in order to celebrate the passing of 2012.

Really, I am looking forward to the next 12 months - hopefully discovering the best of the new seasons ciders - and lets hope there are some! After the poor weather in the last year, cider making will have been a challenge for many. I am expecting to see the ABV drop on a number of ciders (except for some!) and the best may be a bit harder to get hold of too. As for perry - well, I have heard rumours that the situation may be even worse. Lets wait and see though. I could be totally wrong and it could be the best year of cider yet... I hope so.

So, to see the year out, here is the top 10 ciders reviewed by Cider Pages this last year. Actually its a top 13 (with 5 ciders getting one position in particular!) Its nice to see most styles represented, including a few of single varieties and some non ciders too!

In 9th place, in joint 9th place, are 5 ciders:

Olivers Yarlington Mill Cider and Sheppy's Tremletts Bitter bring in the Single Variety stakes. Olivers was a very fruity and funky cider - everything I expected from a Yarlie cider. Sheppy's was a surprise to me, with Tremletts being drinkable! Very nice too.

The other three ciders sharing 9th are very deserving blends; Dinedor Court's Hereford Bull Cider, Once Upon A Tree's Tumpy Ground and Ross on Wye Ciders Dry Still Cider. Tumpy Ground was a cider I had heard a lot about, and it delivered too. With Ross on Wye being a fully rounded and extremely tasty dry cider. Dinedor Court was an interesting discovery too. With a myriad of ciders being made in Herefordshire, Dinedor Court Farm really do stand out!

OK, this isn't meant to be gushing, but those 5 ciders alone are worth putting onto a wish list for any cider lover... and they were the lowest scoring of the bunch with a mere 87/100 and a picture of a silver apple each.

In 8th position is the first of the non cider ciders. Burrow Hill's Kingston Black Aperitif scored 88 and is generally to be found in my spirit cupboard. It is warming, juicy and very moreish (and works very well in an overly dry cider).

7th position goes to another single variety, Gwatkins Kingston Black Cider. This is a big hitter on the tannin front but is handled very well and delivers the full taste of the fruit.

There is no 6th. There is a joint 5th though. And these go to Once Upon A Tree's Putley Gold and Perry's Farm Pressed Dry Cider. Both on 90/100. These are both fantastic ciders and well worth a go. Both from different stables (Somerset and Herefordshire) both Perrys and Once Upon a Tree are both masters of making distinctive and individual ciders.

In 4th, with 91 points, is the Orchard Pig's Dry Cider. This cider is really, really tasty (and is the reason I worry about their new range of ciders that don't really live up to this one). A balance of acid and tannin but with character.

3rd place goes to Dunkertons Premium Organic Cider with 94 points. Sure, its organic, but don't let that put you off. It is a cracking drink and does Dunkerton's proud!

2nd place, with 95/100 is the only French product to hit hard this year. Chateau du Brueil 20 year old Calvados is possibly the best I have tasted (so far). The only shame was that it wasn't mine and I only got a glass out of it! Still, it is an experience I plan on reliving as soon as I can get to France next!

So... and drum roll please... the top cider for Cider Pages in 2012 (and actually the highest scoring so far) is... Ross on Wye Cider's Headless Man.

This is spirit cask cider production at its very best. It is a gentle drink that delivers big character. Will it be made again for 2013 though? With the troubles for producers making cider using spirit casks, I am not so sure. Ah well, absolutely brilliant cider!

And there you have it. No photo's and a little too much gushing. However, if you have a list of ciders to get hold of then try this list. It won't disappoint you.

Happy New Year to all who read the ramblings on here!

Friday 28 December 2012

Gwynt y Ddraig Farmhouse Cloudy Scrumpy

Cloudy scrumpy. I had purchased both this version and the non-cloudy cider at the same time - and kind of expect them to both taste the same barring the haze. They are both the same ABV, and have similar descriptions on the bottle. Is this a crime? Nah. I actually think its rather clever... although I do hope that one version is filtered and one not. Weston's do a similar cider which is dealt with... well, slightly differently.

On the balance of things, a cloudy cider is more likely to earn itself the moniker 'scrumpy' than something bright and clear. Mind you, I don't filter my cider and it clears itself nicely - well, its not bright, but not cloudy either. Only through bottle conditioning do I get any significant yeast in the bottle. So I would suggest that this is possibly managed to a degree (but I am not an expert on this - in fact each day I discover really how much I don't know about cider and cider making).

In a clear bottle, this Gwynt y Ddraig looks golden and cloudy right enough. And with a fizz it is a sparkling cloudy scrumpy. Its smell is lightly fruity - just as the other version is. I am not getting any sulphite in this one though:-)

It is a nice cider - a bit yeasty to taste but it has a measure of tannin and fruit - a bit juicy (which is how I guess it has been sweetened) but very nice none the less. The tannin is balanced with the acid well although its not a particularly challenging taste. There is some character to it which makes it a nice 'quaffing' cider.

The aftertaste is still juicy and is moderately long.

I am not entirely sure what the purpose of the yeast is. It would work as either cloudy or bright and clear. I am not sure that explicitly having yeast in it really adds to much to the experience. Saying that, if you come across either version I can recommend it - it is a nice cider!

A score of 76/100 is 1 point less than the clear version (though it could just be my mood this evening). Its another bronze apple for Gwynt y Ddraig.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Ross On Wye Harry Masters Jersey Dry Still Cider

To release a review on Christmas day or not? Well, such is the curse of releasing something every three days (though I have wondered if I will run out of ciders to try if I keep this up!) Ah well, its something to worry about next year! So on behalf of Cider Pages, Happy Christmas. And if you don't celebrate Christmas I hope you are having a nice time avoiding it - although I guess that takes some skill!

Given that I am actually writing this on Christmas Eve (you don't really expect me to get away with doing this on the 25th, did you?) what can I select to review? Well, given the distinctly variable nature of ciders I have tried recently, I thought I would go for something that was fairly 'safe hands'. I also am going for something that I may have actually tried before although this is a completely different bottle and style...

Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Co. is one of the foremost producers in the UK. Mike Johnson, the man in charge, has appeared on various TV shows (well, when a TV producer needs to do something on cider its generally going to be between Mike of Ross on Wye and Roger Wilkins in Somerset. OK, its only a guarantee that they have been on telly - their cider needs to speak for itself. After all, not all celebrity chefs can back up their TV persona with great food!

Harry Masters Jersey is a great cider apple. Good tannin, plenty of charisma... very little acid. And, having milled and pressed a few this year I can also tell you they can be a bugger to mill as they tend to be on the fibrous, dry side of things. I have made a gallon of SV Harry Masters this year which I aim to try against the single varieties already reviewed on here. My plan is to do this as a 'true' single variety. No adjustments. This way I can see how others have got the most out of the fruit.

On to this review. At 7.2% its full on and on opening this cider smells deep and earthy. It has a tannic aroma and a pungent smell that is with Harry Masters from juice to cider. I would say it is floral in nature, but it's more earthy than that. It is a lovely golden colour and, as labelled it is still and flat.

OH the taste! Very smooth and intensely bitter sweet. Its a moderate but lasting tannin with very little acid behind it. This is nice as it is true to the variety (as well as being really tasty!) In fact, as far as acid goes the only part it plays is a very slight bite towards the end of the sip - though I am not sure if this isn't just tannin drying my mouth.

The aftertaste is long and fruity, so the drink stays with you a fair amount of time. Very satisfying. In fact, this is a very satisfying drink... even for a single variety! A score of 87/100 gives yet another silver apple to Ross on Wye.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Tutts Clump Oldbury Cider

"Sourced from a private orchard in South Gloucestershire". You know, I have been looking forward to this - what must be a bit of a departure for Tutts Clump. Every one of their ciders I have tasted so far has been from the Eastern stable of cider - dessert (and culinary) fruit with no tannin and sometimes rather too much acid (and sweetener).

I must say I like the labels - they are very clear and colourful (just look at the photograph!). If the cider inside matches it, then I am on to a winner this evening. To some degree, Tutts Clump is a cider maker after my own heart. They don't appear to filter or pasteurise and, despite my not liking all of them, produce full juice and honest ciders. Given that, this cider ought to be either flat or bottle conditioned with a slight haze from the yeast deposit.

So, as everybody (including me) has better things to be doing just before Christmas than reading my opinion on stuff I will simply get on with the review!

Sure enough this is a slightly hazy cider which is golden and has a good amount of bottle conditioning. I ought to add that this has been sat in the review queue for some 6 months or so - so if its going to condition, then it would have done so in that time!! Its aroma is pleasing. Deep and tannic - I am expecting this to be nothing like other ciders from Tutts Clump.

Oh my word (note, I shall not resort to OMG's and text speak:-) Either it is me or this cider tastes nothing like it smells! There IS tannin in here, but there is also a MASSIVE dose of sharp to it, which dominates anything the tannin has to offer. Wow, rather contradictory and challenging are the two words I would use to describe Oldbury Cider.  As I progress, I am starting to lose sight of the tannin for sake of the acid, which is almost a touch sour in its aftertaste. Trying harder, I can still get it - it seems gentle in this drink (although that is no proof that it is - the acid is so large).

There is a fairly long aftertaste, which is not altogether pleasant in all its parts. On the positive, it is fruity, and there is a bit of tannin. However, the acid is way out of control. Note to Tutts Clump - you don't have to dominate everything with acid...

This cider scored a reasonable 71/100, which earns Tutts Clump a bronze apple from me. Whilst that may look more than the description gives it credit for, my own thinking is that it should have scored much higher!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Gwynt y Ddraig Farmhouse Vintage Scrumpy

Gwynt has received a mixed bag of reviews from me - some are absolutely fantastic and others, well, yes... there are others. I think this reflects opinion on them as a cider maker a bit. Call it jealousy or whatever, they have done well and their position as number one Welsh cider maker (that is number one in volume... OK?!) was always going to challenge some. Do they pasteurise? Do they 'muck about' with their cider?

Not sure I really care too much about this - after all, I have seen and heard a lot of practices in the industry. Sometimes I wish there would be a way of catching makers out. Other times, I just figure that you can only be honest to yourself without worrying about what everyone else is up to! I think the latter position is probably the one that keeps you most sane and, whilst it would be great to clamp down on some practices I doubt you will ever find that everyone plays by the same rules. And would punters really want them to?

So, what would I clamp down on? Well, I think I have put my cards on the table in regards to this already. I would double the minimum juice content for cider from 35% to 70%. OK, there are people who would take this further, but it would solve a lot of ciders challenges in one move. What else? Well, legally anyway there is no need to do anything about fruit ciders. They are already not supposed to be called cider. Perhaps I would enforce it a bit more. Finally, ingredients. If its good enough for Marks and Spencers then its good enough for everyone else... and would make it more obvious what goes into your glass.

The CAMRA APPLE bods have an issue with pasteurisation. I would argue they are barking up the wrong tree, although perhaps they should ask for a box of cider to state whether it has been pasteurised. Me? I have never seen a reason to pasteurise although can understand why its done. To sweeten with juice or sugar (basically, fermentable stuff) and when cider is held by a third party (wholesaler etc.) and you have no idea how long it will be in store for. These seem fairly reasonable to me.

OK. On with the show. Farmhouse Vintage Scrumpy is a vintage of 2009. Nice. Its also 5.3%, which I think is also great. On the bottle is claims 'award winning' (the subject of award winning cider makers ought to be the subject of its own post really... I think all cider makers seem to have them - which in turn makes awards pretty pointless).

On opening, there is a definite 'pfst', giving way to a low carbonation in this deeply golden cider. It has a cracking fruity smell which holds a mildly earthiness about it. Yum. There are a few sulphites up my nose too.

OK - the taste is a little surprising given the aroma. Its not nearly as fruity as the smell and its also rather sweet (which I confess to being a bit disappointed with... but that is most definitely a personal thing). Whilst it is a balanced scrumpy, there are some good tannins in here. It is all a bit controlled though - it does feel pasteurised in the mouth, with a slight caramel texture going on. Its also well balanced and moderate which comes across as a touch of being manufactured... which a scrumpy is generally not (hope you see what I mean!)

There is a long aftertaste to this drink though, which is lovely as the tannins linger and do well. Is it a vintage? I think so, yes. It has a smokiness about it which you don't get from young cider... you don't get from many ciders to be honest.

I like this drink. Sure, it leaves the questions over Gwynt y Ddraig open for discussion (you didn't expect a review to answer questions as opposed to resulting in more?:-) With a score of 77/100 its another Bronze apple.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Mays Cider Number One

A bottle of 'Herefordshires Finest' from the Amazing Cider Company... well, that is what it states on the bottle anyway. Has some big boots to fill if its going to claim that title!

I am trying to remember where I bought this from. It has been sat on my shelf for a while now (as has most things that I am trying at the moment). I am fairly certain that I bought this from Truffles Deli in Ross on Wye. Not that it has much to do with it - I found May's Cider in Asda locally to me!

What do you think is my first comment about this cider? Yup, its another cider that sits at 4.5%! To quote the full monika on the bottle, this is 'Herefordshires Finest Original'... would that be Bulmers Original then? OK, a bit flippant but its becoming a bit of a thing for me now. If this started life naturally - say at 6%, then they will have had to add 25% water to get to that level.

I am not going to bang on about it. It is what it is. The bottle opens wit quite a big fizz and the cider pours out golden and very bright into my glass. There is lots of tannin to the smell and, to be honest, its a bit chemically too. Sounding more like a commodity cider as I go.

I go back to the bottle to double check this cider and, sure enough, find the final piece of the jigsaw. "Made from 100% freshly pressed Bramley". Eh?? So where does the tannic smell come from then?
It also says "best enjoyed chilled or over ice". So, very much pitching to the mainstream commodity cider market then.

So to the taste. This is summed up with two questions. Where has the tannin come from and where has all the acid gone? This cider could well be an objective lesson or testament to what you can achieve with a science kit and chemicals... albeit that this is a harsh thing to say about any cider (if I weren't so puzzled about how they produced a cider like this from Bramley apples!) In all, this is a very good example of a cider which is neither all it seems or a sum of all its parts.

As a cider, it is pretty much as you would expect - fairly safe with a balance of tannin and acid. It feels a bit watery in the mouth and the tastes are fairly limited with nothing dominating. Moderate is probably the best descriptor for the elements of this drink. Not that fruity, neither particularly tannic or acidic.

I guess I realise where this cider is pitched at, and is probably not pitched at someone like me. It didn't do too well in the scores either, achieving 53 out of 100. Mind you, I would say that it is better than many commodity ciders... just not as good as a lot of real, crafted ciders.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Skidbrooke Cider Vintage Cider

As I continue to try more and more ciders I figured it would get harder to find new producers. Well, I am going to have to get through quite a lot more than this to get to that point. This one is from a cider producer from way outside Ciderland in Lincolnshire.

Some have bandied the idea around recently that cider is enjoying a 'boom' (mostly around the twittersphere - where fact and fiction seemingly merge without any issue:-). I guess you could say that 'for cider' there is a bit of a boom going on. As of 2010, cider sat at position of around 9% of all alcohol sales in the UK. Compare this to 37% for beer (I guess is all beer, not just ale) and 32% for wine**. So any idea that cider is booming has to be seen in this context. You also have to factor in that by far the majority of cider sales is Magners, Bulmers and whatever the latest flavoured garbage to come out of Sweden is!

True enough, more people are rediscovering cider - although a good number of those seek out the fruit based alcopops that seem to have crept in. I know I shouldn't, but if and when I am asked about fruit cider (as in "I only drink fruit cider") I generally say that you can have apples and, with a slight change of terms, pears too.

What is good is that new cider makers are popping up all over the place - its no longer a west country thing. My hope is that these new cider makers learn quickly what works and avoid what doesn't. Already this year, I have suffered too many new ciders that are seemingly made from whatever comes to hand... not showing any real mastery of cider making.

Anyway, There is no reason to have chosen this review to bang on about this, so I will get on with the review.

Skidbrooke are a small producer from Lincolnshire. They are by no means 'new' - although I guess sell most of their cider locally. This vintage is the first of three that I picked up on my travels. It is bright and golden in a clear bottle (you can see the bottle above although I forgot to take the photo before I had consumed the contents!!). Oddly, it appears to be full to the brim. Now, I know that you need to make sure you don't undersell contents, but this seems a little OTT. I just hope its not sparkling as it could be messy without any head space!

Thankfully it is a flat cider, and smells rather juicy. I reckon this is an eastern cider as it doesn't have anything tannic about it and, thinking of its colour, it is rather light gold. The taste is quite sharp with little or no tannin to back it up... so it IS an eastern style of cider (which is perfectly OK!).

There is some good flavour to this cider, although it could really do with something else going on to lift the sharpness - maybe a slight bottle conditioning would work well - bubbles have a way of breaking up a fairly solid acid. However as it is, this cider is refreshing and well made. All the way through it is light and fruity - although with the acid running through it to keep it sharp. This is carried through to a moderate aftertaste which stays with you.

Being called a 'vintage', I was expecting something a little more smokey or more fully developed - this feels just like a normal cider. However, given the use and abuse of marketing language in the cider industry currently it can be forgiven.

Overall, I scored this at 72/100, which is a bronze apple. Expect something sharp, but at least it is well presented and well made!

**Information regarding where cider stands in relation to other alcoholic categories is public information available through the website of the National Association of Cider Makers. Figures used with thanks.

Monday 10 December 2012

Old Grove Premium Cider

I don't regard myself as sufficiently old enough to be a 'Grumpy Old Man' yet. Mind you, being male I guess I can be as grumpy as the rest of them... and there are a couple of things that I am grumpy about with this: "Premium" and its 4.4%. And, if its premium in its proper sense, why is it only 4.4%?

If I have tried to get one message across about cider it is that it is neither beer nor wine - its not the strength of wine (although in Europe cider is treated as a weak wine) and it is meant to be stronger than a beer. The usual range of gravity from apples alone is between 5% and 8.5%. Less than this and I would argue it has been watered down or else stopped in some way. There is nothing wrong with stopping a cider early, its just a very hard thing to do.

I think the bottle gives itself away a little; "Crafted from freshly pressed hand picked apples, this lightly starting cider is made from 100% apples...". the italics are my emphasis. What does this say about this cider? Clearly at 4.4% its not all the juice. Is it misleading then? I like (and believe) the crafted nature of its production - so it could be a premium drink if it wanted to.

Anyway, on with the review - do note that I tasted this cider before writing this up... so objectively is hopefully preserved (albeit I already know what I got from it!)

It is a golden cider and, sure enough, is lightly sparkling - well, after its big, carbonated fizz. It is also bright - so my guess is the normal 'Pershore' treatment: filtered, pasteurised and carbonated to suit the producer. Nothing wrong with that in reality. I expect it is sweetened during this process.

There isn't much aroma to it, though if I strain my nostrils I do get some gentle earthy notes coming off it. It also smells a touch 'juicy. This is confirmed in the taste - it is quite a juicy cider. It has quite a large tang about it too and a sharp acid which overpowers the tannins which are almost non existent. There is a lot of sharp in this drink (in fact, isn't this the producer with the Bramley cider???)

On the positive side, it is quite a full taste. OK, full of a fruity sharp acid and almost too sweet and juicy, but its not got a feeling of being watered down at all. I am getting a slight caramel tinge to it as well, which could have come from the pasteurisation process.

The aftertaste is both sharp and sweet. It is moderate in length.

In all, I am not unhappy with this cider. The flavour profile is interesting and not your normal Herefordshire cider in any way. I would say that there are plenty of sharps in there. It is simply too sharp to be dessert fruit. However, it has plenty of flavour as well and, although its a touch one dimensional, is not unpleasant.

A score of 68/100 sees it fall short of an apple though - I would like to see the full juice version of it!

Friday 7 December 2012

Orchard Pig, Reveller Cider (Medium)

I have been worried that these Orchard Pigs - the redesigned ones - are simply renamed versions of their very excellent medium and dry versions that I raved about a year or so back. Not so, and this one proves it. 'Reveller', for a start, is a good 2% weaker than its medium cousin that earned itself a silver apple.

4.5%. This is the second or third I have come across recently and, I have to say, I am pretty certain that at that % it's not going to be full juice. Apples contain more fermentable sugar than that. In fact, pretty much all sugar in an apple is fermentable. That isn't meant to sound an obvious and daft statement. Pears contain sorbitol, for example, which is non fermentable. So there:-)

So, is this Orchard Pig 'dumbing' down, or is simply a more easily accessible version of their good stuff? Well, I do have an opinion... and it involves marketing people. I recall the splash that was made about the new range of ciders and it was all controlled via a marketing company. So I can only really conclude that this is Orchard Pig's 'commodity' range of ciders.

I have just had a thought though, in relation to the current concerns around CAMRA, SIBA et al's campaign to realign duty. IF they get their ill thought out way and cider makers are dragged down to beer levels of duty (which hands beer a huge competitive advantage as it is traditionally a weaker drink); cider duty being charged' per' % vol. you are going to see a lot more watered down ciders. After all, it won't be cost effective to produce the real thing any more as the duty, going by current rates of beer duty, would be over £60per hl for a 6.5% cider (and thats for a small producer with a discount of 50% - as per beer duty). Just to compare, a 4.5% beer is around £40 - which, according to CAMRA, is pushing brewers to the brink. Says a lot really, doesn't it. Please note, these are illustrative figures and could be a quid or two out either way.

Lets get back to this cider though. On opening it is, sure enough, golden, bright and sparkling. A marketing mans dream of a cider (OK, I will lay off that train of thought for now). The fizz is moderate though and doesn't offend me at all. It smells good though; bittersweet, sweet and full of fruit. Surprising given that it has been adjusted for the lower alcohol range for cider.

Well, Reveller is all of its medium description, and the fizz is persistent even in the mouth. It also retains its fruitiness all the way though, with a mild tannin and good acid that balance each other out. I come back to the sweetness though - it really is! As I go through the glass I get a better feel for the acid, which is actually understated and underlines the tannin more than competes.

I would like to know what this is sweetened with as I am getting an aftertaste from it. I suspect I only noticed as the rest of the aftertaste is short to medium in length (though it still holds its fruity cideriness).

Not a bad cider at all from Orchard Pig. I would settle for their full juice ciders any day, but this is not a bad showing for a cider that has been weakened. A score of 73/100 is still a bronze apple:-)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Dunkertons Premium Organic Cider

OK, how did I miss this one in my earlier Dunkerton forays? Well, y'know, I thought I had already done it; I thought cider producers only ever really went in for one 'organic' cider but Dunkertons make a real thing of it!

For once, I am not going to bang on about how cynical I am about the organic movement. My opinions on this subject are probably ingrained on each and every 'organic' review I have done. To be honest, you can't blame the producer from making something of it, and you can't blame the grower from trying with noble aims. I will say just one thing though. One of the orchards I get apples from grows an English variety, Kidds Orange Red. This year they sprayed one of the rows and forgot (or ran out of time and then forgot) to spray the second. The result. One row of saleable Kidds, and I got the other row, which was totally useless to them. These were scabby with bite marks and staining (well, it has been a wet year). OK, it goes into a blend and will press juice just as well as the good ones - but you can see why people spray their trees! (a semicontrolled experiment on Cider Pages... you heard it here first:-)

Winding my neck back in, this cider is moderately fizzy and a beautiful golden colour. It is bright, but the smell more than makes up for it - it is really nice and western smelling - fruity, deep and leathery. Very refined though. Would I be pretentious in suggesting I get a hint of blackberries from this too?

My first comment on tasting would be F R U I T! There is a wonderful vibrant fruit going on in here. The carbonation helps this a bit. It really is in a different league from much of the cider I have tried recently. This is blending at its best - a bit of acid, plenty of moderate tannin that emphasises the fruit in the drink. And the aftertaste is very long and full of tannins... nothing seems to die away.

Well, I could drink that again! It has been a privilege to try this cider - it just demonstrates Dunkertons mastery of the apple. The only thing I don't like? The word 'Premium' in the title! An amazing cider and a score of 94/100 for a gold apple.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Ross on Wye Cider, Suzie Wong's Cider

Moving from one very trusted pair of hands to another, this is the Ross on Wye's special cider with a photo of a cat on it. I presume this is 'Suzie Wong'. The label says 'soft and fruity' - I wonder if that is the cider or the cat (or both?!)

I got this cider a while ago direct from Ross on Wye. I have no idea if you can get it elsewhere, although its always worth the chat to visit them in person. Just expect some odd labels - a llama (or was it an alpaca) a headless person and now a cat! Unique, I would say that for it.

The cider is flat and golden. I would say it was filtered at there isn't really any yeast in the bottle. I confess when I stick my nose in I am apprehensive about its sweetening (medium sweet could be too far for me). However, it doesn't smell so - it is a clean smell with a mild apple fruitiness and not much tannic aroma. This could be a result of filtering, which tends to knock the aroma's back quite a bit.

The taste is... modest I think describes it well. There is plenty of mild bittersweet going on and little acid to compete (not that it really needs much acid as it is rather gentle. The sweetening is well done. Whilst I would agree with its medium sweet its not as if it leaps out at you and fills your mouth with sugar. Overall, it comes across as a gentle, soft cider - not quite as fruity as I might have expected from the label but very not bad either.

If you are not really into big bold flavours then this is ideal. It is individual enough to stand on its own but is not particularly complex or challenging. The aftertaste is pleasant if a little short. Suzie Wong earns herself a silver apple (just) with a score of 80/100. Probably better than I expected but I took my time over this one so I am happy.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Ashgrove Orchards, Orchard Harvest

Orchard Harvest is not exactly a cider. Its a cider (with pear juice). So, is this going to be a 'pyder' then? Pyder is a name that I have only recently come across to describe an apple/pear concoction. I am not at all sure of the genesis of this word - whether it is new or traditional (such as 'cyser' being a traditional name for cider with honey). If new, its merely a clever use of the letter P!

So, I can tell you that HMRC Notice 162 (the 'official' regulations for what is cider/perry) says that you can add 25% pear juice to cider and visa versa. I make no apology for continually coming back to Notice 162. Its what I would look at when judging technical cidery things. It is far from perfect;it allows for a minimum juice content of 35% for cider... which is far too low for my liking. However, it is the guide that tells you what level of duty producers pay and how they should refer to their drink. A couple of useful snippets that my surprise some:
  • Cider is cider up to 8.5%, when it becomes wine (Made Wine)
  • A cider with adjuncts (i.e. Strawberry Cider) is a wine, not a cider. It should be referred to as "Cider with XXX" and pays made wine duty. It is not allowed within the scope of the cider makers exemption
  • Cider may be sweetened and pasteurised with sugar, juice, sucralose, aspartame or saccharin
This is what producers look at as a point of reference; it is the main criteria to follow first and foremost - well, many producers place more stringent standards on themselves then this - some don't. OK. Enough of that. It does serve a purpose though: whilst I accept that there are several other 'definitions' out there (I guess the most obvious one being the CAMRA definition), they are at best only guidelines and certainly not definitive. The CAMRA definition itself has a lot of problems that it has struggled to overcome - I would say its not a bad starting point, but needs to lean more on Notice 162 to give it a little more authority and less wishy washy 'good intention'. Although a consumer organisation, that is of no consequence if they are just going to end up being ignored by the industry that they are a part of.

This cider/perry/whatever, is (interestingly) distributed for the producer by Mayfields Brewery... that isn't a bad idea. It is also Herefordshire PGI - which means it is made in Herefordshire with Herefordshire fruit. Again, a good idea (and its not that restrictive really). I also notice that it says that they use pear juice to sweeten the cider. Now I understand - so its merely a fraction of pear juice and mostly cider then. Another neat idea, as pears have a non fermentable sugar (I think its called 'sorbitol')... though I rather think that this will have been sweetened and pasteurised rather than just relying on a little sorbitol!!

Orchard Harvest gives off a bit of a fizz at opening, but settles down well. Well, when I say that, it is still a little lively. It's aroma is thick, tannic and you will get the pear notes in there too.

Happily, to taste, the apples win over the pears by quite a way. It is heavily bittersweet and the tannins prove to be quite drying. It's by no means a 'pyder' - although the pears are present in the mouth initially, it disappears quickly for the sake of the cider. This is an earthy cider - I would hazard more medium dry than medium (when you account for the drying tannin). There is some acid in here, but it is way in the background.

The aftertaste continues to be long, earthy and very western in style. And longer still. Very nice. Its generally a very well done cider - tasty and deep in flavour, albeit a little bit lively.

A score of 78/100 proves I like this one - bronze apple for Ashgrove.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Juice in cider

Sorry for bumping the Ashgrove review... don't worry - it hasn't gone anywhere:-) Sometimes other things come up that have the potential to be both interesting and potentially useful in fighting the cause of what is important for cider.

So, I have been asked to promote this little one question survey. It's actually very straightforward. If you drink cider, how much juice content do you think should be in there? Here is the link: 

Yeah, yeah. I do try to stay impartial, but I realised this could have ramifications. While juice isn't everything that makes a cider great, just looking at the gold apples on here they are all 'full juice', traditionally made and cared about. And you would be surprised what levels of juice are in your more common ciders too! 

However, I don't want to influence your choice... go on, take the survey. Lets hope that Nooks Yard publishes the data so we can all see where the drinking public are on the subject of real cider.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Tutts Clump Diamond Jubilee Cider

Well, 2012 was the year of the Diamond Jubilee and, I must say I was very happy to take the day off. We even had a little party on the neighbours drive, with Union Jack cupcakes and Pimms. Very British. Actually, I thought it was a good, modest celebration. Now, there had to be one cider maker who succumbed to the temptation to produce a Jubilee cider. In fact, two were. One I failed to buy, which was (I think) a Sheppy's.

The other is this, from Tutts Clump in Berkshire - the same Tutts Clump that produced a 'Royal Wedding' cider the previous year (after all, isn't Berkshire the 'Royal' county?) Hold on, let me just check what's on in 2013! Who knows, I may predict a new Tutts Clump cider before it is made:-) OK, sorry. Lets get back to the cider. So, Diamond Jubilee ciders... I think they are a bit of a gimmick... really good cider surely stands up on its own and doesn't need a crutch? Well, yes. However, judging with a clear head and a measure of objectivity, a grand name like Jubilee cider ought to be an opportunity for a celebration of cider, eh.

The first (sensible) comment I have to make about this is that it is 4.5%. Thats not so much a cider as a lager strength. A little unfair as that may sound, this surely must have been cut to get to that strength. Still, in the current environment, where producers are being encouraged to 'knock' alcohol content by percentage points it could be justified. I am surprised though from a traditional cider maker.

It pours out very pale gold with something of a large fizz about it. I also notice that there is some sediment at the bottom of the bottle, so some bottle conditioning is present (it has been sat around since July/August, which could mean it has conditioned all the more.

Tutts Clump commonly produce cider from dessert and culinary fruit - they are very similar to Mr Whiteheads in this respect. The smell on this cider confirms that Diamond Jubilee  is along those lines. It also seems to be pretty sweet smelling too.

Being as straight as possible about this cider, I have to confess that I am disappointed with the taste. It is quite watery (remember the 4.5%) and actually rather cloying from the sweetener used to make it, what I believe, far too sweet. There may be a touch of tannin in here, but for the most part it is sweet and acid... to he point that if I did detect tannin it must have been by accident.

The aftertaste is merely an extension of the same, and the sweetener really does grab you for a long time!.

Sorry Tutts Clump. I really don't like slating real cider producers (well, I don't like slating any cider producers really) but I don't feel the celebration in my glass this evening. I like the sentiment of the cider, but to be honest that is about as far as I can go. I think the score reflects my tastebuds pretty well - 58/100.

Monday 19 November 2012

Marks and Spencers Herefordshire Vintage Cider

Right, we need to leave the single varieties and apple varieties there for the moment. It's not just because I have drunk all those I had (although... I have:-), its that there are a lot of other ciders lining up to be tried and it would be nice to start to get through some of them before Christmas! No doubt some enterprising member of my family will find something I haven't tried before. Well, I guess that may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but I might get money for cider (hint hint to the family!)

This Marks and Spencers cider has been sat around for a while - and makes a good start back on the blends for me. Why? Well, because most people who can get to a M&S ought to able to buy it and try it for themselves, that's why. It is made for them by that prolific 'own brand' manufacturer, Westons (it says so on the front of the bottle). Being Marks and Spencers, on the upper end of the ubiquitous supermarket chains, it has an ingredients list. Ummmmm. Played around with more than aptly describes what it says. I am not even sure what an acidity regulator is, although something in the back of my head suggests it regulates highly acidic juice - possibly dessert fruit... possibly even cookers???

One thing that is interesting is that the apples (whatever the apple content is**) are all from a single orchard and include Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Michelin. I am very familiar with these three apples and at least 2 are among my favourite varieties. Both Dabinett and HMJ are faily big hitters for tannin, so I ought to expect a good amount of it in this cider. So, with these three varieties in the blend - why do you need an acidity regulator???

By taking a further look at the bottle, I see it is 6.5%, so at least its within normal range for cider.

**this comment may be both unkind and unfair... although I have been told by a member of Weston's own staff that "all our ciders start at 14-15%

It pours light golden and moderately carbonated. It smells bittersweet and light too, although for the first time in a while I am getting a bit of sulphite as well. Then the taste. It is sweet with an understated tannin and a good measure of acid.

It is quite syruppy though, and whilst it is very easy to drink (I guess that is its point) I am finding it a touch bland and, well, 'regulated'.

There is a short aftertaste, which is quite watery on the tongue. I am a bit sad that I didn't get the full measure of the quality cider fruit that went into the blend. I had really hoped it would deliver too. I still have hopes that Weston's will surprise me one day (and despite my whining, they really aren't bad ciders). However, I should have guessed at the ingredients list really.

A slightly tight score of 64/100 for this one. Above average but no cigar... I mean, apple.

Friday 16 November 2012

Gillow Kingston Black Cider

Okay, last one for this round of single variety ciders. I have to admit, I have learned something from this exercise - you see, as a cider maker I am interested in ciders expressing themselves differently - not simply the dry, medium and sweet that many ciders can be found. As a full juice cider producer, there are only two ways of doing this: through process and through choice of ingredients.

I love the idea of 'western' and 'eastern' style of ciders because they are very different. However, that is not the same as all cider varieties = western and all dessert = eastern. In this regard, eastern is more tricky as there are more dessert varieties that make bad cider. For me, you need to hunt down the very best. No, I am not going to provide a list, although there are a few obvious bad choices - Bramley, Braeburn, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious are all poor choices in my view (I understand that a properly ripe Golden Delicious does work... in America!)

The same is true of cider varieties, so I am still inclined to feel that blending is best. But that doesn't have to simply be as many varieties as you can get your hands on! I have tried some really interesting combinations where only 2 or 3 varieties are chosen. And that is really the point of this exercise. Try, say, a Brown Snout with a lighter variety, say Michelin, and you could well be onto a winner. Acid and tannin in balance with Michelin rounding of the edges of both tannin and acid...

Clearly the obvious final choice for these SV reviews had to Kingston Black. I have tried a few already on Cider Pages, but I hope I can approach this one a little differently.

What is Kingston Black then? Well, apart from reportedly being the ultimate vintage quality apple, it is a mild bitter sharp apple, with a bit of tannin in them that gives it more balance than many other apple varieties. What do I think of them??? Well, I am a bit ambivalent. They are a pain to grow well and are very fickle with fruit which can be prone to brown rot. However, my experience is not necessarily prescriptive and they do produce really good juice. Add to this the fact that I think, like Bramley, Kingston Black has been over promoted and you will understand what I have against it. But then you come back to the quality of the juice and I doubt anyone could truly dislike this variety.

On to Gillows version of the SV Kingston Black then. In its bottle it is a golden liquid with a loose sediment at the bottom. This just means bottle conditioned (well, mostly it does... some filter and then add in dead yeast for effect and so they can call it 'cloudy scrumpy', but this definitely isn't that!) On opening there is a nice fizz - a product of bottle conditioning, although as the sediment is fairly free it does mean that you get a bit of floating yeast in the glass.

Its aroma is fairly light and fruity. It is earthy but at the same time I don't get a whole lot of tannin in the smell. This is definitely Kingston Black - just a little lighter than I am used to.

The taste is sharp and fruity with a little tannin which doesn't really interfere with the fruitiness too much. This is odd - Kingston Black is a bold cider apple with big flavour... I think the driest cider I ever tried was a Kingston Black single variety... this is almost a watered down version. The tannin and fruit is fairly weak, although the sharpness is most definitely there,

There is a short aftertaste, which is pleasant. Actually, this cider is odd and NOT entirely great all the way through. This isn't Kingston Black as I know it - and I have tried a few now. It could be 'terroir' but I think its much more than this...

This cider holds a lesson - of sorts - for cider drinkers and makers alike. You can take an apple like a Kingston Black and make a cider from it. And this cider will taste different from a Kingston Black cider that was made in a different part of the country (indeed - different country too). Why? Well, as with wine, each and every tree grows in different conditions. Each region is subject to different climate/weather. And even the way an apple is harvested, kept and pressed may have a bearing on the outcome. Consistency is not something that we should aspire to as cider makers! Embracing difference is actually pretty liberating:-)

Now, the question I have with this version of Kingston Black is whether there has been a bit of jiggery pokery in the process of production. At 6.6 its not a bad strength at all, but it just simply doesn't have a number of KB 'key markers' for me. Saying that, it is not horrible. A score of 68/100 is not quite a bronze apple.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Gwatkins Norman Cider

The idea of a 'Norman' apple is a little vague. Yes, it is a variety that originates from Normandy - and they know how to produce a good cider in Normandy. However, there isn't simply one 'Norman' apple; in fact, the information on the label attests to this and says "The Norman Cider apple was imported from Normandy in France. There are half a dozen varieties of the same name, which vary in size and shape, but many of them share the same flavour."

I will be interested to see if this cider shares a similar flavour profile to the French cidre's I have tried. As a bittersweet variety, Bulmers Norman (the variety or 'Norman' that appears to be the most readily available in the UK) was - as the name suggests - developed by HP Bulmer... probably back in the day when Bulmers were producing more traditional ciders. This is undoubtedly because the trees are high yielding more than any vintage quality... I have heard they are fairly tough to process (although never tried them myself).

OK, lets get on to the cider - for the first time with a UK cider the bottle is corked. This is common for French cidre but crown caps and ROPP plastic screwtops are very much the common currency in this country. OK, not exactly worth any points for the cider, but I find this kind of stuff interesting!

Its appearance is slightly a slightly orangey golden cider (amber may best describe it). It is flat and clear and, boy, it smells sweet. There is a little fruit behind the sweetness, but bear in mind this is a medium - and its all of its medium monika!

The taste is curious. It is very gentle but with a moderate tannin running through it. When I say gentle, I mean that you need to pay attention to get the most out of it. To be honest, the sweetening gets in the way a bit too much - although it really is a pleasant cider and worth trying (one thing about single varieties is that each type is different - as each variety of apple is different... mostly:-)

The aftertaste is long but quite low key.

Norman apples are more often used as an 'also ran' fruit - making a contribution to a blend rather than being used as a stand out personality. Its not a bold or brash cider apple, its much more delicate than that (and really doesn't deserve all the sweetening!). I liked this cider though; its nice to have to sit and think about a cider every now and again... and that says a lot for the Norman apple.

This cider scored 70/100, so another bronze apple awarded.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Once Upon A Tree Dabinett Cider (2010)

And so we move back to a trusted and respected apple variety, made by a producer whom I trust and respect - and who should know how to handle an apple like Dabinett... This cider, made by Once Upon A Tree comes in their standard 750ml bottle and can be expected to be flat, polished and expressive of the qualities that Dabinett has as an apple. OK, apart from the filtered bit I am good with that - although their USP is really presenting cider in a wine like way.

What is Dabinett then? Well, for starters I am a little confused by the spelling of its name: is it one 't' or two? Coming from Middle Lambrook in Somerset, the original Dabinett tree is said to have been  found by chance, growing in a hedge, at the beginning of the 20th century by William Dabinett. It is a moderate bittersweet fruit - in my experience the tree is a weak grower and the fruit can be a little fickle and not exactly generous. However, it's juice is regarded as vintage quality and I certainly agree with this.

There is an alternative to Dabinett called the Black Dabinett. This is meant to be very similar but more resistant to disease - though I haven't seen any SV ciders from this. What I can tell you is if you want to buy either a Dabinett or Black Dabinett tree to grow yourself, plan well ahead. I am not sure if it is short supply or whether these are very popular but as soon as planting season begins (generally November/December in the UK) they are all sold out!

On to the cider. I am expecting a soft tannin and very fruity flavour (as is Dabinetts want - did I mention I have worked with Dabinett for a few years now:-) And the aroma is very much that - lots of fruit with a soft tannic smell to it.

I do worry that the level of 'polish' that Once Upon A Tree give their ciders via filtering removes too much of the harsh edges of a cider - although it looks lovely. And sure enough, although the taste is really nice it has definitely lost much of the earthy feel of a Dabinett. Mind you, it is all there. Fruit, tannin and a really gentle background acid (almost non existent). Mmmm, this is the real deal though - loads of Dabinett flavour. The fruit is actually quite funky in a pleasant way. However, the level of filtering to produce such a clear and bright drink does risk the cider being a little one dimensional... after all, as much as cider isn't beer, it also isn't wine (I am currently re-reading Golden Fire, a history of cider written by CAMRA bod Ted Bruning... he is quite fond of drawing comparisons between beer, wine and cider and my response to this is that it isn't the same thing... though he is quite right to draw the comparison:-)

The aftertaste is of a medium length, although wanes fairly quickly from the fruitiness to the tannin and a slight petroleum flavour of the apple. Incidentally, petroleum is probably a bad choice of words - its not really a bad thing.

This cider scores 73/100, which is a bronze apple. It is nicely presented and tastes lovely, but I do just wonder if less filtering would have been more of a benefit.