Wednesday 29 February 2012

Godshill Cider Co. Rumpy Pumpy Scrumpy

First off, being 1 year into this blogging thing, I thought it was about time the blog had a theme that fit with apples better. Hope you like these apples:-) Also, it would be very rude not to say thanks to everyone who has read the pages and got something from it. It would be nonsense to think of these ramblings as 'just for my own use' or some kind of personal journal - especially when there have been over 23,000 page views so far. Thank you all!!

So I was recently away for a romantic weekend - a nice, relaxing trip to the Isle of Wight.. Aha. The Isle of Wight has 2 cider producers (well, I think it has 3, but I couldn't be sure). And as the Isle is only about 5 feet long (hee hee) I thought it would be a nice gesture to drag the good lady around to pick some samples up:-)

And so we come to the first of this crop; Rumpy Pumpy Scrumpy. OK. Silly name... I have heard worse though. Its described as a medium dry and comes with a list of carious cider varieties used in its making. This list includes some varieties that I have to admit I have never heard of (Sweet Cleave, Tan Harvey and Town Farm no. 59 to name them). So this should be a nicely tannic and well balanced cider. The apples (well the ones I know about) cover all the bases - sweet, bittersweet, sharp and bittersharp.

The cider is flat when poured... yummy! I hope the medium dry is on the dry side too. Its a pale golden colour and when you smell it, it smells well matured and clean; a nice cidery taste which has a hint of smokiness to it that makes me think its been matured well.

On the first taste, this is a very nice cider - its a little sharp, and the sweetness comes through loud and clear. There are some very mild tannins to it as well. Mind you, there are not stacks of them, and the acidity wins through by quite a way. Its more eastern than western counties in fact (despite the use of a broad variety of cider fruit.

This doesn't detract from my enjoyment though. in fact (and I shouldn't muddy the reviewing waters here - I am sure I made one similar to this a couple of years back. But then I was using desert fruit as well as cider fruit... well, I was using whatever I could get my hands on!)

It would appear to have been filtered, which may have removed much of the tannin. It is there, just in the background a bit too far for me. The aftertaste is pleasant though, and on the whole I recommend this cider. Its just a little less balanced than its label promises.

A good bronze apple for the original Godshill cider, with 75/100 from me. Worth the trip (and the grief!)

Sunday 26 February 2012

Marks and Spencers Breton Cider

One feels that one needs to be a little technical with this cider. After all, M&S don't make cider themselves, so the provenance of this cider is a good question. Not that it makes a difference to the score, the cider gets judged from the glass and not from any odd fact I may have handy to pad out reviews and make them more informative. After all, just reviewing cider without some context is not appreciating the whole story of the drink. Cider is like that. Its not (generally) found in a factory off the M4. Its not (generally) made at any old time to suit demand. Its a created and (generally) living thing. In a real sense (cider-bore alert!) each cider has a unique journey to tell from orchard to glass involving (generally) people that are passionate about their 'thing' - be it apple trees, pressing and fermentation, delivery and service. Its a great industry full of (generally) very nice and enthusiastic people.

OK, back on track:-) This cider is made from (quote from the label) 5 different varieties of Breton Apples from Guiller Freres in Britanny. OK. My geography is quite frankly rubbish. I got sent out of class several times for making farm animal noises during the lesson, so it's safe to assume I didn't pay attention. Mind you, we didn't have Google maps then eh. So, Guillet Freres is a place in Brittany, rather than the producer of the cider. Sadly, I cannot find out who made it. Never mind. It wasn't Marks though:-)

Lets get on and try it eh. Well, it certainly has the typical foamy carbonation to it; just right for a French style of cider. And it has a toffee apple smell to it as well. Appetising if not a little sweet smelling (pardon the pun). Its at this point that I looked at the bottle to find it weighs in at 2% vol. That makes this what is known as a 'douce'.The fermentation is made to be very weak and stops at a low alcoholic volume. Its a very sweet style of cider and requires a bit of a sweet taste.

And it is indeed incredibly juicy and sweet. So at least it fits the expectation... albeit it would have been nice to have known that it was a douce. The taste is gentle apple juice with no real tannin but a bit of acid floating around. Its a very posh appletise with a touch of alcohol to make it an adults drink:-)

Saying all that, I am actually enjoying it more than I expected to. So many of the UK ciders are awash with apple juice these days that the taste is not unfamiliar. It is far too sweet as a cider for me, but as a jucie based drink it passes very nicely. As an aside, I used to think that using apple juice to sweeten cider must be the most natural and unintrusive method of sweetening a cider. Of course, adding juice means pasteurising the cider to stop it from fermenting back down to dry again (cider does that!). However, I am now convinced that although it may be less 'artificial' than a sweetener, it certainly is intrusive to the overall taste!

So, its juicy and a little alcoholic. Its got a juicy aftertaste too, which does linger but tastes of apple juice. OK, its not going to be for the hardened drinker, but for its style (which is not obvious from the label) its not bad. The score of 66 is reflective for the style of cider it is.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Orchards Wye Valley Cider

Why is it that the 'cider' pubs I have been in recently all have stacks of wood? Is it just trendy or is it trying to say something about cider? I have no idea, but felt it was worth a comment. Still at the 'Cider Tap' in London for this one; another cider from a polypin.

In actual fact, I tasted four ciders on sale from polypins before choosing this one. In order, they were the one I have just reviewed, then a sweet cider that was not really my thing, this Orchards and the other, produced by a well known Somerset cider maker, which really tasted as though there was quite a lot wrong with it - mouse and a bit of vinegar I think. I won't mention the producer as they are very respected and it would be unfair. However, even though it seems that London is just relearning the pleasure of quality cider, I would never knowingly sell cider to anyone if it had these problems... both of which would probably have been there at point of sale (unless the sale was a long time ago).

Anyway, this is a review of Orchards Wye Valley Cider. I am familiar with Orchards as a producer. I believe they are more well known for their perries, being one of the few who have spear headed the growth in full juice perry. Based in Chepstow, they have a couple of orchards in the Wye Valley and have won a number of awards for their cider... so I am looking forward to tasting this.

Well, its very cloudy, very golden and very still! Mind you, it only has a faint nose which is cider fruit and something else I can't quite place. Still, its unfiltered and natural, and quite often these ciders have a faint smell - no bubbles to push it up your nose eh!

Now, on tasting this review gets interesting - though I have to say I actually found this one a little difficult to get all the way through. There is a sharp contrast between the sharp and tannin - something that makes the cider come alive in the mouth. Its not so much that the two balance each other out, its more a full on battle between the two. Generally I like this in a cider. It gives an individual character to the drink. However, the sharp is really very tangy which is almost ascetic. Now, I don't think this is vinegar in any way, but it makes the drink really quite challenging.

There is about a second or so to taste the cider before the weirdness takes over where you can taste the fruit within the cider. Its nice up to that point. Afterwards, its all acid/tangy and the aftertaste is the same.

I do have a theory about this. Well, its a guess, but it does kind of explain the oddities about it - could this actually be a whiskey barrel cider? I know that people do this as a feature of a cider - and Orchards do sell it as a 'special'... just a guess but would explain both the oddness of the smell and some of the taste too. In any case, I am not convinced that this example is representative of Orchards cider and I would love to find another opportunity to re-review this review.

There has been occasion previously when I seriously considered pulling a review for fear of offense. Come to think of it, that was in a polypin too. However, I have to see it as I find it at the time and at least if I find it again I can compare the two. One thing I would say though is that if anyone reading this comes across the Cider Tap please let me know what you think of it.

Monday 20 February 2012

WM Watkins and Sons Oak Cider

I have already said that I have no intention of reviewing cider pubs or events on this blog. Its not the purpose of the blog. In the light of this, I have now encountered one of the newer 'cider experiences.

The 'Cider Tap', near Euston station, London, is worth mentioning as it is a positive and encouraging sign that real, artisan cider is gaining recognition. In a small bar opposite the 'Euston Tap' - a real ale alternative, I can only guess that the Taps are in old gatehouses for either the station or else some old estate. Measuring about 4m x 4m (although there are winding metal stairs up to a second level (not one for the drunk!), its a pocket sized gem in the middle of the capital - a place renowned for its lack of decent cider - with the exception perhaps New Forest Ciders stall at Borough Market:-)

This pub offers none of the usual suspects - although they have gone for the polypin - only ideal for cider if you plan on getting rid of it within a few days or want to store it for a long period (cider + air = bad cider). Bag in boxes may not look as traditional as a plastic tub (?!) but do the job far better. As if to prove this, one of the four ciders sold from polypins suffered from mouse (probably not due to the polypin itself) and a couple of the others were oxidised to degrees. Apart from the mouse (which the bar maid described as tasting like cheese!) none were undrinkable. Alternatively, there are perhaps half a dozen decent and interesting bottles to choose from (I bought a dry Orchard Pig to take home:-)

Enough about the place, this is meant to be about the cider.

WM Watkins are a welsh cider producer from near Abergavenny. Apart from knowing that they produce both cider and perry, and use whiskey barrels for some of it I cannot find much more than that. Well, you don't have to have a website, do you?!

The Oak Cider is cloudy, golden and still. Yum. It also smells of fruit, with a smokiness that suggests its well kept and matured. On tasting, it is a good fruity cider with plenty of untamed tannin within and little acid to counter it. Whilst it was pitched as a medium dry, I would think its more likely a dry from the taste (although this could just be the tannins). Its a nice, traditional drink with a long aftertaste that is light and fruity.

My money is that this cider is both unfiltered (obviously) and unpasteurised (it has been allowed to mature fully). However, its also a little oxidised too. I have to take it into account, although it's probably that it is sat in air in a polypin. Still, at least it doesn't taste of cheese:-) Talking of taste - I don't really get the oak too much. Sure, its a rounded flavour - maybe I just don't get it.

The score of 77/100 gives this a bronze apple. Its a good cider.

Friday 17 February 2012

Duchy Originals Herefordshire Vintage Cider

A Duchy Originals from Waitrose this one. OK, not quite. Its a cider produced for them, this time by a "family owned Herefordshire Cider Maker, established in 1880". Not much research required there then. Its on their home page. Its even in one of their bottles:-)

So, in the spirit of my review yesterday of the M&S cider, I have now gone back through the reviews and marked up the Weston's made ciders - which includes Sainsbury's (again). Well, before anyone starts to moan about how they didn't make it themselves just ask yourself this: would you want them to make it? No, me neither.

A big feature of Duchy products is their organic status. Yet another thing I could become a G.O.M. about (Grumpy Old Man for the uninitiated). It has all the labels and logo's you could want, but I can't help thinking "is this Weston's Organic relabelled?" Sorry, Weston's Organic isn't anymore is it... Weston's Wilde Wood (not sure if the e is actually correct, but it ought to be eh:-)

Now, this is a nice golden coloured cider, with a pleasant aroma. Forgetting about the organic bit (it really is much the same thing, honest!) the first thing one has to do is admire how positively clear this cider is! I have seen the numerous sheet filters at Westons and wondered why they use so many. This cider just about glows with it's brightness! Its also fairly well carbonated too - another fairly standard feature of most Westons.

Its a good cider though. OK, perhaps a tiny bit on the watery side compared to some I have tried recently. But the flavour is there and it is satisfying. Its well balanced too - mild tannin (pretty mild but not invisible) offsets the reasonably prominent acid and creates a good taste. A little engineered, but good. The aftertaste is good too, and pretty long as well.

Organic Vintage doesn't declare what is it, but I would say its a medium dry, and being a touch 'juicy' I would also say its seen some apple juice and pasteurisation.

All in all, not a bad cider. It scores 65/100 which, although its not an apple, is not a bad score either.  If you are interested, Westons Organic (as it was then) scored 60; so the two are pretty comparable. Maybe this one just caught me in a better mood (which just shows how subjective reviews really are!)

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Marks and Spencer Somerset Dabinett Cider

OK, this is starting to get funny. I present for your delectation the classic, the vintage, the oak matured Somerset Dabinett Cider from Marks and Spencers. Actually, its name is too long for the pdf field for the name, but here it is in its full glory: Somerset Oak Matured Dabinett Vintage Cider (2010). Now, take don't forget to take a breath:-)

So, why is this funny. Well, M&S don't make just cider; actually it would appear they don't make cider - in this instance its our old friends Thatchers once again. Now don't they have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies!

This has two things I am watching out for - well, three if you count the fact that its a Thatchers (although forgive me if I cannot exactly remember the taste and profile of all their range of ciders). Firstly, its an S.V., a single variety - even after so many ciders I am still not converted. Secondly, its matured in oak. Traditional? Yes it is. Serves a purpose? Yes, wood is probably a the best material to naturally start a malolactic fermentation (not a fermentation at all really, but a process that rounds off the edges and is widely felt to create a vintage cider). Does it actually add anything special to the flavour? I am not convinced of this - cider is not sat in wood for long enough. OK, if it were new oak I would bet it would add a woody flavour to the cider,which is not necessarily a good thing, but 100 year old vats???? Hmmmm.

Nevertheless, its a hard job trying ciders and one has to persevere... sorry - I am actually looking forward to it.

It has a bit of a flourish to start off with, but its moderately carbonated and a nice golden colour. It even smells of dabinett too - a moderately deep smell. It doesn't smell of juice either (I think I have tried too many recently that have had too much juice in - maybe I am getting over sensitive about it!). And then there is the taste. Sure, there is dabinett there. Its rather nice actually. A little on the sweet side of medium dry... its really a medium in terms of taste, although the bubbles could be lifting its profile a little too. Its a little watery, which is a shame, but not unexpected. Some other Thatchers ciders share this too; looking back at my records I haven't tried a Thatchers Dabinett though.

The aftertaste is fairly thin and sweet too, although really not unpleasant at all. I guess this is like most other thatchers I have tried, competent but not exactly hard working in the stunning category. Its well done but perhaps a bit safe.

As an afterthought, I went back through my reviews to pick out the Thatchers from the 'own brands' and guess what. Nearly all of them turn out to be made by Thatchers. They have this market covered eh! (I have updated the labels to now reflect the Thatchers heritage).

A score of 64 is comparable with the other own brands. Sorry about the quality of the photo. Not one of my best!

Saturday 11 February 2012

Gwynt y Ddraig Dabinett Cider

So, having mentioned it in a recent review it all but jumped of the cider shelf at me shouting "drink me, drink me!!". Therefore, here is the Gwynt y Ddraig Dabinett cider. Its a medium dry, so more my kind of drink than their Scrumpy was. Its also a single variety; well, we shall see where that takes us.

Its a nice golden colour with a moderate fizz that isn't particularly persistent, so it levels out quite well too. And the aroma is encouraging too - there is definitely a dabinett or two in there (which I guess is an advantage for a dabinett cider!).

To taste it is a little sweeter than I expected, although its a deep west country taste with plenty of body to it. Its also very cidery - much the same as other dabinett ciders I have tried. I guess if Gwynt had gone a little lighter on the sweetness it would have improved it a bit for me, although I am most certainly not every drinker so it can't really be too harshly judged.

The aftertaste is sweet and tannic - pleasant. However, I am getting a good dose of acid too which for a bittersweet apple is also unexpected. OK, so in my reckoning it has been adjusted a little - balanced out I guess you could say. But its still not a bad cider at all.

This is what I would call an 'in-between' drink. Its not hardcore or uncompromising cider, but its not apple juice or alcopop either. If my friend were thinking about moving on from Magners, I would point to this kind of cider as a stepping stone (although we all have different tastes, so it might be just right for them).

Not on my all time top 10, but a bronze apple with 74 points. If you offered it to me, I would most certainly drink it:-)

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Coronation Tap Exhibition Cider

I have no intention to start reviewing pubs or events on here - cider is enough! However, when you find a cider that is only available through one outlet its kind of hard not to. After all, in this case the environment is all a part of the experience of the cider, isn't it?

On the whole, the Corrie Tap is a bit of an institution within Bristol - situated in the historical area of Cliften (I ought to have made that 'Studenty' as that is what is really is). I find Clifton as a place a bit trendy with designer outlets, restaurants and even town houses (London in miniature with a Bristolian outlet:-) Within this environment, the Corrie Tap is a pokey little pub at the end of a cobbled street. It does feel a lit bigger inside though, with wooden everything (and lots of varnish) - a smallish bar area too. And behind the bar? Lots of ciders - mainly of the Thatchers, Westons and Gaymers ilk, but all sold from bottles, on tap and from several wooden barrels. Oh, and there is some real ale too.

The 'Tap' has lots of history itself. Going by the boards outside the pub it was established in the mid-late 18th century and has had some colourful landlords. It is proud of its 'ciderhouse' status; with chalk boards declaring what the latest offerings are with the percentages alongside. You can even buy badges saying 'I've been Corried'... which brings me back to the main point. This is a student pub with a reputation. If lots of students and music are not your thing, then I would get there early in the evening and avoid on a Friday/Saturday.

The bar staff are friendly, helpful and (the guy I spoke to was) well informed. Having described the ciders for me, I asked if they sold anything from smaller, artisan producers. Sadly, no. They have a great relationship with Thatchers and do not vary their cider. So for the moment anyway you won't find 'guest' ciders or something that isn't available via 100 other outlets... that is, except for the Exhibition cider.

Exhibition cider is produced for the Tap by Thatchers (hence the labels). At 8.5% it is all you can get from a cider in terms of strength. When I ordered it came in a pre-filled half from a large tray of halves. "70% of all our sales are Exhibition cider", I was informed. At over £2 per half, its a good earner for them (although bloomin steep for a half pint!). They must have trendy students to aim it at!

So, what is this cider? Its a slightly sparkling, dark golden cider which is bright and has a faint cider aroma. It also has a deceptively mild taste. Not juicy at all (although it is very sweet) but fairly deep with a rounded tannin and very little acid behind it. You can tell that it is Thatchers to a degree (it has that 'Green Goblin' feel to it). However, I am not sure its just another Thatchers relabelled... its too strong for a start!

The aftertaste is tannin but mostly sweetness. It goes down OK. The sweetness is a very big feature of Exhibition cider and is persistant all the way through the drink. Not really my thing, but I have to remember that this is geared up for students in the main - and why not? It is a competant cider which I am glad I have tried.

As a small note, I was seriously tempted to up it by a few points for the decent music playing. I always felt that Muse goes well with cider:-)

If I find myself in the right place and the right time (i.e. Bristol during a week day at about 6pm - the Tap only opens after 5.30pm during the week) then I would visit the Coronation Tap again. I would also fairly likely order another half of Exhibition cider - well, I have reviewed all the other ciders they offer! I would also take my cider learning friend there too.

73 points earns a bronze apple for Exhibition Cider and the Corrie Tap and perhaps is a little high for the drink itself. Wonder if it would score as well outside of the pub? Its not one of the greats, but at least its not an alcopop!

Sunday 5 February 2012

Gwynt y Ddraig Farmhouse Scrumpy

Gwynt y Ddraig. Farmhouse Scrumpy. This should be interesting. Add to this that it was found in Tesco in Cardiff (the only place I have ever seen it). This cider ought to be a good example of a 'main blend' - a staple blend of a quality producer of cider. And I like good blended cider.

Another thing about this cider is that its in a 5 litre bag in box. So I guess it had better be good eh! Bag in boxes are a neat solution to serving a small(ish) quantity of draught cider - though don't expect it to be sparkling!! This one, a 5 litre box, is just the right size for a fridge too.

It a deep colour with no fizz at all and the aroma of cider fruit (maybe a gentle apple juice behind it too - well, it is a medium!. It certianly looks appetising enough.

Oh dear, sadly, its flavour is almost killed by juice. What a shame! OK, there is tannin is there a plenty but is very overpowered by the sweet juice (if its not juice, then it is a very odd sweetener:-) There is also very little discernible acid in it - the cider is tasty but doesn't really compete with the sweetening - which goes for the aftertaste too. Its a bit like alcoholic apple juice - I don't doubt that it's all juice, just that there is too much of it that has not been turned in to cider!

For me, this drink doesn't compare with their other ciders - true, it is a medium which I don't normally go for, but I would have thought it would have been thoughtfully sweetened - much in the same way that Perry take care to just sweeten enough but are sure not to overdo things and kill the cider.

On the positive side, its not repulsive. I can drink it just fine. But then it was a toss up between trying this and the Gwynt Dabinett... oh well, we all make the wrong choice sometimes (and I do still have the Dabinett to look forward to).

I am glad I tried it - although I do now have 5 litres to get through. Luckily I have a weekend with the in-laws coming up and father in law does like a sweet cider from time to time:-)

A score of 64 is disappointing for the producer of such things as Orchard Gold and Black Dragon. But, its better than a kick in the teeth eh!

Thursday 2 February 2012

Tomos Watkin Taffy Apple Cider

A cider from Wales, this. A cider made in Swansea and purchased in Cardiff at a Tesco. I am a little confused about who actually makes it. Well, I know who makes it, but I have no idea who or what Tomos Watkin is. The producer (well, you have to put your company details on the label) is The Hurns Brewery Co.

So, a little web searching later (just to prove I am no ale drinker) reveals the Tomos Watkins is clearly the trading name for said brewing company. The website is all real ale, plus a cider. Looks the sort of company who should care about their products. Lets try it then.

Its a very pale golden colour (I recorded yellow in my notes), its also very foamy and fizzy and bright. The aroma is pretty faint too - this is starting to sound a little familiar to a certain type of cider, and not the sort of thing that should come from a company who cares about what goes in to their produce.

As expected, the taste is also fairly weak - although there is some tannin and acidity to it, which comes through well. Its all very balanced and safe though.

I would compare this cider to the others in the category - Magners, Bulmers etc. and I ought to make the point that each supermarket has starting adopting a non Magners/Bulmers etc. cider which is pitched in a more 'local' fashion. This has good potential but sadly on many occasions this fails to be any more than a locally produced commodity cider... More full juice ciders please:-)

Just a comment though - this is a company who clearly care about their real ale. Re-looking at the website, their cider page simply says "No ice, no blarney, no gimmicks. Straight from the fridge, chills to the core." So, not much content there, but I would just say this; is it any wonder I am sceptical about ciders and the marketing behind them? 

A score of 50/100 backs up my comments here and puts it well and truly in the middle of things.