Friday 30 March 2012

Gwatkin Yarlington Mill Cider

Ha ha. I have been lucky enough to get back to Bristol recently... and although the Bristol Cider Shop was fairly lightly stocked it was fortunately lightly stocked with lots of things I haven't tried before:-)

So, here we have another Gwatkins cider. Yet another Yarlington Mill single variety to compare with all the other YM single varieties. There seem to be a staple few that lots of producers make - Kingston Black (clearly the most popular single variety), Dabinett (almost as popular). Yarlington Mill must be right up there with them too. And actually that is not a bad thing - its a great apple. I have said all this before, haven't I??

When I write these reviews, often I will try them the day before and write up the tasting profile and notes before saving it and then coming back on another day - empty bottle in hand. Other times, I write up notes on the back of an envelope (when the 'puter) isn't handy enough to use. Only rarely do I get to write up my ramblings prior to trying a cider - or (as I am now) straight into a new blog post. In doing this one, I have noticed that this is review 151. Wow. That went fast! Have I really drunk 151 ciders in the last year?

This cider has a moderate fizz but is deep and reddy golden - exactly what to expect from a Yarlington Mill cider. The aroma is deep too and tannic, full bodied and deep. I am expecting the taste to be equal to this (if a little light on the acid... if its a true SV) And sure enough, not much acid behind the tannin. The tannin is a little light too - although this is almost certainly due to the sweetness of the drink.

Its at this point I notice its a medium. What is going on here? First Heck's Port Wine and now this Gwatkins... I do hope there is a dryer version and I was just unlucky that the Cider Shop only had these. OK, I suppose I should have paid more attention when I bought them. Saying that, both this and the Hecks are bordering on being too sweet to drink - is it just a bit too far?

I guess I am a little saddened by it... however, re-approaching this drink once the information has been absorbed, it is full bodied underneath the sweetness (although it is still a little hard to get beneath the sweetener).

Aftertaste is dominated by sweetness (as is the rest of the drink). A bit of tannin comes through. I have to say though that the medium sweetening is too much for this single variety to take. I have to admit that I have determined to hunt down a dryer version of this cider to review. I feel as though the review has done it a disservice as Gwatkins is a renowned artisan cidermaker.

A score of 70 sees a surprising bronze - I am sure the same cider but dryer will score significantly more.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Marks and Spencer Somerset Traditional Cider

Another Marks and Spencers - another Thatchers cider. I think they must make more cider for other people than for themselves. Yep, I know this is a common comment on Thatchers reviews, but I keep finding them under different names... so its worth repeating!

What is it about green bottles? I must have been spoiled with ciders in clear bottles. I like clear glass - you can see the golden/yellow and in one case orange glow of the cider without having to open it. Not so with green glass - its impossible to tell until its in the glass. Not that this cider was ever going to be anything other than golden and highly sparkling!

Now. Here is a thing. Occasionally, mainly on a full juice cider, you will find an ingredients list. But a cider from a major cidermaker??? A cider from a supermarket??? Fascinating! And, because its there, I can list it on here:-) This is not to criticise Thatchers or M and S - I ought to really award extra points for the transparency and honesty! Very brave! I think its worth listing as there is very little other opportunity to do so.

So. The biggest component... apple juice from concentrate. Next... Water. Then we have glucose syrup (not natural to apples), fructose syrup (more natural to apples), malic acid, Co2 and sulphites. Lastly, we have yeast. I could write an essay about this. I won't do that though as its a review and not an essay. OK, I may do a little bit...

First off, just because its made from concentrate does not always mean 'Chinese concentrate'. Often producers press apples and then concentrate for storage. The apple pressing season lasts 4 months at most in the UK, so the largest producers concentrate to store for making into cider later. They only have so much storage space eh. Is it the same once reconstituted? How much water is involved in that process and what percentage juice is a result of its reconstitution? (and don't forget that the water used in reconstitution of concentrate is not generally the same as the water used subsequently) Is this then chemically adjusted? OK, there is no space to answer any of this here. I jsut wanted to make the point that it is not necessarily bad.

Next, one could comment on the use of sugar. But then that may be also unfair - lots of large producers up the alcohol level of their cider - it makes more cider (that's maybe why the second largest part is water - its used to bring the alcohol level down to 5.5%).  And then malic acid is used to balance the cider out. The UK legal minimum juice content is 35%... most are a fair bit higher than that although do remember that a full juice cider would be greater than 85%. Also, if its reconstituted, the 35% is an even muddier concept!

I guess the most I would say (by way of pinning my colours to the mast) is that once you start on the road away from using just apple juice, you end up having to use more and more chemicals and rubbish to correct and 'bring back' the cider. At some point it stops being traditionally made and starts becoming a mere commodity. But then, that is modern industry and economics for you.

Now, I suspect I ought to review the cider now! Apologies to both Marks and Thatchers for riding roughshod over the review (though I guess they probably don't care).

As expected, this cider is a golden cider with a fairly high carbonation. Although the aroma is faint, it smells of both juice and toffee apple (and west country cider too). Its pleasant to look at and once the bubbles have subsided, which takes a while, its a good drink.

There is some tannin to this cider. There is a bit of acid too. In fact it is well balanced and a little character to suit it. I have to say it is a bit safe... though remember I tried the cider and wrote the comments about it before going on to write this and comment on labels etc. If anything, I do have another cider in mind when I drink this... yup, Green Goblin.

It has a short aftertaste which is as balanced as the cider itself. Don't get me wrong, it has a body to it. The aftertaste fades into an apple juice taste (though, in the spirit of a balanced cider its not particularly or overly juicy).

I think this is a cider that is for the masses. As Marks and Spencers only sell a very limited range of cider (and certainly not other brands generally) there is a place for a Green Goblin-esque cider from Thatchers in there. It has a character to it and is very drinkable.

A score of 65/100

Saturday 24 March 2012

Hecks Port Wine of Glastonbury Cider

Time for something special. No, I am not judging this one before I have tried it - although I have tried it before. I have only ever heard good things about both Hecks and about this particular product. I must admit that I am sure it was dry the last time I tried it though... this one is labelled as medium sweet. Oh, I do hope that the sweetness doesn't ruin it!!!

Hecks are a Somerset cider producer, found in Street, who make the real deal - heritage English cider through and through. No, not in the street - the place is called Street. And boy do they make some ciders. I don't think that they can really be compared to Thatchers in terms of volume, but certainly in terms of the number of potential ciders they produce. Just visit their website and see how many single varieties they have... I am sure they can't always all be available! I have to say that it also includes a Bramley cider... so Hecks are not afraid of trying stuff out!!

Port Wine of Glastonbury is not a wine. Nor is it port. Its a cider apple variety that has a reddish colour to its flesh (which makes the cider an odd colour). I don't know a huge amount about this apple, but would guess that by the end of the review I will know more - whether its a bittersweet or sharp etc.

Now, this pours out with  low carbonation and you can smell it from about a foot away. Fruity, cidery and a little bittersharp. Remember that this is a single variety - It is brightly orange and I have to say I am looking forward to it.

OK. The taste. Sweet:-( Very sweet. There is a stack of flavour as well though. It just leaps out of the glass at you. A moderate and fruity tannin - its really a fruity cider! There is an acid as well which is nicely balanced against the tannin. Not knowing how the variety performs for acid, I cannot tell if its been adjusted... I expect its been 'tweaked' a little. Saying that, it is really good. The only down side is that it is far, far too sweet. It doesn't overpower the flavour, so its either sensitively done or else the flavour is just huge! For the sweetness of the drink it is still very good. However, it would be better a little more dry (and I knew it was a medium sweet when I opened it... although I would say its maybe more than just medium sweet).

The aftertaste is moderately tannic, although there is always that undertone of sweet. The acid dies away fairly quickly. Overall, this is a very interesting cider. Superbly produced and delicious (although I have had to leave some gaps between sips so as not to overdo the sweetness.

A score of 83/100 Hecks earn their first silver apple from me. If it had been dry or medium dry, I am sure it would have been a gold!

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Godshill Cider Company Lazy Lob Cider

This is the last of the Godshill ciders I bought from the Isle of Wight. Shame really as I rather liked them, and truly recommend a trip to their shop if you are around that neck of the woods. And let's face it, the Isle of Wight isn't that big... if you find yourself on the island then you're not that far away from Godshill! Sure its touristy, but if you're visiting the island then I guess you would qualify:-)

Lazy Lob (nice name) is a light, yellow cider with a low carbonation and a light and fruity aroma to boot. Its bright though, as with the other Godshill ciders.

Its a nice, mellow flavour. More eastern than western style but it does have a gentle tannin that sits in the background. Lazy Lob is not bone dry by any stretch. The acid body to it lifts it and makes it refreshing. I guess the acid wins through in this cider - which is not especially balanced (but then it doesn't really have to be eh!).

The aftertaste is as faint as the aroma - not really either tannic or acidic.

Overall its a little watery, although very good. Think lemony and you have it (although I am sure there aren't any lemons in it:-) Not a bad cider at all which only just misses an apple (for me).

Sunday 18 March 2012

Duchy Originals Organic Herefordshire Cider

They don't do names by half at Duchy Originals for Waitrose do they?  The full monika for this one is 'Organic Herefordshire Reserve Dry Cider'. And breathe:-)

I love the way that this cider is in a 750ml bottle. The idea of sharing a bottle of cider fits well with how I see the drink. Its also a clear bottle, so you can see the golden fluid before its even open. Very inviting and warming too. I think Duchy have the packaging side of things nailed - classy clear label. So its just the name that tries a little too hard to cover all possible bases!

It may come as a shock and surprise to realise that Aston Manor make this cider for Waitrose under the name of Duchy Originals. I am not sure whether this is Aston Manor making it for Duchy who then supply it to Waitrose. It would fit in with the name for it to be three or even four parts removed... makes it much longer:-)

OK. This cider is low carbonation, golden and very bright. It looks really good actually. There is little smell from it however - although what there is smells just about right for a Hereforshire cider made from bittersweet/sharp fruit.

And it is a really nice cider. A good taste of fruit with a moderate body and tannin to it. There is acid too; understated but nicely balanced. And the aftertaste is as the taste - balanced, if a little short.

I guess if there is one criticism I would make of this cider, it is that it follows the rules a little too closely. Sure, its got character - but its a fairly ubiquitous Herefordshire character that is competent. Mind you, that fits with its classic and high end bottle, label and price. Its a civilised cider.

It scores 74 and earns a bronze medal.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Godshill Cider Co. Gait Crasher Cider

This is the second of three ciders I bought from Godshill Cider Company. Its made from a variety of apples hand picked on the isle of wight. This is going to be near as dammit a full juice cider fermented out to full dryness (perhaps with a little assistance from sugar to get it to its strength). It certainly looks golden and tempting in the bottle (with the exception of the name and pitch on the label!

Two things to start with. I am not sure if is actually 'Gait Crasher Strong Cider' or just 'Gait Crasher Cider'. Mind you, its a bit of a silly name though... but at that strength it would only take a few to be rather too real!

Its moderately fizzy and smells all cidery from the bottle. There is a faint toffee apple smell in there too, so perhaps there has been a bit of sweetening done (doh!)

To taste, it is fairly deep. Sure, it has been sweetened and this creates a little bit of an odd aftertaste. It has plenty of tannin going for it though and a real sharp kick towards the end of the mouthful. Nice but unexpected. I quite like it, although the sweetening is a little odd.

This sweetening is not apple juice - could be aspartame (I cannot remember the last time I tried a cider with saccharin, so cannot assume anything about that).  This is the other thing about sweetening cider. As I have noted previously, too much apple juice ruins a good cider. But at the same time the alternatives of artificial additives can leave an aftertaste too. I am really not sure which is better personally - I guess its all OK as long as it is done with care and sensitivity to the cider.

Anyway, back to this drink. It is very drinkable (so, mind the % or earn a headache!) and competent for a strong cider. It scores 73 so earns itself a bronze apple from me:-)

Monday 12 March 2012

Orchard Pig Dry Cider

I have very definitely been looking forward to this cider since trying the sweeter version. Ironically, I found it in a pub in London that sold take outs - the Cider Tap (aren't Londoners just lucky sods to have this on their doorstep!)

As with the medium, this is a full juice cider made by the artisan producer in Somerset. Why Orchard Pig? Well, I can only imagine that the producer looks out of their window at their spotted pigs and figured it was a good name to have. I have heard worse (and am just guessing. I certainly hope they didn't pay some marketing bod something for the name:-)

It does have a little bit of a flourish when opened and poured, but apart from that it's just golden and very bright. It is a shame that things are filtered quite so much - I guess they just look more appealing that way. One day I am going to go on tour and persuade various producers to let me sample their cider 'au naturale'!

The smell is deep cider although its a fairly light aroma in itself. The taste is just beautiful - lots of bitter sharp cider apples in this one I am sure. There is body a plenty, with an acid that matches perfectly with the tannin. Its not deathly drying - even as a dry. It feels a little controlled and reigned back. Scrumpy this is not. The aftertaste is warming although actually pretty short on the tongue. Sitting back and thinking it through the tannin is the overwhelming feature of this cider - the acid plays a supporting role. Very satisfying.

The only down side to this cider is that it is hard to come by. I found it by accident. I guess its the sweeter versions that Waitrose believes is the more popular. Sod that the dry is better!

At 91 points, Orchard Pig Dry joins the Gold Apple club. Very nice indeed... yum!

Friday 9 March 2012

Ross on Wye Cider & Perry Co. Headless Man

When you buy a few ciders that you haven't tried before, there is always one or two that are 'saved' - not sure why, but I get the feeling that they might be special or something. There is, of course, no sense in this behaviour. I hadn't tried any of them before so any one could have been special.

This is a Ross on Wye cider, this time fermented in run casks. So in some ways it ought to be special... I am not generally a big fan of enhanced cider be it by whisky/rum/port casks or by adding something extra like berries or rhubarb. However, I have to be willing to try stuff eh. It is a hard job:-)

Now, for me some 'cask' flavoured ciders are not bad; an understated flavour added to the cider is usually due to the cask having been used for a few years and can add to a cider. However, a new cask - especially a new cask which is not rinsed out - can overpower the cider and just kill it for me. It is curious to note that in competitions 'cask' flavoured ciders often score badly - the added flavour or texture being taken for a fault. Its just a very hard thing to get right.

Mind you, this cider is strong enough! At 7.4% the caption on the label "It might blow your head off" is probably sensible warning. Still, its a fun label and makes a change from the alpaca's:-)

It is labelled as a still cider, so its low fizz is just a touch of carbonation to keep things fresh. Very soon after pouring it is flat and still - and very clear. Hopefully some of the rum will have gone with the filtering. There is a good dose of that earthy west country cider smell about it (and I can detect no rum in the aroma. Perhaps my nose is just too untrained.

There is a stack of fruit in the taste and whilst the first hit is sweet, this gives way to a pleasant tannic cider - almost a bubbly flavour (not champagne 'bubbly', a playful fruitiness to it that is really rather gorgeous. There is little acid in this drink, but it does feel balanced and incredibly more-ish. I have to say, this is going to hit my desert island choice of ciders!!

As for the rum. Well, I should never have questioned Mike Johnson and his team. It is very understated and actually comes in more with the aftertaste than in the taste at all. Now that is either very lucky or very, very well done. The sweetness has died off in the mouthful and all you are left at the end is a warm glow, which could either be down to its strength or the rum 'kick'... its not so much as kick as a friendly nudge.

I am so impressed with this cider. There is so much going on with it and yet it is very easy to drink. All I can say is get a bottle and try it for yourself... a visit to Broome Farm is probably the best thing, but I got this bottle from the Bristol Cider Shop so that is a good alternative.

A score of 96/100 makes this another gold apple for Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company. 2 out of 2 for them so far! And, this is currently the highest scoring cider of all my reviews. What can I say? Better get a crate of it:-)

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Hogan's Medium Cider

On my travels around the country I do like to pop in to a supermarket from time to time to see if there are any ciders on offer that I haven't tried before. Why supermarkets? Well, believe it or not the cider choice is slowly improving. OK, most of it is tat. Maybe not exactly tat, but thy are waking up to the fact that there is a broad variety around. Some, like Waitrose, often will source local suppliers. Others, like Tesco or Sainsbury's, sell a similar variety as each other but occasionally the odd 'unusual' producer crops up. In this case, somewhere near Nottingham, I found this Hogan's cider.

A medium is not exactly my idea of an idyllic evening, but I have only tried Hogan's once before and it was good. Hogan's is another producer that has grown recently - alongside the likes of Henney's, Hogan's has expanded to meet the demands of the awakening public to artisan cider that isn't commodity cider. Its difficult to position them, but I personally see them as a bridge between the mass produced ciders and the small artisan producers who can only reach a small market.

Anyway, this cider has a great big bit on the label saying "100% fresh pressed English apples". Great. No easy get out from that one (except for the fact that I read in the not too distant past that a certain producer who made pear cider won a case for stating 'made from 100% pears' in an advert - it wasn't 100% of the content by a long way, but 100% of the juice in it was pear!!!) Anyway. Scepticism aside!

With a low fizz and a nice golden colour this cider really smells of tannin and lovely cider apples. Its fairly light - not light as in faint, but light as in a light cider smell.  Oddly, the taste is almost exactly the same as the smell initially. Its light and not particularly acidic. Its also fairly sweet. This covers the tannin and acid for a while I think, although they do come out in the end - primarily in the aftertaste. This makes it a subtly cider and really quite drinkable.

Moving on through the glass, its not too subtle. There is a nice measure of body in this cider and a background acid that underlines the tannin. However, it is still really too sweet for me.

Hogan's presents a difficulty for anyone trying to pin it down to a regional style. The fruit comes from near enough all over the three counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire - its the first cider I have tried with this characteristic. I find this a good thing though - a good cider from not one place. As its pressed and produced in Warwickshire, its just a nice west country cider.

Its scores a good Bronze apple with 75/100. I think I ought to hunt down a dryer version of their cider!

Saturday 3 March 2012

Rosemary Vineyard Smallbrook Steamer Cider

The other main producer on the Isle of Wight, Rosemary Vineyards is not just a cider maker (doesn't the name give it away a bit:-) And it was alongside their whites and reds that I found a couple of ciders from their range to take home with me. Their range of ciders is made up of two blends which are available as either a still or a sparkling... Guess which ones I went for:-)

I was oddly trying to find some major connection for the cider being called 'Smallbrook Steamer'. Well, the area is called Steambrook and its on the local steam rail line.

One thing I am slightly puzzled by is the sticker on the bottle with a best before of only 6 months from the time I bought it. I am puzzled by this as there is no requirement to put a best before on a glass bottle of cider which is properly sealed. A batch number is all that trading standards require (although I suspect this could differ from region to region). Anything that is good for over 2 years from production only needs a batch number (although the producer does actually need to keep track of the batch number somewhere). And why only 6 months??? Hmmm.

This cider is lightly golden (marked as 'yellow' on the scorecard) and is dead flat. Its quite hazy too so I would guess its unfiltered or only very lightly so. The aroma is pretty light too, which is common for still ciders (no bubbles to shove the smell up your nose:-) Mind you, it doesn't smell cidery at all - hmm, better qualify that. I mean it doesn't smell tannic or of cider varieties. It does smell cidery (as opposed to toffee apples, apple juice or other stuff). Its a gently smell.

Saying all that about the smell, it should have come as no surprise that the cider doesn't taste of cider varieties either. This is a rather delicious eastern style of cider. Its quite sharp with a full and fruity taste; very refreshing (I wish I was drinking it on a sunny day!). At the end of the mouthful the sharpness does take on quite a tangy form which extends into the aftertaste. And it is this tangy sharpness that dominates in the end. It is medium dry, so there is some sweetness to it - though again, I would say it loses out to the acid in the end.

Ultimately, the eastern style is often found from Sussex eastwards (although that by no means that its the only style producers make in the east). So it fits in well with the sort of varieties that are locally available readily. It is nice, although by the end of the glass I am becoming a little luke warm about the tangy kick.

All things considered I scored this at 69/100. Definitely a cider to try when on holiday in the Isle of Wight. And if you are not a hardcore cider tourist like me, there is always the sparkling version:-)