Sunday 29 April 2012

Sheppy's Organic Cider

Another Sheppy's. I thought I had done all of them so either this is a new one or else one that I had failed to notice elsewhere. They are nearly as prolific as Thatchers eh! And this one is an organic. Well, if organic status is good enough for Westons (though they are now getting their organic fruit from the 'Wilde Woode':-), Aspalls and even Marks and Spencers (?!) then it must be good enough for Sheppys!

So, its got the labels and its even got an ingredients list (including the organic sugar and water... shouldn't that be organic water too? :-). Saying that, its all pretty good; the sugar and water means is that the alcohol content has been 'boosted' and then the resulted 'super cider' has been cut back to a given level. Pretty common amongst larger cider producers to be honest and, as far as I can see, is merely to increase the amount of cider made per apple... why not just press more of those organic goodies?? Remember, it could be a lot worse (though sometimes I do just wish...)!

A small political point related to cutting cider (see how easy it is to 'go off on one':-). There is currently pressure is on alcohol producers to i. pay far more tax than is reasonable in the vague hope that it will put a stop to binge drinking and ii. get the alcohol industry to commit to lowering the '% volume by a billion'. Add to this the upcoming 'minimum pricing per unit of alcohol (no, not the %, the amount of units contained) and you will find that many producers simply watering their cider to a lower percentage point. I cannot really blame just  the current government either, it started before them.

The first bit (duty/tax) currently affects beer worse than cider. This is clearly just a 'beer' tax cow for the government and cannot address drinking practices. My wish is that government realise they are killing the industry they are taxing (slowly but surely) and that they would be more honest about what they are trying to achieve (fat chance!) I ought to add to this that there are those within the beer industry (SIBA, in particular) who actively campaign to club cider in with beer under the misguided premise that it will make things fairer. As far as I can have seen, they misrepresent their case and often stretch their points to breaking point of logic. It is true that there is a difference in the two duties (thoough NOT to the degree that SIBA suggest). It is also true that the two drinks are entirely different (beer = brewed with lots of ingredients and processes and can be done constantly thoughout the year; cider = made from apples with simple ingredients and processes. Clobbering cider does not give beer a fair deal - beer ought to be able to get a fair deal for itself on its own merits. I would put one caveat - if they are after 'industrially' produced/white ciders - which have little to do with the slow/simple processes of full juice cider, then I can start to see some of their point.

The second bit (reduction in %) AND the third bit (minimum pricing) is that apples on their own gives a certain % alcohol. Although this can differ every year, and you can blend the varieties to lower the % there is only so much you can naturally do this. All things considered I would still expect to see a cider at about 5-6% even if its been controlled. The only way to reduce alcohol further is to cut the cider. Let me illustrate this: to reduce a 6% cider to 4% (i.e. 2% out of the billion) a producer needs to add about 34% water. As a producer, that is 34% more cider, but it's now 66% max juice content which will affect the taste and body. This can be chemically adjusted... down the slippery slope we go.I very much doubt that high end cider is responsible for binge drinking - I would suggest that has more to do with lagers, cheap wines, cheap spirits and white cider... oh, and of course all those promotions from supermarkets.

But then, the groups who make said tat and sell at low price are a far larger and more effective lobbying group than small brewers and traditional cidermakers.Why can't we just serve smaller measures and maintain the correct strength without the adulteration? Maybe as a nation we just aren't responsible enough!

Oh well, that has really taken up far too much space and run coach and horses through this review! Sorry Sheppy's, I ought to get back to the review eh!

Organic pours out golden and moderately fizzy. I have actually chilled this bottle (it says on the instructions - and I always follow the instructions... not!) I actually chilled it as I was expecting it to be fairly sweet. Mr Assumptions at the moment I am! It smells nicely tannic and cidery and the taste is deep and tannic. not a bad acidity to it as well - although the taste is somewhat short. Really quite pleasant with plenty of fruity apples going around in it.

The aftertasteis more of the same. Very well balanced and just a bit short on the length. It is as fairly sweet cider although my notes don't make a big thing of that (usually a sign that its too sweet). On sweetness, I seem to be coming across a few of these lately and I am still not swayed by it - it reduces the character and taste in a cider.

I am sure this cider is all the better for the organic badges:-) But then I am not sold by the organic badges. In its own right it is not a bad cider at all though maybe a little short in the mouth overall. For all that it scores a bronze apple at 73/100

Thursday 26 April 2012

Rosemary Vineyards - Rosemary Rambler

This is the 'other' blend that I could find from Rosemary Vineyard, a wine and cider producer on the Isle of Wight. I guess to some that is not typical cider country - it is outside of 'ciderland', if you like. That is not my personal belief. I think that those commentators who fail to take in anything other than the west country (or just the west and eastern counties) is missing a trick - didn't Merrydown originate from Sussex?

Anyway, this cider is available either sparkling or still (like the 'Steamer'), Both types are described as 'sweet' though... which may be a shame for me. On pouring, the cider is bright yellow with not much sparkling going on (although what is there is persistent!). It looks like an Eastern style of cider - judging both by colour and description as well as experience of their other cider.

To taste, Rambler is smooth and vinous. As anticipated, there is no cider fruit in here - very eastern style. However, the acids are not all that sharp at all and the desert fruit doesn't have any huge character to replace it with. I am afraid to say it leaves it a little dull to be honest.

There is no huge aftertaste either, in length of aftertaste or in general fruitiness, and after a while this drink does feel a little watery and lacking - well, perhaps I am spoiled by choice these days. There is an absense of much body to it as well - something that is acceptable from an eastern cider, although you would expect stacks of refreshing sharpness and some charisma from the fruit (nuttiness or lemony tastes for example). So, what does it make me think of? Well, white wine. Not a great white wine at that. Sorry Rosemary Vineyards, this is not a favourite particularly, although I hav no doubt that it is full juice - there is nothing wrong with it technically but perhaps the choice of fruit is a bit limited...

And I haven't even mentioned sweetness, of which there is a fair bit. On this occasion, I don't think that is the problem.

This cider scored 56/100. So, not a knock out, but an above average score. And I ought to apologise for the below average photo!

Monday 23 April 2012

Once Upon A Tree Putley Gold

And now for another medium cider. Not exactly my tipple of choice but I guess in the middle of winter you get what you can (this bottle was bought in the middle of January 2012).

I have plenty of time for Once Upon a Tree. Apart from being in the cider makers mold of 'nice people', they strive to produce something that is full juice and also different - Simon Day is a wine maker. Well, I guess the phrase is more accurately used to be a wine maker (though I am sure this could be wrong and doesn't really matter in any case). What does this do for the cider though? Well, he approached cider making in a very similar way. I have always found that his ciders are fairly vineous (not a bad thing) and still. They are also always very smartly presented in 750ml bottles with clean labels that appear very similar in style to wine labels. I ought to note that making cider in this way does not detract from their high juice, heritage status (in my mind). It is usually of extremely high quality and is made with a firm eye on the heritage roots.

On pouring a glass of this cider, its a fairly light golden colour, which is odd considering the medium tannin eminating from the cider. Lots of tannin so often means a darker golden cider (although maybe I have just tried too many ciders recently!!)

And what to say about the taste? Smoooooooth! Nice tannin to it with a good dose of bittersharp to counter and balance things out. Whilst it is a medium,  you don't get that so up front or in the face as it is done very sensitively. The sweetness is there, but it doesn't take over the taste at all and almost feels like a medium dry in the mouth. Very well done.

There is some wonderful fruit in here. Looking at the label Putley Gold is produced from a small number of varieties. Generally, my assumption has always been the more the merrier, although I cannot deny that this cider is very well created - measured tannin and acid. And they say great cider making is all in the blending.

The aftertaste is is a little vineous and does go onto a little bit thin. That is not really a terrible thing though - and I am really picking hairs to be honest. It is a lingering taste and not just sweetness too.

A beautifully made cider - well blended and cared for. This really does put the crafted into crafted cider. A deserved gold apple for Putley Gold with a score of 90/100.

Friday 20 April 2012

Chateau du Brueil Cidre Pays d'Auge

Aha. A French cidre out of the bleu. Well, I have been saving this one up for a special occasion. And, as I cannot find a special occasion, I have decided that I have waited to try it for long enough (in fact, I am going back to France myself soon, so having a gift of French cidre sat around is not necessarily a good thing).

We are lucky in the UK. We have access to so much wide and varied cider. Without doubt the best producers in the world are no more than a drive or ferry journey away. Now, I would argue that the best cider producers are British. I am sure that is open for debate. More are starting to play around with French methods of production, so right now there is so much choice in the UK its something we should be very proud of.

There are some pretty good French cidres too. And no, I do not count in that the one served in a 'Chalice' - Stella Artois are Belgian, not French... and that is just for starters!!

This cider is nicely golden, frothy and smells of cider fruit - a great start to a typically French cidre. At 4.5% its about right, and I am expecting it to be naturally sweet too.

What hits you first (apart from the bubbles!) is a mellow, nutty flavour going on within. Sure, there are stacks of fruit in this drink - cidery and sweet - but its also matured really well (it has been sat on top of my fridge for several months so that has probably helped! - and ageing of cider once purchased is well worthy of further discussion at some point).

This is a French cidre with a west country accent to it. The tannins are full yet also mellowed. There is fairly limited acid though, which is countered by the drinks sweetness. Its not a bonkers sweetness though; its well controlled and doesn't compete with the body coming from the cider fruit.

Nice and smooth. As is the aftertaste. Its got tannins to it as well. Its a little on the short side, and as with most French cidre it does feel a little watery once you are into the aftertaste. Don't get me wrong though - this is a fab cidre.

If you can find it (they do have a website - albeit in French:-), this cidre is well recommended. A good silver apple with a score of 80 points.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Gwatkin Old Rats Tale

Last on my list of ciders from the January trip to the Bristol Cider Shop (probably because it is the smallest bottle!!) The Old Rats Tale from Gwatkins is actually quite a clever name for a cider.

The 'story' goes that farmers either used to put rats in to fermenting cider, or that the rats fell into the open barrels. The acid essentially dissolved them and added 'body' to the cider. OK, its probably not just an old wives tale to the extent that cider would and could have been fermented in open barrels; although I am sure that even in the rusty (should that be rustic? :-) old days there would have been some kind of closure to prevent things from falling in. However, I doubt anyone actually did it on purpose (and to my mind rats are not a part of the practice that I would associate with quality, heritage cider!)

Apart from the name, this is a very respectable looking cider - very dark when poured and I am looking forward to seeing how dry it is. Not sure why it says to watch out for sediment as its is as clear as a bell and a fair carbonation to it as well. Once again, it is nice to see cider makers leading the way by giving an ingredients list (OK, a short one - but they are the best!!). It'll be a long wait before ingredients listing on alcohol becomes standard though - I cannot see the wine or beer industries being too keen on it... and some cidermakers may not be too enthusiastic either.

Anyway, it smells all cidery - faintly cidery I should say. Very fruity too.

The flavour that first hits you is bittersweet fruit, although there is another note going on too - it has to come from the barrel as its not a cider flavour. And no, I don't think its just oak (unless the oak was spooned in!) It doesn't ruin the cider though and dies off pretty quickly. This leaves a mildly sharp cider taste with plenty of tannin going on. Its good (although the spirit taste does keep hitting you each and every mouthful, which actually gets a little dull. I must say, to its defence, that I do find anything but a slight hint of spirit cask distracting - so I don't have that much tolerance to be fair.

The aftertaste is warm and tannic, and pretty long. Its just a shame its a small bottle!!

A respectable bronze apple with a score of 77/100.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Hecks Medium Cider

Okay, this really is the last of the medium ciders I bought from the cider shop. The lesson I have learned... make sure you read the bottles properly before the red cider mist descends! Anyway, as its a Hecks its worth trying anywa, right? Well, after the medium Port Wine of Glastonbury I have to say when hecks make something sweet - it is S.W.E.E.T.!

So, lets get on with it before I change my mind. It has a nice low carbonation to it and is lightly gold (you can tell this from the photo though eh! I do like clear bottles - and I love the label and style of this bottle. Very clear and to the point, whilst simple. Hey, don't shoot me, I like things like this:-)

There is a real bittersweet smell to this cider, and I hope its less sweet than the last Hecks I tried as I am really looking forward to it. It actually is very quickly a still cider - must have been a soupson of carbonation to keep it in its lovely fresh form.
Oh my. This cider has got great fruit. Lots of sweetness though:-( Despite its big and promising aroma its actually got a very mild body to it. Not that this is a bad thing in its own right - it is well balanced with some nice acid notes too. However, its all been a little tamed by the sweetening, which is, again, overdone (to my mind).

Taking things into account, this is a great cider though - good flavours going on with a nice fruity aftertaste. Good blend of apples!

Shame about the level of sweetness - I guess one mans medium is another mans sweet. However, the shocker for this cider is the score - a silver apple. So it cannot be all that bad eh. Just think what it would be as a medium dry or dry!!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Lyne Down Kingston Black Cider

Moving back on to ciders that I bought from the excellent Bristol Cider Shop - and I am happy to report that barring one other 'medium' cider, the rest are labelled dry so I should have a few now to look forward to.

This one was a bit of a 'find'. I have tried Lyne Down cider before now when I stayed up near to Much Marcle. For those who are unfamiliar with that area, Much Marcle is the home to Westons cider - as well as a few other really good cider makers like Lyne Down and Greggs Pitt. Well worth the effort! (n.b. some really good driving roads round that neck of the wood too:-) Herefordshire is truly one of the homes of heritage English cider!

Whilst I am geographically digressing, near to Much Marcle is Putley, home to wonderful spring and autumn festival weekends where you can walk around orchards, listen to poetry and even sample some cider. Take a look at the Big Apple Association [] website for more information about that. I have been to the Springtime (they may actually call it 'Blossomtime', which makes it nicely relevant to apples and such) and there is plenty of cider and perry to go around!

Back to Lyne Down. This is a cidermaker with a big barn and a campsite out the back. And they have a funny story about 'the Lyne Down lady' who got passers by drunk and then had her wicked way with them... hence the lady on the front of the bottle. Its very modernly traditional:-)

The cider itself is a respectable 6.2%, and appears a dark golden colour through the bottle. Its also pretty bright, so I am guessing some of the harsher Kingston Black flavours are moderated... but I don't want to guess - I want to try it.

So, its quite sparkling. Moderately I would say. Shoving the glass up my nose, I have to say I get the deep bittersharp smell of Kingston Black well - although almost in a clinical way. I know I always mention smell; I suspect it becomes a bit of a bore to some degree, but it can be telling about a drink. OK, I don't do it generally if I am just drinking a cider (although I do much more these days). However, from the look and smell of this cider I would suggest that it has been bottled by a third party company - micro filtered, pasteurised and carbonated before bottling in a clean environment. Impressed? Well, hold judgement just yet as I have been wrong before!

OK, be impressed. I am fairly convinced I am right. But wait, this is not a bad thing. I would rather professionals bottle my cider than do it badly myself! The flavour, whilst cleaner than I would expect from KB, is still delicious. It has retained the deep but mild  bittersharp texture and flavour. I am enjoying it so much that I doubt anyone else is going to see much of this 750ml bottle:-) Kingston Black certainly does hold its own as a single variety for a cider - and this cider shows it off well.

I think it could have retained a fuller body and some of the rough edges that can make Kingston Black distinctive by easing off the filtering and processes. Mind you, this makes it a distinctive drink in its own right. A little more vineous - and the aftertaste is also a bit like that too. It has plenty of flavour to it though and the aftertaste lingers nicely.

A silver award for Lyne Down with a score of 82

Sunday 8 April 2012

Oakleys Cider

OK. Its a cider from... Tesco's (I think), although I am sure I have seen something similar in Budgens! Oakleys is not made by Tesco (made for them) although its a name I am not familiar with. I do have a suspicion or two: Its in a pint bottle; it looks like a Magners bottle. Its called 'original cider'; its has to be served over ice (and plenty of it, reading the back label). Hold on though, its not 'Irish' cider. And yet, there is the dichotomy of it being  'crafted premium quality'. Now, I do like the term crafted - I would use that myself. Not so the word premium as its abused to hell. And at 4.5% I suspect it is more than a little moderated down the slippery slope.

It also says that it is free from artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners. I have to confess that I am sat here trying to think how hard that would be for a commodity cider (of which this clearly is).

And so, its no surprise when out pops a lightly golden, moderately sparkling and brightly clear liquid. It does have a bit of a cidery smell, although a bleached one... yup, it smells cleaned (please note - I do not think there is any bleach in it, and it doesn't actually smell of bleach. The use of the word was simply to emphasise that it is very clean... sulphited may be a better way of describing it. OK?)

Making a break from the recent high end full juice ciders, this one is pretty syruppy. And, as with the majority of commodity ciders both tannin and acid are moderate and controlled. I would say it pays respect to the west country well, but this is a sweet and safe cider that is aimed at those who want something that looks like Magners but is a little cheaper. I don't think its awful, I just don't have much more to say about it.

Oakleys is sweetened with apple juice. Either I am becoming hyper sensitive to that or else its being done an awful lot at the moment. I don't think this is bad, but it saddens me that it actually detracts quite significantly from the overall finish of a cider.

OK - if you are still reading this then you will want a score. That score would be 52/100.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Gwatkin Kingston Black Cider

Back to Gwatkin's. A dry one this time (I double checked!) and another single variety too. The famous Kingston Black returns... again:-) I must say that it does seem to make fairly decent cider, if trawling through past reviews is anything to go by. However, I suspect that many have been adjusted to balance them out (well, I think that of most single variety ciders really).

But that is not the object of my attention for this review. Oh no. This cider has an ingredients list!!! Apple Juice and sulphite. And that would appear to be it. D'you know what? That is all it takes to make cider. Actually, that is all it takes to make brilliant cider. Honest! Its only when you start mucking about with it that you start adding things in like flavourings, aroma's and colouring. Compare this cider to the Marks and Spencers cider - they also have an ingredients list (and I have commented on it extensively already. So if you want to read that, look at the review of their Somerset cider).

OK, lets get back to this Gwatkins cider. On opening it has a low to moderate fizz. Possibly more fizzy than I had expected, although it is also pretty bright so it shouldn't have been a surprise.Its also a brownish golden colour;  typical of Kingston Black. It has a deep and tannic smell which is also typical... In fact it has Kingston Black written all over it in very large letters, underlined and with an exclamation mark.

So, on tasting it I now understand the fizz - it lifts the KB from bone dry to merely dry. However, there is some huge tannin going on in this cider - a mild acid sits behind the tannin but doesnt really compete in any sense. But then, with all that tannin it also has a big taste and body going on. And in saying that it also has lots of character too.

If I am going to try and find something to criticise on this cider, it is solely that it is all tannin and body; Going on through this bottle it does become a bit one dimensional in the mouth (maybe I should have shared it).

I reckon that, apart from the New Forest Kingston Black cider (which in my reckoning is still pretty much the most hardcore and raw Kingston Black going), this cider is the second most Kingston Black Kingston Black cider I have tried and reviewed. More body than New Forest, but quite as much character.

SO, a stonking score and a silver apple. But. Not my favourite KB cider.

Monday 2 April 2012

Rich's Farmhouse Cider

Aha. This one is a dry. And its a heritage cider bought from Bristol Cider Shop. And its in a big bottle. Should be a good review this:-)

Rich's is a family owned cider business from Somerset - soemwhere between Bridgewater, Taunton and Weston Supermare. Its one of those places - a bit like Perry's; shop, restaurant... and a museum too. Its even got a childrens playground. So there really is no reason not to hunt them down (they are not that far from the M5 either).

OK. On with the review! So, being in a good cider mood, I am pleased to say that this cider has a soft low carbonation and is not perfectly bright. I like that, because if it has been filtered then it has been done gently. The sad thing about many bright ciders is that some of the quality and taste gets filtered out too.

To fit with expectations, its also got a lovely aroma to it. Lets face it, its from Somerset... its going to be made just from cider fruit. However, its a nice smell. And, for the first time in a while, its exactly what you get on the tongue. Mostly bittersharp fruit - mild sharp all the way through but with plenty of tannin to give a decent body which holds the acid back to a good level.

Generally, its balanced - although do not read that as being 'safe'. Its an extremely good cider. Its not too dry either. I would say its almost on the light side of dry, which is actually a good thing for a deep cider like this. The tannins are full on and develop further in the mouth - so potentially could be puckering. But its not, so its a good balance.

The aftertaste is mild to boot. There is really very little to find wrong with this cider; it does everything well. Which is nice after a couple of misfires. Especially misfires that are caused by my inability to pay attention to the label!

Rich's Farmhouse Cider notched up 86/100 for me, which gives a sivler apple. One to seek out.