Thursday 19 July 2012

Marks and Spencers Devon Farmhouse Cider

Another low alcoholic cider. No, wait, its 4.5%. So this is Marks and Spencers Devon version of cider, although it is produced for them by Sampford Orchards (or Sampford Courtenay - purveyors of Elderberry and Sloe Cider at Waitrose).

It is nice to get away from all those ciders from Herefordshire and Somerset though - I feel that they are getting the lion share of the reviews of late. Each region has its own blends, own style and (for some regions) its own type of cider. Its a lot more complex than simply Western and Eastern traditions! A breather for at least one or two ciders then... I am sure I will get back to them sooner or later (well, looking at all the ciders on my 'cider shelf' I can say without hesitation or repetition that it will be sooner rather than later!

Every time I come round to a Marks and Spencer's cider, it seems I have a go at them about their ingredients listing. I supposed this is simply because they actually put the ingredients on their bottles of cider - something to be applauded. I think they must be the only ones who do this!. Lets have a quick look at these then:

Ingredients - Apple juice, water, carbon dioxide, malic acid, sulphites and yeast. In that order.

What can I tell about this cider from that then? Well, being 4.5%, I have little doubt that the water was used to cut the cider down to a required %, the sugar was then added to bring it to its medium dry moniker (with a little pasteurisation to stabilise). Malic acid is used to correct acidity, so that is a little more engineering to produce a consistent flavour profile. Sulphites and yeast are pretty staple cider diet to be honest, and its normal to see them there. On the other hand, the water and sugar could have been used to bump up the % to super alcohol, and then its cut back to its 4.5%. I guess its hard to read everything into an ingredients list eh!

Whilst I do sympathise with producers who want to make a large volume of cider - it must be easy to increase and adjust - what I call correcting a cider. However, I have to say that once you put your foot onto that slippery slope you will find yourself into commodity drinks that are 'like' cider in no time at all. I am not saying for certain this is what has happened here, but the ingredients list is a little telling. I ought to add that I am writing this intro several days after having tried the cider, so the objectivity I needed was back then. I am just trying to work out what that means overall.

The cider itself is a light golden colour with an aroma that, whilst faintly fruity, has little tannin to it. There is little fizz to push the smell about though. It is brightly clear (no surprise) and on first approach it just seems a bit, well, faint.

To taste it is syrupy and sweet. Nowhere near its medium dry in my book. Sure, the taste has a whiff of tannin about it, but it does have plenty of acidity and sweetness. Its not an eastern cider - it has more body generally - but it is completely controlled. The aftertaste is short and sweet (as in both short and pretty sweet - not as in excellent).

Now, I do remember what farmhouse ciders - even Devonian ones - should taste like, and I am afraid this isn't it. It probably is of a better/different quality to some of those rough farmyard drinks I recall from my youth, but it is arguable whether this is a better example of the farm cider.

There is one further point that should be made though. As has been pointed out to me recently on one of my other reviews, the supermarkets approach producers with a clear idea (maybe even a recipe) for the cider that they want. And the producer must stick to it. Why would a drinks engineer, 'brand leader' or blooming cider buyer think that they know best - or better than a real Devon cider maker? I have no doubt that Sampford can and do make cracking ciders. So, my message to said supermarket people is this; please be guided by the maker, don't force them to bastardise their cider to fit your recipe!

This cider scores 58/100

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