Thursday 30 August 2012

Once Upon A Tree Tumpy Ground (GBBF)

Feeling that I should go for something with a better reputation next (well, something I had at least heard of!), I turned to a cider that I had underlined in bold on my 'to try' list; Once Upon A Tree's Tumpy Ground. This cider has won several awards this year and seems to be very highly rated by all who have tried it.

Having covered the whole 'wine maker come cider maker who makes ciders along the ethos of wine', I won't bang on about Once Upon A Tree (although I am a bit of a fan). They seem to be spreading their wings a bit now though and I am finding their ciders are available from further afield (although, lets face it, GBBF isn't a typical outlet).

I love the third pint measures at the Great British Beer Festival. I really do think that other festivals should adopt this as cider is nearly always much stronger than beer (well, usually- unless its been fiddled with). Normally, this would probably be the last cider I would be in a fit state to review. Not with this option available... well, third of a pint and the fantastic pie kiosk!

Right, Tumpy Ground. Well, it turns up as a clear/bright cider. That must have caused a few murmurs in the CAMRA ranks! But, it is really golden and the smell is very good - very Herefordshire! I do wonder why its filtered though... is it really necessary? My instinct tells me its not necessary, though there are some rather cloudy ciders here this year (a well presented cider should be hazy at most - cider does naturally drop fairly clear).

The smell is light and tannic. And clean. The taste is precisely that; clean, tannic and vineous. This is surely what Once Upon a Tree are really good at. Its meant to be supped rather than gulped. There are some great full tannins going on in my mouth - coupled with equally balanced acid which makes the whole thing more fruity.

It has a long aftertaste that seems to just sit in your mouth and throat... really good.

As I stood at the bar with this cider, a couple of lads came up to demand 'cloudy cider'. After having a few that were probably horrible (judging by their faces) I suggested the Tumpy Ground. "It aint cloudy" came the protest. "It doesn't have to be" says I. Needless to say they were both very happy with their pints. At 7.1% I would be shocked if they managed more than a couple of these!

A silver apple for Mr Day and co. with 87/100. Very nicely done!

Monday 27 August 2012

Pete's Pollocks Surrey Cider (GBBF)

So far, so good. That is the comment in my notebook following the first two ciders at the Great British Beer (and Cider) Festival. Its also worth commenting that the venue, Olympia, is a very nice place to be. Sure, I would say in the competition between the Olympics and the GBBF, CAMRA came a very poor second in terms of London's transportation etc. but, once here it's a really good event.

Anyway, all things being good, I come to another new producer. This time its from Surrey... and I am not sure but they may be the first commercial producer in that county?! Well, its handed to me as a straw coloured, hazy cider. It smells nice and fruity. Being straw coloured I am expecting an Eastern style of cider.

OK. Now then. Wow. Ummm. Well, it is a fruity cider (start with a positive eh!). However, it is a fruity cider where that fruit seems to be exclusively cooking apples. This one has a sour acid note running right through it. My first thought? Bramley. In fact, it may even be made from Bramley. The fruitiness does hold during the drink - its almost apple juice. The overwhelming taste though is acid and sourness - crisp and and sharp  over-running anything else that is present.

The aftertaste is much the same and I am glad I only went for a third of a pint!

With Pete's being a new producer, and after spending a few minutes on their website, I can see that they encourage the use donated apples - I suspect that most of these are going to be cookers, as the ubiquitous Bramley can be found in many gardens. Now, you can use Bramley in a cider. In fact you can make an excellent juice from very ripe Bramley. But this isn't very ripe... its sour, which suggests 'September' Bramley (my thinking is that Bramley only reddens up and ripens fully in October/November... i it will stay on the tree that long!). Just because something is there, is cheap and is in abundance doesn't mean it will make great cider (that is why most cider makers politely decline the offer). Try tasting an apple and imagine what its going to be like once all the sugar is gone - in Bramley's case: all acid and nothing else.

Sorry, Pete's Pollocks, but I think it needs a bit of work (although you are quite free to disagree with my comments!)

A score of 59/100 is ,I think, actually generous, but its what it got at the time of drinking.

As a footnote, I tried this with several other people that I met at the cider bar. Whilst the overall expression was what is essentially written above, one person did like the apple juiciness of it. Well, for the first taste she did. Once I had scored it I (roughly) shared it with them and they agreed with it... so I didn't do this on my own!

As a second footnote, I noticed that this cider was high up in the online list for GBBF. What makes it interesting is that it started there and seems to have stayed there. Now, I appreciate that this is a guide and not really for competition purposes but there were some good ciders and perries on - which makes me wonder how this cider stayed so stubbornly near the top (incidentally, if you play with internet settings you can vote many times... might be one to resolve, CAMRA). So, either the public like battery acid sharp ciders, or the list isn't really much of a guide.

Friday 24 August 2012

Cider 101 - 200 ciders in a spreadsheet...

Two hundred ciders consumed and reviewed. Done:-)

It is starting to look a bit like an encyclopedia of cider though. I guess the question is how can I start to make this information more useful!? Well, as a celebration of 200 reviewed ciders, I figured I would share one of the tools that I maintain; my spreadsheet of scores.

Feel free to download, re-filter and have a play. My conviction is that discovering cider - really good cider - is a journey and not a sprint. You don't go from preferring Magners to Naish's Dry Cider overnight. So, find 'your' cider - the one you currently have in your hand (if its not on there yet, let me know:-) and filter the spreadsheet to discover something similar...Its totally free (although all rights to it are still mine... for those who think a book on this kind of thing would 'sell'!)

Where can you find it? Well, the observant will notice that there is a new page on Cider Pages. That's where you can find it. Simples!

So, in essence this is a summary of my scoring for all the ciders - presented as a single list of ciders and the scores which can be sorted by sweetness, award etc. My hope is that this can be used and (if excel is working properly) sorted into an order that suits the user.

The other truth about this list is simply that it is what I carry on my phone to look at when shopping around for cider. Mobile internet is a lovely thing, but until they can make it both cheaper and faster it is a bit of a pain (and, lets be honest, the signal in the Bristol Cider Shop is pretty awful:-)

Thoughts on blogging/internet

Cider on the internet is a funny old thing. Watching it closely the noise seems to be increasing. This is good (as traditional cider makers find their voice in this relatively new medium) and also bad (there are a few nuts - those who like the sound of their own voices/think they have something interesting to say on any cider related topic). A good (meaning bad) example of this is the subject of 'Cider' within Wikipedia. Try changing something and watch as the Wikipedia Cider Police change it back to their version of cider!

Where do I place myself in this? Well, I hope I do things as gently as possible whilst making reasonably thoughtful use of the media available. Less is so often more - not a bad lesson to learn in the 'new' age of internet media and communication.

There is not one person who should regard themselves as the guardian of real cider. Anyone who does is kidding themselves. That is not to say that there are no excellent resources out there: For example, if you want to know about making cider then the place to go has to be the Wittenham Hill Cider Portal, put together by cider scientist Andrew Lea (he can also be found by visiting the Cider Workshop Google forum.

If you want to talk about cider then, again, to me its fairly clear that currently you have two choices; The Cider Workshop or The Cider Digest (if you hail from the USA predominantly... both are excellent choices). There are others - but these are where I would go.

Then are others who deal with the more social side of cider and there are lists of cider selling outlets (the one I will suggest here is Old Scrumps Cider House, but there are others - of varying degrees of accuracy). Lets face it, I am not the only one reviewing cider on the web either, though readers will be the to judges as to which ones are worthwhile...

Anyway, enough of this internet commentary. Its a useful tool but I do wish people would sometimes cope with it better.

The list will grow and be republished occasionally... maybe every 50 ciders or so depending on my other commitments. Any thoughts and comments about it.... please do say something.

Here's to the next 200 ciders then:-)

Yer Tiz!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Marshwood Vale Cider Company Cider (GBBF)

On Cider Pages I don't 'do' requests. Well, not often anyway - and I generally refuse to take samples as I prefer to do everything in my own time. However, I should note that I have previously had a comment from the producer of this cider to try it. Having heard some good reports about it, I cannot find any reason not to give it a try. So, moving on to the second cider of the evening we have Marshwood Vale's cider.

Marshwood Vale is a producer from Dorset (somewhere near to Dorchester/Bridport to be more precise). I don't think they have been commercial for that long (a couple of years or so) but as there are some seriously good producers in Dorset (e.g. Cider by Rosie... already reviewed here) there should be some good cider apples in this one.

The cider comes to me golden and cloudy. Helpfully, CAMRA have notched up a picture of a cloud on the label, together with a 'T' for tannic. I have to say I usually agree with their ratings (thought not always) much more than I agree with their perception of what is dry or sweet! To smell, it smells a little sweet and fruity - its really quite a gently smell in fact and rather pleasant.

I am not sure that the '5' CAMRA have given it (for 'dry') is necessarily that accurate. I would call it a medium dry personally. This is semantics though as the cider itself is very good. There is a mild tannin running through this cider along with stacks of fruit. Its long and lingering and good - although I am getting some odd varieties going on in my mouth. Saying that, determining what goes into a cider is near enough impossible, so I shall stop there: its a little unusual but quite complex and gentle.

There isn't much acid to counter the tannin, so the aftertaste continues to be all fruit and tannin - and that persistent sweetness which has run behind the flavour all the way through. In addition to this, I do get quite an earthy/soily aftertaste to it - it doesn't spoil the taste  but I suspect this is possibly coming from oak... which to me is more proof that (although traditional) oak is not necessarily the best friend that cider can have.

So, Mr Marshwood Vale, I have now tried your cider. And I like it quite a lot. My notes and scoring gives it a reputable 76/100, so its another bronze apple for the GBBF cider supplier.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Solway Cider Northern Monkey (GBBF)

Its that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. So, in case you couldn't make it I have made my annual journey to London to take in CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival.

This festival has resisted the urge to vacate the capital, even at a time when the Olympics seems to have taken over. The GBBF is one of those festivals not to miss on the calendar of festivals. For those who are more northerly and cannot be doing with a festival that is stubbornly London, I would recommend the Nottingham Festival in October as a good alternative... or the Winter Ales Festival in Manchester (although a lot of really good ciders are not available in February).

So, having gone through the online list and whittled a few down to make sure I don't wake up in a hospital as another statistic to alcohol abuse, here I go...

OK, first up we have a cider from waaaaay outside the traditional regions of South West/South East. Looking back at all my notes, I have to admit I had a leaning towards producers from out of area at this years GBBF. I should also add that this made the results a little more variable than aiming for the very best (most of which I have tried anyway).

I am a little unclear whether Solway cider hails from Cumbria or Somerset. The story seems to be that they make cider in Cumbria and also juice is also pressed and fermented in Somerset. The only information I can get is from around 2009 though, so things may well be set up differently now.

As you can see from the image, Northern Monkey is cloudy and golden. Its pitched as a medium dry on the CAMRA listings although you cannot guess this from the aroma, which is rough and ready (and a little bit yeasty).

Its good though. There are some real sharps going on but at the same time some heavy tannin counters this well. There are definitely cider varieties in this - judging by the profile it could be something like Tremletts Bitter as its a heavy hitter. At the same time, there is cooking fruit in here too. Perhaps I should stick my head on the block and suggest Bramley, though its not sour particularly. The acid wins through in the end and this is the most drying part of the cider.

This is an interesting cider and an enjoyable start to GBBF. The aftertaste is long and tannic and pleasant - all in all a well presented and nicely put together cider with a good character. A score of 73/100 and the first GBBF bronze is away.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Naish's Dry Cider

Staying in London, my colleague from work and I moved on from the Bree Louise (may I recommend this pub one last time - it really is fantastic!). Just up the road nearer to Euston Station you will find the tiny Euston Cider Tap. And I have to say the choice was somewhat more limited than my previous visit. There was one cider that I wanted to try though - another first for me... and I managed to persuade my colleague to join me in a glass of Naish's. I don't know - nearly 200 ciders down and there are still some very significant cidermakers not yet tried!!!)

Frank Naish is known as the UK's oldest cider maker and some report him to be the worlds oldest cidermaker. Still producing cider in his 80's, he does have some help these days - although he made cider with his late brother, Harold, up to 2005. This isn't the most interesting fact about Naish though (you can easily Google Frank Naish to read up on him) - I find the most interesting fact simply that he never saw the need to move away from traditional methods of producing cider. OK, you won't find his cider in Tesco's or Asda... in fact, it can be a bit tricky to get hold of. Its that you can resist the temptation to cut corners or compromise on producing a decent, honest cider.

So, whilst I will not indulge in the weirdness it is to try another well known cider for the first time in London, I will mention that whilst in the 'Tap' I met another cider maker - this one from Wales! So the capitals cider pubs do get a varied clientele!

OK. On to the cider. Its (guess what) golden but a little clearer than I had expected. I will give it the benefit of thinking that it isnt filtered and just dropped clear but you could be forgiven for thinking it had touched a filter on its way to the bag in box. For a flat cider, its aroma is fruity and strong.

Now, it you have one of Naish's dry ciders in front of you for the first time, brace yourself. This cider is dead dry. The fruit in it is incredible though - rounded and full in a kind of 'smack you in the face' kind of way. The tannins are harsh and full - like a cold cup of tea, and the acid is sharp behind it.If I am not very much mistaken, I reckon there is a stack of Kingston Black in here. Its only KB that has given me this experience before now - full on tannin with an acidic kick.

Don't read any of this as a negative. It has character by the bucket and a long aftertaste that is fruity and tannic. Its by no means a session cider (well, not least due to its strength) but if you sit back and take your time with it its well worth it. My drinking buddy for the evening used the words 'bloody hell' - not words I often hear from him to be honest! I very much doubt if this is a cider I would have appreciated even five years ago, but its one that is complex and layered beneath its harsh and aggressive appearance.

So, a score of 84/100 grants Naish a silver apple. Nice.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Millwhites Rioja Cask Cider

Please note - this review was originally written as a 'Wilkins' and not 'Millwhites' (as it is) and has had to be amended. Thanks to Cider Guide for spotting my mistake!

As I bought two halves at the Bree Louise I figured I should something different. Not just to compare with the first one, but because I am not entirely happy that the score really reflected the skill of this well renowned cider maker. Now, here is the awkward bit. This is not a Wilkins cider - its a Millwhites cider that I mistook for a Wilkins cider (probably in all my excitement!). Suffice to say that Millwhites is also a well known cider maker from Somerset!

So, we have this Millwhites Rioja Cask cider. I am not sure how much longer these 'cask' type ciders are going to be a regular feature for cider makers in the UK. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have recently ruled against a Scottish producer who was making a whisky cask cider and it would seem that, if it adds to the profile and abv then its a no-no. Having never really been that interested in making cider in wood its something I have never tried. I have heard mixed HMRC thinking about even calling it Whisky/Rum/Rioja cask cider... I guess the jury is out until some poor cider maker gets 'tested' by the authorities!

I have said above that I am not interested in this kind of cider. That isn't totally true. Producing something good from a spirits cask is (as far as I am concerned) a rather tricky task. Too many over egg the spirits and leave the cider in the background. Yuck. In other cases the said spirit just doesn't go with cider. Yuck and yuck again. But when done in the hands of a skilled cider maker it is unique and lovely. Of course there are those who cheat (and sadly, 'cheating' in the cider industry in more widespread than you would imagine). I have heard of one who produces a rum 'cask' cider where the rum comes out of a bottle in. Perhaps HMRC would like to focus on these types first and leave the more honest ciders alone:-) Perhaps...

So, this cider. Being flat it has a faint but fruity smell and is dark and golden and hazy - hence no filtering. I cannot smell any wine coming from it though. However, you do get some once you taste it - though not a lot, it certainly isn't overpowering at all. There is also wood coming through - quite a lot more wood than wine if I am honest.

The one thing that you will notice with this cider though is the tannin. It is very drying in the mouth. I am not sure where this much comes from - it could be the wine and cider. Mind you, its not exactly harsh... just very drying.

You will notice no mention of acidity. That's because I am not sure where it is. I do think this has been sweetened slightly, as there is that taste about it - this could be masking what little acid there may be. The aftertaste is dry and long - mostly due to the tannins, although it is a fruity cider.

Overall, I think I preferred this one to the straight dry farmhouse (even though its by a different producer!!), although its always going to be horses for courses. I think its a cider that makes no apology for itself and is bold. I can see why some might think it rough, and others think it wonderful... me, well, I think I will have another glass an make my mind up later:-)

A score of 73 earns the Rioja cask cider a bronze apple. Oh, and apologies for the photo...

Thursday 9 August 2012

Wilkins Farmhouse Dry Cider

The first of a few reviews as a consequence of spending the night in London. I took the opportunity to persuade my companion for the evening that it was in his interest to broaden his 'cider' horizon (though he spent most of the time on Ale... northerners:-) And I am very glad I did.

The pubs that came most highly recommended turned out to be the 'Bree Louise' and the Euston Cider Tap - both in Euston. Well, the Bree Louise is in a little side street near to the station (Coburg Street for those who will now go a-hunting), so as I have been to the Cider Tap before we thought we would start there.

If you are after a gastro pub, or something modern and themed, its not that. The decor is pretty traditional and the carpets are ever so slightly sticky underfoot... which is not really such a bad thing unless the pub is dodgy - which the Bree Louise certainly isn't! The choice of ales and cider on offer are really quite an inspiration. 9 real ciders (and I didn't bother counting the ales) sold out of bag in boxes in a special 'cider' area of the bar! At the time I visited these were mostly from Wilkins and Millwhites. So, to sum up, it is quite simply a good and honest pub with little pretense and a decent cider or 9. There is a catch though - I believe its in the way of the proposer HS2 rail route... not fair is it (perhaps its something that the local CAMRA branch can take up!)

Anyway, clearly the first cider I went for had to be a dry - and there were a few on offer. The first barman figured he should test me to see if I would like a Magners... hmmm. It was done in the nicest possible way but once I had found the bag in box labels it was quickly dropped. At the time I couldn't remember if I had reviewed a Wilkins cider before when ordering. I haven't, so its about blooming time! So, first up, Wilkins Dry Farmhouse cider.

This cider is not filtered - its a hazy/clear glass of golden-ness. Being from a bag in box it is also nicely still and flat (bag in boxes don't do very well under pressure!). This does limit the aroma somewhat, although what I got is a lot of wood. I would guess Roger Wilkins uses oak barrels  - mind you as a typical 'old school' cider maker he is bound to. However, it really over runs on the smell.

The taste has more wood in it - but the cider itself is lovely. Sure, the wood gets in the way (to be honest) but there is plenty of cider fruit in here with a mellow tannin. Its definitely not bone dry and this sweetening limits the length of the tannins somewhat. There is also absolutely no acid in this cider. Well, none that I can get hold of. This leaves the aftertaste tannic and mellow and long.

On the whole, this is not the refined end of cider. Its rough and ready and comes out of oak barrels. Its not pasteurised and its not filtered and its really rather nice. I think its score will reflect some of the things I personally felt were missing (for me!) but I can see why it has its followers.

A score of 70 just earns Wilkins a bronze apple for this cider. I do think there were some shortcomings with it (for me) but its general honesty as a farmhouse cider wins through. I have to say that I would agree with anyone thinking that the score appears a bit harsh... but then I won't change the score I recorded at the time as that is cheating - and it represents how I felt as I drank it.

Monday 6 August 2012

Ledbury Cider and Perry Co., Wilces Cider

I am trying to keep Cider Pages broad based... in the last few reviews I have managed to cover Devon, Somerset, Hampshire, Sussex (ahem... perhaps somewhere in Belgium:-), Gloucestershire and even Normandy. But it always seems to come back to Herefordshire. I have spent a bit of time there in the last couple of months, and so its not surprising that I have a stack of them waiting for me to try.

Mind you, that could easily have said it always comes back to Somerset too... (realised I need to be fair to the Somerset makers too:-) In fact, heritage cider is made all over the UK.

Here we have a bottle from Ledbury, made on a farm bythe Wilce family. Your typical cider producer then? Not so much any more, but certainly this is the traditional cider making set up. This doesnt look like a rough cider either (in case you were thinking that traditional farmhouse cider = rough ol' vinegar!)

Ledbury is a very nice part of the world, tough not as big as its neighbour, Ross on Wye. Come to think of it I bought this bottle from Hay Wines in Ledbury - a veritable feast in ciderness in the middle of the town. Another great example of a shop that tries to stock local and traditional products.

Pouring with a fairly large fizz, this cider is very deep gold - in fact I would say it has a slight orange tint to it (Yarlington Mill?). It is bright and clear (yah-boo) - so a posh farmhouse cider then:-)

There is a stack of smell to it though, and it is all good. Not so much floral fruits, but cidery and leathery smell that comes from bittersweet fruit (I am sure there is a good measure of Yarlington in here... it is a popular cider apple you know!) The fizz is a bit persistent though.

And it tastes gorgeous. Moderate tannin and fruity, this is a bittersweet cider. Very little acid going on at all, although the sweetening brings the tannins under control to make is a rather well balanced cider. Sure, its not the most challenging of ciders but its all done, just... well. Actually, on reflection there is a touch of acid here - so it is much more a typical Herefordshire cider. Its all very mild and gentle though.

The aftertaste is long and cidery. It stays with you this one. The tannins, although gentle all the way through really have some legs on them. Its been sensitively sweetened so, although its a medium dry, it doesn't taste intrusively so. Just right for this level of bittersweet fruit.

I like this cider a lot. It scores a handsome 86/100 and earns a silver apple.

Friday 3 August 2012

Three Choirs Vineyards Medium Dry Cider

I think its more common for a vineyard to produce a cider as a diversification than a brewer. Well, thats my thinking - although to be fair I believe I have reviewed about the same number of each on here. There are more similarities between wine and cider producers than between brewers and cider producers... though in the drinkers head (and in some brewers heads) the two drinks are the same and should be treated that way. Oh, how cider enjoys such a crystal clear identity in the UK drinks market! NOT!

Here is another vineyard come cider maker. Three Choirs already have a reputation as a wine producer in the UK and this cider seems, from the label, to be produced with that ethos very much in mind. Without wishing to steal too much from their label, I have stolen and reproducted a chunk of their label:

"The modern facilities and winemaking expertise have been used to create a clean, fresh and fruity style of cider ideal as a quality drink with or without food.  The apples used are Bramley and Dabinett, sourced from local orchards within the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, and are cold fermented using wine yeast in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  The cider is also bottled at low temperatures to help preserve the fruit character and give a freshness in the glass."

 An interesting approach to making cider. Sure, I said it above that the production practices are similar. Bramley and Dabinett are an interesting choice of apples too... one that I have thought of playing around with in past years (but never actually got around to). Its the 'cold fermentation' and 'low temperature' of the bottling that puzzle me a bit. OK, I am not a wine maker. However, given that apples are pressed autumn to winter, fermentation is generally low anyway even in 'shed' temperatures. And as for preserving the fruit character... well, not sure enough about my science to comment too far on this... though lets be honest - many don't just control the temperature, they operate in clean room conditions to ensure pasteurisation etc.

However, it just seems to introduce a bunch of faff and extra hassle into something that is fairly straight forward!Lets see what it tastes like though before judging whether these processes make any difference.

Its a very light golden cider qit a low fizz and a bright finish to it. There is a faint aroma, although it smells refreshing and a touch acidic.. unusual for a Gloucestershire cider maker, but inviting none the less. I think any stereotypes need to be shelved for this cider!

The taste is very nice. Refreshing and with bite. The Bramleys have clearly been allowed to mature fully before pressing - there is no sourness to the acid at all. The dabinetts bring a moderate and fruity tannin which compliments the Bramley. Very nice. I have to say that the Bramley is almost tamed in its contribution to the cider. Whether this is through filtering, malolactic fermentation. No, not a second fermentation - mlf is a bacterial process that breaks down some of the acid... and it can be done either neturally (with a little luck) or by using a culture. Either that or this controlled temperature shenanigans actually does something?!

The cider is a bit vineous and clean - that is not a bad thing. Lets be honest, my favourite winemaker come cidermaker (Once Upon A Tree) makes cider that have a wine like complexion to them. This cider is almost Eastern counties style though. Very nice indeed.

I am still a bit at a loss to understand why its made the way it is. Its good but not ground breaking. In my little judgemental head I expect that its all set up for producing wine so its more hassle not to make it this way. However, I think the score of 74/100 sees it with a bronze apple from me.