Saturday 29 September 2012

Fernand et Freres Cidre Artisanal (Brut)

A recent trip to France presented the chance to bring in a few bottled of cidre - though I would suggest that being just outside of Paris is not the mecca of great cidre ... maybe I just looked in the wrong places!

This bottle, made by Fernand et Freres hails from La Lacelle - a quick search on Google maps shows them as either way outside of the traditional cidre region or else Bois La Lacelle, which is found in lower Normandy. I would suggest its the latter (though there really isn't any reason why, just as in the UK). Their website (which doesn't layer properly on my laptop) suggests quite a large production facility - they use a huge belt press and some serious bottling equipment.

The cidre is presented in a fairly standard bottle for the French style, 75cl with a cage cork. I chose it because it says it has won a 'Medaille d'Or' in Paris (2011). I don't know enough about this competition to comment too far, although there are competitions and there are competitions. Some are open to all and some price out all but the largest.

So, where did I find this cidre? At an Auchan hypermarket in Val d'Europe. There isn't much to compare it to in the UK, although I would say take a farmers market and place it in the largest Tesco Extra and its probably still only two thirds of the size! (fantastic selection of everything bar cidre!)

OK, rambled enough. Lets try this cidre. Surprisingly, this one isn't highly fizzy - well, not quite. It is a persistent bubble though. The aroma it kicks up though is full of fruit and quite sweet. Its also brightly filtered and quite golden. It's this freshness that I remember of French cidre last year and is so appealing.

The taste is a little disappointing though - its really quite a safe cidre. Sure, there is plenty of fruit - its almost a single variety in character. Its also quite a tart cidre with a very mild tannin which is almost lost through the sweetness. Finally, there is a bit of syrup going on - not sufficient to mark it as anything but smooth, but it is noticeable.

Now, I wasn't drinking this cidre on my own. The others classified this cidre as being 'Magnersy' - a little bit tight, though there are definitely Magners elements to it. It says that it is made from 100% cider apples though, and even if its not full juice (just 'cos there is 100% cider fruit in it, doesn't make it 100% juice... and I am afraid I am on the skeptical side of that).

The aftertaste is light and mostly fruit, although the syrup does become more pronounced at the end.

This cidre just misses the apples for me with a score of 67/100. Not that its a bad cidre - in fact as a supermarket cidre its really not a bad score.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Sarah's Cider Medium Dry Cider

Staying in Herefordshire for this one from Sarah's Cider. To a degree, do expect quite a few reviews to come from Herefordshire over the coming months. I have a bit of a backlog of them sitting on my shelf, which I guess is a nice problem to have really. Mind you, I do have cider from other counties too (especially as typing the word Herefordshire is fiddly and long winded!) Not being from Herefordshire, I do like to stock up - after all, there seems to be a cider maker every few yards so there are plenty to try!

In fairness, I have been planning (and buying) ciders with a 'single variety' moniker over the last couple of months. With these, I want to do a little more with the reviews and make them almost an exploration of the characteristics that a variety of apple offers to a cider. For my own personal interest, I hope that it will help me identify characteristics within blends and perhaps even help me learn the art of blending myself. Well, if someone else has gone to the trouble of pressing and producing these things it saves me several years of experimentation, doesn't it?

Of course, there is a lot more to the character of cider - and the character of individual varieties within a cider - than this. I have mentioned it before, but 'terroir', which is nicked from the wine industry, does come in to play with apples too. For example, I use a fair amount of Yarlington Mill in my cider. I expect to be able to 'read' Yarlington Mill as a result. However, I have tasted some ciders which are indeed heavy in YM but almost unrecognisable to me. So its not going to be as simple as I would like. Therefore, please don't expect some kind of masterclass. I am not a expert either in describing cider or tasting cider... I am just willing to have a go!

Anyway, lets not jump ahead of ourselves - I have a couple of bottles of Cidre to review before I get all clever with single varieties!

One of the first things I noted about this cider was the drawing on the front. Not your 'traditional' cider image really... not even an old farmer looking squiffy with bottle in hand. Nope, this provides a far more contemporary commentary. I assume the lady in the little red dress on the label is Sarah... and I also assume that the barrel of cider she is consuming happily is her cider. So in that sense it works and is fairly self explanatory. Good artistry too. I think we should leave it at that...

Its a nicely golden ('old' gold is the comment I have on the colour) cider with a moderate and persistent fizz to it. Its also (once again) bright with no sediment in the bottle. So, about standard for a lot of ciders.  It has a very fruity smell too - almost berry like. Bearing in mind the fizz, its quite a strong smell and not unpleasant.

At tasting, I understand the smell. Its sweet. more medium than medium dry. This pushes the lovely fruity taste into an almost berry like profile - although I should add that no berries were harmed in this cider! It does taste a little thin. Not in texture, but in flavour and profile. The tannins are very gentle and light and this is coupled with very gentle and light acidity. Overall, its the fruit and the sweetening that win through.

The aftertaste is very short, although given that its a bit thin on the palatte I am not that surprised at this. Saying all that, it is a good cider - not so much challenging or unique but more as a session cider that is drinkable (though not sure I would go straight for the barrel!)

A score of 73/100 gets Sarah's Cider a bronze apple.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Dinedor Court Farm, Hereford Bull Cider

Having got those GBBF reviews out of the way, its back to the serious business of reviewing ciders in bottle. Mind you, what is the more natural state for cider? You get the full draught experience at a festival and, although you could say that this is a one off - something that is the sum of the venue, people and cider - you could argue that the cider is preserved better in a bottle. For these reviews, what I am saying about a cider ought to translate into what you might experience by drinking the same cider (well, you may not agree with my conclusions:-) However, cider is a living thing that changes, matures and develops. This should be celebrated too.

Ultimately, there are so many components to a great cider - and so many great ciders that are different from each other I wonder why producers think they need to cover them in Strawberries... or some such muck:-)

What was I talking about??? Oh yeah, returning to the bottles I find myself in front of another traditionally made Herefordshire cider produced by a farming family. Given the last one was so good, I figured it might make a nice comparison.

This cider has a deep colour about it, with a tiny bity of an orange glow to it... those Yarlie's are so popular eh! It is clear... on the brightish side of things but I could be persuaded that this was done by racking alone. However, the smell is rich and bittersweet. I suspect this is going to be a fairly standard Herefordshire style cider.

Well, there is nothing 'fairly standard' about this. It should real high quality Herefordshire cider. Except I think its more Somerset than Herefordshire as there is little acid at all (I know I mistook the last one I reviewed, but this is a definite this time!). Now, for those who think I am talking nonsense about 'Herefordshire' and 'Somerset', they aren't the same (mostly). While some 'break the rules' (see above), often different apple types and varieties are used. Its the same with other counties - Devon, Dorset and other counties have a different terroir and recipe for their cider.

This is a lovely, mellow cider. The tannins are definitely present, but they are mild and forgiving. This means that it's not an especially challenging cider but there is a load of fruity taste to it. Well recommended for this alone! The sweetening again is gentle. Its as if these farmer/producers don't really want to sweeten their ciders, although I have to say that the sensitive way it has been done is astounding.

The aftertaste is pretty short, which is a little odd. Maybe its because its a gentle cider in every way. There are some lovely tastes going on and I am not surprised that my scoring gives it a silver apple with 87/100.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Worley's Cider (GBBF)

Finally I come to the last review for the Great British Beer Festival. What a nice event, even if you have to travel to London for it. I found Olympia a more interesting and 'personal' event that Earls Court, which was (if memory serves) more an exhibition event than a 'pub' event - I know what I mean by that. Of course, by the time I reached the last cider the crowds had gathered and it was getting a touch rowdy - though I guess its simply that it doesn't fit with some nerd trying to take notes and photo's of cider!

Having gone off for a pie and some pork scratchings to clear the mouth (or at least fill the mouth with eu du pig) I opted to have just one more cider before heading back through the Olympic traffic. And it is time to fulfil a promise to try a cider from a while ago. Having said I don't do requests, I have tried at least 2 ciders in one day on the back of the promise to find such and such's cider...

Worley's is a fairly new producer based in Somerset. Yup, you could argue that I am ending on a safe note, but that is not necessarily the case. However, this cider looks the part. A slightly orangey golden colour which is quite hazy and flat.

And the taste is not disappointing. Its mellow and has a good tannin. There is a touch of acid, though its predominantly bitter sweet in composure. In fact, you could argue its a typical Somerset cider

This has a clean taste. Not balanced or safe particularly, but its oddly refreshing without being at all drying. I would drink this again... and wish I had tried it earlier. The aftertaste is moderately tannic and drying with a good fruit to it.

It gets a good bronze award from Cider Pages with a score of 75/100. If anything, it didn't go silver due to a few things I thought might be missing (dominant flavour, a touch more acid and a little less exposure of yeast in the drink). But a good cider to watch out for! Oh, and apologies for the brevity of this post... after 8 or 9 ciders you must pardon me if my note taking failed a little!

Monday 17 September 2012

Thistly Cross Cider Jaggy Thistle (GBBF)

"What do you think of the Thistly Cross stuff?". I think that is how the conversation went. "Not tried it yet, but I may have room for one more", was my reply. And so, that is why I now move back up to Scotland to try the other producer representing the Scots at GBBF.  I doubt I will get too many chances to try this cider anyway, so it would be a perfect candidate for tasting!

Thistly Cross are a relatively new cider company based in East Lothian. Focussing on flavoured as well as traditional cider production, they are perhaps best known of late for their run in with HMRC about the use of whisky barrels for duty purposes (essentially, if the whisky transfers taste, abv etc. to the cider it breaks the rules under HMRC Notice 162 and becomes classified as 'made wine' for duty purposes). I guess its about time this was put to the HMRC test as it has become a popular marketing tool for many cidermakers... however, the down side is that it has put it to the test and many cider makers are now worried about it.

So, this is a faily light golden/yellow cider which is marked as being hazy/clear (see for yourself above).  And, well, to be straight... it smells of squash. I have never had that before! I confess that I really want this cider to be good... not least because I prefer drinking good cider, but also because I like the idea of excellent Scottish cider.

Moving to the taste of this cider, the squash-i-ness is still there strongly, though there is a nice apple taste too. Clearly its dessert apples - the acid is strong (though, I am glad to say, this one isn't sour!) But getting beyond the squash is tricky - its quite a thin cider too, which probably doesn't help.

Saying all of that, the aftertaste is fairly nice. I think it might have been sweetened a bit, and this could account for the odd part of the taste.

I would try this again, more to explore the profile more than because I think it is excellent. I do think the scoring is rather harsh - and I am worried that I have taken my frustration at tasting other poor ciders at this festival (and this cider is definitely not 'poor' - more a bit of a challenge).

It scores 61/100. I would be happy to hear from people who score it differently! Hopefully I can re-review it again in the future (though I won't be bothering with the other 'fruit' drinks they produce!)

Friday 14 September 2012

Dove Syke Cider Company Ribble Valley Gold (GBBF)

Nipping across the border into Lancashire, I find another North Western cider at the GBBF. I think this is number 8 or 9 for me this year... thank heavens for the third of a pint! In total, I managed to consume 11 different ciders in the space of about 6 hours during my visit to Olympia. AND, after all that I managed to walk out without much staggering at all! I only state that in case anyone felt my judgement might become too impaired!

Dove Syke Cider Company are another producer who could do with looking at their website - the link appears in Google but goes to nowhere. However, I can see that they are based in Clitheroe and refer to their production as 'cider brewing'. Hmph. Old grump will have to be held at bay for this! After a little bit of 'jumping' to a particular section of their website, I am on it and can report that they are a fairly new producer with access to some cider fruit as well as what they call 'Lancashire' fruit. The owners come out of the home brewing tradition (so I can forgive the cider brewing gaff!)

The smell on this golden cider is fruity and tannic. So there are cider apples beyond Watford then! Its nice and clear, though it looks naturally so (as in, the yeast has been allowed to settle and the cider racked away from this to mature and drop clear).

This cider has a very mild taste with some good fruity tannin that isn't particularly drying. There is a touch of acid too, although its not in competition - not that there is much tannin to compete against. If I am honest, it does feel a touch watery as I get my way through it. This leaves the aftertaste moderate and fairly short. But... its really rather nice if a little weak.

Picking faults, I would say that there is a hint of sulphur to this cider. This is perfectly natural, though is something to watch out for.

A bronze apple with a score of 70/100

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Eddisbury Fruit Farm Cheshire Cider (GBBF)

Now to move towards some counties I haven't tried before now. That is the wonderful thing about the cider bar at GBBF, its a snapshot of the UK cider makers (although clearly not every one is represented as that would be a very large cider bar!). Cheshire is the next stop... situated reasonably close to Herefordshire and Gloucestershire (note I say 'reasonably'!)

The only down side to my opting to 'travel the UK by cider' is that it means abandoning the 'dry' ciders and heading for something more 'medium' (well, heading for whatever in order to try ciders from around the country). This cider from Eddisbury Fruit Farm was the choice from Cheshire. Producing cider for the last 10-15 years mainly from dessert and culinary fruit, my hope is that they have perfected this style of cider and that it is light and refreshing (there is quite a lot of eastern cider here this year, and not all are 'perfected')

It turns out to be yellow and smelling acidic. To be honest, its kind of what I expected. Its not filtered and is hazy too - definitely another eastern style of cider.

The taste of this cider is tangy, fruity and has a rather sour acid note to it. Bramley again??!! I will have to do some research, but I don't think there are many other varieties that offer a sour acid to a cider - as a cider maker I would never ever put more than 10% in as a total... and that is only if I couldn't get hold of anything better. This is a shame, as the cider is actually quite nice apart from that.

It's not the most pronounced acid I have tried today, although the sourness runs through the taste and into the aftertaste too - sadly. Other than this, the tangy fruit is interesting and it has a rather good body for an eastern cider. This suggests that there are some better apples available to them which provide a more interesting profile.

That is really all I have to say about this cider. In my note book, underlined, it simply says 'another cooking cider - nothing new to say'. I guess that sums it up... a score of 64/100 represents the good things about this cider.

There is nothing wrong with producing a sharp cider. In many ways, producing a good sharp cider is more tricky than producing a good tannic cider... its too easy to end up with something thin, acidic with little character or flavour. The sourness in this cider doesn't help.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Heron Valley Cider (GBBF)

Although I wanted to review mainly ciders outside of the traditional counties, I find myself opting for another south western cider, this time from Devon (I rarely get to Devon these days so the opportunity ought to be taken!)

This cider comes from a renowned producer called Heron Valley. I was glad to see this one in the listings as, to be honest, I had read about them in several of the books I own. I struggle to remember which off the top of my head - Ciderland and either 'Cider' or Naked Guide to Cider. All three are worthy purchases: Ciderland being a bit of a tome (albeit with fantastic pictures), 'Cider' is CAMRA's guide, which is much broader in scope but worth it nonetheless, and the Naked Guide to Cider - a lighter, less detailed look at cider but fun to read.

Cider across the UK has typically different personalities. I have said before that Herefordshire producers have a different idea about cider from Somerset, and you can find differences in cider from the other traditionally South West counties - Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire etc. I am expecting this one to have more dessert apples providing the acid, with fruity bitter sweets providing the body and tannin.

Now, I guess its worth a comment, given there are so many 'new' producers. The above holds less and less these days. Commercial producers from all over the country are making really good ciders - often with little access to cider fruit (so most are Eastern in style). This is good. Perfectly decent ciders come in the eastern tradition. What does make me a little sad is that there appears to be some who don't bother learning the trade before trying to cash in on an industry in relative growth. This doesn't just mean the traditional styles (as in, getting them right) but also some basic principles of making cider in the first place. My hope is that the market 'outs' those who don't try - there are certainly one or two at GBBF which I would say need a lot of work.

Onto this cider. It does look a touch filtered (although I could be persuaded its not!) and is shiny and golden. It does smell a little sweet, but is nicely fruity and appetising.

Now, I have only really tasted one cider so far at the Great British Beer Festival that I would say is 'run of the mill'... well, run of the mill isn't meant as a put-down. What I mean is a balanced tannin and acid. This fits that category. It is a very moderate cider - gentle tannin sits alongside a gentle acid with a gently fruit taste. Not an onslaught to the taste buds and absolutely nothing done badly.

On the down side, there isn't anything that leaps out at you - no individual element that makes you stop and think. However, this is probably due to the number of different ciders at this festival. If I tried this at home on its own, I think I wouldn't have noticed it.

As a lovely footnote to this cider, the aftertaste is long and fruity and develops a smokey profile on the palette. Well matured and kept then.

A bronze apple to Heron Valley with 73/100.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Cadogan Cider (GBBF)

Still at the Great British Beer Festival (thank God for third of pints:-) and time to move back to a more traditional region - Gloucestershire. And another dry cider. I am very impressed with the number of dry's on this year... in fact only one or two were labelled as sweet. I have no evidence, but I would say that there is a trend towards drier ciders these days (or maybe I am just becoming blind to sweeter stuff!)

Doing a quick search on Cadogans reveals that their real name is Cadogans Cider and Perry, who have been established (as orchardists anyway) as far beck as the 1960's  - probably longer. They may wish to know (if they ever read this) that the link to their website doesn't work. But then this seems to be not uncommon for cider producers!

What is their cider like then? It is served as a golden cider which is naturally hazy (rather than cloudy) and the smell is heavily western in style. Heavily generally means it is earthy and fruity with a touch of petroleum in the smell. I am getting a bit of sweet from it too, so I am not sure if the label is going to turn out to be correct. Its not the first draught cider that I have experienced this on, although the other where this smell was noticeable was from Somerset.

And boy, its tannic. It is also very fruity as well. It does contain some good sharps too - bitter sharps can give quite stark acid, and I am sure that's what is present here. This isn't bad though - its a really nice cider without being too balanced or 'safe'. The tannin is drying whilst the sharpness wakes you up. To call it 'rough' would be fair, but not in a bad way. Its earthy; a real cider drinkers cider which has no frills or airs.

The aftertaste is long and tannic, with the acid dying off. Yum, its nice to find a real honest cider which makes no apology for itself!

I must admit I am a little surprised it didn't score an apple, with a score of 67/100. Good cider though.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Waulkmill Cider Muckle Toon Rosie (GBBF)

Now, CAMRA, for all the pomp and snazziness of this festival I do have one thing to say. On behalf of anyone and everyone that cares more about cider than beer: please drop the 'beer' in the duty escalator campaign! I get it... you jumped on a bandwagon that was already rolling courtesy of brewing associations. It was tailor made. However, if you also want the monika of consumer champion and supporter of cider why are you involved with a campaign that explicitly and publicly calls for a 'review and re-balancing' of beer duty'?

I am sure I am not the first to tell you that you seem to be sleep walking into a situation where the ultimate aim/goals put you at odds with your support of cider (and everyone else who supports cider). Come on, pick up the ball - at least make it public/explicit that you do not support the re-balancing element of the campaign (we all know that the brewing associations think cider is just beer in a different name... its been a long running thing that suits their arguments - even if not reality!)

Why the moan? Well, I had to sharing my afternoon/evening out with the gigantic head of George Osborne! Sorry, George; I am sure you have a great personality and its all 'just business'. Actually, it wasn't so much George's head but the words 'drop the beer escalator' at just about every turn and on every screen... Its not a hard thing to put right and I don't think it will cost you signatures on the e-petition!

And now to move this blog on 500 miles (sorry - Proclaimers pun intended but not disparaging!). A cider from Scotland. And why not; if the recent growth of producers has proven, apples can be turned into cider all across the country. This doesn't guarantee quality though - I am finding that not all producers get the idea of balance or blending.... but then it could be argued that this is subjective.

So, my first cider from Scotland. I am very interested in this as there are cider varieties being grown that north and I am curious as to what profiles come through. The marks on the board for this suggest that it is fruity and also tart. From that my guess is that its going to be made predominantly from dessert fruit.

It comes golden but cloudy; quite standard so far. It has quite a faint smell to is too, although I am getting a slight cheese from it, to be honest.  This could just be a yeasty smell misinterpreted, and its not been filtered at all (mind you it IS quite cloudy).

Sure enough, it is tart - quite a big eastern flavour to it. It is fruity and acidic with little or no tannin at all. It settles nicely but is very acidic, which makes it seem more dry than it probably is. There is something else to it though - I am not sure I have the language to describe it, and its not off putting.

Now, this is where being a cider maker has a benefit... I know what this is (I have had it before, early in my own cider making journey). Best practice for producing a clean cider is to rack the fermenting cider off its yeast (aka lees) just prior to leaving it to mature. Following the initial fermentation, there is usually a heavy crop of dead yeast that settles to the bottom. Failure to do this sometimes leads to the yeast/cider autolysing, which without getting technical is a transfer of taste - normally yeasty/cheesy. Its not a fault per se (some producers look for this), but personally I don't think it makes for the most exceptional profile. My guess is that with such acidic juice, it had a heavier reaction (but that is a guess, I cannot be sure).

The aftertaste is also acidic yet retaining the fruit. Not bad.

Although this scored 63/100, it is worth bearing in mind that this is above average, and I enjoyed the cider on the whole. However, I do (personally) believe it could have been better.