Monday 29 October 2012

Broome Farm Major Cider

And another one from Mike Johnson's blending range of ciders.

From the perspective of a small scale cider maker, having the ability to try this kind of 'naked single variety' is invaluable. Varieties of apples that I have never tried before giving up their pro's and con's without having to go through the rigmarole of pressing, fermenting and bottling. OK, that's a little lazy, but it does open ones eyes up to other types of fruit.

From the perspective of the drinker, I doubt this range is either easy to get hold of (as already mentioned) and in the greater scheme of things if you are searching for the best cider in the world, these almost certainly aren't going to be it.

However, if you are truly interested in the finer art of blending and basically making your own cider, then Ross on Wye's single variety range are put together to be the cider equivalent of 'salt and shake' (note - anyone not old enough to remember 'salt n'shake', it was an interesting take of crisps where you have plain crisps and a sachet of salt that you poured over said crisps).

From my perspective, well, it gives a new dimension to this blog (if only my descrpitive language was up to the task!)

Major is another 'vintage' classified apple variety which is a full bittersweet. This means that it has plenty of sugar and tannin, but little acid. Its a mid season variety, which fits with many other really good cider fruit (Yarlington Mill, for example) and is a Somerset Jersey. Jersey apples cover a whole raft of varieties - Chisel Jersey, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett... etc. etc. These neither all come from Jersey (or Somerset for that matter), however, I am unsure as to what makes a Jersey a Jersey... perhaps someone could enlighten me!

Whilst I have marked this cider as being bright, there is an amount of sediment at the bottom, so I am not sure if it's been filtered or not. Not that it matters, it could have been filtered prior to it finishing
fermentation. It is a beautiful golden colour too - a very attractive cider.

When it is opened, there is a positive 'psft', followed by a medium carbonation. This leaves more questions - with the others being flat ciders, this is positively bottle conditioned... The overwhelming aroma to this cider is 'floral'. Some ciders do have a flowery character to them; aromatic dessert apples especially (mind you, its not exclusive to these!). In fact, it is quite a pungent floral smell.

What do I have to say about single varietel 'Major' cider then? Well, it is fairly one dimensional in its character. Although the tannin is definitely there, it is soft and light. There really is no acid at all in this cider, which I think it needs - mind you, as a single variety it definitely doesn't seem to have been fiddled with, and that is much to Ross on Wye Cider's credit.

This is definitely an apple to blend as it is interesting, and yet it needs something to give it a bit of backbone. Well, I would blend it anyway! The aftertaste is short - medium in length and retains the floral character. A score of 74/100 demonstrates that this is a quality apple and a quality cider - and I appreciate an SV that hasn't been played with. It is also an apple variety I haven't used before, so my knowledge has been expanded.

Friday 26 October 2012

Broome Farm Tremletts Bitter Cider

Staying with Broome Farm for this next cider. Once again, it;s an apple variety that I am familiar with. Tremletts - not nice to eat but a fantastic addition to a blend of weak dessert apple juice. And before I even start this review I have to say I have learnt something new over the last couple of reviews. Why not - this isn't just about reviewing ciders, is it? Sure, I would like people to be much more familiar with traditionally produced ciders, although even the mass produced ciders have some merit,

This is another of the 'Broome Farm' range of ciders to be tasted and blended - I doubt if it is Ross on Wye's intention for this bottle to hit mass market... I certainly hope it hasn;t been adjusted as for this one its the true taste that I want.

The cider itself pours out deep and golden - old gold I think it could be called. Again it's a flat cider but pretty clear, so some filtering may have been done to it. And the smell - deep and tannic. Mildly fruity but not quite as much as the Stoke Red. Tremletts isn't exactly a fruity apple - all its power is in the harsh tannins that go with it.

I guess that tannin is both its strength and its weakness all at the same time. That and the fact that it is an early cider variety, harvesting in September or (like last year) early October. This makes it an obvious blending partner for weak dessert fruit - stuff that needs a kick in order to bring it from thin and poor to reasonable and with a decent body. Later in the year, there are varieties with more charisma - Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and (if it works for you) Kingston Black. I think that is why Tremletts is generally an 'also ran' amongst cider varieties.

Tremletts Bitter is a small, brightly red/burgandy apple that, as mentioned is an early harvested fruit (often). It originates from the Exe Valley (Devon) around the early 19th century. This period was a boom for new apple varieties. Because of its 'bang for your buck' factor, my understanding is that this variety is commonly used in large commercial ciders (well, you can dilute it more than other varieties I guess).

So, lets drink this thing then. Firstly, I think this cider has been sweetened a little. Never mind, I can easily get beyond a little sweetening (which is all this is). There is absolutely no acid in here at all, its all tannin. The filtering has limited it a bit, although it really is a rather large tannin - and more fruity than I first gave it credit for. Its a deep cider though. My guess is that in its absolute natural state this would be pretty harsh - but as a part of a blend its just going to give a huge tannin boost.

The aftertaste is very long. The tannic fruit lingering for what seems like ages. I like it. Maybe I like it more because I can think of what I can do with it, and I can lots of it... we shall see. As a cider its far from balanced - but that isn't the point. A score of 74/100, and another bronze apple for the SV's.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Broome Farm Stoke Red Cider

My plan for this exercise was to learn something new. I confess that I have played with both Michelin and Bramley, and (certainly for Bramley) there is nothing new to say about it and I don't feel that I have wandered into any new territory. This next cider will change this. Stoke Red is a variety that I have not used... well, not knowingly used in any case.

This range of ciders from Broome Farm (Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company must be a bit of a mouthful from time to time!) seems designed to be played with. I do know that Mike Johnson of Ross on Wye likes punters to play at blending (an absolutely first class idea!) but when I came across this range of single varieties I figured that is what its all about.

Confession number 2 - its this range of ciders (which I think you can only get by visiting Ross on Wye themselves) that inspired me to do this little exercise. So its not a new concept. In fact, in an attempt to 'repay' the idea, if you feel like getting hands on at blends and apple variety profiles then get yourself to Ross on Wye Cider and Perry (just outside of Ross on Wye). I am sure they would be happy to see you!

Now, Stoke Red is a cider variety that is classed as a moderate bitter sharp. In other words, it has both tannin and a full acid. I doubt you would enjoy eating it too much, although bitter sharps work very well in cider. This particular variety is also classed as a vintage variety. This simply means that it has the potential to make a vintage cider - basically an excellent cider (although I am sure this means that it will contribute a lot to an excellent blend of cider rather than make one on its own!).

In terms of provenance, Stoke Red hails from Somerset and is recorded from the early 20th century. It is quite a small apple (as many cider varieties tend to be).

This cider has an almost orangy golden glow about it, though it is fairly bright in appearance. It is also a flat cider (all the better for reading the variety as well as possible). It actually looks pretty appetising and smells deliciously fruity (belying the fact that I suspect it has lots of acid to it).

Sure enough, there is plenty of acid. This is a really good acid though - lots of it, but with lots of flavour too. Its not a thin cider, as with the acid comes a moderate tannin that holds all the fruit together. The acid wins out though by quite a way (this seems like a true single variety - not one that has been modified). Its a very interesting taste - the acid is clean, like a lime juice almost but with the apple and tannin underlying it.

The aftertaste is fairly short, and the acid gives way to a mildly tannic sense - the fruit remains too.I must say that, as a cider, its not quite all there; too much acid going on and not sufficient fruity texture. However, I would love to work with this apple in a blend!

In all, and rather surprisingly, it scores 78/100. A testament (once again) to the skill of Broome Farm.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Old Grove Bramley Cider

Moving from one apple that would be regarded as a bold choice for a single variety cider, I now move to a variety that (I believe) makes a crazy choice for a cider.

If there is one thing that I have had to say of late, it's that Bramley should only be used in the smallest amounts - if it has to be used at all. I have also dismayed at the number of new cider makers who don't bother to find this out prior to releasing ciders onto the market... but that is more about people learning the craft before trying to make a quick buck.

So, a cider made entirely from Bramley?! Two thoughts: it has to have been played with, and/or its going to be... well, lets just say challenging. However, lets keep an open mind and actually do the work of tasting it.

It pours out brightly clear and straw colour - well, it actually looks a little like apple juice. I am not surprised its heavily filtered - it's what I would do to lower the acid a bit. However, it smells very sweet and quite a lot like apple juice. This fits with the description on the back.

At first taste, my initial reaction is "oh, no". It IS very sugary, and very light and thin. It also has a biting sharpness to it, although its not sour (perhaps its this that the filtering dealt with). And that is all you get - the aftertaste is sickly sweet and sharp... It just doesn't work for me at all.

Bramley. Its a tricky apple. It has far, far more acid than pretty much any other apple and that is all it brings to a cider. So, if you have a cider that has no sharp in it, you could add up to around 10% in order to balance it out. However, at 10% you can tell that it's Bramley. To be quite honest, if you have a cider with no acid, you are better off using dessert fruit which itself has a surprising amount of acid. And I say that as someone who is not anti Bramley.

The apple itself was born in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in the early 19th century and named after a guy called Bramley (note the careful nature of this - without upsetting the Wikipedia police, who state he didn't actually plant the thing...) And from there it became the ubiquitous English apple. A big, bland apple that seems to populate gardens all over the country. As a cooker, there are more interesting flavours available - in fact, many nations don't bother with cooking apples as dessert fruit has more character. As a tree, it is known as a 'triploid', which means it cannot self pollinate (so if you have a Bramley that never fruits, try planting a 'pollination partner' with it).

OK, I am damning the apple a bit. I personally find it useless for cider. It can make a good apple juice, although only the ripest fruit should be used (contains the most sugar to pitch against that sour acid!).

The temptation to use this apple is obvious - it is so abundant and cheap. That is why it's found in ciders all over the place - especially from many of the newer producers. I get the temptation to use it. But, as this cider has proven - even when its filtered and adjusted it just doesn't work.

A score of 47/100 is just about right for me.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Once Upon A Tree Michelin Oak

Having now got the latest batch of French ciders out of the way, I would now like to get going on my 'Autumn' project – OK, its fast turning into a Winter project. This will give a slightly different slant to the reviews; the idea being explore the taste and profile of specific single varieties to see how the apples come across.

I start this project with the humble Michelin… Once Upon a Tree’s version of it (well, there are not many producing a single variety Michelin cider!). Michelin is an apple I am familiar with and have used before. It’s also a variety that I have heard other cider makers like and dislike in equal amounts. Its a bold choice for a single variety though, so worth a shot to start with.

I have labelled these reviews as both reviews and as 'Cider101'. This is so that I can easily pull them out and look at them more than anything else. I do want to emphasise right at the start that this is a ‘Master Class’ in apple varieties... if you want an expert on apples then there are several others who are far more qualified! This just a bit of fun and experimentation!

OK. Michelin is a mild bittersweet cider apple was imported into the UK from France in the 19th century. It has become a popular variety to grow for cider making, although not because of its vintage qualities but rather its reliability and cropping tendencies. Andrew Lea, in his ‘’, describes Michelin as the ‘Golden Delicious’ of the cider world – a pale green fruit that adds bulk to a cider bit not an awful lot else. It might be used to also balance out some wildly sharp fruit or heavy tannins.

So, what can it bring to a cider (and why has Once Upon a Tree taken the bold step of making a single variety cider out of it?) The 750ml bottle stands before me. Clear glass means I can see the brightly filtered and golden liquid inside. Knowing Once Upon a Tree I am expecting to find it non sparkling and vineous. Let’s not make assumptions though.

Sure enough, it is a flat cider. Boy, can you smell wood off this cider. I confess that I rarely, if ever, get the oak in a cider - although smelling this its clear what oak smells like now so perhaps (thinking back) it does come through. It is a woody smell (surprise!) but could also be 'earthy' too. This cider is heavy with it in its aroma while the fruit smell falls into the background.

The taste confirms that the main dominating feature is the oak. The Michelin is very subtle and in the background just too far. There is a reasonable acidity too which I doubt comes just from Michelin - so its heavily oaked and adjusted a little. But is not a bad cider when you get in to it. At 8%, this is another cider meant to be taken considerately - a wine cider rather than a quaffing cider.

I am fairly impressed with the Michelin, although I can see why its a bulking fruit. It has a gentle complexion of its own that is fruit, mildly tannic and interesting in its own right. Its simply far too delicate and soft. It is easy to see how it does get dominated easily though (as it has been with the wood). I am not entirely sure its worked as a single variety (though well worth trying for the experience).

The aftertaste is all oak; fruit and cider having died away fairly quickly. I am not sure if this is a shame. The oak is reasonably pleasant, although there is just too much of it.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Le Brun Cidre Fermier (Demi Sec)

OK, I have a wee bit of a confession to make about this cidre (which, by the way is the last of the French cidre for now). I didn't buy it. I was given it. It was bought from the cider producer directly too - which I suspect is going to come through in the review. Not only that, but the people who bought it for me had done some 'research' beforehand and had good things to say.

I guess this will serve as a comparison to the cidre that I have tried here recently. The question is this - if you are visiting a non cidre producing region of France do you make a stop in Northern France to stock up (assuming you must have good cidre) or is it OK to wait until you have arrived and then hope that some of the good stuff has made its way to wherever you are? Going by the reviews so far, I would answer this by saying by all means wait, but be careful with your selection. I shall see whether this cidre changes my mind...

On the nose this is a Normandy cidre. It smells similar to the others. I would actually say it smells less than the others too - despite it having a good level of carbonation. What I do notice though is that its not crystal clear in the glass. High carbonation, golden and lovely, but ever not quite bright. I did notice a little sediment at the bottom of the bottle before opening and this must have been kicked up at the opening fizz. A good sign that it hasn't 'just' been filtered and engineered to a Normandy style.

I have to say, I refuse to compare this to much of what I tried last week! The level of tannin is up slightly and there is sooo much more body to this - its really an excellent cidre. Sure, its on the sweet side and the juicy-ness comes through rather a lot - but this is un-fermented juice, not added post fermentation. Why am I sure of this? Well, I guess I cannot be 100% but everything about this cidre seems genuinely cidre fermier.

In terms of balance, this has plenty of character. The tannin is harsher than normal (though its by no means too drying) and the acid is good and pulls the tannin and fruit together.

It is worth making the point that not all Normandy cidre is equal! I have berated the French for locking producers in a given region down to style and even varieties. However, this stuff simply proves that it can be done at a very high quality. It is truly a delight to drink!

The aftertaste is somewhat short, though there is a nice fading tannin and good acid going on still. Trouble is, I then have to have another gulp (drinking good cider really is such a bind:-)

A lovely way to finish the latest crop of French cidre and a silver apple for Le Brun with 82 points. I think cider producing ought to become an Olympic sport:-)

Thursday 11 October 2012

Les Trois Freres Jan Cidre Fermier Breton

As with all the other cidre being reviewed here at the moment, this one came from way outside of its home region. In some ways this is a good thing: as with the UK there must be brands that are national, and some that are supplied around France. In the same way as in the UK, however, these brands are proving to be stabilised, safe products on the whole. The bottle I now have before me doesn't even have a little round sticker, which I am not entirely sure means anything other than it doesn't have a sticker. Mind you, it has been selected for 'La Selection Fouconnerie'. My guess is that this is similar to the 'Itineraire' cidre I tried earlier in the week.

Looking into the bottle, I can see a very small trace of yeast at the bottom. Often the way of producing this kind of cidre is to restart a small fermentation using champagne yeast, which is finer and easier to disgorge than natural cider yeast. However, what happens during that process is a bit of a mystery to me. I suspect filtering and pasteurisation may be involved - although what is the point of pasteurising if you are just going to restart a fermentation? Most French cidre is never allowed beyond 4.5-5%, which means that there is still plenty of sugar left in the bottle. This is often why cidre tastes sweet. It is naturally so. And if you are into really sweet cider then go for a 'doux' version. These will usually be 2-3% at most and retain a sweet juicy taste. Not my thing, but then.

After a little digging around it turns out that this is a cidre produced by Château de Lézergué, from Ergué-Gabéric - well into Breton. The website is worth a look if you are planning to visit the region as it seems as though they have quite a selection:

OK, on with the tasting. Right from the opening you can tell this is slightly different. It is certainly different from the Normandy cidre (and, to be honest, from the other supermarket Breton cidre too:-) It has a more rugged smell to it - more tannic and harsher (I know what I mean and its not a bad thing!).

The tannin and body do play a much bigger role in this cidre - it is less like fresh apple juice and more west country in style (albeit with a big fizz). The tannin is still pretty mild and not drying. There is little acidity to speak of, although it suits this cidre pretty well. Certainly it is less refined than its Norman counterparts... this makes a refreshing change to be honest.

The aftertaste is moderate to long and is mainly fruit.

One other thing to say, in terms of the 'roughness' - I think it is slightly astringent too. This is a feature of Spanish sidra but I wasn't expecting it with a French cidre. Maybe I am misreading it though (and is not at all unpleasant).

In all, a well deserved bronze apple with a score of 77. Things are looking up:-)

Monday 8 October 2012

Itineraire des Saveurs Cidre de Cournouaille

"There are some fantastic French cidres and some really bad ones too." Before I visited France to try cidre for the first time, I remember a good cider making friend offering me that advice. It was kind of backed up in CAMRA's excellent book, 'Cider' too. "Avoid the supermarket cidre and stick with stuff that is 'Appellation Controllee'" - or so I was told.

Well, this cidre comes from a supermarket - Intermarche to be precise. Near Coulommiers, not far from Paris. Look at the label - it certainly has own brandness about it and its as near to Bretagne as Bristol is to Newcastle:-) Well, if its all I can get hold of, then its worth reviewing as it may be all you can get... and that is justification enough (well, I guess I don't really need an excuse to try something new:-)

Itineraire des Saveurs is a label that comes up on all sorts of produce within an Intermarche; from cidre and cheese to cured meats and vegetables. This cidre was actually made by Ciderie Bigoud - I guess in much the same way as Westons produces many of the own brand ciders in the UK. So, lets give it a go and see how own brands stack up. For the purposes of this review, I have left the own brand name as the title simply because that is the most likely form it will b found as.

Its a moderately fizzy cidre, filtered clear with a nice head on it. Being from Bretagne, it ought not taste like Normandy cidre, and sure enough the aroma is much deeper - more tannic and less fruity.

I have to say the taste is very interesting. Its still light and a touch fruity in a fermented apple kind of way, but I reckon this is because it has been allowed to come closer to finishing its fermentation - therefore less juice and more alcohol. The tannins are restrained though (it has been halted at 5.5%, so its still not UK style). However, it is refreshingly light and not a bit horrible.

I will say that it is safe. It hasn't been allowed to develop a character - or its been a touch engineered to meet the supermarkets design. This is something gleaned from a communication from Weston's on this blog previously - and if it is done in the UK, then I have no doubt it's done in France too.

On the whole, this is not a disappointing cidre at all. OK, its not the best but its certainly not 'bad'. Only on the mild aftertaste, which is fairly short, that you get the 'engineering' failures of so many supermarket ciders - the tannin fizzles out almost instantly and you are left with a little fruit and watery taste.

A score of 65/100 is very respectable and, whilst I agree the best place to buy cidre is either from the farm itself or locally (at a deli, for example) if you are stuck, then this is an OK cidre to have on your table at dinner time:-)

Friday 5 October 2012

Michel Breavoine Cidre Fermier de Normandie (Brut)

I am struggling to remember where I bought this cidre from. Sure it was near to Paris and almost certainly from a supermarket. I am not sure which one though (and my notes at the point of tasting fail to record it). Ah well, its a cidre made in Pont L'Eveque, Normandy - more famously known its cheese, but hopefully also for great cidre.

The French producers like little labels; appellation controllee, medaille d'or etc. etc. - this one is 'veritable cidre fermier'... I guess it's verified farmhouse cidre then... Its also 'pur jus'. Now that is a sign I like to see:-)

OK, bearing in mind that this blog is in English, I will not presume that anyone from France is bothering to read it... so reviewing cidre is more aimed at those visiting France. With that in mind, I have tracked down the producers website - As with most producers in France, its not available in English (but then, pretty much all cider producers in the UK don't bother with anything but English, so it ought not be surprising!). Looking at this, if you are around Pont L'Eveque, I would recommend a visit to them: the produce Calvados, Pommeau and Poire as well as Cidre. I suspect you will have more of a memorable experience than simply pulling off the shelf in a supermarket!

On pouring, I noticed that there is a chunk of yeast thrown up by the high fizz, so its naturally made and conditioned in bottle. Good start. It is also golden and clear. It builds a nice head in the glass too - lots of small bubbles!

Once again, it has that Normandy fruity smell that is soft and juicy. Very similar to the other Normandy cidre I have just tried. However, in the taste the tannins are more pronounced that the others so far which gives this much more body and charisma. Its a bit of a shame that overall it has a very gentle and subtle taste... not weak particularly but a touch safe. That might be a little unfair, but once again I do come back to the restrictions that are placed on cidre producing regions. Normandy cidres seem to be fairly consistent in their profile - much more so than in the UK.

On the acid side of things, its light but fruity and gentle. It seems to be overshadowed a little by the tannin, although its pleasant for it.

The aftertaste is pretty long and fruity (and, surprisingly, still fizzy!)

Overall, this is a good cider with some nice characteristics about it. OK, perhaps I am a bit critical and would like to see something that makes it a bit more individual. But this went down just fine and I would be happy to have another bottle. A bronze apple from cidrepages to go with a score of 72/100.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Ecusson Cidre Brut

I guess I couldn't be out of the cidre producing area and not come across another Ecusson cidre eh... Ecusson are one of the larger producers in France - founded in 1919, they are based in Normandy and I would say are probably a similar size to Westons (although I am by no means sure and my French is only so-so.)

And so I have another Ecusson cidre to try. This time its the Brut Cidre. It is a well presented cidre which seems to be available readily (this was another Auchan purchase). It describes itself as having 'character and fruit' and as having 20 varieties of Normandy cider apple. And on the back label; "A servir bien frais" - well chilled. At least its not over ice anyway!

When poured it is a bright golden cidre with a high fizz. I guess even the French aren't immune from a few industrial processes. Still, its a matter of scale I suppose. Anyway, it has a nice fruity smell to it - sweet too and not a sign of any syrup.

On tasting, it is as you would expect. Highly honed and a fair bit prescribed. Quite sweet too. It does have that Normandy character though. Fruity and a bit of tannin - although its weak - watery I guess. The tannin is noticeable but drowned in fruit - which is good. Normandy cidre is very fruity - probably due to it being halted at 4.5 - 5% abv. The thing that let this one down a bit is that it is watery and this just makes things a little short - short on tannin and on acid. The aftertaste withers fairly quickly too. The character is good, the taste isn't bad but its all just a little bit like any number of standard cidre and a touch on the watery side.

One thing I would say about Normandy cider fruit - its not by any means harsh or full - say as Tremletts Bitter would be regarded as a harsh bitter-sweet or Broxwood Foxwhelp a full bitter-sharp. I can only observe this based on the limited number of Normandy cidre I have tried, although it is a common theme in my notes.

Anyway, this cider scored 62/100 - not a bad score but I feel accurate considering there are more interesting and individual cidre to be found in France.