Wednesday 28 November 2012

Ashgrove Orchards, Orchard Harvest

Orchard Harvest is not exactly a cider. Its a cider (with pear juice). So, is this going to be a 'pyder' then? Pyder is a name that I have only recently come across to describe an apple/pear concoction. I am not at all sure of the genesis of this word - whether it is new or traditional (such as 'cyser' being a traditional name for cider with honey). If new, its merely a clever use of the letter P!

So, I can tell you that HMRC Notice 162 (the 'official' regulations for what is cider/perry) says that you can add 25% pear juice to cider and visa versa. I make no apology for continually coming back to Notice 162. Its what I would look at when judging technical cidery things. It is far from perfect;it allows for a minimum juice content of 35% for cider... which is far too low for my liking. However, it is the guide that tells you what level of duty producers pay and how they should refer to their drink. A couple of useful snippets that my surprise some:
  • Cider is cider up to 8.5%, when it becomes wine (Made Wine)
  • A cider with adjuncts (i.e. Strawberry Cider) is a wine, not a cider. It should be referred to as "Cider with XXX" and pays made wine duty. It is not allowed within the scope of the cider makers exemption
  • Cider may be sweetened and pasteurised with sugar, juice, sucralose, aspartame or saccharin
This is what producers look at as a point of reference; it is the main criteria to follow first and foremost - well, many producers place more stringent standards on themselves then this - some don't. OK. Enough of that. It does serve a purpose though: whilst I accept that there are several other 'definitions' out there (I guess the most obvious one being the CAMRA definition), they are at best only guidelines and certainly not definitive. The CAMRA definition itself has a lot of problems that it has struggled to overcome - I would say its not a bad starting point, but needs to lean more on Notice 162 to give it a little more authority and less wishy washy 'good intention'. Although a consumer organisation, that is of no consequence if they are just going to end up being ignored by the industry that they are a part of.

This cider/perry/whatever, is (interestingly) distributed for the producer by Mayfields Brewery... that isn't a bad idea. It is also Herefordshire PGI - which means it is made in Herefordshire with Herefordshire fruit. Again, a good idea (and its not that restrictive really). I also notice that it says that they use pear juice to sweeten the cider. Now I understand - so its merely a fraction of pear juice and mostly cider then. Another neat idea, as pears have a non fermentable sugar (I think its called 'sorbitol')... though I rather think that this will have been sweetened and pasteurised rather than just relying on a little sorbitol!!

Orchard Harvest gives off a bit of a fizz at opening, but settles down well. Well, when I say that, it is still a little lively. It's aroma is thick, tannic and you will get the pear notes in there too.

Happily, to taste, the apples win over the pears by quite a way. It is heavily bittersweet and the tannins prove to be quite drying. It's by no means a 'pyder' - although the pears are present in the mouth initially, it disappears quickly for the sake of the cider. This is an earthy cider - I would hazard more medium dry than medium (when you account for the drying tannin). There is some acid in here, but it is way in the background.

The aftertaste continues to be long, earthy and very western in style. And longer still. Very nice. Its generally a very well done cider - tasty and deep in flavour, albeit a little bit lively.

A score of 78/100 proves I like this one - bronze apple for Ashgrove.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Juice in cider

Sorry for bumping the Ashgrove review... don't worry - it hasn't gone anywhere:-) Sometimes other things come up that have the potential to be both interesting and potentially useful in fighting the cause of what is important for cider.

So, I have been asked to promote this little one question survey. It's actually very straightforward. If you drink cider, how much juice content do you think should be in there? Here is the link: 

Yeah, yeah. I do try to stay impartial, but I realised this could have ramifications. While juice isn't everything that makes a cider great, just looking at the gold apples on here they are all 'full juice', traditionally made and cared about. And you would be surprised what levels of juice are in your more common ciders too! 

However, I don't want to influence your choice... go on, take the survey. Lets hope that Nooks Yard publishes the data so we can all see where the drinking public are on the subject of real cider.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Tutts Clump Diamond Jubilee Cider

Well, 2012 was the year of the Diamond Jubilee and, I must say I was very happy to take the day off. We even had a little party on the neighbours drive, with Union Jack cupcakes and Pimms. Very British. Actually, I thought it was a good, modest celebration. Now, there had to be one cider maker who succumbed to the temptation to produce a Jubilee cider. In fact, two were. One I failed to buy, which was (I think) a Sheppy's.

The other is this, from Tutts Clump in Berkshire - the same Tutts Clump that produced a 'Royal Wedding' cider the previous year (after all, isn't Berkshire the 'Royal' county?) Hold on, let me just check what's on in 2013! Who knows, I may predict a new Tutts Clump cider before it is made:-) OK, sorry. Lets get back to the cider. So, Diamond Jubilee ciders... I think they are a bit of a gimmick... really good cider surely stands up on its own and doesn't need a crutch? Well, yes. However, judging with a clear head and a measure of objectivity, a grand name like Jubilee cider ought to be an opportunity for a celebration of cider, eh.

The first (sensible) comment I have to make about this is that it is 4.5%. Thats not so much a cider as a lager strength. A little unfair as that may sound, this surely must have been cut to get to that strength. Still, in the current environment, where producers are being encouraged to 'knock' alcohol content by percentage points it could be justified. I am surprised though from a traditional cider maker.

It pours out very pale gold with something of a large fizz about it. I also notice that there is some sediment at the bottom of the bottle, so some bottle conditioning is present (it has been sat around since July/August, which could mean it has conditioned all the more.

Tutts Clump commonly produce cider from dessert and culinary fruit - they are very similar to Mr Whiteheads in this respect. The smell on this cider confirms that Diamond Jubilee  is along those lines. It also seems to be pretty sweet smelling too.

Being as straight as possible about this cider, I have to confess that I am disappointed with the taste. It is quite watery (remember the 4.5%) and actually rather cloying from the sweetener used to make it, what I believe, far too sweet. There may be a touch of tannin in here, but for the most part it is sweet and acid... to he point that if I did detect tannin it must have been by accident.

The aftertaste is merely an extension of the same, and the sweetener really does grab you for a long time!.

Sorry Tutts Clump. I really don't like slating real cider producers (well, I don't like slating any cider producers really) but I don't feel the celebration in my glass this evening. I like the sentiment of the cider, but to be honest that is about as far as I can go. I think the score reflects my tastebuds pretty well - 58/100.

Monday 19 November 2012

Marks and Spencers Herefordshire Vintage Cider

Right, we need to leave the single varieties and apple varieties there for the moment. It's not just because I have drunk all those I had (although... I have:-), its that there are a lot of other ciders lining up to be tried and it would be nice to start to get through some of them before Christmas! No doubt some enterprising member of my family will find something I haven't tried before. Well, I guess that may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but I might get money for cider (hint hint to the family!)

This Marks and Spencers cider has been sat around for a while - and makes a good start back on the blends for me. Why? Well, because most people who can get to a M&S ought to able to buy it and try it for themselves, that's why. It is made for them by that prolific 'own brand' manufacturer, Westons (it says so on the front of the bottle). Being Marks and Spencers, on the upper end of the ubiquitous supermarket chains, it has an ingredients list. Ummmmm. Played around with more than aptly describes what it says. I am not even sure what an acidity regulator is, although something in the back of my head suggests it regulates highly acidic juice - possibly dessert fruit... possibly even cookers???

One thing that is interesting is that the apples (whatever the apple content is**) are all from a single orchard and include Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Michelin. I am very familiar with these three apples and at least 2 are among my favourite varieties. Both Dabinett and HMJ are faily big hitters for tannin, so I ought to expect a good amount of it in this cider. So, with these three varieties in the blend - why do you need an acidity regulator???

By taking a further look at the bottle, I see it is 6.5%, so at least its within normal range for cider.

**this comment may be both unkind and unfair... although I have been told by a member of Weston's own staff that "all our ciders start at 14-15%

It pours light golden and moderately carbonated. It smells bittersweet and light too, although for the first time in a while I am getting a bit of sulphite as well. Then the taste. It is sweet with an understated tannin and a good measure of acid.

It is quite syruppy though, and whilst it is very easy to drink (I guess that is its point) I am finding it a touch bland and, well, 'regulated'.

There is a short aftertaste, which is quite watery on the tongue. I am a bit sad that I didn't get the full measure of the quality cider fruit that went into the blend. I had really hoped it would deliver too. I still have hopes that Weston's will surprise me one day (and despite my whining, they really aren't bad ciders). However, I should have guessed at the ingredients list really.

A slightly tight score of 64/100 for this one. Above average but no cigar... I mean, apple.

Friday 16 November 2012

Gillow Kingston Black Cider

Okay, last one for this round of single variety ciders. I have to admit, I have learned something from this exercise - you see, as a cider maker I am interested in ciders expressing themselves differently - not simply the dry, medium and sweet that many ciders can be found. As a full juice cider producer, there are only two ways of doing this: through process and through choice of ingredients.

I love the idea of 'western' and 'eastern' style of ciders because they are very different. However, that is not the same as all cider varieties = western and all dessert = eastern. In this regard, eastern is more tricky as there are more dessert varieties that make bad cider. For me, you need to hunt down the very best. No, I am not going to provide a list, although there are a few obvious bad choices - Bramley, Braeburn, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious are all poor choices in my view (I understand that a properly ripe Golden Delicious does work... in America!)

The same is true of cider varieties, so I am still inclined to feel that blending is best. But that doesn't have to simply be as many varieties as you can get your hands on! I have tried some really interesting combinations where only 2 or 3 varieties are chosen. And that is really the point of this exercise. Try, say, a Brown Snout with a lighter variety, say Michelin, and you could well be onto a winner. Acid and tannin in balance with Michelin rounding of the edges of both tannin and acid...

Clearly the obvious final choice for these SV reviews had to Kingston Black. I have tried a few already on Cider Pages, but I hope I can approach this one a little differently.

What is Kingston Black then? Well, apart from reportedly being the ultimate vintage quality apple, it is a mild bitter sharp apple, with a bit of tannin in them that gives it more balance than many other apple varieties. What do I think of them??? Well, I am a bit ambivalent. They are a pain to grow well and are very fickle with fruit which can be prone to brown rot. However, my experience is not necessarily prescriptive and they do produce really good juice. Add to this the fact that I think, like Bramley, Kingston Black has been over promoted and you will understand what I have against it. But then you come back to the quality of the juice and I doubt anyone could truly dislike this variety.

On to Gillows version of the SV Kingston Black then. In its bottle it is a golden liquid with a loose sediment at the bottom. This just means bottle conditioned (well, mostly it does... some filter and then add in dead yeast for effect and so they can call it 'cloudy scrumpy', but this definitely isn't that!) On opening there is a nice fizz - a product of bottle conditioning, although as the sediment is fairly free it does mean that you get a bit of floating yeast in the glass.

Its aroma is fairly light and fruity. It is earthy but at the same time I don't get a whole lot of tannin in the smell. This is definitely Kingston Black - just a little lighter than I am used to.

The taste is sharp and fruity with a little tannin which doesn't really interfere with the fruitiness too much. This is odd - Kingston Black is a bold cider apple with big flavour... I think the driest cider I ever tried was a Kingston Black single variety... this is almost a watered down version. The tannin and fruit is fairly weak, although the sharpness is most definitely there,

There is a short aftertaste, which is pleasant. Actually, this cider is odd and NOT entirely great all the way through. This isn't Kingston Black as I know it - and I have tried a few now. It could be 'terroir' but I think its much more than this...

This cider holds a lesson - of sorts - for cider drinkers and makers alike. You can take an apple like a Kingston Black and make a cider from it. And this cider will taste different from a Kingston Black cider that was made in a different part of the country (indeed - different country too). Why? Well, as with wine, each and every tree grows in different conditions. Each region is subject to different climate/weather. And even the way an apple is harvested, kept and pressed may have a bearing on the outcome. Consistency is not something that we should aspire to as cider makers! Embracing difference is actually pretty liberating:-)

Now, the question I have with this version of Kingston Black is whether there has been a bit of jiggery pokery in the process of production. At 6.6 its not a bad strength at all, but it just simply doesn't have a number of KB 'key markers' for me. Saying that, it is not horrible. A score of 68/100 is not quite a bronze apple.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Gwatkins Norman Cider

The idea of a 'Norman' apple is a little vague. Yes, it is a variety that originates from Normandy - and they know how to produce a good cider in Normandy. However, there isn't simply one 'Norman' apple; in fact, the information on the label attests to this and says "The Norman Cider apple was imported from Normandy in France. There are half a dozen varieties of the same name, which vary in size and shape, but many of them share the same flavour."

I will be interested to see if this cider shares a similar flavour profile to the French cidre's I have tried. As a bittersweet variety, Bulmers Norman (the variety or 'Norman' that appears to be the most readily available in the UK) was - as the name suggests - developed by HP Bulmer... probably back in the day when Bulmers were producing more traditional ciders. This is undoubtedly because the trees are high yielding more than any vintage quality... I have heard they are fairly tough to process (although never tried them myself).

OK, lets get on to the cider - for the first time with a UK cider the bottle is corked. This is common for French cidre but crown caps and ROPP plastic screwtops are very much the common currency in this country. OK, not exactly worth any points for the cider, but I find this kind of stuff interesting!

Its appearance is slightly a slightly orangey golden cider (amber may best describe it). It is flat and clear and, boy, it smells sweet. There is a little fruit behind the sweetness, but bear in mind this is a medium - and its all of its medium monika!

The taste is curious. It is very gentle but with a moderate tannin running through it. When I say gentle, I mean that you need to pay attention to get the most out of it. To be honest, the sweetening gets in the way a bit too much - although it really is a pleasant cider and worth trying (one thing about single varieties is that each type is different - as each variety of apple is different... mostly:-)

The aftertaste is long but quite low key.

Norman apples are more often used as an 'also ran' fruit - making a contribution to a blend rather than being used as a stand out personality. Its not a bold or brash cider apple, its much more delicate than that (and really doesn't deserve all the sweetening!). I liked this cider though; its nice to have to sit and think about a cider every now and again... and that says a lot for the Norman apple.

This cider scored 70/100, so another bronze apple awarded.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Once Upon A Tree Dabinett Cider (2010)

And so we move back to a trusted and respected apple variety, made by a producer whom I trust and respect - and who should know how to handle an apple like Dabinett... This cider, made by Once Upon A Tree comes in their standard 750ml bottle and can be expected to be flat, polished and expressive of the qualities that Dabinett has as an apple. OK, apart from the filtered bit I am good with that - although their USP is really presenting cider in a wine like way.

What is Dabinett then? Well, for starters I am a little confused by the spelling of its name: is it one 't' or two? Coming from Middle Lambrook in Somerset, the original Dabinett tree is said to have been  found by chance, growing in a hedge, at the beginning of the 20th century by William Dabinett. It is a moderate bittersweet fruit - in my experience the tree is a weak grower and the fruit can be a little fickle and not exactly generous. However, it's juice is regarded as vintage quality and I certainly agree with this.

There is an alternative to Dabinett called the Black Dabinett. This is meant to be very similar but more resistant to disease - though I haven't seen any SV ciders from this. What I can tell you is if you want to buy either a Dabinett or Black Dabinett tree to grow yourself, plan well ahead. I am not sure if it is short supply or whether these are very popular but as soon as planting season begins (generally November/December in the UK) they are all sold out!

On to the cider. I am expecting a soft tannin and very fruity flavour (as is Dabinetts want - did I mention I have worked with Dabinett for a few years now:-) And the aroma is very much that - lots of fruit with a soft tannic smell to it.

I do worry that the level of 'polish' that Once Upon A Tree give their ciders via filtering removes too much of the harsh edges of a cider - although it looks lovely. And sure enough, although the taste is really nice it has definitely lost much of the earthy feel of a Dabinett. Mind you, it is all there. Fruit, tannin and a really gentle background acid (almost non existent). Mmmm, this is the real deal though - loads of Dabinett flavour. The fruit is actually quite funky in a pleasant way. However, the level of filtering to produce such a clear and bright drink does risk the cider being a little one dimensional... after all, as much as cider isn't beer, it also isn't wine (I am currently re-reading Golden Fire, a history of cider written by CAMRA bod Ted Bruning... he is quite fond of drawing comparisons between beer, wine and cider and my response to this is that it isn't the same thing... though he is quite right to draw the comparison:-)

The aftertaste is of a medium length, although wanes fairly quickly from the fruitiness to the tannin and a slight petroleum flavour of the apple. Incidentally, petroleum is probably a bad choice of words - its not really a bad thing.

This cider scores 73/100, which is a bronze apple. It is nicely presented and tastes lovely, but I do just wonder if less filtering would have been more of a benefit.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Gillow Cider Brown Snout Cider

Brown Snout is not an apple I am familiar with. In fact, I am not entirely sure where I would get some to play around with (well, not strictly true - though none of the orchards I frequent have any). So this is a bit of a journey into the unknown... which is exactly why I wanted to do this exercise. And as it is being published three quarters of the way through the pressing season (assuming its going to last into January yet again) its probably too late to do much about it now. Mind you, it will be recorded and borne in mind for next year!

In addition to this it comes from a producer I have not had much to do with too. Gillow's got a reasonable review from the 2011 Great British Beer Festival last year, a Herefordshire producer who seem to be well established, I managed to find a couple of their ciders to try earlier this year from Truffles Deli in Ross on Wye (which also goes to show how much of a back log of ciders I have... what a nice problem!). A quick look at their website suggests that there are more of theirs to try too, though I think I would have a few words to say about the choice of names for one of their ciders (the marketing head on my shoulders wonders how on earth they sell a cider called 'Knicker Dropper' to their intended punters (i.e. they claim its aimed at ladies)???)

Brown Snout is a moderate bitter sweet variety from Herefordshire (early 19th century, in case you are interested). From what I can find out about it, its a russetted apple - essentially its a rough skin texture... pick up an egremont russet in a local supermarket to see what I mean. There is a saying that russets make good cider, so I am sort of expecting this one to be rather nice. It is harvested late October to early November. Re-reading this paragraph, I ought to validate the comment about supermarkets: pick up a russet in a supermarket (if you can get them this year) and you will get the texture of the skin. That is why it is a 'russet'. However, odds are a bite into it will reveal a cardboard like texture. Now try a russet from a farmers market. Wow! The taste will be complex, juicy and full...

So, lets have a go at this cider then (NOOOO! I refuse to join in the latest trend on starting every sentence with 'so'. My apologies. Please allow me to starts again. OK, homies, Lets 'ave a bash at this cider then. Ah, much better!

This is a still cider, deep golden - almost brown - and with a good layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. It appears clear although I cannot imagine it is filtered. At 6.4% its a reasonably alcoholic cider. Pouring carefully to avoid yeast I can smell a deep tannic cider. A little short on fruit, but typical of a fruit with a bittersweet character.

The taste is very nice - moderate tannin that isn't drying at all and is quite fruity. This is actually a little surprising, as the aroma was full of tannin. The fruit in the taste is good although its not a lively taste in itself. The surprise in this drink is the acid. It is reasonably astringent, not particularly sharp but is a persistent flavour which develops almost a petroleum like quality through the drink. My notes say that the acid wins over the tannin (but not by much). This is not because the acid is any bolder than the tannin but simply by remaining for longer.The aftertaste is long and acidic, with the tannin falling away.

I like this cider quite a lot. It is interesting and hangs together pretty well. I guess my only question is whether it has been played with or adjusted... I guess only Gillow can answer that, though I am happy that this is the real thing (pretty much). Brown Snout itself would add a lot to a cider, although as an apple with a foot in both bittersweet and bittersharp camps its not one to use for adjusting the profile of a cider.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Broome Farm Harry Masters Jersey Cider

Moving on. Harry Masters Jersey is another apple that I am familiar with, and one that I get good results with too in my blends. I have always assumed, however, that it is very similar to Dabinett - it tastes roughly the same, looks similar and both are moderate bitter sweets ripe at around the same time in October. This Broome Farm version should help me to confirm this assumption or put it to rest.

Harry Masters Jersey (for anyone who was paying attention to the last paragraph) is a moderate bitter sweet cider apple that generally gets harvesting mid season - between mid October and early November. Its a fairly generous tree, with moderate to small fruit. It originated in Somerset in the early 20th century (see, not all varieties are that old:-) However, by far the most important thing about this cider apple is that I like it a lot in a blend... after all, that is the best way to make good cider, right???!

Its a lovely looking cider right enough. A very clear cider although a fairly heavy sediment suggests some bottle conditioning (on opening, there is a definite fizz which confirms this). Its a low fizz affair.

As with Dabinett, it smells earthy and deeply of cider - not apple juice at all and the fruit part is fairly dull. I like this, and would suggest that Kingston Black, the eponymous single variety apple, is not a clear winner of the award for most balanced and interesting fruit to use in cider.

The taste is full of tannin and there is definite 'farmyard' about this cider. For those who don't know that phrase, its not a bad thing; earthy and orchardy it gives the profile of the fruit roundness and complexity. Hmmm, there really is a lot of tannin here. In fact, its much more tannic than I remember Dabinett being (and the fruit is less tangy).

I reckon this is quite an individually variety to use - although I am not sure it has anything that I would call hugely distinctive. And obviously the one thing that lacks from this cider is acidity. The aftertaste is pretty long and cidery with the tannin lingering.

Overall, I like this drink - and I definitely like this apple too. But I do think its one to add to a blend - and it would add ton's to a blend. This cider scored a bronze award with 70/100.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Olivers Cider and Perry Yarlington Mill Cider

To make a change from Broome Farm, moving a little northwards from Ross on Wye, I came across this bottle of Olivers single variety Yarlington Mill cider and have been waiting for a good opportunity to crack it open. So, representing Yarlies in this little exercise of mine, I give you Olivers.

Now, Yarlington Mill is one of my favourite apples. I am not expecting to learn a whole heap from this (except perhaps how to make the most of it!) but it is a useful exercise in comparison of this bitter sweet fruit to others already reviewed. It is also fair to say that there are many Yarlington Mill ciders out there, from Wales to Wells (etc. etc.) This is just one that I feel shouldn't have been adjusted too much.

The one thing that should be mentioned about this version (I only just noticed it) is that it has been matured in a rum barrel. OK, so lets see if I can separate the rum from the Yarlie?!

To look at, this is an orangy golden colour - typical of Yarlington Mill - and has a modicum of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. It is also 'quite' clear. On opening, it is flat - just as I like it:-) The aroma is quite pungent (in a good way). Again, Yarlington Mill is an intensely aromatic apple; if you get the change, just smell them on the tree! This reminds me a lot of that smell as they come to fully ripe and start to drop. So I get a lot of fruit, but also a reasonable 'other' smell too which to me must be the
rum casks used.

The taste on this cider is beautiful. it is mellow with very little acid (as is expected from a bitter sweet apple, but the tannin is moderate and not too drying. It is also very fruity and earthy - another flavour component of Yarlington Mill (although the wood might play a part in this too). If anything, the rum gets in the way a bit of the fruit for my purposes, but in itself (as a cider) it complements the taste nicely.

A bit about Yarlies. These are a fruity and generous bitter sweet apple, classed as 'medium' or 'moderate' bittersweets. A very brief search shows that they hail from Somerset. Harvesting mid-late October, they are a vintage variety (and very popular too, due to the excellent flavour and heavy cropping). Oh, and I note that the RHS reckons Yarlies are good for nectar collecting bugs, like bees, so if you want just one cider tree - this would be where my money would go.

Back to the cider. The aftertaste is long on fruit and tannins, dying away gently. Overall, this is a real competitor to Kingston Black in terms of flavour, complexity and balance, although for me its a bit too shy on the acid to make the perfect cider on its own. A score of 87/100 puts this one right up there with the best SV's for me. Silver apple for Mr Oliver.