Tuesday 26 February 2013

Snail's Bank Dry Cider

I am nothing if not lucky. I get to travel about a bit for my work. This time, a trip to London presented a chance for a few quick glasses of cider at the Euston Cider Tap. To be honest, its really just a way of letting rush hour pass before running to catch my train... although that sounds like an excuse!

A few things have changes at the Tap since I was last there. The most obvious is the gigantic chalkboard displaying the list of 16 ciders and perries that they have on offer. The other chance that was possibly more informative was the sheer number of medium and sweet ciders compared to the very limited dry choice. I guess that says a lot about Londoners drinking habits - you are not going to change them into cider drinkers over night! Mind you, at least it was all made from apples and pears... not a blackberry in sight.

I also noted a distinct Broadoak tendancy within the list. I know some that will be unhappy at this - although I think the time of year is not great for a broader choice. However, you don't have to drink the Broadoak or Lilley's... there are other ciders on. Mind you, I am due to return in a few weeks and will end up reviewing them if the list remains the same (well, that or chicken out and go to the Bree Louise instead:-)

To start with, I thought I should try a cider that I have never even heard of before. Snail's Bank Cider Company (or snailbank cider, as the Tap calls it) is a producer from Herefordshire that really doesn't have much of a web presence at all. Search for them and you will only find the Ratebeer site - which describes cider producers as cider beer brewers. Nice - enough to make me think its a CAMRA conspiracy (ha ha ha).

As I tend to, I ordered a half - well, responsible drinking and all that!!. Its a flat, golden and bright. At 5.2 it seems to be a full juice cider, although this couldn't be confirmed - I guess I was happy but I suspect others will require more proof.

There is very little smell to it. That could be just because the Tap is a fairly cold venue, but more likely it is because there isn't much smell and the fact that it is still doesn't help.

Now, this is not a dry cider. Its a medium. Its a very juicy medium too - so it has been sweetened, filtered and pasteurised... the usual. The taste is clean - too clean in fact - it doesn't really taste of much at all except juice, with a hint of tannin and a very dull acid that lurks in the background.

I don't really buy into this drink so much as work my way through it. Don't get me wrong, there are no faults as such - it just comes across as a manipulated cider. The aftertaste is short and quite sweet.

I am sorry, Snail's Bank. I am not sure if it's me or the cider but I felt that there had simply been too much removed from the cider to make it great. It scores 58/100.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Cornish Orchards Vintage Cider 2010

I really hope this is going to be a proper vintage! I am not one of those cider fundamentalists who think that every cider has to be put into stereotypical boxes or else... each cider producer is free to translate their ciders as they will. Some would call a 6 month old cider a vintage; others would want to give it a full 12 months before doing so.

Its the same with many other aspects of cider production... many covered by the cider101's. As a producer, you just have to stand  by what you put out to the public. If its marketing/pr covered crap, then that's what it is... I won't judge you... just your ciders. You have to live with what you do.

Now, what would I class as vintage? Well, personally it means it is aged - and aged well. Certainly I don't think a cider reaches vintage quality before the following season of pressing. That is why I feel it is special. Other cider makers will have different feelings about that - its why cider making is as much art as it is science! But please don't preach telling others that one way of thinking is right... that's not how the world works:-)

So, having established that I personally feel that a Vintage cider out currently needs to come from at least the 2011 pressing, this is a vintage from a year earlier. Its not the last Cornish Orchards I have to try. I have a “Pear Cider” of theirs, for when I am feeling brave enough to start taking on the perries of this world (don’t worry, I will make sure it goes first so that I can bang on about it being called pear cider:-) However, this is the last of their ciders on my shelf and I have deliberately saved it till last as a treat to me.

Cornish Orchards describe this cider as having; “soft tannins and traditional flavours”. We shall see. It also says it has a moderate sparkle, and this is bang on the money, with it being a lovely golden colour – bright and a bit fizzy.

I am getting some fairly strong tannin in the nose of this cider – though having had the benefit of recently trying some of their other ciders I can say it seems typical. Another Devonian style of cider – that is what I am expecting.

True to type, there is some really good tannin going on here – fruity and deep. It also has a lovely level of acidity to it; sharp and yet rounded – what you would expect from a 2 year old cider! This cider really does demonstrate what Vintage is all about (as with the Green Valley before it). It is all about maturation and good storage. Mind you, with both the last vintages I could have done without the filtering and pasteurisation. I do like smokiness from my vintages. I am not sure what it is, but it makes for a richer experience. Whilst this has a touch of it, this is where the filtering takes the whole thing down a peg or so. I am sure that Mr/Mrs/Miss Cornish Orchards keeps the unfiltered stuff for themselves:-)

The aftertaste is short to moderate, although the tannins stay with you for ages. I do like this cider. It is a very good example of both vintage and Devon cider. It’s a shame it has been handled a little more harsh than I would like. Still, with 87/100 it’s a really good cider to go for. Silver apple for Cornish Orchards.

NB – You know, perhaps I should invest in some cardboard bronze, silver and gold apples to post out… if nothing else, it would lead to some rather confused cidermakers eh!!!:-)

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Skidbrooke Cyder Farmhouse Sweet

I ought to be honest about this cyder. It’s the last of the three examples of Skidbrooke that I got last year and it is last for a reason: sweet. To be fair, I quite like the eastern style of this Lincolnshire cyder, although have found the plastic caps allow a bit of air through. But then I guess they aren’t meant to sit around for months before being drunk… although the crown cap solution to this is easy (and probably cheaper).

So, once again, I like the Lincolnshire-ness of the label. The bottle, which is clear, shows the cyder to be more yellow than gold (eastern cyders are generally much lighter in colour than the western style). It is also filled to the brim (as with all the others). I have been thinking about this a little – how are the bottles filled where there is no gap between cider and lid? All bottles have a tolerance for a gap built in – both to do with pressure and the nature of filling bottles. Well, I can’t figure it out, short of a bit of topping up before capping.

Looking at the bottle, I would say that it could have been filtered, but appears more naturally clear than forced clear. I also see a little sediment too.

This is a flat cider. OK, it has a very slight fizz, which almost certainly comes from it having sat around on my shelf for several months – its not enough to even dome the lid on top of the bottle. The smell seems to be sharp, though you can smell sweetness coming off it too. I don’t detect any tannins – which fits with the style I have experienced from this producer so far. There doesn’t appear to be any ascetic smell from it either, which is nice.

Oh. Oh my word. This is why I saved it till last. Perhaps it should have gone first so I could finish on a high with Skidbrooke. This is waaaay too sweet. Its beyond sweet. Not only that, but the sweetness seems to be coming out of artificial sweetening (again, not a bad thing in itself) – I would say sucralose as its not particularly offensive but does have a slight aftertaste. And, boy you get the aftertaste in this cyder – it’s a lesson in what sucralose tastes like!

The sweetening is so intrusive within this drink that I am struggling to make sense of any cyder taste beneath it. From what I can get, it is not that bad – very similar to the standard eastern counties.

However, after a glassful I couldn’t really get much of this going on as I struggled to get any more than sweetness. Forget acid. It is there, but its drowned out and way in the background.
The aftertaste is all sweetness.

OK, so perhaps I shouldn’t have done this cyder. Its neither aimed at me nor my cup of tea. However, even if I was a sweet cyder drinker, this is just too much. Its almost sweet for sweetness sakes as opposed to trying to enhance and lift the cyder. In fact, I doubt that Diet Cola has as much sucralose in it than this drink!

It scores a sad 54/100, and I think (to be honest) its lucky to have got over 50 for me.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Cider 101 - Additions

Following my recent posts about Chaptalisation and AJC, the next practice to try and debunk is what follows on from that - additions. This isn't particularly a practice in its own right, but more tied to the other processes and a necessity of choosing to produce a commodity cider as opposed to something more traditional.

I have heard it proclaimed that this is like making cider in a test tube. I see where the sentiment comes from but, in truth, all of us who seek to produce decent, honest cider these days have some kind of scientific evidence, advice or at least reasoning behind what we do. For example, Sodium Metabisulphate. This is the modern equivalent of burning sulphur in wooden casks before filling them. However, the dose can be measured in the parts per million and accurately applied. Similarly, a simple view of the Cider Workshop will demonstrate that the person who most seek out in the group is Andrew Lea - a scientist with credentials that take him back to Long Ashton, the cider research station (now defunct). Take a look through the archive and see what questions are answered there. We all benefit from a bit of science.

However, as with many things, science gets us all so far. There is a craft ethos and reverence for traditional practice that drives many to seek to produce something honest and good. That elusive vintage quality, while it can be aimed at with the aid of science, cannot be achieved by it alone. So, whilst even the craft cider industry has a bit of 'test tube' attached, it is not driven by test tube.

Neither is the industrial process. That is driven by shareholders, need to make profit, and economies of scale. Whilst not attempting to justify what happens, for many years this was (and is still, to a large extent) considered the route to mass production.

 Additions: Flavour, Colour, Acidity, Tannin and even Aroma

So, why are additions added? Well, what is happening when you dilute juice with water, or use concentrate (which has to be reconstituted too)? Or if the concentrate is all Bramley - or indeed if you can only get Bramley to press? There is only so far you can go before things start to lose their character and become watery or just taste, well, crap. These days it is quite possible to 'design' a cider in an office and then style a base cider using additions to adjust flavour, smell etc. etc.

This is where additions come in. Not exactly in the test tube. More likely in a can or tub. On a basic level these are often E numbers and include such things as cider colouring, flavour adjustment - including adding in more tannin and regulating (or adding) more acid. It can even extend to aroma. A word about aroma's though - often a producer will 'capture' the aroma as they are concentrating juice, and this can quite legally be added back in when the AJC is being reconstituted.

Some producers even add a bit of vitamin C into the cider!!!

As I said, this is all necessary once you go down the route of mucking about with the juice and reducing the juice content in search of that little extra profit or production value. And it occurs to me that this is the cost: the further you travel from a straight forward, honest product the more you have to dip in to the medicine cupboard to fix things. If you have the time or inclination just take a look at what HMRC notice 162 (the 'rules') allow to be added... or indeed, taken away!

Is this the cost of national supply? Possibly. Its like the global, engineered crisp and crunchy apple. Its what we all want.... isn't it?

Thursday 14 February 2013

Green Valley Stillwood Sparkling Vintage

“Made from only Devon apples”… “Medium dry, full bodied, satisfying and strong”. Well, before opening the bottle I can attest to one of these. At 8.3% this cider is right at the strongest end of the HMRC cider scale! It is also a dark golden colour and, peering through the bottle, bright.

There are a few things I like about this cider before opening (apart from much of what I have already mentioned). The name of the orchard appears to be stamped on the label, along with its year of cropping – in this bottles case 2010. This should be a proper vintage which has been allowed to mature and develop fully. I note that the orchard, Bidgood in Woodbury Salterton is well towards the Dorset border of Devon so wonder if it will be a slightly heavier cider than ciders found deeper into Devon. Saying that, it is really just making me think of a rather bizarre holiday in Budleigh Salterton when I was 17… I wonder if the big holiday park is still there:-)

This cider wants to leap out of the bottle when opened, so I would call it a high carbonation. Given that there is no yeast in the bottle, I doubt this is bottle conditioning. For the smell, I am getting farmyard – a mature country kind of smell, as well as a good bit of acid notes. It does come across as a little cooked too – so filtered and pasteurised… perhaps this is for the sweetening. Pasteurisation itself is not a crime and can be a good tool, but if you are going to do it, beware that it is very easy to overdo (mind you, that has to be better than under doing things… exploding bottles n’all). In general, I like this smell. It is clean. If it has been pasteurised, the maker allowed the cider to develop fully beforehand.

Now, this is rather a sweet cider. I would say more a medium than its medium dry. And it also has a  bit of an odd aftertaste to it too. There are some great tannins though – this really is a good example of the Devon style of cider – tannin and acid in equal measure with some great fruit funkiness going on too.  The body of the tannic fruit seems to feel separate from the acid bite in the mouth – something I really like as it makes for a more complex and enjoyable experience.

Be careful with this cider though – you can really taste the strength of it. The aftertaste is very warming too, and it is long and delicious.

So I would guess that the downside to this cider is its sweetness and a very slight cooked note. The up side of this cider is, well, everything else! A score of 82 and a silver apple.

Monday 11 February 2013

Aspall Mulled Cyder

"Seek and ye shall find"... or something like that! Okay, that is perhaps a touch out of context, but I have wanted to get hold of a glass of this cyder for some time. A business trip to York (it had nothing to do with Richard III!) and a stay overnight in the local Premier Inn was finally the answer. Not exactly the time or place for finding a cider that I have hunted for for over 2 winters.

I was so glad to find a real cider in a pub attached to a Premier Inn I shall name it too - the Dormouse, attached to the North York hotel... let's face it, if you have stayed at a Premier Inn the choice of real cider (or beer for that matter) is normally non existent. But there it was, a bowl of hot mulled Aspalls (and it was the real thing too, not just Aspall that was mulled. I made sure I checked!) Mind you, it was alongside the Strongbow and Magners:-)

Aspall Mulled Cyder is an elusive drink. Its not just me. For starters it is only released in the winter, and then you cannot buy it in a small bottle, Forget supermarkets... I think you can only get it in bag in box.

And so, parting with £2.25, it is ladled hot into a glass for me. I should add the weather is bitter - a day after the north experienced its latest bluster of snow. The car was misbehaving (the battery doesn't like the cold), I guess the perfect night for a mulled cyder - but for the sake of this blog I did my best to remain objective. On that note, here is the review.

The cyder is very hot (OK, not much Aspall can do about that eh:-). It is dark brown in colour and I have to say that I would describe it as bright - although it is really dark. The heat really kicks the smell up, and it smells heavily of cloves and a touch of spice too. It is slightly cydery, but more spicy than cydery. I tend to skip the cloves in my mulled cider.

The taste is something else. I am not sure if it is because I was cold, or that the staff at the pub were pleasant. It's probably just because Aspall have got the mulling of their cyder down just right. The cloves (somewhat mysteriously) fall way into the background in the mouth and I am getting nice levels of spice, a little orange, and a good cyder flavour. On the cyder side of things, it must be the Draught version as it has plenty of acid and a touch of tannin to give it body (although the spices add to the body too).

It is a sweet cyder, which works with the heat. The sweetening must have been with juice too, as it does taste a touch juicy... in fact, it is almost syrupy. Again, in this drink it serves the taste well... while I may not appreciate it in a cider (or cyder) it works well in a mulled version.

In all, this is not trying to be a fancy or clever cyder. It is a well done and well prepared mulled cyder; meant to warm, sustain and please as opposed to tickle all the senses (sorry Heston!). It does that well - and the score reflects that. A bronze apple for Aspall.

Friday 8 February 2013

Thatchers Old Rascal

I am not perfect. My reviews are not going to be perfect either. Not for everybody. And sometimes I forget things:-) Like thinking I have covered all the main Thatchers ciders when I have a great glaring hole in the shape of Old Rascal!!! Thanks to 'Dreadnaught' for pointing out what I seem to have missed.

In fact, looking at this bottle sat in front of me I don't think I did miss it. I am fairly certain that I did something much more daft than that - I think I lost the review before I had a chance to write it up! Oh well, it gets a second reviewing then but this time I will be sure to post it... And Dreadnaught, I would be most interested to see how it compares with your own experience. As a bit of a post comment, when putting this review together I found a score sheet for Old Rascal. I have attached it at the very end to show how my scoring of this cider has differed in 24 months!

So, Old Rascal. Legend (Thatchers legend) has it that  every night, under the cover of darkness, a wily old fox crept out of his den at the bottom of our orchard and tiptoed his way to the Thatchers cider store to help himself to fresh supplies. OK, nice story... perhaps true even... or maybe its just marketing:-)

It pours out highly polished - carbonated to a high fizz, 4.5% Magners stylee, light gold and bright as a button. It also smells light, although there is something chemically going on too - could be sulphites - though this is clearly emphasised by the high fizz going on. I am not getting very much fruit in my nose though which is concerning.

To taste, Old Rascal is very sweet and very light. And yes, it does make me think of Magners - juicy, a bit syruppy and, well, not that much to it. If the fox did steal cider, then I am sure it wouldn't be this... it doesn't sit with its name that well.

There just isn't a whole heap of character in this cider. Sure, there is some bittersweet fruit in here - I am getting the suggestion of tannin. There is also a small amount of acid in play too - which balances it all up just that bit too conveniently and safely.

The aftertaste is short.

I have to say this, as I have it written in my notes and its how I feel about it. This kind of drink is like the lager of the cider world. Mass produced and right up the supermarkets street... However, inspiring; challenging; interesting. Not for me.

A score of 58/100 is better than many of its counterparts.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Old Grove Medley

This is the last of the ciders that have been gathering dust on my shelf. After this, its a bunch of ciders that I recently acquired from the Bristol Cider Shop... and I am looking forward to getting on to those. There are also a couple of Perry's in the bunch - not promising that I will review them but I may give it a go. Perry is a different animal to cider and, whilst I feel I can relate to cider, I am not exactly on a sure footing with its pear cousin. Saying that I may have a go at making some next year to see what it is like. If I am to give it my best then trying and reviewing a few will help me do my best.

On to this lovely 750ml bottle of Old Grove then. That is any attempt at a diet out of the window tonight... although I guess I don't have to drink it all do I? Hmmm. Looking at the bottle it is 7.7%. Wow. I may not be able to drink the whole bottle anyway! It looks bright and golden too. On opening, there is rather a large fizz, which takes a while to quieten in the glass. There is a nice smell coming off it though - light and possibly acidic. This cider plays its cards close to its chest.

Wow, sweet! This cider is very sweet, which is a bit sad as the cider itself has a mild taste and character; so the sweetness all but squashes any chance of the cider to really speak for itself. Drinking on, it is actually a nice gentle cider (if you can try to forget the sweet). It has a gentle acid with a light a fragrant tannin/body. It is just such a shame that the sweetener has all but destroyed it! There is a reasonable fruity flavour to the drink too. Not earthy particularly, but not juicy either.

The aftertaste is dominated by the sweetening, so I would call it a short taste. However, it has character and I would call this cider much more individual than mainstream. And its far better than their Bramley cider!

Its something of a shame that it is far too sweet for me. I actually like the cider in itself - it has an accessible flavour that would make it an ideal choice for someone looking for an easy drinking cider. And to be honest, the sweetness is not a terrible sweetness (its not like someone has accidentally tipped the sweetener in)... so I can see how people moving to a more traditional cider would appreciate this.

It scored 66/100. Not an apple, but then you have to think about what its up against. I don't mind it at all though - worth a try.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Cornish Orchards Farmhouse Cider

On to the next Cornish Orchards cider on my shelf. Well, if you find this stuff in a shop then you aren't going to just buy one of the range are you?! Having tried the 'Heritage' version, I am expecting the Farmhouse version to be a little rougher - perhaps flat and with some heavier tannins.

The bottle says it was made with 'Autumnal windfalls apples'... so that sounds positive. I do like the fact it also says to drink it alongside a ploughmans or Cornish Pasty!! Nice touch.

On pouring, it is bright, golden and much more fizzy than I had expected. Well, foamy is probably a better description. Once settled, the smell is gently tannic - a nice bitter sweet aroma which is fruity (although it seems a touch sweet too).

The taste is, once again, slightly cooked. An apple pie kind of taste that is not horrible but also not really inspiring. Saying all that it is very sweet... almost overpowering and not my cup of tea. It is balanced nicely - almost on the safe side of things, but it does have a fruity tannin and moderate acid underlining the body of the cider.

The aftertaste is also a touch short, which can come through filtering and pasteurising (not sure if it has been pateurised, but the slightly cooked taste does suggest so).

I like this cider. Its not a classic or getting any colour apple from me. But it is pleasant and demonstrates the lighter Devon/Cornwall style of cider that shows that cider. However, it does feel just a touch too processed for me personally. A score of 65/100.