Saturday 30 March 2013

Cider101 - Pasteurisation

In this latest Cider101 series of blog posts I have blabbed on about several practices of cider making and now want to turn my attention to pasteurisation; or the cooking of cider:-)

Pasteurisation is simply the process of heating the cider up to a certain temperature (around 67 degrees or so) and holding it for a time at that temperature in order to kill the yeast cells. There are a couple of reasons for doing this. Firstly because the cider is sweetened with juice or fermentable sugars – to prevent fermentation starting again.  Secondly, it is often done for cider that is going into storage; sold to a wholesaler or so that the best before date is lengthened.

Courtesy of Cider Workshop/Andrew Lea
Done well, pasteurisation may give the cider a slightly cooked taste - not apple sauce but there is a difference in taste that can be detected. Also, because all development and maturation of a cider ceases at the point of pasteurisation, often more complex flavour profiles are lost.

Stopping a minute, let me go over those two reasons for pasteurising in a little more detail. Both are valid and it ought be made perfectly clear that, as with one or two other practices, pasteurising cider is not a crime - nor does it make a cider 'not real' or mystically 'not full juice'

1. Pasteurising for sweetening.

Cider yeast will consume all fermentable sugar, whether naturally found in the fruit or added by the maker. This is a bit of a problem when trying to use natural sweeteners such as sugar or apple juice... both are fermentable. Generally, the only way to stop this is either to pasteurise in bottle or 'hot fill' a bag in box. Don't forget that not only the cider has to be pasteurised but the container too!

I guess the question is simply this - is pasteurisation any worse than using artificial sweetener?

2. Pasteurising for storage.

This is much more a problem for bag in boxes than bottles. These are essentially a plastic bag (well its a little more complex than that as often there will be multiple layers) which is stored inside a cardboard box that provides a structure and form to make things easily dispensable.

As already mentioned, yeast consumes any fermentable sugar. This creates carbon dioxide. This leads to bags expanding and potentially exploding. For a small producer, this is not an issue - the bag in box can be left and watched and vented if required. For those who fill quite a few, or where cider is delivered some time before use (i.e. to a distributor) this is not going to happen. So, by pasteurising the cider the issue of exploding bag in boxes becomes less of a problem.


There are alternatives to pasteurising cider... not least of which is simply not to do it! Dry, still cider shouldn't need to be pasteurised - as long as it is fully fermented. OK, it may prevent some degrading of the cider over time - though ultimately the cost of changes to flavour doesn't outweigh the convenience of having cider stored in bags. I realise that some prefer to do it, but if I am honest it fails me as to why!

Using artificial sweeteners instead of natural ingredients is another alternative - though this must be personal preference to the producer... like a piece of art, cider must be a product of the choices of its maker. So whilst it's an alternative, its up for grabs as to whether its any better. Putting my cards on the table, personally, I use artificial sweetener (sucralose). I think juice makes a cider too 'juicy' but would use sugar if the process of pasteurising and hot filling weren't so damn expensive!

I do know of one or two producers who will sweeten with juice/sugar just prior to bagging a cider and then hope it is used quickly... I have also seen the results of such practice when it goes wrong!

Keeving, or stopping a fermentation to leave residual sugar is surely the most elegant way of producing sweeter cider. Drawbacks are that it is neither easy or guaranteed to work and should be held in heavy glass sparkling drink bottles for safety. Done well, this style of cider commands the best prices, but I cannot see festivals or pubs selling sweet cider from champagne bottles!

An alternative to the storage problem, CAMRA may say, is to use polypins (rigid containers fitted with a one way vent). Well, perhaps this is true while the cider is in storage or if the contents are to be used very quickly. However, once the polypin is breached and air meets the cider the quality of the diminishes surprisingly quickly (due to oxidisation and any bugs in the air). Air doesn't get in to a bag in box as it is collapses as cider is drawn. There is also the problem of cleanliness. How many producers have has polypins returned damaged or filthy - or not even their own polypins but some 90 year old version (especially from CAMRA festivals?!). At between £30 - £40 per container, they are not a cheap alternative to bag in box - and with the questionable benefits it isn't that practical or cost effective.


In summary, pasteurisation is necessary for any sweet cider created to only contain natural ingredients, or if bagged before it is fully mature. Cider yeast is powerful stuff and it is not easy to stop fermentation without it. The alternatives are either debatable or flawed. The negative is that there is some pay off in terms of alteration to flavour.

Oddly, supermarkets generally insist on pasteurisation... even where ciders are either artificially sweetened or dry. This probably has more to do with Elf and Safety overkill than anything else... and I suspect that protest from a cider maker would fall on deaf ears.

Additional note

For large companies, they no longer need to pasteurise. This is where this blog post cross threads with the next Cider101 planned – filtration. Cider can be sweetened, filtered finely to remove all yeast and bottled without risk of renewed fermentation, as long as it is done in ‘clean room’ environment (i.e. absolutely sterile). This is an expensive way of doing things, and is only really available to larger producers, or smaller producers who pay for the privilege of 'clean room' and micro filtration processes. I will cover the filtration side of this next time, but I would say that there is a pay off – after all, which is larger – yeast cells or other cells that make up the flavour/body etc? OK – lets not get too technical eh, but (borrowing from the knowledge of Andrew Lea) flavour is lost this way in a much more pronounced way than for pasteurising alone.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Bridge Farm Porters Perfection Cider

I cannot believe that this is the first Bridge Farm cider I have tried for the sake of Cider Pages! Oh well, so much time... so little to do! (as the good Willy Wonker/Gene Wilder once said).

This is a bottle of single variety Porters Perfection. So, in an educational 5 minutes I decided to tag it as 'Cider101' as well as a review. Porters Perfection is an apple I have used before, although not in any great quantity. It is a bittersharp variety... some say extremely bitter sharp! So I am expecting my taste buds to be challenged by this cider (if it is true to type!) In body, Porters is a large, orangy apple and the trees can be heavy cropping (which is good for cider makers). My recollection of it suggests it tends towards biennialism (fruiting every other year).

Bridge Farm initially struck me as being one of those out of the way and, dare I say it, quaint producers from Somerset. Turning to their website for a touch of history presents a different perspective. This is a forward thinking, award winning Somerset cider maker on the lines of Burrow Hill (in fact, they sell cider brandy too... which was distilled for them by the Somerset Cider Brandy Company alias Burrow Hill).

Nigel Stewart has been making cider in excess of 20 years, so should know what he is doing by now. They sell a broad variety of ciders, including a few single varieties of which this is one. To be honest, a medium would not have been my first choice, but that is all Bristol Cider Shop had in at the time.

True to the label, there is not an ounce of fizz when the bottle is opened, and the drink pours silently, golden and bright into my glass. I do wonder if this is going to be one of those times that I forgive filtering (though I will get to have a good rant about it in the next Cider101:-) The smell is gentle, but I am getting a tannic and sharp hint off of it. I smells full bodied and fruity too, which is nice given that I am unsure whether the acid is going to strip my throat or not!

Its the fruity flavour that hits your taste buds first, very quickly followed by an acid punch - not so much a punch as a train approaching! Let me explain that. The acid is there a moderate way alongside the fruit at first, but it seems to develop and grow, and grow and develop. A bit like the first bite into a chilli. The filtering must have been necessary and has done its job in reigning the acid in. But it is still all acid - a lot of it, but alongside it there is tannin too (though not as much of it!)

This is a lovely cider. It is a bit of a challenge but it is at least true to its apple. And it is very refreshing! I reckon this would be great in a blend - no doubt it can be found in Bridge Farms own blends! However, as a single variety it has to be on the fringe of sanity!

The aftertaste is a little more forgiving, although it still has a definite twang to it. As for it being in a 750ml bottle; definitely think 'share'. It is not a session cider!

After all that, this Porters Perfection cider score a bronze medal with 79/100. Just shy of the silver apple. That is because it is so well made and true to its form rather than it being the finest cider in the land. I doubt that Nigel Stewart would think of this as the pinnacle of his cider making... but it is jolly nice to have tried it!

Sunday 24 March 2013

Burrow Hill; Cider Bus Cider

Aha, so is this the stuff that you bathe in mud and pay rather a lot for at Glastonbury each year? And I thought it came in a tanker:-)

I have never been to Glasonbury... I came close once in the days when you could try your hand at jumping the fence, but alas the surf was far too good. My mates and I contented ourselves with a full day on the waves, followed by an open fire in the evening by our tents listening to the concert at full volume (it was the Levellers too, so that should give you an idea as to how long ago that was. In fact, it became a bit of a 'tradition' to go off surfing during the Glastonbury week... that and the annual 'Run to the Sun' pilgrimmage (and 'traditionally' the sea was flat each and every time we went!)

Enough of that. Cider Bus is a medium dry, 5.5% golden cider with a funky picture of the bus on the label. "Farm pressed from Somerset apples"; lovely. That is what I have come to expect of one of my favourite cider producers. "Serve over Ice".... hang on, did they miss this bit when proofing the label? Mind you, if it's tailored to Glasto fans then I could understand it being there (do they have ice at the festival too? How civilised... though I could think of better uses than putting it in cider!)

On opening, there is quite a large pfzz. This fizz remains at pouring and during the drink. It smells mildly fruity and cidery... not what I would call a typical Burrow Hill cider... and there i a faint whiff of sulphite too. Just looking at it, it looks very filtered - leaving it lighter and fainter than I would expect. The fizz has to be force carbonation too. So it is a cider for the masses... though never thuoght Julian Temperley was the type!

Moving on to the taste I must confess to be rather disappointed with this cider. I guess its going for the taste of Glastonbury and is aimed at those who lived off it during the festival (in a reminiscent kind of way), but its not really doing it for me. It tastes very mild - almost watery - with low level tannin and a balance of acid. I am not sure I would call it particularly tamed as faint. The tannins are there, and they are nice - but its as if the volume has been turned right down.

Going through the glass, the tannic flavour does build up a little and is moderately fruity and tannic by the end. The cider is also fairly dry, so the sweetening has been done lightly. Not that it needs too much sweetening as there isn't that much dryness about it. It has a short aftertaste which, again, is moderately fruity with a slight tannic body.

Its not a terrible cider - its not bad. Its probably the best cider available at Glastonbury in fact. Given that I have the choice of other Burrow Hill ciders that are excellent, I am not sure I would buy this again.

A score of 65/100 is just about right for me.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Now for something that needs saying..

Today, I have been finishing off my next 'Cider101' post about pasteurisation. It was done in draft, but as with most drafts I ever write it needed some things added, taken away and changed in order for it to make sense. On this occasion, it became an essay in its own right - no matter where I moved it or how I edited it I couldn't leave it in there. 

As I stand by it and think its worth saying; even if you disagree with it, I have pasted it here as a post in its own right. It starts as a comment on pasteurisation (you will have to wait for the full post:-) What I hope is that it starts a discussion.

CAMRA (and/or CAMRA APPLE). They don't like pasteurisation.  Something to do with dead yeast being an anathema to them... which is a beer thing. Apart from wondering why they would apply brewing principles to cider, the question you should really be asking yourself is this - what do they really know or care about it?

As they have admirably demonstrated very recently, they prove themselves to be the worst sort of supporter cider could hope for... one that consistently gives the resounding impression that it neither understands cider/perry nor really gives a monkey's about it... and that begs the question; why do they promote themselves as a (if not the) supporter of cider drinkers in the UK? I am coming to the conclusion that their existence is just getting in the way of a truly supportive cider consumers association being formed?! Perhaps it is time for them to move over and let people with a passion for cider and perry have a go.

I should have prefaced this with the fact it is my own opinion and based on my own experiences. However, allow me to evidence my last statement:

They constantly equate cider practices to beer practices (which is daft as cider is not beer!) and, quite frankly, don't show any sign of wanting to make the effort to actually understand cider making or cider as a drink (i.e. they don't understand it... nor seem to really want to). 

To demonstrate this at a practical level - just look at the many festivals that don't bother to check if ciders meet CAMRA's own rules... such as Strawberry ciders etc. The regional branches of CAMRA turn a deaf ear to the CAMRA APPLE committee as if they are irrelevant! Finally, and probably the reason for this criticism, their attitude and commitment to supporting cider in the 'beer' tax escalator campaign was (and I quote); "By beer we mean cider too." This blase attitude speaks for itself and was shown up for the nonsense it was at the last budget! As a twitterer put it so well, 'Well done for saving your pint... but what about mine?!'

Lets be more general and regional - How do they monitor cider producers (in the way they do brewers)? They don't. What about discussing pubs that sell cider and perry? They don't (you can get it on the agenda at branch level, but don't expect it to be given much time). Do they encourage local cider/perry? Well, on paper at least... not at branch level. They do run a competition... but there are so many competitions these days. Oh, they sell cider at festivals. But then all the major festivals sell wine too (and they aren't the consumer organisation for wine are they).

Let's face it, when one of their committee members suggests that the best approach to cider taxation is to "keep quiet about it" this rather proves that they neither understand cider duty taxation nor have done like for like comparisons with beer. The figures are available on the HMRC website in black and white - and it is known that, because of beers sliding scale of duty you have to compare average producers as well as average drinks. It just requires a calculator and a little mental effort

More disturbingly, it also begs the question why someone like this would want to be a committee member?

As a CAMRA member, I have long felt that there was limited value for money for the cider drinker outside of cider and perry being available at festivals (which I could benefit from even if I weren't paying subs). The Wetherspoons voucher incentive doesn't work for cider and What's Brewing only just about manages a token gesture towards cider (if at all - and normally in October). So, as the UK cider consumers group, cider drinkers are neither catered for or informed of developments within the industry. What is the point?

In all honesty, I figured that this was the best we could hope as a start - lets get involved and help to improve things at both branch and national level so that we get to a more positive and proactive consumer organisation - this was 'best done' from within the existing one. Sadly, following a number of attempts, I now seriously doubt there is any appetite for it - not just at branch level but among their national committee (both CAMRA and APPLE). And I really do hate clubs with committees for the sake of being a committee but without any practical reason. CAMRA APPLE is broken. That is neither a good thing for the industry or for those who drink cider. Those actually campaigning for cider, in the majority, are producers (it's a bit like SIBA and BBPA campaigning against the 'beer escalator' without the support of the consumers (CAMRA)... it wouldn't have worked.

Enough of the critique - its probably enough for them to expel me but sums up my feelings and I am sure I am not alone. I hope CAMRA at large can fix this. I would love to help, although changes would need to be radical (and those on the main CAMRA committees need to open their ears). It needs to get away from being the PFJ (for those who are not familiar with the 'Life of Brian' - to something prepared to be proactive and willing to listen/be wrong/learn/act.

Or, if CAMRA aren't that bothered by cider then close it and let someone else start something more effective.

As a footnote, I completely agree with Pete Brown that beer vs cider arguments are boring and depressing. I wish they would stop too (and I apologise if anything I have said has come across in that way). My anger isn't about that... in fact, its probably my own fault for having an expectation that APPLE would do more than talk and gaze at each others navels. 25 years of campaigning for cider and perry? Sorry if this isn't the pat on the back you were looking for!

Finally, a big well done to the brewers and brewing industry (including the main body of CAMRA) on finally getting beer the break it deserves! I haven't done the maths yet but I hope it makes life easier!

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Fosseway Cider

Another new producer for me this evening; Fosseway Cider. As is clear from the name, they are situated on or near the Fosse Way, a Roman road that runs through the west country towards Londonium (I am not even sure that is what London use to be called!) Needless to say, they make something of this on the bottle - although I am not at all certain that the Romans were the first to plant orchards in the UK... but lets not let that get in the way of a decent cider eh!

Coming in a 750ml bottle, this cider is golden and exceedingly bright. It looks attractive in the bottle too - simple design and, although I must admit to being jaded with 'traditional messages' at the moment (and, as someone who really appreciates full juice cider, I struggle to work out how craft cider producers can differentiate themselves in an honest way from the bullshit that comes out of the mouths of larger companies who can employ PR firms to spin a traditional message!)

Into the glass, this cider pours with quite a fizz; which carries on right through the glass and has to be force carbonation. The smell is a fairly funky fruit flavour, with cider fruit popping up the nose. Its quite unusual, but also rather pleasant too. I wonder how it will taste though as it is crystal clear.

To be honest, this is another cider where I just feel the filtering has stripped a lot of character out of it. I am not sure whether this is actually what the public want, or whether the filtering people have persuaded many west country cider makers that this is a good thing for the cider. From one drinkers opinion, it is not a good thing for cider. I don't believe it needs it, cider isn't wine, and producing an unfiltered cider which is clear and retains all the character is actually do-able without being cloudy scrumpy!

In actual fact, there is still plenty of taste left in the cider (though I do wish it were unfiltered). It is rather fruity, as per the smell and is a nice blend of both tannin and a slightly sour acid. Both compete for pole position in the mouth. The acid wins... just. Its by no means a safe cider, although it has been tamed quite a lot.

It has quite a short aftertaste, although it is acidic, tannic and pleasant. It does leave a bit of a presence in the mouth (though I quickly fill it with more cider:-)

I do like this cider, though I do think my overall score has been affected by the filtering going on. I do hope that producers quickly realise that they need to be a lot more gentle with filtering. I know the big producers do it, but who says that the big producers are making the best cider (apart from their own media and PR firms).

A deserved bronze medal from me with a score of 70/100.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Worley's Mendip Hills Cider

I tend to think that all this Facebook and Twitter stuff is a bit of a necessary evil. Why, when you haven't seen or spoken to them in 20 years do you feel the need to start associating with school friends... or at least seeing what they are up to on a daily basis? However, to get your message out there - either as an individual or as a small business, these things are now deemed to be required and are as important as other forms of advertising. I guess I should really stay quiet on that as I am worse: not only to I tweet and have a Facebook account (personally, not for Cider Pages) I also blog, run a website or two and even am a member of an online forum.

Given all that, I do pick up snippets of information from time to time. Such as this bottle of Worley's Mendip Hills was contract bottled, filtered etc. (did I really write over a paragraph to get to that???) It has also had some praise online too... though as with Wikipedia you have to view stuff like that as personal opinion. Hang on, that's the same as the views on this blog too!

Worleys is also one of the growing number of producers just shy of the exemption extended to cider makers... to be honest its not enough to make a living out of it, and could be even considered a bit of an obstacle. However, it has allowed new producers to rise up (which, after all, is what it is intended for!) and although not all of these makes excellent cider it does give the room to experiment and learn the craft.

So, on to this cider. It is golden and bright in the bottle. I like the label - not tons of frills or pictures of old men pressing juice through straw! Its clean and straight forward. At 6.4% its going to be full juice, I am sure. However, the very nature of contract bottling means that it has had the full monty in regards to filtering, pasteurisation and force carbonation - lets just hope it's not tamed too far!

It does pour out with quite a high sparkle, though it smells juicy, fruity and tannic.

OK - it is quite sweet. However, it is pretty light with a moderate tannin and it's very fruity too. It sits really nicely in the mouth. However, it has lost a bit through filtering. Taking a little longer on this cider, there is a nicely developed tannin to it with some earthy/farmyard about it. I also get a bit of acid, but in true west country style its well in the background. Its a drinkable cider and is going down really well.

The aftertaste is moderate to long. I may sound a bit daft, but this is my favourite bit, where all the tannin, fruit, acid and earthiness comes together (and the sweetness dies off a bit). It is a good and competent cider. A bronze medal for Worley's with 78/100.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Perry's Somerset Tremlett Cider

Aha, someone else has had a go at making cider solely from Tremlett's Bitter. A brave company? Well, I should be able to judge these more accurately soon - I have a gallon of single variety Tremletts Bitter cider... just finished fermenting and now maturing in bottle. In a few months I hope to be able to add a little addendum to each of the SV's that I have tried from my own experience.

Actually, its not just Tremlett's. I have a Dabinet, Kingston Black, Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mill, Michelin and, for whatever reason that seemed good to me at the time, an Egremont Russet. A gallon of each, all now fermented and resting until I cannot resist the tasting any longer:-)

Anyway. Perry's is one of my more favourite producers of cider, so I expect them to do this justice... all barring the fact that they have sweetened this to a medium. Perhaps it was a difficult SV and sweetening it rounded the edges off a bit!

One point about this cider before I review it. Its more for Perry's than anything. Whilst I *think* I understand the concept that Tremlett's make a full bodied cider, I do struggle with the idea that Tremlett's makes a full bodied medium cider (which it says on the label). It doesn't. The sweetening makes it a full bodied medium cider... unless I am just being pedantic and touchy with the 'sweet apples make sweet cider' fallacy! However, given that my last post was about sweetening and attempting to dispel the concept that sweet apples make sweet cider as the garbage it is, I hope you will allow a little pedancy:-)

It is a golden and bright cider, with a low to medium carbonation on pouring. This settles down pretty quickly and, shoving it under my nose it has a deep and tannic smell that is very typically Tremletts. Nice, but I expect it to be a challenge! I am really not getting much acid from the smell either - again, this is what you should expect from the apple that I have previously described as a condiment... it is so tannic in good years that it is inedible.

The taste is very interesting. Don't expect a balanced cider - a Tremlett cider is not going to give you that - and its clearly not what Perry's are after here. Wow. That taste tastes me back to last autumn! This is pretty much all Tremletts Bitter. The sweetening does have the effect of lifting the tannin so that the cider is only beyond dry. There is very little acid in here, although it feels a wee bit processed - again, this is to be forgiven in an all bittersweet cider - Without acid to balance, the cider may well hit problems such as ropiness  if it's not either adjusted or protected. In this case, I would definitely go for protected with filtering and pasteurisation over adjustment with additional acid... but the level of filtering Perry's have used doesn't hit the deeply tannic nature of the cider too hard.

The aftertaste is long and tannic too. In fact, this cider is all about the tannin and western fruity flavour that goes with it. Stacks of character and quite unusual, I wouldn't put it among the greats on the basis that it is, after all, a single variety. However, if my version tastes this good then I will be happy (and unlikely to share it:-)

A good silver apple for this Tremletts cider with a score of 88/100. I was in danger of giving a gold to a single variety there:-)

Sunday 10 March 2013

Cider101 - Sweetening

Before I get into the practice of sweetening cider – the options available and the reality to the drinker – let me clear up one very important thing. If you are drinking a medium dry, medium or sweet cider in the UK or USA the odds are that it has been sweetened. OK, some ciders are halted during fermentation – these will be called Cider Bouche, Methode Traditionelle, English Method or Keeved ciders. However, with the vast majority of ciders the fermentation has been allowed to go its full course, which means it starts as a dry cider. All the sugar in apples is fermentable (not so in pears… but that is another story).

The idea that sweet apples produce a sweet cider is nonsensical and can only be ascribed to marketeers, PR companies and idiots who have very little idea about the process of making cider. It is total and utter rubbish.

OK, that out of the way, what is sweetening your cider? Well, there are several options – in fact there are many options, but commercial cidermakers are restricted by those methods on Her Majesty Revenue and Customs list of ‘approved’ ingredients.

Firstly, there are the natural methods:

Apple Juice. This is a great natural way to sweeten a cider. However, apple juice contains fermentable sugar. So, if apple juice is used then pasteurisation has to take place (I am hoping that CAMRA read this so they can finally understand why pasteurisation can be a normal practice in cider!)

The use of juice is fairly widespread, although it is all too easy to overdo it. When overdone, the cider is left with a ‘juicy’ type of taste to it which overpowers some of the more subtle cider flavours.
There are a few who overdo it, though the obvious producer to point at is Westons (they are free to disagree).

Sugar. (generally Sucrose, Glucose or Fructose). Another natural method of sweetening a cider, as apple sugar contains all three in some degree. However, as with juice, all of these are fermentable and so pasteurisation needs to take place.

If I had a favourite method of sweetening, it would be sugars as these do not alter the flavour profile of the cider as much as the others. However, it requires some kit to pasteurise.

Halting fermentation. By far the method that demonstrates skill  - it is an art form in its own right.  This method is often called ‘keeving’ or ‘French method’ and you can spot it fairly simply – 750ml champagne bottles are often used and the cider will be around 4% (as a full juice cider).

There is a fairly big BUT though. The process is fiddly, fraught with problems and even if everything goes well with the process of reducing the nutrients (a halted cider is generally a cider where the yeast have very little nutrients to work with) there is no guarantee that the cider won’t continue to ferment out to dry. Why do you think champagne bottles are used?!

This kind of sweet cider is my favourite and is usually very good indeed.

Going back to the CAMRA jibe above, there is a serious point that they seem to miss in their understanding of what makes a 'real' cider or perry. By ruling out pasteurisation CAMRA rule out all the above methods of sweetening (effectively) as they all require it to be stable (except naturally halting, which is very hard to do). Unless, of course, CAMRA prefer exploding containers!

Those out of the way, lets turn to the more common forms of sweetening for artisan/craft producers - the artificial sweeteners. These are used in cases where producers don’t have the right equipment to deal with more natural sweetening, or the inclination to pasteurise, filter or whatever.

Sucralose. This has gained in popularity rapidly since it managed to get on the HMRC list. The same stuff you will find in sugar free cola (etc.), sucralose is an immensely powerful sweetener. It is, on the whole, a stable sweetener without too much of an aftertaste. However, I have to say that if not done very sensitively it can be tasted and will alter the flavour of a cider.

Aspartame. Not an ideal candidate for sweetening as it is only stable in cider for a couple of weeks, and has an odd aftertaste – and there are better alternatives

Saccharin. The worst of the lot – it should be confined to the bins of history as it leaves a bitter aftertaste and a number of people are allergic to it. Still, some traditional producers continue to use it… and even argue that it is ‘traditional’. Hmmm

Lactose. Yes, its a form of sugar, but is basically unfermentable. I cannot say that I have come across this type of sweetening in a commercial cider (and indeed, must owe any knowledge I have of it to Andrew Lea and his book, "Craft Cider Making"). However, it is not as sweet as sugar and leaves an odd aftertaste so I suspect is not widely used.

So there you go; sweetening in as few words as I can manage. I should point out the obvious – sweetening cider is not a sin in itself. Doing it badly, for me, verges on it (as someone who prefers the drier ciders). Claiming that sweet apples make sweet cider is a sin, however, and those who push this falsity should be banned from ever having any involvement in cider marketing and be made to stand in front of the entire cider making community to apologise and have cabbages thrown at them.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Burrow Hill Somerset Cider Brandy (5 years old)

It is time now to crack open the first of my haul from the last trip to the Bristol Cider Shop. And what a way to start than with the much lauded 5 year old cider brandy from the Somerset Cider Brandy Company (aka Burrow Hill).

Having tried the 3 year old, which is a little rough around the edges, but retains a great cidery character, I am expecting this to be much more Calvados like (if I am allowed to say that); smoother, less cidery and with new/interesting flavours which come through the extra time in the barrel.

You will notice that I played the cheap-skate card once again and bought the smaller bottle. Actually, it was primarily so I could afford more choice (and one of those includes the Burrow Hill 'Cider Bus' cider). Never-the-less, it serves my budget (and diet) well to not have too much of it!

Not surprisingly, I have had to 'adjust' my scoring for this on the basis that it's not cider. It's what I have done for this kind of tipple before now - and it should measure up with the rest of the reviews (hopefully). As before, I have averaged the tannin and acid scores with the rest of the scoring - this is only fair given that i) I have a scoring system that needs a score in those boxes for it to make sense and ii) you cannot expect Calvados, Cider Brandy, Pomeau etc. to be a style where these things add up in the same way as cider. I hope that makes sense!

It is light in colour, and, giving it a minute in the glass to really get the smell going it is really different from it's younger relation. Having said that, I am still getting an apple fruity smell from it - so it hasn't lost all the cider credentials. There is also plenty of oak in the smell too (it has had five years to acquire it!) However, it is more distilled in smell than the 3 year old. With a strong alcoholic aroma that is not that removed from a malt whisky (though the profile is lighter and more fruity).

The taste is great. This is much more Calvados like and the edges really have started to come off it. The brandy is smooth and warming, whilst the apple flavours linger and develop. Forget tannin and acid, this is much more complex than that... in fact I am hunting for the words to describe it properly: lots of oak, a hint of cider, vanilla and cream notes with (and this is a bit surprising) an earthy flavour too. This is smoother than most Calvados I have tried (although I would still put it on a pancake (that's crepe for the French:-)

The aftertaste is mostly warming, although the creaminess of the cider brandy lingers at the back of the tongue and in my cheeks. There. How did I do with those descriptive terms? And I didn't have to Google any of it!

This is better than the 3 year old, which is a petulant child compared to this 5 year old version. They do say that there is a peak age for whisky - I believe its the 18 year old incarnations. The 30 year olds are more for those with big wallets than really as examples of excellence (hey, that is just my opinion!) I do wonder what the peak age is for cider brandy/calvados? For me, that question is going to end up costing me as I will now need to venture towards the more expensive and older versions. I suspect the 10 year old is going to be the 'peak'... but don't forget to look at the 5 year old - it is really excellent.

Monday 4 March 2013

Dorset Nectar Medium Cider

My last cider at the Euston Cider Tap was a medium, from a producer I have heard a bit about and know/trust to be producing full juice ciders. In fact, I believe their medium cider has won several accolades over the last few years, so to some degree it was a safe pair of hands to redeem the evening and leave the Tap with a pleasant cider taste in my mouth.

The choice in the Tap is very ecclectic, ranging from many counties and including overseas ciders. They have a Normandy cidre that I intend to try next time I am there, and an American cider which, if it hadn't been for the £8 price tag I would have tried.

Dorset Nectar are a fairly new producer hailing from the Bridport area of Dorset. They make cider from fruit that used to head to Gaymers (or Bulmers... can't remember which) and they have regularly won things - from Bath and West Show cider competition to 'Powerstock' (the Dorset cider showcase).

Now, this cider falls into the still cider category at the Tap, and it comes out golden, hazy and slightly fizzy. This isn't that much of a problem, although I do wonder how it is stored in order to come out as fizzy!

The smell on this is tannic and interesting. Some fruit is in there, and it comes across as a typical west country smell. To taste, it is very interesting. There is a lovely fruity tannin running through it with distinctive acid tones that cut through the tannin and fruit to give this cider some really nice character. Don't ask me how I know this, but I suspect the acid is coming from Porters Perfection, a bittersharp apple which is gives a medium to full sharp juice. There is plenty of that going on, but not so much that the rest of the profile doesn't come through in buckets.

I like this cider. It does have a slightly oily/petroleum note in it that must come from the Porters, although its not off-putting and I have experienced this before with west country ciders.The sweetening is definitely medium, and there is a faint artificial hint to it which suggests that it could be sucralose (it isn't that noticeable and is not bitter or funky). However, the cider does bear it well... I wouldn't want to try the sweet version though!

With a long, tannic aftertaste, this cider lasts and stay's as a fruity, cidery taste... I think I even got to the train with the taste in my mouth... so it definitely stays with you:-)

A really good cider, and I recommend visitors to the Euston Cider Tap to give this one a go. It scored 83/100, which is a silver apple for Dorset Nectar.

Friday 1 March 2013

Lilley's Firedancer Medium Cider

Lilley's. They are a bit of a mystery - both to me and within the cider industry. Do they actually make cider or simply relabel it? Are they Broadoak by another name? Will their cider be full juice or just another cider concoction where the advertising doesn't quite match the practice?

I know some people have got a real bee in their bonnet's about Broadoak. It was rumoured earlier this year that they no longer exist. I am not sure of the truth in this, although I seem to recall it is all just a change of management and a renaming of product... it is all a bit unclear to me. And so, for my second cider at the Euston Cider Tap I figured now would be a good time to try a Lilley's for the first time.

Oh, and in answer to the questions above, I do not believe Lilley's actually make cider but relabel Broadoak ciders - although that is a bit of an educated guess (you could always call them and ask them... OK, I say that knowing that someone has and didn't get a straight answer).

Fortunately, I am writing this review up from the comfort of home, having already done the objective bit of actually trying the cider:-)

Firedancer comes from the 'Sparkling' cider list, so comes to me fizzy and actually quite hazy. This is their medium version, so I was expecting it to be filtered and pasteurised. It doesn't give off a whole load of smell in the glass - even for a sparkling cider. I am getting some low level cidery notes, although not so much bitter or tannic.

The taste is a little surprising. It lacks any real tannins and is rather sharp in the mouth... there really is quite a lot of acid going on. However, it is like a fizzy golden drink of flavoured water - rather bland and lacking any huge amount of character to it. OK, there is a tiny bit of tannin going on but you do have to hunt for it. Its just sweet and, well, sweet.

The aftertaste is pretty short too.

To some degree, I kind of expected this from a Broadoak cider. However, I am glad I have tried it - perhaps I should seek out a named Broadoak cider to try against it and compare. It scores 55/100, which is no apple and a disappointing 0/2 for my latest visit to Euston Cider Tap.