Saturday 28 September 2013

Westons Rosies Pig Cider (GBBF)

For my penultimate review from GBBF I leave the cider bar for a moment. Actually, I was stood by my post (where I could take photo's of ciders and write notes without worrying about being bumped and jostled). I thought I had tried most of the ciders made by Westons... but looking across the way I saw this one on the hand pump. A new Westons? Well, yes... I think so: worth a try anyway!

Rosies Pig sounds like it is described. An easy drinking entry level cider. Perhaps it's not going to win any awards but it is designed for drinkers to bridge the gap from alcopops to traditional cider. Personally, Old Rosie itself is, to me, an easy access entry level cider - but let's not criticise too quickly. I like the sentiment.

So, this is an odd choice for a review for GBBF. Yup. But it is here so it's worth trying. The 'pig' itself was apparently the first delivery truck for Old Rose - it was a pig to drive and a pig to steer. Nice. This is an excellent example of Weston's marketing team...

It is a pale golden cider, hazy on the whole and smelling slightly juicy and sulphity too. The haze... well, its all dead yeast put back in to a filtered drink (go on a tour of Westons and ask!!)

Now for a taste - Okay. Think Magners with a bit more body and you probably have it fairly well nailed. It also has a bit more acid to it as well. By comparison, it is a bit like a watered down Old Rosie too... with a little less haze too. It is light, moderately acid with a touch of unchallenging tannin - safe in fact. Did anyone expect anything different? It is juicy and quite sweet too - in fact, my own opinion is that it is fairly soul-less, but I can see the appeal for new cider drinkers

Rosies Pig fulfills its' brief quite well although to be honest it is not in any danger of being the best cider today. It is competent but feels a bit over specified. Having said that it is still better than some of their supermarket 'own brand' ciders:-)

A moderate score of 61/100. Would I recommend this to my friend starting out on their cider journey? Well, perhaps a pint but I suspect they would soon move on to something more intense and less industrial-like.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Mr Whitehead's Russet SV Cider (GBBF)

Its OK - there are only a few more ciders to go from GBBF this year:-) Being quite honest, this is far from being about the festival itself - CAMRA could have put more emphasis on cider and had multiple bars... they could almost run a cider festival in its own right alongside the beer version. But they won't. They will continue to gave at their navels and procrastinate; though I really do hope that one day they will prove me wrong and actually do something worthy of writing up on here! To be brutally honest there are a number of things that give the 'game' away:

1. Number of ale bars vs. the cider bar
2. Size of the foreign beer bar vs. the size of the cider bar
3. Descriptions within the brochure... contrast the detail afforded beer to cider

Thinking about it, you could take that list of issues and paste it into any CAMRA festival you care to; often adding 'cider bar stuck in the corner away from anything important'. Mind you, the selection of ciders available at this festival are pretty good (when you don't compare to the number of beers). So, on the whole, I remain positive about the GBBF.

One point I would make (whilst attempting badly to avoid a wry smile) is that following the festival, CAMRA APPLE found that only 15% of members realised that cider was represented by CAMRA... lets face it, who is really surprised by this. I just hope it has woken them up a little...

OK. Enough. On to the next cider. This is one that I wanted to try mainly because it is a single variety of an apple that I love, but is an unusual choice for single variety. It wasn't exactly on my 'to do' list as it is really a sweet cider that I could do without. However, lets give it a go and see it its any good. I confess to having a bit of a hit and miss attitude towards Mr Whiteheads - a bit like Tutts Clump in many ways. There are some good examples of cider and there are some poor ones too.

This russet cider is very pale (expected) and very hazy... cloudy in fact. Naturally it is flat being on draught but, other than the haziness everything looks exactly right for a russet cider.

Putting my cards on the table (a bit) I have to say that I have used russets for cider for a while. I really like them - they give a gentle acid to a cider. On their own, they should also taste a little nutty - russets have an interesting character. Come on... lots of producers try other ciders to see how their own compares! I have merely taken the additional step of blogging about it (which is either brave, sensible or stupid... I will let you decide!).

This cider smells, well, sweet. I am getting some nut in the nose, which I like - though it is fainter than I expect. This could well be the sweetening though.

OH MY WORD! This cider is killed with sweetening. Absolutely trashes the delicate flavour of the russets and I am not even getting much acid out of it even! OK, taking a small step back, there is an eastern character to it and while there is a bit of the russet charisma there it is smothered by sucralose to the point of almost being the equivalent to just adding sugar to a glass of water!

The aftertaste is all sucralose I am afraid - surely no one likes cider this sweet!! Sorry Mr Whitehead, I don't like this cider. I may even have to go in search of some water to clear my palette if I am to continue to drink any more cider!

I don't think I have a whole lot more to say about this cider.It scores 56/100.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Honeypot Farm Cider (GBBF)

Trudging back to Somerset for my 12th cider. Well, not before taking a 30 minute break (or something like that). The place is massive and really well spaced out - although is the day has progressed the halls are much busier now. Some have come with hats... a couple of days early for hat day, but I guess they get themselves more noticed this way:-)

It does say something about CAMRA priorities that there are so many beer/ale bars and only one cider bar - well two if you include the ever present (and I suspect sponsored to the hilt) Weston's bar. Even Bieres Sans Frontieres - the bar dedicated to foreign beers - is larger than the cider bar in footage. Don't get me wrong, I like beer too, though if this festival represents the general thinking of CAMRA then it is no surprise why fighting for cider is rather low on their list of priorities.

I tend to drink beer when the only cider option is my own or something riddled with strawberry juice (or such like)... it has been known to happen and at that time I would opt for beer. It's not as good as cider by a long way though. Different... not as refreshing and sometimes just plain odd. Anyway, I do dabble from time to time. Getting back to my wanderings around the GBBF, I settled for a hamburger with blue cheese  this time - nice, though a bit greasy and I am not sure whether it will soak up the cider or simply make everything taste of blue cheese!

Back to the cider!

Honeypot Farm have been making cider for some years now (although there web presence is every bit equal to many Somerset cider producers... non existent. Sadly the internet and its benefits have yet to convince some producers to reach out online. Some habits definitely die hard! Anyway, it is marked up as being tannic... which makes sense... and is presented to me as a deeply golden and quite clear cider. Yum (so far!)

It doesn't really smell of an awful lot. I could put this down to having drunk quite a lot, but it was over quite a long time so my nose cannot have given up! I guess it's on the taste then:-) There is quite a drying tannin in here - it is as I expected it to be and is quite pleasant. Have CAMRA got this wrong? It feels more of a dry cider/medium dry at best and not the medium it is described as.

The taste of this cider is really very good. It has a deep tannin that stretches the pallette and lasts with a funky tone to it. You know, this may be the best cider in the house tonight. Its very nice. I am getting some acid in the background too. This is where the 'but' creeps in. I am feeling that slightly sour petroleum taste in my mouth again. It really isn't to my taste and only seems to come from Somerset based producers. Don't get me wrong, I like this cider a lot, but it just takes the edge off a little.

The aftertaste is dominated by the petrol taste, which is sad.

I wouldn't say this is a quaffing cider - not a cider for the faint hearted either... a bit challenging and not that balanced. However, not being balanced is not always a bad thing; character is important and this has a good character (in general). In a world where everything seems to aim for generic or ubiquitous, this sticks two fingers up at that!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Sherston Cider Co, First Press Cider (GBBF)

I know the Great British Beer Festival reviews are taking a while to get through this year. I admit that I decided to do things properly this time and, if I was to spent the money on getting there etc., I spread the drinks over the course of the day. This cider was my eleventh of the day (and in 3rds that equates to nearly 4 pints in total...)

Whilst I am writing about this festival, it is only appropriate to recognise the efforts of the bar staff here. Not all are knowledgeable, but most are and I ought to make reference specifically to Dawn - from USA or Canada I am afraid I couldn't tell, but very enthusiastic and honest... a sterling job done!

For this cider I had intended on getting a look in at the Yardes cider. However, as this went off just as I approached the bar (as in off 'empty barrel' as opposed to off 'bad tasting'!)

So, off to Wiltshire this time. Sherston (or more properly, the Sherston Cider Co.) are found on the edge of the Cotswolds and appear to produce cider from apples grown on their own orchards. As with most small producers internet activity, the website doesn't give a whole lot more away than that - other than I recognise all the varieties they are using and therefore this should be a good cider!

It is a hazy golden liquid (I do realise that repetition is common in these reviews, but it is worth stating for anyone just dipping in). The smell is exactly as it should be, given the varieties that have gone into making it too. Actually, it is quite a strong aroma and there is a little acid in there too. Appetizing (well, I am desperate for a great cider!!)

The taste is all of its medium labelling. There is stacks of juice going into this cider too though, which is interesting. It is clearly well kept and fully matured. In reality this cider is made up of mostly bittersweet fruit and the acid really does play a background roll. But - the acid IS there, which works well. This cider really is a contender! There isn't tons of tannin, although this could be the effect of the sweetening. However, the fermented apples are really expressing themselves and, whilst it is a tad juicy (I suspect this is the sweetening) I am really picking hairs to find anything wrong!

The aftertaste is medium in length and delicious... bearing in mind it is a medium cider!

Well done Sherston. This cider is a real credit and deserves the silver apple with a great score of 85/100.

Monday 16 September 2013

Welsh Mountain 'Bittersweet' Cider (GBBF)

First off let me apologise that this review is a day or so late. Sometimes things just get in the way and getting things out on time can be a bit of a challenge! In my defense I would offer that it was apple and cider related...

Staying with GBBF for a little while longer... aaand off to Wales again with this Welsh Mountain cider... judging by the little pin on Google maps they are just about right in the middle of Wales. Nice to see the Welsh cider is made outside of Monmouthshire! A brief glance at the website suggests they have a nursery as well as an orchard... so at least they know a few things about apples and trees! However, I am happy to say that all the ingredients are here for a full juice, hand pressed cider.

Now. A cider called 'bittersweet'. I wonder whether that is because it is, in fact, produced using bittersweet fruit... Bit of a safe bet I reckon but just in case I think I ought to try it:-)  It appears before me golden and cloudy (and still, which is how most draught real cider is served). The smell is quite tannic (and a fair bit yeasty too).

The taste is good, although there is quite a yeast to it. It is moderately tannic - not as much as the smell hints at, although it is pretty good. It is moderately balanced too, with an undertone of acid that regulates the tannin and quite a nice fruity apple flavour. I would say that this is a nicely balanced cider, which for me is held back by a lack of racking from its yeast. Either that, or this is the end of the barral and I am getting whatever has settled at the bottom... it is hard to tell in this environment (i.e. a busy festival) but nevertheless I cannot see why anyone would send a cider with a heavy crop of yeast to a festival in the first place.

So, in order to fairly judge this cider, I am having to dig beneath the yeastiness to find the flavour and profile of the drink - which is a bit sad. Mind you, if this were judging for a competition then I have to say that I wouldn't... and I guess that is my advice is to the producer. Hmm, am I 'allowed' to give advice to a Welsh producer??? I only jest, although Wales have put themselves on a bit of a peddlestall this year (and often with good reason).

The aftertaste (beneath the yeast) is pleasant and long.  Overall I think this is a good competent cider - just not this particular barrel.

A score of 66/100.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Hartland Whisky Cask Cider (GBBF)

Moving onto my 9th 3rd pint of cider at the Great British Beer Festival and, checking back, I have given out 5 apples already. Certainly above average (and it was a real shame about the Ventons - which I am sure should have got one!) After another break - this time sausage roll and half a pack of pork scratchings (I never eat these things in normal life and I think I need to save the remainder or this salty pack for the journey home!!)

Looking at my list, I am doing about right. There are still one or two that I have to try whilst I am here, so lets move on to the next one - another Whisky Cask cider, this time from Gloucestershire. The markers on the label say that it is barrel conditioned and sharp. Oh well, its on the list and it is dry - so here goes.

Hartland Cider are, well, I don't think I can really do any better justice to them that to provide this link from Roy Bailey's website (I hope he doesn't mind my using it). It says everything: 

There is nothing unusual about the smell of this cider - no real smell of whisky, but a bit of fruit and not much else. It seems to be good so far. Incidentally, it is a golden and hazy cider (obviously still, as served out of a polypin).

I have to confess I am not so sure I agree with CAMRA on the sharpness. It is moderately sharp, and that is nicely balanced and there is no sourness to it. I can see how it can build up though - it is intense in parts and I would guess it is the dominating characteristic of the cider. Mind you, with that little sticky label, is it just what I was expecting?

Sure enough, progressing through the glass it does stand out - and it mustn't be forgotten that there is a nice fruit and a bit of tannin in here too.  It is just that the acid dominates - so I will let the bar staff off. Tangy; that is possibly the best way to describe it. As with the other spirit cask cider, I couldn't/don't really care about the container - it simply doesn't leave any real impression or feature within the drink.

The acid does have a touch of petroleum about it. This is a bit like Janets Jungle Juice from a couple of years ago. I am not convinced that I am a fan of this note, but there is nothing really wrong with it.

The aftertaste is long and acidic - and the petrol taste persists.

A score of 68/100 is just shy of an apple, but not a bad score (or cider) at all.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Batcheldor 'J.B' Cider (GBBF)

I ought to start this next review with a slight apology to Hancock's. The sweetening gripe really did kind of take over that review - although I assure them I had given their cider all my attention when I tried it!

Now, yet another new producer to add to the list. Batcheldors is a producer hailing from West Sussex... and there are a fair few from Sussex this year (including a few bar volunteers). However, it is good to see this county represented as often they are just known for 'Merrydown' (although that isn't made in Sussex any more).

As has been so eloquently pointed out in other places by those who seem to have a ready made negative opinion on everything cider or perry related, the festival this year did not have a UK-wide representation. The cider and perry mainly came from the south and Wales - although Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Denbighshire and Bedfordshire are not exactly 'cider country'. However, I stand by what I have already said - the quality of cider this year is exemplary of the quality of cider available in the UK.

I seem to recall (well, not really - I looked at my own notes from the 2012 GBBF) that there was far greater representation from across the UK last year. Unfortunately, the quality of the cider was not always up to much and there was even one review that I would not publish (and I guess with peace in mind I had better not say where that producer was from!). So, I can say that I have seen representation across the UK at GBBF... and this year it was the quality that stood out for me - despite the representation not being so great.

My conclusion to this is two-fold. Don't knock a thing until you have tried it and good cider is good cider no matter where it comes from! CAMRA have a lot to sort out in order to be effective for cider and perry. I know that (see previous posts). However, I guess some people feel that everything has to conform to their own narrow minded set of ideals eh!

Sorry about that - back to the review. This cider looks quite golden for an eastern cider - it will be interesting to find out why. I am sure that there are cider apple varieties available in Sussex... let's face it, even if there aren't there are no rules to say that your fruit can only come from your locality (and I am resisting the temptation to make a sarcastic comment about narrow minded ideals).  The smell is good - full bodied with a touch of acid up the nose.

To taste, this cider has a mature, mild acid going on and (guess what) I am finding some tannin too! It has a wonderfully fruity taste which is lightened by the mild dessert apple acid that underlays the main flavour. The tannin is very soft and a touch drying - and for once I am glad to say that this is in fact a dry cider!

The only thing that makes me stop a little is a low level sourness somewhere off the acid. This can only come from a certain few varieties. On this occasion it is very low and doesn't detract from the flavour and the overall experience.

As an afternote - working my way through this cider, the sourness does develop a little more (perhaps building up in my mouth). The acid is overcoming the body of the cider too a little and, if I were a betting man, I would say that it feels the dessert/cooker varieties are 70/30 over the cider varieties. However, from Sussex - with it's tradition of light, sharp ciders - it is really very good.

See. It doesn't matter that this cider isn't from Yorkshire or Manchester - does it!

A score of 71/100 sees another bronze apple being doled out. Nicely done:-)

Thursday 5 September 2013

Hancock's Traditional Cider (GBBF)

OK. This next cider is from another producer I haven't come across before. Hancocks Cider is another Devon producer (I do seem to be drawn to these this year). They have producing cider at their mill for over 50 years - so they should know what they are doing eh!

CAMRA have marked this cider up as being tannic. A proper Devon cider then:-) It is golden and pretty clear - very nice looking in fact. It smells good too. I think the CAMRA buyer has excelled this year! Fruity, full bodied and - well, nice.

Yaaagh. Too sweet! Far too sweet! I know it is meant to be a medium but there is no way this is that dry even! 

Right, I have been patient through these reviews so far in the hope that I am wrong, but I have to say one thing about a number of the cider at this festival. 

Cider makers: Over sweetening your ciders is NOT the way to attract more drinkers to your cider or make them more 'accessible'. It was a real shame to see that whilst there were no '7' (Very Dry) ciders there were 3 or 4 '1' (Very Sweets) including a Tutts Clump and XX. Where did the idea that over sweetening is a good thing come from. I can tell you straight; it isn't a good thing in any sense!

What 'new' or 'mainstream' cider drinkers who wanted 'light' and 'unchallenging' ciders went to the Westons bar... in fact I overheard one lady say to her partner "I like cider" and having walked past the real cider bar without so much of a glance head straight for Westons because that is what she equated with cider.

Not much you can do about that I am afraid... the world is full of sheep and many cider makers appreciate that they aren't going to attract those who get sucked in by marketing budgets and 'brand' appeal...

However. The words to note are 'light' and 'unchallenging'. Oversweetening doesn't make your cider any lighter or less challenging. Damn sight more challenging to me and others who want to appreciate the intensity of real cider. Sucralose is not the golden bullet to increasing cider sales. Good cider,reputation and thinking about your cider flavour are the key... and that doesn'tt come in a packet which can then simply be chucked into your products.

OK. I had to say all that. It was interesting to see how many people felt that the cider was 'too sweet' and I do think it is high time the industry pulled back from it. Even those behind the bar admitted that they were disappointed and they assured me that they hadn't ordered than many sweet ciders... so this one is really at the producers door I am afraid

Why am I bringing this up? Well, there are people who point at real cider and declare it 'scrumpy' and nasty - these people think that mass market ciders were the saving of British cider and that craft/real cider will always be just the extreme end. They point to quality (off flavours, badly kept cider and ascetic tones) and over sweetening (i.e. we don't know what we are doing)... I disagree with this - it is an excuse (often by the mass produced cider makers) for doing what they do. It is lazy. But as ever has some basis in truth.

Back to this cider - there is a lot of bittersweet fruit in here and the tannin should be great... but it is drowned out by the sweetening - its almost as if its overlaid the tannin with sugariness. I am getting some good fruit in the mouth, with a touch of acid too. However, whilst this should develop into a complex taste with an aftertaste it just ends in a sickly sweetness.

In conclusion I would like to try a dry version of this.

Hancocks cider scores 65/100

Monday 2 September 2013

Venton Cyder, Apple Vice Straw Pressed Cyder

Moving on to my 6th cider at this years Great British Beer Festival, I thought I would continue on my to do list. This one caught my eye on the web list of ciders available - I guess it is obvious why!

For those who are not familiar with traditional methods of making cider, although these days we use hydraulic presses - with wood and cloth (often nylon) in 'the olden days' straw was a good container for pressing the apple pomace. These were wound by hand between the press plates... rather than pressing a button and letting the hydraulic pump take the strain.

These days, there are very few producers using straw. More often than not it is done as either a 'traditional' statement or just to be a bit different. I have been to the New Forest Cider open day in Hampshire and seen it in action - it is slow, cumbersome and a lot of effort. It is also not exactly the most hygienic means of pressing apples! However, the juice being pressed slowly is not always a bad thing - the pomace is in contact with the straw and interacts with it. It takes something from it.

My own perspective on straw pressed cider is that it will either taste great or bloody awful. Often, pressing through straw is the least of the 'traditional' methods - open vats, leaky wooden barrels, sulphite candles... if its going to be authentic it needs more than just pressing through straw... or does it?! I don't have all the answers, you know!

As well as being my 6th cider I think this is actually the 6th producer that is new to me. Venton's is a Devon based producer that uses oak barrels, straw and (as above) does things the 'traditional' way. Being sited near to where Whiteways used to be based, they are using orchards that I can only imagine are old and mature.

The cider is nicely golden and quite clear to look at. It also smells nice and cidery - nothing untoward here it is a full bodied aroma with a bit of fruit and lots of tannic cideriness.

It tastes quite mild and fruity with it. The straw clearly does make a difference to this cider as it is almost mellow in its character. One thing I am noticing is that whilst this is nicely full bodied, the tannin feels almost pulled out if it - it isn't really drying at all - although it is definitely there. I am also getting a touch of ascetic - very slightly vinegary. This is what I fear from straw pressed cider - although this is only a touch wrong and doesn't make the cider undrinkable at all... just a shame. It is a unique tasting cider so yes, finding it is a real shame. I have to say that I didn't mark it down for the fault, but I guess the score reflects it a touch.

There is some sweetening in here but it tastes its medium dry given by CAMRA. Nicely sweetened. There is a medium length aftertaste which does allow the off taste to develop a bit.

This is a nice cider with a good tannin and body - the acid is really nowhere to be seen - so it is possible that this could have allowed the problem to manifest itself - that or polybarrels!!

The score is hit a little and so Ventons falls just shy of an apple with 69/100. I will look out for more Ventons for sure!!