Monday 29 December 2014

Handmade Cider Rough Diamond Cider

You will have to pardon me for clearing the decks a little by drawing back on unpublished reviews from earlier in 2014. Not that these reviews are not great... far from it - these are some of the best of traditional cider found in the UK. However, in an effort to keep the reviews moving on I feel they should be completed and added to the list on Cider Pages.

Finding a draught cider from Handmade Cider is quite a thing for me - I have some bottles of their to try shortly and it is going to be interesting to compare notes on them all. You see, often producers treat their bottle cider differently from their draught - on tap is normally unfiltered, unpasteurised and still whereas bottles may be all of the above - bottle conditioned etc. etc.

This isn't a bad thing, or indeed in any way dishonest - it is different. However, the profile of the cider changes and makes it interesting for us drinkers. We should celebrate this - not seek to have everything taste the same... its what makes cider so exciting!

If I am going to be brutal, this facet of cider makes all cider blogs and reviews somewhat redundant... or at least more hard work than we can give it. A cider that I tried three years ago (with the exception of things like Magners etc.) will not taste the same now. OK, there is a grey area... I am not convinced this rule applies to Westons or Thatchers in the same way that it doesn't apply to Bulmers, Magners etc. Anywhere that talks of 'recipes' and has a lab is to be viewed with suspicion as far as I can see... but let's not pick hairs - reviews are mere guides. Please don't take them too seriously!

OK, getting on with the review! This is a dark golden cider which is hazy, flat and rather tempting. It has a light aroma coming off it too (and as it is served only ever so slightly chilled I think that is accurate). It is deep smelling, with that petroleum smell that I sometimes get (and I still haven't figured out what apples give that smell - though I am certain it is a cider variety).

The taste is also deep; farmyard, leather with a touch of selotape (I know what I mean)... there is a very slight sourness going on somewhere in the background - not in any way dominating and actually making it a bit more interesting. If you think West Country style, then this is that in buckets.

The aftertaste is bittersharp and long. Very nice.

With a score of 74/100, Rough Diamond gets itself onto my apple award list with a bronze apple. One of these days, I shall have to host a cider festival with only apple awarded ciders in the line up. Wouldn't that be a thing!!

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ciderniks "Ten Years After" Cider

Now it is time to cast my mind back to March... Apologies for the delay between this and the last review from Winchester... I lost my notes (temporarily) so only had part reviews written that I couldn't. Well, I know I make it look easy (ha ha) but it's not... honest:-)

And so, on my list of ciders to try at Winchester Ale and Cider Festival was something with a bit of an odd name. No, I don't think its a ten year old cider; cider isn't like whisky (though it will keep for several years before starting to lose quality) and I would have thought it would be a bit of a mess after all that time.

No, this is a cider blend to celebrate ten years of cider production by Ciderniks. Doing a touch more digging (post festival), this cider is described as: a blended cider to celebrate 10 years of Ciderniks' cidermaking and also in memory of Alvin Lee (1944-2013), one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists. I had no idea about the Alvin Lee connection, but the essence of this cider is that they attempted to replicate the first cider they made... I think!

Here is where I digress. I would not wish to replicate the first cider I made! It was thin, acidic and quite a challenge to drink. I doubt that anyone would appreciate any subtle qualities in it - not that there really were any. BUT. I learned a lot from my first year - well, I learn a lot each year to be honest but the first year I realised that there was a whole lot more to it than just squishing apples. So, in a way, it is brave of Ciderniks to do this (unless his first blend was inspired!!)

What does it taste like then? Well, it is golden, hazy and still... proper traditional stuff then. It is marked up as medium dry - I am guessing this is done through sweetener though I do not think that is a bad thing. Smaller producers often find the cost of setting up pasteurisation or micro filtration prohibitive.

The aroma is quite cheesy - possibly hoovered carpet (I know - weird concept, but that is what it reminded me of). There is definitely some tannin to the smell too - it is quite a strong smell. Don't get me wrong about the 'cheese' - this is not necessarily a bad thing!

The taste is interesting and quite unlike the aroma. It is quite sharp (in fact, this sharpness lasts through the taste, aftertaste and on!). There is some nice fruit in here though. Towards the end, the tannin cuts in and is drying. So it starts as medium dry and by the end seems more dry. I have written a question mark over the use of culinary fruit.

The aftertaste is long and appley with a sharp undertone all the way.

A score of 70/100 sees Ciderniks earn a bronze apple. As a representation or celebration of what they have done over 10 years, I like it... though I suspect either they made great cider right from the get go or else they have tweaked this recipe using the experience they have learned over the 10 years...

Sunday 21 December 2014

Isastegi Sidra Natural

Carrying on with 'stuff that you may not find everywhere', I have something special to review; its not every day you can get hold of a real live sidra. This bottle, to be fair, was exchanged for some cider, so I have no idea where you can get hold of it.

Knowing nothing about a cider maker is not really much fun, but thankfully they have a website that is in English, so this helps write something about the company (n.b. its actually a pretty good website, with some rather impressive photographs you may wish to see for yourself:

Based in the Asturias (I think... my geography is often rather shaky!!) isastagi is a farmhouse cider producer who started making cider in 1983. Judging by the photographs, they have moved on somewhat... although the processes look very familiar to me (just on a larger scale). The 'rules' of making cider in Asturias as probably as severe as the French regions - so you can be sure that a Sidra Natural should be what they say it is. The bottle carries the year of vintage (2012), and at 6% everything is looking good.

Well, when I say looking good, the Asturian taste for cider/sidra is quite different from our UK tastes. We try to avoid cider becoming ascetic (vinegary) whereas the Spanish like it. Perhaps it is something to do with the heat - or the food that accompanies it... after all, how many times have I said that cider is a product of its own place and from its own place? (OK, not much, but it is true)

OK, lets get on with opening this bottle. Not sure if I should do the whole pouring from great height or not. There is a slight pffzz when the bottle opens but this is a still cider for all intents and purposes, although pouring roughly does kick it up a touch. It settles still, bright and yellowy golden.

The smell is rather sharp with a moderate ascetic quality about it. I am expecting it to be almost eastern in style, although the ascetic is probably the most significant character - though this isn't unruly or harsh in any way.

The taste is interesting - certainly not one for those expecting a Magners or Thatchers. However, it is quite unusual to unaccustomed taste buds. It IS rather sharp, and this comes across as quite vinegary to my tastebuds. If this were musing, the cider would be a moderate note whilst the acid a few octaves higher with a slight screech of ascetic hanging over the lot. There is no tannin I can detect - so it is light in itself.

Now, I have to admit that I feel this cider has been balanced for non Asturian drinkers - it isn't challenging all that much and I think this may be the reason why. It is a nice introduction to Sidra though - OK, I have tried the Sainsbury's version which was sweet and sickly. This isn't like that at all - it is much more the real deal: Dry, light and sharp with a lingering aftertaste. I have tried a few Asturian sidra's recently though, and this isn't really in their league (though they were much more of an experience!)

If you can find it, it is a sidra worth trying. If you have never tried sidra before, then it is all the more worth it.

A score of 75/100, it gets a bronze apple from me. Deserved.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Charles Martell 'Owler Pear Spirit

Sometimes life gets in the way of plans and projects - and sometimes writing a blog about your favourite topic just simply has to take a back seat... which is pretty much what has happened in the last 6 months. My apologies to any who were fed up with the tribute to the first World War - though I do think (in the UK at least) the centenary of this folly is important. However, in order to try and kick start a new flourish of reviews I figured I would go for something very different: a pear spirit produced by Charles Martell.

I know, I have never heard of this kind of thing before either?! OK - I am sure the French are at it and we just call it something different in the UK. However this is innovation in the cider industry at work as far as I can tell:-)

One thing you may have noticed is that this is a tiny bottle. I tried to make it look bigger than it really is, but there is a very good reason it's so small: It is bloody expensive! The sharp eyed will notice that I splashed out £5.50 for a 5cl 'sample'. It is more like £60 for a whole bottle - and I just aint going to pay that for something I have never tried before... though I might once I have tried it!!

As an aside, I must say that I love the sample bottle (the big one is the same style). This has been done for whisky and looks great... 

A bit about Charles Martell - They are renowned cheese makers (ever heard of 'Stinking Bishop'?) and are based in Gloucestershire. They are also distillers of apple and pear spirit (although my reading of their website leads me to think that they have only just started releasing spirits.

It is a clear liquid - I guess its what I would expect from pears, which give a juice that is light in colour. Opening the bottle (this has to be the smallest bottle of anything I have reviewed on here!!) and shoving my nose over the top, I am getting pears alongside that familiar acoholic whiff that you find with whiskies and brandy. It isn't as faint as I had expected, and is rather nice. Once it is in the glass, you get the full smell of it. Sure, there are peardrops - though the biggest smell for me now is not unlike Airfix glue or varnish.

It is quite a powerful spirit to drink - there is varnish in the taste, though a part of this is actually the peariness of it. I am not sure it works, but once I have got beyond the varnish smell its really quite a nice drink - though it really does hit you in the back of the throat! It is really a toasty pear that comes through, with a warming tone that rises through each sip and roars at the end. Great for coming home to after a winters day of harvesting or pressing!

I don't know how long this spirit has been aged for. Judging by the fire in its belly I would say not that long - and perhaps it could benefit from another year or so to refine the harsh edges. Mind you, I think that is what this drink it about. It is a hit in the throat and, if I were to buy a bottle, it would wait for the chill of winter - I bet it will shine then!

As it goes, this sample earned a bronze apple from me with a score of 72/100. Not bad at all - perhaps I should try some more:-)

Monday 4 August 2014

... A war to end all wars?!

Image Walter Kleinfedt (1917). His son, Volkmar, sais "this image is like an accusation, an accusation against war"

AT dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

Saturday 21 June 2014

Perry's Puffin Cider

My goodness... I am writing a review for a cider that I drank nearly three weeks ago! Well, I guess this will be testament (or not) to my record keeping! What I can say - as something of a spoiler - is that it is a worthy cider to follow my absence.

Well, I still haven't recovered my pad so I cannot continue the others yet:-)

Puffin cider is another of the Perry's bottle conditioned range - 'using small batch processes'. What this means is that it should be slightly sparkling with a crop of yeast at the bottom (not put there as some kind of artificial cloudiness or dead yeast addition).

Looking at it, this is the dry version, and at 6.5% its all it is claimed so far. I should add that I can also see the yeast settled at the bottom.

Sure enough, it has a low level sparkle and once out of the bottle I can see it is a lovely golden colour. It is rich smelling - a touch yeasty if I am being particularly picky but it feels mature and tannic.

The taste itself is dry - medium dry, but very melow and full bodied. There is some sharpness to it but mostly the experience is deep, fruity cidery notes. The tannin is quite low stated, but it does develop in the mouth to leave it a little drier in the finish.

The aftertaste is also low level and moderate in length. Overall, this is a lovely cider and well presented. And to think I was worried that Perry's might be going in the same direction as Orchard Pig... phew!

A score of 80/100 gives Perry's a silver apple for Puffin. Right up my street!!

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Heritage English Cider and the missing cider blogger...

First off, may I humbly apologise for being absent for, well, a month.

It wasn't you, it was me!

There are ciders waiting to be written up and there are ciders waiting to be tasted... there is even a 'missing' notepad with my last reviews from Winchester Beer Festival back in March! (n.b. to self - I haven't got my GBBF ticket yet!!)

However, I have been very busy. Not just busy selling cider to people... or busy winning a couple (or more) awards for my cider... (which is always great!). Lets face it, those are the things I want to be doing. Not even just doing a bit of judging of ciders... though that was a lot of fun! Nope, this is a little different...

You see, I have been involved in writing, consulting, re-writing, talking, meeting and finally getting a presentation for a proposal of a PGI for well made, traditional English cider and perry. Well, I have hinted at it no here for some time eh. And it looks like it has got some legs to it.

The aim for a 'Heritage English Cider/Perry PGI' is to showcase the highest quality cider and perry produced within England and set a standard for quality products way beyond the pretty loose regulations set by HMRC. It seeks to differentiate the good stuff from the lower juice, mass produced 'brands' and to create something that is recognisable to the public.

A PGI, or Protected Geographical Indication, is a device used within and run by the EU via DEFRA (in the UK). It sets out regulations and criteria for a product - essentially ensuring that traditional products and methods can be protected and promoted. Sounds just right for high juice cider eh! Beyond that, criteria for quality can be included within the PGI - well, it is true that both the best AND worst ciders in England are traditionally made, high juice ciders! (though I realise some may disagree with the 'worst' bit:-)

It all started some 12-18 months ago and has taken time to get to a point where discussions can be held with the National Association as well as attempting to consult with as many craft/high juice producers as possible. And now it has been presented at the Cider Trends summit in Bristol it is well and truly in the public domain.

The nuts and bolts are found in the 'infographic' below... well, when you are presenting to PR and marketing types it is wise to at least try and speak the language:-)

click for larger version

Done well, it could add value to high juice cider and maybe even encourage some to raise their bar a little. And it does all of this without throwing any toys out of the pram, upsetting the 'apple cart' and allows the larger family of cider producers to continue to innovate and/or do whatever they do.

With nearly 50 producers signalling their support for the PGI so far - and more looking at it (and yet to look at it), this process is not complete yet. However, it has dispelled the common opinion that cidermakers cannot agree on anything - or that we aren't organised enough to do something new!

There are so many reasons for applying for a PGI - reinforcing traditionally made cider/perry and separating them from the mass produced cider is one thing (it will only be when numbers of producers are using it that it becomes a recognisable and reliable indication). It is also something that cider and perry producers can pin their credentials to... without having to comply with silly 'definitions' and restrictions on parts of the process that, quite frankly, just end up misleading and confusing drinkers all the more!

And saying that, it is probably worth saying that this is a process worked out by cider/perry producers for the benefit of the drinkers. Of course opinions are always welcome from anyone; its just that the opinions that will make a difference are those of producers.

There is a lot of work still left to do - but hopefully I can at least get back to the ciders and perries - after all, the drinking is so much more fun than the talking! I will post more detailed information as I am able.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Handmade Cider, White Label Cider


A cider maker that I haven't tried before. Well, that is not strictly true - I did try some of their cider at the Winchester Festival, but sadly that isn't written up yet and so will become the second (or even third) of their ciders that I try.

The first thing I always do with a cider is have a look at the bottle. I guess its just the blogger in me... or possibly the marketeer. Apart from the cider itself it is interesting to see what the producer (or their representatives) want to say to me, the drinker, before I experience the drink itself. Something that has caught my eye on this bottle is this; "Produced from a batch of 1000 litres.". Now that is what I am talking about... how craft cider is that? OK, I also notice that it is naturally sweet in the French style. So, is this keeved then? (for those who are unfamiliar with the idea, it is basically removing the nutrients from the juice prior to fermentation. This makes things move along much slower and eventually stop before the cider has reached a dry state). That isn't easy or guaranteed - so I am surprised to be finding it in a normal beer bottle!

OK, lots to explain there!! Keeving is not always stable. You see, the yeast will consume all the sugar in a cider leaving it dry (no - sweet apples don't make sweet cider!). It is quite hard to stop unless you intervene (pasteurise or sterile filter) and kill off the yeast or set things up so that they 'get stuck' (stop before all the sugar is devoured by the yeast). By far and away the most elegant of these processes is keeving (though there is nothing wrong with either method - in fact it is probably preferable to back sweetening with sugar, juice or artificial sweetener!)

However (and its a biggy) because keeving is not guaranteed it could start fermenting again and, therefore, needs heavy duty bottles to contain any gas production... hence French cidre is often found in heavy, punted bottles. So this is either very brave or else the yeast has been killed off in some way.

OK, it pours out deep golden and highly carbonated... see my comments above. I have to say it does smell quite yeasty too - lots of farmyard... in fact, that may not be the nicest smelling cider I have ever had. I suspect it has continued to ferment in the bottle and the low nutrients may have stressed the yeast and caused this eggy/farm yard smell.

Lets move on to the taste, as that is what is important. It is very mellow - lovely cider fruit coming through and almost a touch juicy in a French way. There isn't a lot of acid in here, but it does taste nicely mature with a low level of tannins that emphasises the fruit rather than compete with it.

The aftertaste is also mellow. This is easy drinking and crafted - it is just such a shame about the damn smell of it!

I said just now that it was the taste that is important. This is true, but it is not true that it doesn't matter about the smell. Experiencing a cider is the whole package - including the smell. So sadly it is going to lose marks based on that. I am certainly going to look out for another bottle of this at some point though to see if I just had an errant bottle.

It scores 70/100 and earns a bronze apple. I may have been a little generous based on the taste of the cider - some would certainly not even try it once they smelt it...

Thursday 24 April 2014

Dunkerton's Browns Cider


My humble apologies for going absent for the last few weeks. I have been distracted by other things and only now realise how long it has been.

I managed to mislay my notes for the cider reviews from Winchester Ale and Cider Festival - which I have still not got back yet (I know where they are but have to go and fetch them)! Never mind, in a week or two I will have them back... it's worth the wait - honest!!!

And so, for my next review I turn back to a tried and trusted producer; Dunkertons. It would have been nice for this to have followed the review of the Worley's version I tried at Winchester, but there you go. This is a yardstick for that then.

I really like the labels that Dunkertons put on their bottle (OK,  with the exception of the organic thing). This one is simple, bold and delivers sufficient information without being patronising or in any way 'salesy'. Isn't that what a label is supposed to do? Fair enough, it is labelling at it's simplest, but they manage to do it this way for each of their ciders without giving in to the temptation to put a picture of a drunken farmer on it:-)

Not being that sure if I have tried a Browns before, here is a little information about the variety: Originating in Devon during the early 1900's (the period when a lot of varieties come from). It is a bright red, bittersharp variety of apple used predominantly for cider. It harvests mid season too, making it a useful apple to put against the bittersweets to produce a good balanced west country cider.

This cider pours light golden in colour, bright and with a light sparkle. It smells very earthy - low dull fruit with a very clean sense about it. That could well be the sharpness of the variety on display. It is certainly inviting!

To the taste: it is more a medium than a medium dry, though I can see the sweetening being used as a tool to control the sharpness a touch. It is very nice though. A very deep fruit going on which is rich and sharp. There is tannin, but this is very restrained by everything else. It is the acid that is definitely most notable of the two. Saying that, this isn't one dimensional - it is a complex drink with bold flavours as well as a sharpness. Not one for cider virgins (I think).

How to describe the flavour? Well, it has farmyard right through it - or orchards... you know what I mean. There is also a funkiness in the flavour that I can only describe as being the same as an SV Yarlington Mill. I like it, but have never come across it apart from YM.

The aftertaste is long, fruity and luscious (that is what I have written down!) A real treat.

A very respectable score of 82/100 gives Dunkertons a silver apple. Having now taken the time to check it is their 6th Silver Apple to go alongside a couple of Golds... way to go:-)

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Cider Differentiation...

Having taken a poll asking specifically whether high juice cider ought to be differentiated from the stuff on the mass market, I did say that I would report back once it was done with the results. No, I am not going to try and put together some clever graphs to justify an argument - I have a healthy skepticism of statistics and polling. Here, though, is an image of the final results for the poll:

On the face of it, it is a clear 98% message that quality, high juice cider does need something to identify it from the mediocrity of mass produced ciders. Only 4% either didn't care or disagreed (and I think that one of those may have been me testing the form out:-) Do bear in mind though that by and large this blog is read by people who are bothered to look up the cider they are drinking... even though I hope that some of those are coming to cider from the mainstream. Also bear in mind that 100 odd votes is not exactly representative of those consuming cider in the UK.

That aside, it is a clear message. And if I am to put my cards firmly on the table I am very happy with the result - I feel that there has started to be a groundswell of movement in the cider industry who feel the same way. Not - and I must emphasise this - not in any way to denigrate the mainstream producers! As someone who came to cider through drinking Magners, and as a small producer, I recognise that there is a place for 'easy access' ciders. I also have to bear in mind that both the high and low juice industry have been entwined in the UK for over 40 years: from orchards to equipment, from bottles to markets.

So, if this is to be done it has to be sensitive. It has to give producers on the cusp of high/low juice cider the opportunity to participate. So it needs to be reasonable but differentiate effectively. And that takes the cooperation of the producers - not easy by any means but certainly something that consumers cannot force or lead on. There are many who feel that each decree from CAMRA just loses potential CAMRA producer/suppliers - some of very high quality cider... so telling producers what to do is not the answer, producers need to opt to do it for themselves.

So, do I have anything to say about this? Well, yes and no. There IS an opportunity to raise the profile of quality high juice cider on the table. However, currently I cannot say anything more (and I suspect I am stretching it at that!) All in good time, but I really hope that cider makers realise its potential!

For my part, I have a plan to 'help' in my own little way:  

The Cider Pages guide to drinking cider - For the novice!

People don’t tend to flood to cider farms or dedicated cider shops because they cannot but because they are happy with the stuff they can get in Asda (etc.) Hard truth I know – and I can back it up with some figures too: 10% of the alcohol consumed in the UK is cider. Of that 10%, very roughly 1% is high juice or artisanal in any way. So 99% of the 10% is drinking mainstream stuff. Sobering and often overlooked – it is true that high juice cider are on the rise but, lets be honest with ourselves here, there is a long way to go!

What is it about the nationally produced ciders and pear ciders that do it for the masses? – moderate and generic (mediocre) flavours, sweetening and none of those nasty niffs or aftertastes. It is ‘premium’ in that it is pretty much straightforward (mediocre). They don't leave things to chance; they want a consistent ‘recipe’. That isn't anything like the high juice end of the industry; although there is some control and adjustment going on it is done with integrity in mind and using natural devices (types of apples, fermentation conditions and sulphite). Limited consistency and a 'live' product - in as much as it is allowed to ferment and mature naturally. However, the potential for producing truly excellent ciders is all at the 'high juice' end of the market.

In my small way to differentiate and lead people to the more traditional ciders and perries, I would like to present some ‘tutored tastings’. These are free. Yup – not a bean. And can be done just about when you are ready and prepared to explore stuff. And, on the whole, will use ciders that you can buy off the supermarket shelves.  

For pretty much my whole blog-life I have felt that developing a taste for real, traditionally made cider is a journey – not a one stop journey at that. I have (however) struggled to find a way to articulate it (you should see the folder on my laptop marked ‘Cider Journey’ – full of dead ends and really badly written stuff!) It strikes me that I can do this and leave it for posterity – those who want to find it will and, as I have said time and time again, if one person finds it useful then I have succeeded.

So – watch out for blog posts marked as ‘Cider Journey’… and if you are of delicate cider constituency, avoid them!!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Thatchers 458 Cider

At first, when I heard that Thatchers were launching a limited edition cider, my ears pricked up. What is more, it was a well known Mr Bill Bradshaw... photographer of all things apple... that asked what it was like. Well, I guess your not worth your salts as a reviewer if you dont at least try to respond to demand like that eh:-)

OK, joking aside, it was interesting - I don't recall missing an anniversary or celebration. This isn't like that. It is a celebration of the varieties collected by John Thatcher and planted in an exhibition orchard that is going on here. After all, the best ciders are blends - arent they!!

It comes in a box too. Well, I am not sure that they all come in boxes but my one here certainly does. Now, is this a chance for Thatchers to prove that they haven't departed the realms of the traditional cider maker too far? I tend to place them alongside Westons - massive production and anywhere between a 50 - 70% juice content (yes, I do tend to work by juice content as it is one of the few real differentiators for mass market/craft ciders). However, to both Thatchers and Westons credit, they do offer a 'break' in nationally available ciders - something with a bit more character than the industrial stuff - a bit more integrity and a hope that they *could* produce a brilliant cider if they really wanted to. A necessary stepping stone (if you like).

OK, lets rattle some stuff off the label before I taste it: “A unique full-flavoured cider made with 458 varieties of apples…"

The bottle itself reminds me of the Aspall Imperial – dark and classy. It doesn’t even look like the traditional Thatchers bottle… and then there is the box. Nice touch. Helpfully, it has tasting notes on it, which gives me a basis from which to review this cider:
ABV: 8.4%
Colour: Warm, rich and golden

Nose: A welcoming floral aroma with subtle spicy notes, coming from the more aromatic varieties of apples, such as Worcester Pearmain, Laxtons Superb and Devonshire Quarrenden.

Palate: 458 varieties of apple perfectly blended to create a balanced, medium cider with plenty of body and flavour. A full cider flavour comes from traditional Somerset varieties such as Somerset Redstreak and Porters Perfection, whilst Howgate Wonder and Grenadier provide a characteristic sharper bite.

Wow. I could write a blog post about this alone. First off, its not so much tasting notes as a sales pitch. So its been put together by the PR people. However, what I am seeing that is interesting are some of the apples used. Not all cider apples then – which is of course no problem, but perhaps more interesting from a company at the heart of Somerset. Take Grenadier (I use that sometimes), a gentle acidic culinary apple that is a bad keeper but quite juicy. And then the Laxtons and Worcester – both gentle and fragrant as apples but once the sugar is fermented not so much.

Saying all that, if they have captured the aromatic nature of some of those apples then it should be very tasty.

458 varieties in a blend; there isn’t much room in that lot for any one of them to dominate (if done in equal measure). As all the apples cme from Thatchers ‘Exhibition orchard’ though it is a very interesting blend to make... not that I am in any way jealous. Well, I am in a kind of not getting my expectations too high kind of way!

OK, getting on with opening things up. Ooh. It has quite a distinctive smell – quite strong and immediately I can tell it isn’t just cider fruit in this cider (confession – I know because I make a cider with both cider and dessert fruit and you can smell the more acidic nature of the dessert apples). However, it also smells cidery too in a tannic way. So far, it fits – rich, very golden, bright and moderately sparkling. I am not exactly going to agree with the nose – it isn’t floral by any stretch: it is deeper than that and also verging on citrus (orange or clemantine?).

The taste is actually very distinctive for Thatchers. The acid leads the taste – an acid coming from the dessert and culinary fruit. This is backed up with a good fruitiness and some gentle underlying tannin that forms at the back of the mouthful. Do you know what… I actually rather like this cider.

There is a touch of syrup in the taste but I suspect this is coming from the back sweetening more than anything to be honest. Finally, a very slight culinary sour note – together with the strong alcohol warmth.

The aftertaste is pleasant, warming and fairly long.

To be absolutely critical, it is a little sweeter than I would like. But it is no more than a medium.

Now, as someone who has given Thatchers a bit of a hard time (with the exception of the Vintage) I have found something in this Thatchers that is more traditional in composure (from a mainstream producer) than I have found since the Gaymers single orchard blends. It very much deserves its score of 86/100. I am not sure, but I don’t think I have awarded a silver apple to a mainstream producer yet… so this is very well done indeed!

Thursday 3 April 2014

Gwatkins Pyder

A confession: I had intended to run the Winchester tastings through for the next week or so… but as I have not been able to write up the rest of them I am going to do a slight diversion to this Gwatkins Pyder first.

Apple and pear blended together (Perry/Cider… Pyder – geddit?) is becoming rather popular these days. However, unike its berry or beetroot counterparts pyder actually has some traditional precedence. Gwatkins puts it as “the original pear cider”. I can’t say that I disagree with them – though I suspect pear cider had more to do with making perry marketable in the eyes of the PR guru’s who didn’t understand what perry was.
The bottle has an ingredients list – apple and pear juice, pure sugar and a trace of sulphites. Good, although at 5% was any water a part of that process too? I know I do down dilution, but having a touch of water in a cider is not a terrible thing… after all, those apples must be washed before milling, and many people dilute sulphites before adding to a juice? And then how many producers are thoughtful enough to dry out freshly washed tanks prior to filling? This stuff isn’t a sin in itself – just the abuse of it for commercial interests (i.e. diluting to deliberately create additional volume and lower % juice).

Anyway, on with the Gwatkins. Now, before I open this bottle I should say that, in my experience, Gwatkins have a tendancy to over sweeten things. This is true across their range – so it isn’t some mistakenly sweetened error. There are a few producers like this (a growing number in fact) – and whilst I cannot say what the reasons are for this I also cannot see how it makes the drinks more popular or accessible in general. Anyway – I shall not judge this until it is in my mouth… although the sugar on the ingredients was clearly used for something. 

It is quite light golden in colour and has a moderate sparkle to it. As I write this is it sat newly poured near to me and already I can smell the pears – wow that is quite a strong smell. The fruit is just about jumping out of the glass at me. Sticking my nose in reveals apples (mostly), of the cider kind – not a dessert fruitiness at all. The pears are much more restrained now, but it does smell light and airy – nice on an evening that is sunny.

Oh bloody hell it is all sugar. Well, that is a huge shame – I was expecting good things. I am having to dig deep into this drink now, because it really is very sweet indeed. I am getting the pears at the back of my throat – they are soft and fruity (and would be delicious I am sure if it weren’t for this over sweetening). The apples – which are the bolder taste, relatively, are all but drowned out with a sugary sweetness that does this pyder no favours whatsoever. It honestly makes it rather quire syrupy and not at all to my palate. 

Grrrrrrr. I hate berating a producer of such high quality cider but this is not by any means the first Gwatkins that has been shown the heavy hand of sugar (and lost marks for it). Now, I am sure they don’t really care what I have to say and I am sure it is massively popular with sweet toothed drinkers, but this really could be so much more – I get hints of it’s potential… if only a bloomin hydrometer was used as a guide to adding sugar!

I am having a second glass of this to try and get beyond the moan, which seems to have taken residence on this review! The majority of the apple coming through is bittersweet and farmy; the pears are gentle yet aromatic. It seems a really decent blend. But. BUT. I cant get it… it is surely a complex and interesting blend. There is much more going on than the drinker is allowed to experience courtesy of bad sweetening. 

The aftertaste is fairly short and (unfortunately) sweet. So sad!

This pyder scored 60/100 – and that was on the basis that I could get at some of the flavour. As a note, I reckon if it was more sensitively sweetened it would be bronze or even silver medal. Shame. 

Monday 31 March 2014

Wilcox Dry Cider

OK. Winchester Ale and Cider Festival had quite a few ciders that I haven't tried before. Sadly, too many really to cover here in fact, but I managed to taste five of them.

As a small to medium sized festival, this has to be one of the finer events that CAMRA sticks it's name too. It is certainly an annual favourite of mine and even though tickets can be like hens teeth to get hold of very worth making the effort to get to. If for nothing else, Winchester is a delight to see and hang out in... in much the same way I think Bath and Salisbury are too... and Exeter. Oh, you know what I mean: old town with character and a grand town hall.

Starting with the Wilcox dry - it was meant (I think) to be a medium but I was told that it was a dry and a sweet that were delivered. So they had the right one on for me then!!

Wilcox produce their cider in Cheddar, Somerset and trace their cidermaking history back to 1868. Wow, that is a long time to be making cider! Although their 'news' page is a bit out of date, they have won some awards - notably a second place at the Bath and West Show in 2012. That is no mean feat at what is billed as the biggest cider competition in the world (Okay, friends from USA - Great Lakes is an awesome competition too!!)

This cider is golden, hazy and still - the perfect draught look about it! To smell, it is very fruity with a rounded tone that indicates there are some tannins to it.

The taste is very dry; an astringent cider with a bunch of bold fruit flavours and no great acid to offset it. That is not to say there isn't any acid going on, but it is very definitely overun by the big tannin. I do think that there is a dominant apple variety in here too, though I cannot really place it off hand. It could be Yarlington, but that is perhaps a bit more identifiable than this. I guess it could be Dabinett... they do make one and it is the right profile. However, whatever it is I like the cider a lot.

This is on the cusp of being a cracking scrumpy as opposed to anything particularly refined. However, don't let that put you off - well, unless you don't like really dry ciders!

The aftertaste is dry like a teabag - the nodes on the tongue stand on end and act like sandpaper on the roof of your mouth:-)

A nice bold cider to start with then - with stacks of fruit, well presented and with big tannins. Just what you expect from a Somerset cider.

A score of 81/100 gives Wilcox a very neat silver apple from me!

Incidentally, the photo was taken at home and came from a take out bottle:-) Well, it was jolly nice to appreciate it in the calm of day!!

Thursday 27 March 2014

Perry's Barn Owl Medium Dry CIder

This is another one of those cases where I think I have tasted all a producer has to offer and sit back on my laurels... only for them to release a new one. Or is it? I have tried their 'Farm Pressed' Dry and Medium before now... have they simply re-labelled it with a stamp bearing the name of a bird?

I think they probably have - although lets not forget Orchard Pig who 'rebranded' and lowered the quality of their cider (in my opinion). At 6.5%, its about the same as the others... and it will be a different year from the others too - so its going to be interesting (and I can never say no to a Perry's cider, can I?)

Once poured out it appears nicely golden, clear and rather highly sparkling... though I am not sure if it has been stood around a while to condition further in the bottle.

The smell is rich and delicious - it certainly hasn't lost anything in the filtration. The bubbles help to push the aroma up your nose: spicy, fruity with a deep country/farm thing going on. It really is quite a meaty smell.

To taste, I am getting a nice blend of fruitiness with some tannin and a background acid. It is well balanced, although it is too sweet for me personally (definitely not a medium dry). It is also a slight touch on the watery side. Going on through the bottle, I would think that there is a good amount of Kingston Black in here, which could be what is providing the background acid... though don't take that as definite! The acid is very moderate (but more pronounced in the aftertaste).

I think the tannins are softened by the sweetening to a big degree although, like the rest of the flavour, it develops as you drink.

The aftertaste is moderate to long and is pleasant.

On the whole, I am impressed (as usual) with Perry's. Right at the top end of my sweetness though, which is a bit of a shame as it is only meant to be a medium dry. As an afternote, I noticed that there was a bit of yeast at the bottom of the bottle - which could explain the highly carbonated cider coming out of it!

A score of 76/100 earns a bronze - which checking back maintains the Perry record with Cider Pages!

Monday 24 March 2014

Hecks Kingston Black Cider

Wandering back to my recent Hecks 'stash' I find myself drawn to their version of the Kingston Black single variety cider. I do find their simple design and use of colour on the labels attractive... although as a cider, this is a medium and so I am going to have to adjust my tastebuds accordingly:-)

So, opening this very smart bottle of cider, it gives of nothing more than a 'pfst' and pours with a low carbonation. As you will see from the photograph, it is pure golden brightness - obviously filtered and highly polished.

It has a rather nice smell - the Kingston Black seems understated. It isn't reaching out and grabbing me by the throat like some other versions I have tried. It is gentle and pleasant - mature and inviting.

I am not known as one who thinks single varieties are all that they may be for wine. A complete cider is a blended cider as far as I am concerned. With nearly 400 ciders under my belt on this blog alone, I am still of that opinion (mind you, us cider makers can be a belligerent bunch!!) Kingston Black is meant to be the 'perfect' single variety apple... actually, I rather prefer a Yarlington SV being more funky - but I still quite like the good ol' KB.

The Kingston Black in this cider is somewhat sidelined by the sweetening. It is dulled quite a bit, and I understand why it is understated. Don't get me wrong, the flavour is rich and smokey - well matured with a tannin and a sharpness to underline it. However, over the top of this is a sweetness that is all of it's medium description.

There are so many factors in liking a cider to take into account: do you like dry or sweet? Tannin? Acid? Do you like a 'thick' scrumpy like cider or a clear, vineous cider? All are valid and there are excellent examples of all of these. I am very glad that we do not require our cider makers to conform too much... well, I guess they wouldn't if asked!

The aftertaste is fairly short - a consequence (I think) of the filtering. However, it is a nice cider and I enjoyed it.

A good cider with a good score of 71/100 and a bronze apple for Hecks. If you like sweet ciders you may score it more.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Newton Court Golden Blush Cider

Time to move back to something real and familiar... a cider from Newton Court. And, thankfully, a medium dry, traditionally crafted and sparkling cider at that. And with 6.2% alcohol I can settle that this is all good and proper.

I have, in fact, met Newton Court cider before now... not that they would really know (even if they read this). Being a Herefordshire based company - Leominster, they fit into the 'nice cider people' category... relaxed, comfortable with their cider and practices. What is not to like so far! I like the nice people in cider... if you follow facebook and twitter, cider can get quite testy now and again. With people who are comfortable in their skin, I suspect they are still passionate - but, being happy in their own opinion, are happy to let others rant and rage against the machine.

OK, that over - I am dying to get this bottle open and try it out. I have season 2 of Luther queued up and nothing else that needs my attention. One of those rare moments, so lets get on with it!

It is nicely carbonated and bright in the bottle. quite bright in fact - I suspect this has been cleared and carbonated at bottling. Nothing wrong with that - I am finding that a bit of this isn't so bad these days. Mind you, if it's been overdone it could be a problem. It is golden and inviting.

The smell I am getting is heavily bittersweet - is that Yarlington Mill I can detect as being the dominant? Sure enough, it is there in the flavour too - very pleasant - not a single variety by any means - there is some acid in here; in the background, but it is there and it offsets the drying. The sweetening is sensible too - not too much. There is a tangy tone at the back of the palate which is interesting - this drink feels alive. A slight heaviness of farmhouse at the beginning and a tang at the end. Lovely.

The aftertaste is long. Quite drying too... in fact it has made me stop and consider it - which quite a few recently have failed to do! Very nice - I feel that I deserve something like this, having most recently ploughed my way through Koppabergs!!

I mean, apologies for mentioning it in the same post as a good cider, but how can anyone compare that with this? How can Koppaberg be called a cider against this? Sure, Koppaberg drinkers would hate this - far to intense, lively and strong (flavour as well as alcohol). They wouldn't be able to treat it like an alcopop. Surely there are beers with more in common with this than that Swedish stuff!

Oh well... at least I have the rest of the bottle of Newtons Court I can sit back and enjoy without thinking about the 'troubles' of cider in the UK. And served up with a nice bit of gruesomeness... lovely.

Golden Blush earns a silver apple with a score of 87/100.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Koppaberg Pear

After the last review, I am sat here hoping that this pear cider has little in common with its alcohol free cousin. Or that there is an emergency down t' pit that requires me to leave the house immediately... or perhaps a product recall effective right away. OK, rationalising things I should just get on with this.

The bottles are identical to look at (OK, the words alcohol free are not on this bottle - it is 4.5%. I must say up front that, if it does turn out like the other one it is going down the sink... and I will have found a drink to use as an example of alcocider - which I shall use to compare with the real thing as often as I dare.

Having done the label to death on the last review, I am stuck for something interesting to say about Koppaberg. OK, they are made in Sweden - which must have a very different tradition of making cider than we do in the UK. This strikes me as curious - since HMRC only govern the ingredients of a drink they have no real control over what can be called cider as long as the ingredients are there. And their list of ingredients is both far too long and far too subjective to be of much use. No wonder so many faux ciders can call themselves such. Sadly, also HMRC have very little jurisdiction over what calls itself cider at all - that is for Trading Standards. So there is quite a lot of disjointed thinking going on. I say that in support of my suggestion that the industry ought to police itself more - here is the link in case you missed it.

Koppaberg are a Swedish brewing company based in... Koppaberg - a town in which Wikipedia says there is an older population. It started making apple and pear drinks in 2003. The law that governs cider in Sweden allows anything with over 15% juice content to call itself cider... which I think probably explains a lot - 15% is an insanely low amount of juice to be putting into a cider!

OK. I have put it off for long enough. This drink pours out as ghostly as its non alcoholic partner - a slight tint of greenish yellow (makes it sound lovely, doesn't it?!) There is a much stronger smell in this drink though - again it is pear drops but I am also getting an unnatural sweetness to it. Please God, no!

Now, to taste I have to admit that this has more body than the alcohol free version. This mainly comes from a syruppy body - in no way is there any acidity or tannin to be found. Once again, it is sweet and sickly. Once again... (to me personally) it is, quite honestly, bloody horrible.

A potentially terrible question has occurred to me: is there any difference between this pear cider and the apple version... or do they all taste the same. Fortunately, probably for Koppaberg as much as me, I am not intending to find out. Not that they would really care what an English blogger has to say. But then, is this really a pear cider? It has very little in common with anything that you could say was pear cider (no, I am not going to even mention perry... it is nowhere on any scale of being remotely similar to perry). Surely, pear cider/perry should have some semblance or relation to alcoholic pear beverage in some way?

This scores 26/100 and probably only gets the extra point because it has alcohol in it.

As a footnote, I ought to point out that this drink IS an absolute masterclass in alcopops being dressed up as cider. If anyone need this demonstrated then simply try it. I don't think I need prove my case any more than that. People of the NACM - if you are listening - please, lets have something to differentiate... I mean, have you tasted this?