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 Although their 'news' page is a bit out of date, they have won some awards - notably a second place at the Bath and West Show in 2012.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?

Monday 10 March 2014

Koppaberg Pear - Alcohol Free

Well, this one is for all those health conscious "alcohol is evil" types out there. The sort that want to nanny and police us and stop us from being responsible adults for our own good. You know, the sort who like things like statistics that can be abused and massaged to suit their own opinions. And aren't opinions like arseholes...

I am struck by the irony of this drink too. Koppaberg is a drink not exactly tailored for the more experienced cider drinker... it is one of those drinks that sit in nightclubs and pubs who don't really care too much about the cider they lay on, as long as they can get it cheaply. I know, a bit harsh, but lets face it; any drink that advertises itself as premium and happily sits alongside WKD etc. (with all its various flavours) is kind of lining itself up with the alcopop world.

So, what is ironic then? Well, Koppaberg is targeted at the aspiring young... those who wish to develop their tastebuds but think that this kind of thing is still 'totes amazeballs'. And this one is alcohol free. Come on... there has to be something ironic about this... the Swede's have a sense of humour, don't they?

To some degree, if Koppaberg is on the edge of what I see as cider (I know, it says cider on the bottle... premium cider actually... its just a label, it doesn't necessarily mean anything!) then this ought not be... except that it says it is on the label. But then, I wanted to compare the non alcoholic version to the alcoholic version. So I have both to try... one after the other. This way I can get a true reflection on whether this unleaded version is a true reflection of its leaded colleague.

Looking at the label, I do have some high points for you. The company refer to themselves as a "family owned brewery". And there I was, thinking that it was only journo's who couldn't be bothered to tell the difference between brewing beer and making cider. The other thing that made me stop for a second was, "fermented using naturally formed soft water..." Pardon? Say again? OK, taking aside the naturally formed soft bit (which is weird enough)... is this a mineral water drink? Is that what the Swedes think of cider? Oh dear.

To see in the glass, this drink has virtually no colour at all - a greeny yellow tint is about as far as I can go with it. Also, it is foamy and sparkling - though with very little smell to it. I am getting some pear drops - but really not much else.  So far, it fits with the idea of it being a mineral water drink. Let's taste it.

Aaaaagh. Sugar rush! There is something cidery or peary about it... though trying to get past the sweetness is all but impossible. There is very little character other than candy - certainly nothing that I can use to compare it to other pear ciders... let alone perries. And that, I am afraid, is how it stays the whole time. I wouldn't say it isn't challenging or balanced - I am finding it very challenging and unbalanced to be honest. Just not in a good way (for me).

I can, in all honesty, say that this is my first and last time of trying Koppaberg Pear Alcohol Free. The only plus I can see about this is that it is alcohol free... the drink itself is incredibly sweet and quite frankly nasty. In fact, it is the only reason I could see anyone drinking it is for the bottle... is that what this is reduced to?

For anyone seeking to discover perry from the point of drinking this: start with Magners or Bulmers. It has much more flavour going on. I fear that an Olivers may have too much flavour and character at this stage... however, please move on from this. Try one of those mineral waters with 'a hint of'... they are better than this!

A score of 25/100 means that this may well be the lowest scoring drink I have tried so far. I need a drink of water just to clear my palate!

Friday 7 March 2014

Wilcox Dabinet Apple Cider

I am shocked to say that I have never tried a Wilcox cider on here before. I guess that there are so many things to try that I may skip the odd few now and again... and as long as I eventually get to them no harm done eh?!

This is part of a haul from the Bristol Cider Shop over the last month. It is nice to see that they do change the range every so often - after all, you must try other things now and again to really appreciate where you are in the range of tastes. Given that cider changes barrel to barrel, year to year, I did fear for a while that I would have to start all over again at some point. Well, when I run out of new things to try I may go back to some and update them with re-tastings... after all, there are those who I think I have been harsh on, those who I think I was too generous to and those.. well... those that I would use any excuse to seek out and try another bottle!

This Wilcox, for me, isn't the ideal Wilcox to start off with - it is medium sweet and also a single variety. Still, if I like it then I will be hunting down the drier versions toute suite!!OK, it pours out with a low sparkle and is golden and bright. In all fairness, filtering is not something I do a lot of, and I do feel that some cider/perry is so heavily filtered that it loses something... but at the same time, there is something nice about a bit of a clarity.

The smell is sweet, but has lots of dabinet coming through (note to Wilcox... I am sure it is spelled dabinet and not dabinett!) This smell is fruity, slightly funky and lively with a mature farmyard background. Good start!

It is a medium sweet but there is some character of fruit coming into the taste too. In fact, the more I drink the better the balance of fruit and sweet there is. And it is a nice example of dabinet. Having made a truly SV version myself as a trial, I can say with confidence that this is good dabinet! There is little acid to it - which is right for dabinet. Its a really good cider.

I guess if I am being super picky, I would say that the sweetening leaves things a touch cloying, but I guess that is splitting hairs... after all, it is a sweet!

There is a long, drying aftertaste. This is where tannic bittersweet apples come into their own.

Overall, this is a great cider. If it were a dry I suspect it would earn a gold apple, but as it is a silver one is pretty good going. Nice. A score of 83/100.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Bulmers Pear

I am sure I have said this for just about every Bulmers or Magners product that I have tried to date... sooner or later I had to try this example. This one isn't even a pear cider... its a pear. OK, probably a little mischievous but this is one of those drinks that people will automatically think of (well, those who drink pear cider, that is). I am glad, however, that I have had the chance to try a few very high quality perries before coming to this one.

Looking at the label, apparently pears were the first fruit Bulmers pressed back in 1887. Marketeers. I love em (not). Well, all I can say to that comment is that I would put money on the perry being made back in 1887 to have an awful lot more juice content that there is today... and Mr Bulmers - all that time ago - would probably not recognise this (barring it being his name on the label!). Oh well, I guess if you know nothing about perry making practices then this is probably a reassuring thing.

I know I bang on about this, but heritage is very important to me. Heritage and quality... the two aren't linked. Just because someone has been making cider for long enough that they should know how to put a decent cider together does not mean by any stretch that they do... However, for Bulmers to play on heritage - when their practices and products  don't resemble anything of the sort. Am I not the only one who finds this a bit disingenuous?

Look, I am going to step away from this perspective in order to try this pear cider with some kind objectivity.

It pours out golden, fizzy and bright and sparkly.I am mostly getting pear drops from the smell - it is quite strong. It isn't the subtle and charismatic smell that I have experienced in the very best of the perries, but it isn't so boiled sweets that I am put off... and at least it smells of pears.

The taste is much more watered down. Its a bit of a cross between cider and perry to be honest. There are no real tannins (perhaps I get the whisper of them) and not a whole lot of acid either - though strangely it does have some body.

With a short, sweet aftertaste I have to conclude that this is a bit of a ghost of itself. Any bold flavours have been rounded off to present something that would only offend those that really appreciate perry at a strength that cannot be criticised by the anti drinks lobby.

Saying all this, I don't hate it. In fact, I can see why it is popular - there is nothing to hate... nothing at all. Nothing to see here... a score of 53/100 sees it safely 'in the middle'.


Saturday 1 March 2014

Ross on Wye - Broome Farm Perry

Moving from Somerset up to Herefordshire (happens a lot for cider and perry:-) for this perry from Ross on Wye. Now, these guys have an excellent track record on here for their cider so I guess I am expecting some good things from the perry too. We shall see.

Once again the bottle comes with a llama stuck on it. No, its not a llama - its an alpaca. Is it being offensive to say that this one has a bit of a squished up face??? The description says that their herd of alpaca's graze for part of the year under the pear trees, so perhaps this one was grazing under a very acidic pear tree!!

This perry pours out yellowy gold and with the tiniest 'pfzz'. It looks clear, but I think it is fairly bright for perry (it can be a bugger to get polished and clear). It has quite a lively, citrus smell to it. And although the smell is robust, there is are a few floral notes which takes the edge off. I am looking forward to this;-)

For once, I think Ross on Wye have got the sweetening wrong. Its really much more sweet than the medium dry that it says on the label. It is well into medium. However, working with this, I am getting quite a floral and fruity perry underneath it. Once again, there are some peaches in the mouth - though less so than I am coming to expect (this could just be the sweetness). It is quite juicy too, However, there is a little tannin and I am getting some acidic notes too. It is the floral, pear flavour that wins through though.

A moderate length aftertaste which again is mostly sweet and peary with a juicy tone that competes with the perry.

In all, I do like this but felt that the sweetening let it down a bit. It would have been nice to try this as a proper medium dry - I am sure it would be really good. A score of 77/100 earns a bronze. It is well put together, but not quite hitting the mark.