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You will have to pardon me for clearing the decks a little by drawing back on unpublished reviews from earlier in 2014.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:-)