Wednesday, 14 January 2015

"Cider can be made from any apple." Discuss...

Apologies. One for the more hardened cider drinker than perhaps those who are exploring the different tastes and flavours that cider has to offer. If that is you - if you are just seeking good ciders to drink then 'Yer tiz!!'. You have a far more important job to do than worry about apple varieties... though if you get hooked, then perhaps you will come back to this post:-)

To those who just want a quick answer: Yes. Cider can be made from any apple. I guess the question is "SHOULD cider be made from any apple." Personally, I have made cider from all sorts of apples over the years, though these days many are a single gallon just to explore the end result. From personal experience (and notes):

Braeburn: Quite sharp and very uninteresting. Thin. Offers nothing (in fact, Braeburns greatest contribution to the world is that it is shiny, crisp and sweet. None of which (apart from the amount of sugar) is of any interest to a cider maker!

Bramley: Massively sharp and yet a fairly high sugar content too. Horrible cider to drink. I have heard that if you leave it for several years the acid dies away). Useful for providing a slight background acidity - i.e. protecting the cider from rope/mouse etc.

Kanzi (I think that is how it is spelled - it is known as something else commercially as it is grown under licence): Produces a very high sugar content but very little flavour and, quite frankly, not good at all..

Royal Gala: Quite a thin cider without much character. Good sugar content and blends well.A bulking cider.

Russet: Interesting nutty cider and rather dry. Thin but pleasant. Odd aftertaste sometimes. Makes a good SV but needs care. Acid drops after 12 months and becomes dull.

OK, that represents a few single variety ciders I have made - and focuses on dessert apple varieties as that is what is often available to anyone outside of the magical 'Ciderland'. I have tried others that have been very interesting; Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black and other cider varieties (in fact, I was so impressed with an SV Michelin cider that I almost made it on a larger scale). Trouble is, most people making a small amount of cider will find getting hold of cider varieties quite tricky - its hard enough for some commercial cider makers!

So, can dessert apples make cider? I mean, ultimately that is what it boils down to... isn't it?

In the UK, we have two distinct traditions of making cider - Eastern style and Western style. One is predominantly made from dessert fruit and the other from cider fruit. Both are equally valid (even if one or two cider makers don't think that is true... perhaps they should leave Somerset once in a while!) and both have venerable histories stretching back hundreds of years. And, if you want my own opinion, both are equally interesting (although there are more examples of good western style cider than eastern currently!). So in that sense, anything goes.

However, a brief story from my early years of cider making. The first year I went around my 'hood and found a dozen or so 'wilding' trees, growing at the side of the road. That cider was thin, acidic and I was the only one to drink it. The second, I was offered windfall Cox apples, which went in with the roadside apples. Better. The third year I was introduced to an orchard owner who let me have some dessert and cider apples... I let the roadside apples go. It was much, much better. The fourth year and onwards I have determined to just use known varieties from growers that I respect (and pay).

So yes, by all means make cider from whatever apple you can get hold of. I secretly smile each time someone says proudly "I made a bit of cider last year... it was easy" and then go on to tell a tale about how it nearly killed them to drink it! It isn't that easy... to do it well the most important thing is not kit; it's that you learn the apples... and that takes time and patience and a willingness to make mistakes! If you want to use wildings, make sure you try and eat one first to see what its like and please, if you do make and sell the stuff - make sure its something you can be proud of.

There you go. See, I am not just about reviews eh:-)

PS - feel free to agree or disagree. I already know one well known cider maker who dismisses anything made with dessert apples as crap. But then, he is an idiot and I can only recommend his cider, not the man who makes it!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Chaplin & Cork's Somerset Reserve Cider

I feel that I have a bit of explaining to do... for the sake of being absent for so long. Well, lots of things getting in the way and running this blog could not really compete. I do regret leaving it for so long (and to those who my pre-written remembrance piece has annoyed - my apologies, although not for the piece... just for leaving it as the lead item for so long!)

Anyway, I want to get on with putting up a few reviews before Christmas... and this is one of the 'bigger' ciders to have been launched during 2014.

Chaplin and Cork's is a cider made by Shepton Mallet Cider Mill - I am not sure how this is still related to Gaymers. I suspect it is still owned by them (or is it now just Matthew Clarke?) - if memory serves... it is all quite a complex thing these days! Anyway, this is a cider of the two Bob's - Bob Chaplin and Bob Cork; both of who are (or were) employees of the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill. In fact, Bob Chaplin was Supreme Champion at Bath and West in 2014, so he sure does know a thing or two about cider making (whatever they practice at t' Mill!) I have to say that he didn't win with this though, or any other cider produced at the Cider Mill).

And what little gems do I have about the cider itself? Well, I understand that the 'Chaplin and Corks' range replaces the Devon, Stewley and Somerset blends. This is a shame as they were my favourite of the range... though there wasn't huge competition to be honest. So, whatever the reasoning (and I can't help feeling that this was for some shareholding economic reason as much as recognising the Bob's). Lets crack the bottle open and give it a go.

I guess the first thing to note is that it is very clean looking – rather bright indeed. Also very large is the smell which, although a touch syrupy is full and bittersweet. Really quite nice actually – although I would also say that the smell is very ‘clean’ too. What isn’t large, however, is the carbonation which is quite low key.

The initial taste is quite clean too – well rounded and a bit safe if I am honest. There is some bittersweet in there and the result is a pretty full bodied cider. It is missing something though – and reflecting on the many Stewley ciders I have had it does feel a little in the wrong direction for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind this cider – I just wish it was a bit more bold and a little less safe. After all, Stewley was aimed at more discerning cider drinkers.

It is, as expected, medium dry and the low fizz is persistent. It has a fairly safe character – controlled and reasonably fruity (although not too much). And this means a balanced acid in the background – just enough to allow the tannin to dominate (a bit).

So it isn’t my favourite. But I would drink it again if I had to. With a score of 66/100 it just misses an apple.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Three Saints Bishops Fancy Perry

OK, this is my last review for Winchester Real Ale and Cider Festival 2014. I promise. I do hope that you can see why they deserved to be published - each of them a treat! And this last one is no different (although it is a bit if a fix). I had tried all the others on offer and this is the best perry of this evening! Apologies if you thought I would finish with an absolute stinker... I opted not to:-) Not that there were any truly bad ciders on offer - okay, let me frame that by saying that there was an apple/pear 'pyder' that tasted of orange squash and another which was very sweet indeed. But out of 20 or so ciders and perries I can only take my hat off to whoever put that little lot together!

As much as I disapprove of the nonsense that is CAMRA APPLE - with its clique and unelected committee, self pats on the back and squabbling about the most irrelevant of issues (like pasteurisation) - cider and perry features more and more at festivals around the UK. And CAMRA are spearheading this. It surely must be only a matter of time before CAMRA start holding cider led festivals. No, wait... sorry. What I should have said was that, if they had any sense, it can only be a matter of time... I do not have any expectations in reality (but wouldn't it be good!) Still, CAMRA are a big organisations and as a large stone it has certainly gathered some moss in its time. And no, I do not ask your pardon for abusing that particular saying:-)

Now, onto my notes for Bishops Fancy. Three Saints don't have a website to browse, but searching through the Welsh Cider and Perry Association (they are a Welsh producer) I can see that they are a full juice, traditional company based in Monmouthshire. It also says 'using rare Welsh perry pears and cider apples. Not sure if I could name any apples or pears that are unique to Wales... but I am sure there will be some. Anyway, this is about the perry isn't it:

The perry is medium dry, fairly bright and pale in colour. It has (what I noted as) a flowery smell, albeit a touch light in the nose. I have also written a 'Tappy smell' - though I really cannot make out what on earth I was going on about. Over this though I have written 'nice' so, with several months between the tasting and now, lets go with that.

The flavour confirms the floral pear taste. It is very pleasant in the mouth and does taste a little stronger than its 4.6% abv. I would say this is an all round perry - it could be more individual, but then it is very pleasant as it is. The medium dry is accurate and I would be quite happy that this may not be back sweetened - as pears contain sorbitol which is unfermentable.

The aftertaste is moderate in length and the note I have against that is satisfying.

At the end of the day, whether I can recall what the notes say or not, it is the score that matters. With 76/100 this goes down as one of the better examples of the art of perry. A bronze apple (which, thinking about it doesn't sound quite right for a perry:-)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Ciderniks Kingston Black Cider

Happy new year to all! OK, starting the new year by still catching up on reviews from March 2014 is a bit daft but there you go. These cider should not be missed! There is only a couple more months to wait until the next Winchester Beer Festival, although I have no idea yet whether I will be able to wangle sufficient brownie points to make another trip (would be my third time I think).

Moving on to a cider with a more familiar name, but staying with Ciderniks, we have a Kingston Black single variety cider. There were actually two of these at Winchester, but this is the drier of the two and I have already tried (and reviewed) the New Forest Cider version.

I have tried quite a few Kingston Black SV ciders over the years, I am not entirely sure that there is anything left to say about it that I haven't already said more than once. So let me tell you a little about Ciderniks instead.

Based in Berkshire, Ciderniks is a small scale traditional cidermaker who produces a fair few different blends (though I am not sure if they are all available in the same year). They pride themselves on making cider with just juice - no sulphites, additives or anything else... well, they say no sweeteners too, but this cider is most definitely sweetened! Still, websites are a pain to keep up to date eh! and I don't believe that Ciderniks should be seen as anything less than a good, honest cidermaking company that uses traditional methods (and the non sulphiting route is too fundamentalist even for me!!).

Once again, this is a dark golden and flat - exactly as I would expect both from Ciderniks and from the mightly Kingston Black. It does seem to be quite clear, although this could well drop as clear as this without filtering (though sometimes unfiltered Kingston Black cider can be quite 'chewy'). It is described as a medium - which must be sweetened or keeved (and you would not put a keeved cider into a bag in box!)

The smell is exactly as I expected; fruity, tannic and typically Kingston Black. The taste, although sweetened (sensibly, although perhaps a touch more than medium for me) is precisely Kingston Black - tannins, sharpness and a bunch of cider apples! The tannin is funky too, giving it a bit of a farmyard feel. Spot on.

The aftertaste is medium in length and nice.

So, this is an unadulterated, straight example of a single variety Kingston Black from a cidermaker who does not like to adulterate or alter his wares. A great example if you want to see what Kingston Black tastes like on its own. Albeit a sweet version.

A score of 72 sees Ciderniks with another bronze apple from me. Well done!