Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mole Brewery Black Rat Cider

Cider from a brewer... whatever next? Mind, Stella do it (although since the review someone else has described it as the same texture and tang as lucozade... which despite being a bit damning is not too far from the experience I had with it!)

Anyway, this one isn't like that - although reading the website they started making cider for similar reasons... not just because cider is a decent market to make some money in (well, I guess there has to be some of that), but also because they saw the main brands and wanted to do something better... sounds a bit like the press releases I have read about Stella - albeit that Black Rat has been with us since the late 90's.

At 5.5%, I suspect it has been cut and controlled a little (tamed may be a more appropriate word for a black rat). However, even at 5.5% it still deserves respect. It is from Somerset too, so there ought to be plenty of bittersweet and sharp apples going on under the cap.

Well, it smells of cider fruit - deep fruit flavours with tannin and maybe a little sulphite sitting at the back somewhere. It is also pretty uniformly fizzy, the kind that comes from carbonation as opposed to bottle conditioning of any kind. This fizz continues through the drink.

To taste, it is a good drop with tannins hitting the mid range on my personal scale and with an acid that is pretty well balanced against it. The bubbles are a bit annoying and I would say do get in the way of the flavour somewhat. However, its a good blend and just a little morish! The aftertaste is tannic - which makes the cider generally less sweet overall (not a bad thing).

I have knocked a couple of points off for the sake of the over carbonation, but this still leaves a respectable bronze apple...  77/100

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Westons Stowford Press 'Export' Cider

Time for another Westons, and this time it is the Stowford Press... though I am not sure if this is the most commonly found Westons or if its Old Rosie. Sitting the two side by side they are clearly from the same stable (though I will try to keep comparison to a minimum as this isn't the purpose of the review).

A couple of things to say about the bottle - which is the recognisable Westons style. Well, its more the label really. This is a pretty full strength cider at 6%, so why do they advertise it as an 'extra strength premium cider'? I am afraid that the use of the term 'premium' in the drinks industry leaves me cold, as it is used by such giants as Diageo and Coors to describe pretty much everything they sell (that is a generalisation, by the way... I haven't done the legwork to find out!)

Stowford Press is a crystal clear, golden colour in the bottle as opposed to the cloudy nature of its cousin Old Rosie. And it gives a fairly vigorous fizz when poured. There is a gentle smell of cider about it which is rather pleasant whilst I wait for the fizz to die a little.

To drink, it is very similar to Old Rosie (OK - comparison endeth, though they are very similar). Following my notes, it has a good amount of acid in it which doesn't so much compete with the tannin but the sweetness of the cider. The tannin is fairly minimal in the sup, although does come through as a little drying in the aftertaste... nice but faint I think sums it up. In all though, it is an appley cider which even if it is a bit on the safe side is pleasant.

Overall I enjoyed Stowford Press, although it seems a little to safe and bland... a bit sweet and syrupy. Mind you, its by no means the worst in this respect!

Ironically (now that I have checked), I have said very similar things about Old Rosie. Could it be the same cider (but with some cloud added for Old Rosie)?? Well, it doesn't matter too much as this is a good and reasonable cider... even if it is a mass produced cider.

Its score of 65/100 puts it just behind Old Rosie for me... but in fact I think they are pretty hard to seperate (and for all its export credentials, Old Rosie is actually stronger!)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

New Forest Vintage Kingston Black Cider

OK, here is a cider that is a little different from a traditional English cider. The question is, does it compete with French cidre? Well, there are a few interesting points to make about this.

First of all, it depends what you have in front of you. Naturally sparkling (and/or sweet) cider comes in several shapes and sizes - champagne method, bottle contitioned 'bouche' and keeved are probably the main methods. These are often found (as with the New Forest Vintage) in champagne style bottles (strong glass with deep concave bottom) Reading around this, two things can be said. Firstly, the French have only been doing it since the 1960's (forget where I read that but either in the CAMRA 'Cider' book or in Simon Mckies new 'Craft Cidermaking for Ciderists'. Secondly, a few people have now suggested that the champagne bottle is actually an English invention of the 16th century to contain sparkling cider (e.g. James Crowdens 'Ciderland').

I am persuaded by this argument although it is clear that the French adopted the method for cidre more recently than UK cider producers seem to have re-adopted it. However, it is sufficient to reconsider what I have been calling the 'French style'.

So how does the New Forest KB Vintage stack up against other sparkling ciders?

First thing I note is that it is not perfectly clear - the result of a naturally carbonated cider which has stirred up the yeast at the bottom. As a result, the first whiff is a little yeasty. However, this is a real. full juice cider that has gone through a second fermentation in the bottle... there really isn't much control over yeast without freezing the neck (as in champagne).

It also smells smoky; a sign that it is indeed matured and 'vintage'. I think this delicate quality is lost with ciders that are filtered and pasteurised... more the shame for them, but it is nice to find.

Now, bear in mind what I have said before about not being a fan of single varieties. Kingston Black is accepted as the best (or most likely) candidate for an SV cider. Here it works well: it is drying in the mouth and fruity with an acidic note at the back end of the mouthful. This lasts and makes up the aftertaste. All the way through, it is smoky and delicate.

I know. I haven't mentioned the bubbles... I always mention the bubbles:-) Well, the fizz is quite high on pouring, but dies off quickly and lifts the cider gently.

I probably only have two problems with this cider. A tiny bit of yeast and the slightly off balance taste. In a crafted cider using a single variety I can forgive both. I have to say I am a little surprised with it as Kingston Black ciders are normally dry to the bone unless they are sweetened.

Its really a high quality drink full of character... I'll bet this doesn't taste the same next year! 85/100 and a silver apple for New Forest Cider.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Orchard Pig Medium Cider

Back to the UK once again - its about time I reviewed another artisan producer, although this bottle was purchased from Watirose. You have to respect that supermarket for trying where it comes to cider - although so far I cannot complain that there isn't at least a choice in most of the others (I do feel that Morrisons and Asda let the side down a bit). However, it it so encouraging that there are at least a couple of full juice, crafted cider producers making inroads to the supermarkets (though I am afraid to ask what hurdles they had to jump through in order to get their produce in!)

This Orchard Pig cider is a little out of my comfort zone on the face of it. Medium ciders are commonly too sweet for me. However, I cannot pass up the chance to at least try it. I do like the label too. Creative or imaginative things generally appeal to me. There is a nod towards ingredients listing on it (with a picture of apples and an arrow pointing to it with 'ingredients' next to it. If its their way of saying its full juice (i.e. greater than 85% apple juice) then I am good with that.

Orchard Pig is a deep golden colout with a light carbonation to it. There is no fuss or flourish when it is poured. It smells tannic and sweet (fruity) and has a strong full aroma to it.

The first mouthful is all cider fruit - fruity and tannic with very little acid coming through. There is sweetness in it, but after a few more mouthfuls this is overcome by the full tannic style of the cider. Its a medium dry/dry cider by the time the tannin has had a chance to do its thing. This is partly because the thing that clings to the tongue and lingers is the tannin and fruit. If there is any acid in here (and there must be because it does taste fairly balanced) it is dominated by the tannin.

Overall, I enjoyed this cider a lot. I understand why its a medium - it needs to be in order to stop the cider being mouth puckeringly dry. But it all works well. Lovely.

A silver apple for Orchard Pig on this one - 83/100.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pommeau de Normandie

I haven't intentionally written about tons of French produce on purpose... its just what I have in the cupboards. In fact, this search for good cider has meant popping in to many more shops and off licences to 'see what they have' and could get out of control if I am not careful.

Not this one though. This was a gift from relatives who travel to France pretty much every year these days. "Have a go at this", I was told... though it maybe because I force fed them some of Julian Temperleys excellent Pomona previously that they felt the need to compete. And if its half as nice as Pomona is, it was a very generous gift!

Clearly, at 17%, this must be treated with the respect it deserves... little and often:-) As soon as I poured some out I caught a whiff of alcohol - very strong smell of alcohol. Also, there was a huge apple aroma too. Not sweet apples, like Pomona, but alcohol and apples. Appetising! It is also very brown in colour. This normally occurs with apples where the pomace has been left to macerate for a long time (you will know that apple juice turns brown with contact with air). However, I think this is more to do with its blend with Calvados.

The apples found in the smell are a little lost in the taste. Its not tannic or acidic in any real way, but the taste of calvados and the alcohol really do run right through this drink. In the mouth there is a bit of tannin - mainly found in the aftertaste, but do not expect this to be sweet to any great degree.

The lingering taste is calvados. Clearly its a different blend from the Burrow Hill Pomona, although at a similar ABV it packs as much punch. Its very nice though, and since my first try I have used it to make 'Ochard Mischief'... Julian Temperley's concept of blending a little Pommeau with a dry cider to create something sweeter but with a little more oomph.

A score of 73/100 and a bronze apple goes to the brown stuff... hic!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Domaine de la Gentilommiere Cidre Fermier

Farm cider. This is normally a safe bet to finding full juice cider in France. Well, you will always have to be prepared find both good and bad - especially when there is nothing out there to tell you otherwise... I guess that is a part of the purpose of this blog. I am not really trying to help anyone else, but it is darn convenient to call up the blog on my phone to see what I have tried before. Well, it will be at some point anyway!!!
I bought this one in a small supermarket, although I cannot remember which town it was in (and I didn't have the forethought to write it down!). Its not got the AOC mark, but was about 4 euro's and is farm cider so it should be pretty much on the mark. One other thing I have noticed in France is that there is a tendancy towards labelling things organic. OK, my feelings on organic are on here already and I am just as sceptical about the French version as I am about the British version. 

This is a nice, fruity smelling cider that is golden and clear (and very sparkling). Its nice and refreshing, although it is another sweet cider - quel surprise... its French:-). Its also got a gentle tannin with acid behind it. Have you noticed that I seem to have written the same thing a couple of times now? It is like several other cidre's that I have tried so far. I am no expert in French cidre and it will almost certainly differ between regions, but there seems to be a common objective amongst the cidre's I have tried so far. They are all gently flavoured, fizzy and sweet with a distinct appley note.

Now, this doesn't mean they are bad - in fact, the cidre's I have tried on the whole have all been very good. This one is a great cidre - if you come across it, try it!. It scored 66/100 which is good although I didn't think it was spectacular. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ciderie du Petit Clos Cidre Traditionnel

This is the another cidre bought from Neufchatel (I still can't get over the fact that you can buy cidre from a greencgrocers!). The last one I tried was ecxellent - worthy of a silver apple (for what that matters to anyone but me:-) it will be interesting to see if this one stacks up in the same way. It is also the 50th review I have done now... and I am barely scratching the surface of quality cider so far. I am pleased that there is more to say about tasting cider than I feared with the first few.

Although there seemed to be a lot of artisanal cidres where ever I looked, I think it is more or less the same number as you would expect to find in Herefordshire or Somerset - its all a case of going to the right place to find them. Driving around though it is noticable that anyone who has any land has a couple of trees. Very pretty in the springtime as they are full of blossom. It is also interesting that many also have cherry trees and in some towns it appears that more people opt for cherry over apple. The orchards that I passed seemed smaller than the big orchards found in the UK, but there are definitely more of them... again though this could be a case of being in the right place.

This cider, like the majority of others is sparkling and golden. However, its beyond hazy and even leaving it to settle for a couple of days was still pretty cloudy. As with many others it is appley to the taste - matching the smell. To taste though there seems to be a lot of bitterX - bittersweet, bittersharp - the acid and tannin is almost as if there is a bunch of crab apples in it. It doesn't feel as balanced as many of the others. This does give it a fairly distinctive character though, and I did enjoy it. It didn't cloy and was pretty smooth. It was also clearly a full juice cider and even though it was cloudy, there wasn't any yeast to the taste.

My suspicion is that is was a little young and unbalanced. But even though, it still rated at 66/100, which is respectable.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Le Grand Ameray Cidre Pay's d'Auge

This is the first French cider that has the 'Appellation Controllee' - the mark that the cidre conforms to the regional standards and restrictions as a cidre.  In my humble opinion, this is both a good and bad thing. It is good in that the cidre is tested to ensure it meets a standard (although I also understand that some 'adjust' cidres post testing). It also has the effect of controlling production and limiting the ability to play and explore.

The idea of a regional protection is being explored around the UK too, and the main cider counties all try to ensure that they are the only ones who can call a cider by a certain name. Having said this, in the UK it seems to be more about protecting the name as opposed to protecting a style of cider or method of production. Not sure if we have missed a trick there - but with all things like this, there are always benefits and pay off's.

This is a pretty good cidre though. It is hazy and golden, with a layer of sediment nicely at the bottom. It has a smokey smell too, which suggests it is an aged cider as opposed to new. However it tastes very juicy, as if it has been back blended with apple juice. To go along with this, it is also very sweet indeed. This is the main characteristic that lasts and dominates the aftertaste. Its almost a 'doux'.... let me explain that! French cider comes in several forms. A 'brut' is a cidre of about 5% and is the main style of cider, wheras a 'doux' is a weaker, less fermented version which is much sweeter. Don't make the same mistake as I did by thinking it was a second pressing. If you do, you are in for a shock!

Its not a bad cidre, but with a score of 65/100, the sweetness let it down for me. If you like sweet ciders, you will certainly score it higher.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Cidre Artisanal Carville

Back to French cidre again (mainly because I still have a stack of it to get through.. woe is me:-), and another cidre bought from a greengrocer in Neufchatel. I particularly liked the stamped number on the bottle which just shouts 'we don't make much of this stuff and are proud of what we sell'. Well, that but in French! Again, this one doesn't carry an AOC or regional conformance label... and it was also a small bottle (500ml), breaking with the tradition of larger 750ml bottles.

Incidenally, a good source of guidance about European cider touring is found in the CAMRA book 'Cider'. Worth seeking out for your cider bookshelf anyway, it contains several accounts of trips around France. A small word of caution though, it is generally written by cider makers - which would appear to be a golden ticket when talking to other cider makers... you may not be as welcome as they are (unless you are also a cider maker). That isn't a rule though; cider makers are generally very lovely people:-)

I will get straight to the tasting of this one. I tried it whilst in France and am only sorry I didn't bring more of it back with me!

Its a golden and sparkling cider - the nice moussy bubbles that are almost a froth instead of a prickly carbonation. This carbonation lingers all the way through the drink. Its also got a really fruity aroma to it, it is bittersweet and apples - it makes you look forward to drinking it.

And its worth it too. Bittersweet and apples come through with a tannin that lingers all the way through the drink It is also fairly dry for a French cidre too and the balance of tanin and acid must be at work in this. I felt the aftertaste disappeared a little quickly, but didn't stop me from drinking a second bottle of it!!

A score of 82/100 - proves that French cider makers definitely know how to make a good cidre.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Aspall Draught Cyder

I am not sure if this is the last of the Aspall range to try... there might be another one or two I haven't found. The draught cyder is (I think) one of the newer of the range - inspecting the bottle is says that 'Draught' was added to the line up for Aspall's 275th anniversary back in 2003. Just shows how long I have been drinking cider then I suppose!

As its the last Aspall to be reviewed on here, I do feel compelled to mention the botle. Generally, as smaller scale producers (including brewers) do not get much choice of bottles, it is nice to see that some companies take the trouble to invest in presentation. Aspall is one company who I think try very hard in this respect. I do like the tall bottles that their cyder comes in, and the labelling suits it well. It looks a stylish drink before you even open the bottle. I must also add though, that the labels are a right pain to remove for those producing for themselves and too stingy to go out and buy their own (I speak from personal experience!). Also, the bottles are too tall to stack generally... but that isn't Aspall's problem eh!

So, I like the bottle and label (and it does matter!). Pouring the cyder out, it is a lovely colour. I have noted on the sheet 'Yellow', but it is much closer to a pale gold than yellow. It also has a very fresh desert apple aroma; a big aroma in which you can smell acid and citrus flavours. The carbonation is medium but consistant as opposed to any kind of flourish.

Any carbonation would be lost in this drink, and this doesn't get in the way - it has big desert fruit flavours going on. After the refreshing bite of the decent amount of acid there is plenty of citrus flavour - lemon and (dare I say it) banana even. This is not a balanced cyder as you might expect from a mainstream cyder maker, where it all seems to taste the same. There is very little tannin to calm the big flavour down. An excellent eastern counties cyder from a much respected eastern counties producer.

The aftertaste does die a little, although the flavour is so distinct that it doesn't really disappear as such. It has a depth and character to it and rightfully scores 76/100. I could drink it all day long... though at 5.5% that would be irresponsible:-)