Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Green Valley Dragons Tears Cyder

Ever heard of this one? I must confess that when I first picked it up I thought (only for a second) that it was another Gwynt y Ddraig. But no. Its not Welsh, its from Devon - Clyst St George (in case you cannot guess from the photo)

Now, although I have never come across a cider from Green Valley before, I have heard of them from a book. Their story is covered in James Crowdens 'Ciderland' and is a pretty interesting one - one or both of the owners worked for an old cider producer, Whiteways, which was bought (by Gaymers???) and eventually shut down. Without looking at the book, I am not sure exactly how much of the old kit Green Valley bought, but certainly some oak tanks and possibly the press and mill.

So, what is the cider like then? Apart from being filter bright, this cider is a lovely golden colour with very little fizz to it. The smell is full and very western - Devon cider is different again to the Herefordshire and Somerset styles. And this is "made from Devon apples"... whether that is devon varieties (there are a few) or not I am not sure.

To taste it is very delicious. The low carbonation allows the full flavour to come through. Its far from being bone dry (which is good), but I would see it more as a medium/medium dry than a dry... Given this though, it is full of flavour. The tannins are medium in strength and create a character that compliments that sharp acidity.

Its not mouth puckering, but these heavy tannins do leave something on the tongue. And the flavour lingers.

Having said that the tannins are fairly heavy, its a fruity cider with great body to it. A very drinkable drink - and I would say pretty much full juice too (though the fairly low strength (at 4.7%) does make me wonder if its fully full juice. Close enough. Lovely

A score of 78/100 and a bronze apple (a Devon one).

Sunday, 25 September 2011

New Forest Traditional Farmhouse Cider (Medium Dry)

I am unclear as to what relationship this version of New Forest's cider has to the Snakecatcher. My suspicion if that it may turn out to be a tamed, cleaner version of the same blend. This Farmhouse cider can be found at a number of Waitrose around the South of the UK, plus the usual specialist off licences, shows etc. etc. And don't forget Borough Market in London too. Knowing New Forest Cider, it is likely to be a proper heritage cider - made with care and love (well, that is the benefit of knowing who you are talking about I guess!!)

Nicely, it would appear it has only been shown the carbonation machine -  only very lightly sparkling. However, it looks as though it has been filtered, carbonated and probably a little sweetened too. This is pretty much standard process for stuff found in supermarkets - who neither want the percieved risk (I can't see what risk personally) of a simple cider or the risk that it won't sell as well as filtered ciders. Well, people want crisp, crunchy apples that are beautifully shiny and round  - why wouldn't that extend to ciders - knock out flavour, make it bright and 'shiny' and you're on to a winner?! The people get what the people deserve... says the grumpy middle aged man!

This is nothing like a 'crisp and crunchy' cider though. The aroma is deep and tannic. Very nice indeed. Its also a deep golden colour. Similar to Snakecatcher on both counts.

If this is Snakecatcher reborn for the masses, the filtering has forced the cider to lose some of its harshness - plus a little of its character too. However, its a testament to New Forest Cider that its still got stacks of character left, even if it is slightly lost in the process.

The taste is all bittersweet tannins. I cannot detect a huge amount of acid behind it. Very Herefordshire in character, look and feel.

The cider tannins last well beyond the mouthful, and it has a lingering alcoholic taste. Easy drinking (though do be careful!!) The sweetness is a little bit of a distraction to the taste, but not so much as to drown it (read that with 'I like dry cider' in mind!). When I previously said I would prefer a Snakecatcher that was a bit sweeter, I think this has gone a touch far. It does fit with its Medium dry monika though.

A very nice cider indeed - and just shy of another silver. It scored 79/100... I was very tempted to 'bump' it up a point!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Merrydown Medium Cider

OK, I have mixed emotions about this cider. In real terms its a national gem - a cider company from Sussex who were renowned for making cider from desert fruit (the eastern style) to produce a very clean and light cider (so I am told). A great company set up in Wartime UK with a solid foundation.

Then it was bought lock stock and barrell (so to speak) by SHS Sales and Marketing (a commodity sales company) and the premises in Sussex closed. For a while it was made in Belgium and now is run under the name Merrydown plc. However, Merrydown plc is still a subsiduary of SHS and I believe they also produce Schloer under the same name. It will be interesting to find the comparison between this cider and its 'kind of' apple juice cousin.

What, you have never heard of SHS??? Well, if I said the names Douwe Egberts, Chewits, Nivea, Nurofen, Johnson & Johnson and even Durex I think you will start to get an idea of their scale. Shareholders, bankers and accountants.... OK, that is unfair. But I bet they have a disproportionate amount of lawyers, accountants and bankers. (and before you sue me, it is just my humble observation and not based on any study. Please do correct me if I am wrong about this:-) And just before I make this one of the least objective reviews so far, I can confirm (from SHS's website) that they also produce the WKD brand... though I am not sure if they just market it. You see, whether they actually own it or not is not exactly clear on the website... which is very clever marketing really - and that isn't just true of WKD, I am not entirely sure where Merrydown stands either.

So, decks stacked... No, not really. I do like to do a little digging around and Merrydown is an obvious choice for doing just that. I guess at the sharp end there are cider men, producing their cider in the corner of SHS's cider shed... Fun over, lets review.

Merrydown pours a very faint yellow, and clearly has been carbonated judging by the froth. The aroma is slightly appley. Its a little sulphity too. Its fairly hard to place - although all becomes clear with the first sip. Very sweet (sorry - the last review went like this eh... will try harder!!). Not intensely appley, although I would say that this is a cider - unlike Koppaberg, WKD and Stella. However, I doubt that the total apple content is greater than 50% - and that is me being generous.

There is little aftertaste outside sweetness. No boiled sweets though (whiich I am happy about). On a positive note, I finished the glass and will pour another (gotta get through the bottle:-) so its not gone down the sink.

At the end of the day its a safe, pretty bland, overly sweetened and vague cider aimed at a part of the market that I am not in. If you are a Merrydown drinker, I urge you to try Aspalls. It will change your life. And on from Aspells something like Gospel Green or Whin Hill (although I think they may use some cider varieties).

A score of 44/100

Monday, 19 September 2011

Koppaberg Apple Cider

Before one comments on something, one must try it. Not only that, one must try to be as objective as possible about it. Whilst there are many who would find this a bridge too far, I have to say that I have tried to live by it - though the WKD nearly put me off.

One of the important things to note about this particular cider is that it is like Magners - its everywhere! Its also quoted as a favourite quite a lot. Admittedly, its usually the berry variety that gets the vote and to be honest I was surprised to find an actual apple version (and I am not going to be drawn into the 'what is cider' argument again, especially as I am in an objective frame of mind:-)

Genuine Swedish Cider... that's what it says on the bottle. It also says that it is made to an old swedish recipe. Okay (slight swipe alert!!) what recipe is that then... shurely its apples???!!! One thing I have learnt about cider is that the recipe is pretty simple (although not all apples make good cider!)

Its quite frothy, but not excessive. Its insanely pale too. Not water colour, but a very light straw. My guess is that there is little cider apples in it. The smell is boiled sweets (surprise) and very sweet. Its not completely artificial though, with an apple juice smell too. Neither are particularly characteristic of cider, but there you go.

Now, the taste. Bloody hell its sweet. More boiled sweets, fizz and well, sweetness. It drowns just about everything else out. Think of a popular sparkling apple juice brand (with 'ize' in the name), add about a kilogram of sugar and you are just about there.

Nothing overpowers this. Not in the smell, taste or aftertaste. Its all sweets and a bit of juice. Maybe the 'old recipe' is to make cider out of boiled apple sweets... I am sure it could be done

OK, I have tried it now. There is an awful lot more interesting and exciting ciders to choose from - even on the most basic of supermarket shelves I am sure. It does beat WKD though.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Gwynt y Ddraig Black Dragon Cider

As anyone who drinks cider and has family who are Welsh will tell you - you cannot go to Wales and not find Black Dragon. Its not that it is impossible to find in other places, just a lot harder; although they do supply a lot of beer festivals, so I guess you could just find it at one of those.

Now, Gwynt y Ddraig are one of those companies who are bordering on what I see as the middle market. As far as I see, the cider industry is split into 3 segments: There are the largest companies - those who  treat cider as a commodity - Magners etc. Into that category I would also shove those who don't truly make cider but call their drinks cider anyway ('cos it doesn't damage the the market, does it!??!)

In the middle of the market, I see companies like Thatchers, etc.. this is where companies like Henney's, Gwynt y Ddraig, maybe Perry's etc. starting to impact). This is still large scale but retains more tradition and passion for cider than mere commodities. That isn't to say they don't make a profit... that would just be bonkers. But its not all shareholders etc.

At the small scale end - or what Julian Temperley of Burrow Hill refers as the 'artisan' end of the market there is a growing number of small, artisan producers. You will often find that these ciders are nearly always full juice, traditional and range from the sublime to the undrinkable.

OK. Having accepted that I am on my soap box today, I'd invite cider drinkers to stick their pin in that map of the market and say what is the best (or only) way to go? Its tricky. The bigger a producer gets, the more need for consistancy and efficiency. Hence the options are fewer and the potential overheads much higher. So, some producers increase their volume with a little trickery. It doesn't necessarily make those ciders really bad - although often once you start watering things down. vamping up alcohol levels in order to cut etc. then flavourings and 'adjustments' creep in. However, figuring out what the tipping point is for all this is just plain difficult... and its easy to see how some slip down that particular slope.

Refocussing, I realise that this sermon has ridden roughshod over Black Dragons review. So lets start properly and say that is is nice to see traditional cider companies starting to take supermarket shelf position with ciders that are first rate, traditional and uncompromising.

Although it has a flashy label on the bottle, Black Dragon pours our a nice, lightly carbonated golden liquid that smells very deeply cidery and tannic. Although the sparkle persists, its a draught type of drink that seems to offer both sharp and sweet at the same time, with reasonably heavy tannins that cut through its medium dry status and provides a really pleasing flavour.

Saying that, the aftertaste seems to disappear a little quickly, although its clear that while there is sweetness to this drink, its needed to keep the tannins and dryness in check. There isn't stacks of acid, but you do get a sense that all the drink is made of is sider fruit. Yumm.

I could drink this cider all over again. Its one of those rare ciders to make it to my 'silver apple' list of ciders I would take to a desert island!!!:-) Well, if I only take the gold apple ciders I would be getting thirsty fairly quickly eh!

A score of 83/100.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sheppy's Bullfinch Sparkling Medium Cider

Now, this is a classic design from Sheppy's. I am talking about the label, but it does make me wonder. It is so out of step with their other labels that there must be something in it.

On pouring its a bit of a flourish, although it dies down nicely. It is still quite a sparkling drink though - and being a medium I guess its meant to be what my cider friends call a 'ladies drink'. Surely there must be a better way of saying that, but I guess most will understand what it means. Mind you, at 7% its hardly a knock over!

The smell is all bitter sweet and sweetness. Its also (as usual) a nice golden colour. And at first taste its really quite a nice light cider - it has tannins to it, although mild is what is marked on my paper. It is also rather sweet - and this goes well into the aftertaste, which is surprisingly long.

Bullfinch presents me with a bit of dilema. Its far too sweet for me, and its a light, sparkling cider with an old fashioned label. Yet its actually rather an enjoyable experience. I have no idea why I would find this on the back shelf of a specialist cider shop, when Sheppy's have poorer ciders on the shelves of the local supermarket... well, actually I do. People don't want cidery ciders - they want alcopop ciders. This one is certainly sweet enough for most people... but there you go. I guess we all want the general punter to advance their taste buds and buy a more complex and interesting cider. Its an ongoing battle. One I think that has a place for Bullfinch.

It scored 73/100 and earns (I think deserves) a bronze apple. Not the best in the box, but I wouldn't say no.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Cornish Orchards Black and Gold - Still, Dry Cider

What do I know about Cornich Orchards? Well, not much before this review, but first off they have a cracking label to the Black and Gold range. Simple, dramatic and has a great impact on the eye. I am loving it. The company itself is a farm based operation in Liskeard, Cornwall. Far from claiming that Cornwall is the centre of all cider making (which I used to believe but know a bit more about cider now), they lean on the rural side of things on their website. Producing both apple juice and cider, the farm is a Duchy of Cornwall holding (I think that has something to do with the Prince of Wales), and have won several accolades such as 'Taste the West' awards.

I am not sure what their production is either, but it very much looks like a full juice, crafted cider albeit there are the signs of filtering, pasteurisation etc. You know, I really can't hold that against them!!

When this is described as flat/still, I can allow a tiny bit of carbonation. I guess its just to keep the cider fresh (and lets be honest, there is nowt like a fresh cider!). It is definitely still though. Continuing with the obligatory sticking of nose into the glass, it smells very fruity. No, I know apples are a fruit, but this is not so much appley as rounded and fruity. Appetising and complex.

When it is tasted, it is a step away from the Herefordshire/Somerset west country ciders. I am getting nice sweet and bittersweet fruit in this, with a measure of acid too - although as the tannins aren't overbearing, I would hazard a guess that this is culinary acid. Very. very tasty.

Now, you need to bear in mind that the different cider regions have different preferences for the taste of a west country cider. I know it is frustrating, but in all honesty that has to be further complicated by an individual makers preference for cider taste. This is a sweet dry cider, almost like white wine in a number of senses. The aftertaste is quite vinious and the tannins, whilst not being hidden, are reigned back.

It could be due to filtering - this is definitely filtered. I might go as far as to say that (in my opinion) it has been quite heavily filtered. I am not so sure about pasteurising... its not so easy to tell and to be honest I couldn't see why they would pasteurise it.

Its a quality 'wine' cider. This makes it a fairly delicate cider, which I like. You have to sit and think about it as you drink it.

In all, it scored 76/100. I am looking forward to trying their other ciders:-)

Oh, and sorry about the photo. They can't all be perfect!!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Burrow Hill Stoke Red Bottle Fermented Cider

Ah. At last. A Burrow Hill. One of my favourite cider makers - and certainly one of the best cider makers in the world. And, no, I am not exagerating. If you have visited Burrow Hill, its really rather hard to miss all the award certificates, the professionalism and the ambition of the company. After all, Burrow Hill is one of only 3 or 4 places in the UK with a licence to distill cider into cider brandy.

Enough of glowing about Burrow Hill. This Stoke Red is one of two bottle fermented ciders that Burrow Hill produce. I have to admit I have tried both before. But not for a long time! Its one of those ciders that are rather expensive, and usually saved for special occasions. More like a champagne in style than a cider I guess.

This bottle, which was chilled, opened with a  big pop and it took all my bottle opening skill not to ditch rather a lot all over the kitchen floor. So I would say that it is highly fizzy. But its a lovely colour though (once it is confined to a glass!!).

A little background. Stoke Red, which originates from Somerset, is a bittersharp cider apple. Whereas Kingston Black is a mild bittersharp, Stoke Red is more a medium - essentially it means that the acid is higher, although I am not sure about the level of tannin. Its regarded as a 'Vintage' cider apple - which these days simply means that its a likely cadidate for a single variety cider. However, my own take on vintage apples is that they add a lot to a blend...That is not the point of this though. I suppose we all have our opinions and I suspect I am in a minority on this matter!

The cider is both tannic and acidic. Nice. distinctive and inviting. Not a cider that has been played around with then - I expected this from Stoke Red (given the information above).

Surprisingly though, it tastes fairly thin. It also has a little bit of an odd flavour. Definitely has a character to it, although I am not sure that there is quite enough of it. This is where the single variety cider lets me down. To be honest, I kind of figured on some kind of oddness in taste.  And this is SV in all its glory and faults. Stoke Red. Great apple but does it need something else to make it really shine - a bittersweet? I doubt very much that I could teach Burrow Hill much though:-)

Also, it is bone dry. Which is nice and allows the flavour to come through. It has a lasting aftertaste which actually develops in the mouth and is pleasing. I am going to stick my neck out on this - I think I preferred the New Forest Bouche Cider. Not just because its a blend (and I won't bang on about that any more), but its got a bit more body and complexity to it. This is very different though - I don't think I have tasted any others quite like it.

An interesting alternative to this cider (created by Julian Temperley - who runs Burrow Hill) is what he calls 'Orchard Mischief'. Its where you add some of his excellent Somerset Pomona to a dry cider to give it a little sweetness. I have tried it with Burrow Hill Kingston Black and it really gives the cider a punch and a bit of much needed sweetness (the Bottle Fermented Kingston Black feels much drier than the Stoke Red). I recommend it!!

Now, for all I have criticised this cider, the numbers really speak for themselves - 80/100 and a silver apple for Burrow Hill. I guess its not as bad as my writing makes out. To be fair, it is very well put together (and bottle fermentation to this standard is really an art to master in cider making).

I guess what I have observed though is that I am still yet to be persuaded by any single variety. I still think blends are best.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

New Forest Snakecatcher Scrumpy (Dry)

Here we have New Forest Cider's hallmark cider. Its what I know them for best, in any case. I am not sure what the relation of Snakecatcher to the bottles found in Waitrose around the south is, but the traditional Snakecatcher is found in big wooden barrels at their shop, at Borough Market in London and travelling around various shows (where I got this from).

What does that mean? Well, apart from buying something in a quantity as opposed to picking it off a shelf, its going to be a flat, draught cider. I happen to know its full juice too - its one of the benefits of being able to ask the question from those who actually make the stuff. It does shorten its shelf life over bottles though. As you can see this cider came in a plastic container (OK, I almost said milk carton...)

So, before I get too quaint and old worlde - its a nice golden colour and smells of cider apples. Yum. On the down side (a bit) it also smells a little oxidised (how can I describe it? I guess its a slightly sour note to the cider - not so much sour as a bit 'off'). My suspicion is that this is the pay off from buying something from a large oak barrel. If its only half full of cider, then the rest must be air...

By way of confirming this, it also tasted a little oxidised. But this is just getting negatives out of the way. This is a truly deep cider, with deep tannins and a really deep, long aftertaste. I am not joking when I call this a 'no frills' cider. It doesn't attempt to be particularly balanced - it has stacks of character and flavour (and really isn't that much like anything I have reviewed on here in all honesty). I would call it a gutsy cider. All flavour and sod the finess:-)

Dry is pretty accurate. Its bone dry in fact. Next time I may go for a medium or medium dry. Now that is a bad thing to admit!

The aftertaste is a tiny bit odd; probably due to the cider apple varieties used. However, it is deep.

The label calls this stuff 'scrumpy'. As a scrumpy, it is very high quality - no faults other than a tiny bit of oxidisation. However, it is a scrumpy. And if that is what New Forest Cider is trying to produce, then 10/10. It seems to me to be a full juice, unfiltered, un mucked about with cider made solely from cider fruit.

It is surprisingly easy to drink, considering its alcoholic content.

Snakecatcher scored 75/100. I guess it would have got even more if it weren't for the oxidisation.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Tutts Clump Special Reserve Cider

As I may have mentioned for the last Tutts Clump, I procured two ciders on my recent trip to Berkshire. The first is already done and, hoping to save the best till last, I now come to the dry (yes, a dry cider!! I do like dry ciders) special reserve. I have a hope that it is also a pretty much flat cider too.

I have done a little homework on Tutts Clump since the last review. It appears that this is a rapidly growing company who mainly sell their cider around the South. It also seems that he produced a cider to celebrate the Royal wedding earlier this year. Well, I guess someone had to:-) Seriously, I had a Royal wedding tea cup when I was a kid and Charles and Diana got married, and I guess this is a more mature kind of keepsake... Mind you, after all this time I can still see the tea cup when I visit the parents now and again. I am not sure that a Royal wedding cider will keep quite as well!!

Anyway, getting back to the point. This is a 6% full juice cider. Again, its made from desert and cooking apples, so it should be nice and light with a good sharpness to it. I note that it has also got a few crab apples in it too - if you can't get cider apples (or don't want them) then crabs can add a bit of tannin to a blend.

As expected, flat. I do think that it attempted a bubble or two but that may have been my eyes playing tricks on me. Its also a yellow colour and hazy - like its sweetened cousin. Very much an eastern style of cider and does not appear to have been filtered at all - the sediment at the bottom of the bottle confirms this. Lovely!

This tastes like a nicely matured eastern cider - think Aspalls with the fizz removed and a similar bite. I can't taste any tannins at all, so the crabs must have got lost in the blend. This is a shame, as crabs are a little bit like tomato ketchup for ciders without cider apples in. You don't want too much ketchup or it will drown out other flavours. OK, not a great analogy, but roughly true.

There is a lemony smell to the this too - albeit with a background of sulphites. A nice summery smell, which is often accompanied by a bit of a yeasty smell (although not in this cider). It does taste a little thin though. I am sure that its just the way it is - at 6% its not been cut by much if at all. Its also a tiny by acetic - although again, it could just be how it is. My suspicion is that its from the type of culinary apples in the blend - Bramley, for instance, is nothing but acid... no real quality taste behind it (try eating one!).

This is a raw cider - no sweetness to cover any of the acid, although its not unruly or unpleasant at all. However, as much as I like this cider I do think its a bit of an acquired taste and that people who are only used to mainstream brands may find it a bit 'out there. Still, aren't going to please everyone eh!

Looking at my scoresheet - which I always write up as I drink, this cider scored 68/100. Okay, so its not an apple; I think its because the sweetness in the 'Farmhouse' cider masks some of the acid that is so bear in this one. However, its only my opinion.