Monday, 30 December 2013

2013... done! All hail 2014...

Well, it is that time once again. Another year out of the way and a whole bunch of cider tried. I hope readers have found this site helpful over the last 12 months - my intention is that it promotes good cider as much as comment on cidery things as a whole. I confess I do enjoy writing these; though having committed to a pattern of releasing reviews is a bit of a bind sometimes.

What is in store for 2014? Well, we will have the perennial budgetary discussions... no doubt some debate about the juice content or provenance of ciders. For me? Well, I am waiting to see how the new cider blends turn out and will continue the hunt for the best ciders in the UK... and France (if I can get more time out there) and anywhere else I can get to. Having won several awards in the time I have been making reasonable amounts of cider, I also hope to secure one (or more) for the award wall too.

To start the year off, I have decided to have a go at some perry. I have 6 to try currently, but of course this will grow as I am able to get more... I won't be rejecting 'pear cider' either - after all, as I have said a few times, if one cider drinker can move from a mass produced cider to something more expressive and individual (and truly 'premium') then my job is done!

Last year, I listed out my top 10 ciders of the year. This year, I figured I would copy Pete Brown... ho in turn copied someone else... though I believe it is a 'tradition' for many beer writers. Having said all that I now rip off the headings from Pete (sorry mate - I did at least acknowledge you:-) I have adjusted them for my own purposes - though even saying that I will not pretend I can complete them all... anyone would have thought they weren't written for cider.

Best UK Draught Cider

You know what, I am going to have to agree with CAMRA for once - certainly by my own scoring, this goes to Springfield's Wobblymunk Cider. Very nice.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Cider



Going by my own scoring, this goes to Gregg's Pit; Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey and Dabinet. It's not just the blend that makes this cider great, but the traditional method that it is matured by.


Best Overseas Draught Cider

I feel a little cheekiness coming upon me... of course, as the title is 'overseas' I guess it should be done properly. If it had been 'international' then, under the Welsh Cider rules I guess all Welsh ciders ought be restricted to this category. But nah, I am not that silly:-)

Sadly, I didn't try any draught cider from overseas this year, so its an n/a.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Cider


Browsing my scores 2013 wasn't as high scoring as other years. There are a number of French cidre (like Domaine de Lieu Gosset) that are excellent. However, the highest scoring cider was Heritage Valderance du Cidre, Cidre de Bretagne with a Bronze Apple score of 76/100.

Best Cider For quiet contemplation

Hmmm. I am going to say Olivers Gold Rush for this. Not that I have/had endless supplies, but there are very few ciders in 2013 that made me stop and think as much as this. It was joint third highest scoring cider for me this year... shame they only made a certain amount of it:-)

Best Cider for gabbling with mates and seizing the day


I am going to go with Henney's Vintage - or Aspalls Imperial. Easy to get hold of and very good. Well, we don't all live within spitting distance of a cider farm! Actually, I could have been lazy and said 'my own' but that would be cheating, I am sure! OK, none of these are from this year... I guess if I had to include something it would be Perry's Somerset Tremlett Cider (a Silver Apple with 86). Yum

Cider I haven't drunk enough of in 2013


It has to be the top cider of 2012 - and still a favourite: Ross on Wye Cider and Perry, Headless Man. A spirit cask cider that is done to perfection. Worth hunting down!

Looking over my records, it still is the highest scoring cider on Cider Pages!

Best Cider for crying into


Hmmm. Again, I cannot simply say 'my own', so I have to pick something from this year... OK, I am going to settle with a range - the Rich's 'Golden Years' range. All scored very well and are very interesting ciders. Perfect for distracting me (not that cider men really cry:-)

Best Branding, pump clip or Label


This is going to Dunkerton's. I really do like their range of labels - the Court Royal was splendid!

Best UK Cidermaker


Oh, cummon. That is a tough one. However, while I ought to do some clever Excel formula or maths I am going to take a punt (as it is the first time I have done this). Jointly awarded to Olivers Cider and Perry and Burrow Hill Cider and Perry/Somerset Brandy Company. Probably among the best in the world.

Best Overseas Cidermaker


As with above, I am going to take a punt and award this to Le Brun... a fantastic range of cidre and appley based spirits.

Best New Cidery Opening 2013


Sorry, nothing to say about this... I don't keep up with them.

Pub/Bar of the Year


I am going to award this to the Southampton Arms in London this year. Not for the broadest selection but for the atmosphere/experience and the commitment to delivering a good pint of cider. They also have Burrow Hill pretty much on permanently.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013


Again, I don't keep up with this so nothing really to say.

Beer Festival of the Year


I think this has to go to the 2013 CAMRA Great British Beer Festival, as the cider was very good. OK, some felt it should have been a better representation of the UK (and said so at the time) but I still think that is just nonsense - good cider is good cider (and the 2013 range was better than the previous year!)

Supermarket of the Year

I am going to have to give this to Waitrose... although the others are catching up

Independent Retailer of the Year

As this is my first shot at doing this, I find I have a clean sheet of options. I ought to go for a shop locally to me, but will opt for the Bristol Cider Shop as having a great range and attitude to cider.

Online Retailer of the Year


Not used one. Therefore, not exactly qualified to nominate!

Best Cider Book or Magazine


Hmmm.The cider maker in me awards this to Claude Joliceur and his excellent book 'The New Cider Makers Handbook'. Probably a little technical for many but a good reference work for a cider maker.

I also have to give a big shout out for Pete Brown/Bill Bradshaw's 'Worlds Best Cider' too... no idea where they could have got the idea from:-) (only kidding fella's!!) I got it for Christmas though have yet to have enough 'own time' to give it a good read.

Best Cider Blog or Website


This may sound a touch cheesy, but I would say the blog I have read the most this year is Pete Browns beer blog... and I am not really that into real ale:-)

Best Cider App


You are having a joke eh?!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer


As this is Pete Browns awards list, I have no place in changing this. As per Pete - it should go to Simon Johnson.

Best Cider Website/Social media

Again, its a clean sheet and I have to give this, obviously, to the Cider Workshop. with over 1200 cider makers discussing cidery stuff its a hard one to beat.

Music and Cider Pairing of the Year

I am going to go for Iron Maiden 'Phantom of the Opera'... soundtrack to this years pressing.. and a bottle of my own traditional method cider. Oh... has to be something else - OK - Kestor Gold (Little Weeke Cider Company). Silver Apple but a bit expensive.

Food and Cider Pairing of the Year


It has to be any eastern style cider and pork... the acid cuts through and enhances the meat. Works well with a salad too (for the same acidic reason).

Happy New Year everyone. Thanks for following these reviews over the year!!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Tesco Finest Winter Cider


Well well well. My final cider for the year is... another supermarket cider. Also, it's another Westons... this time proudly stated on the bottle. My final plea this year goes to the supermarkets to do this for all bottles of 'own brand' cider. I think it would not be surprising if Thatchers and Aston Manor take up a good chunk... led of course by the new knowingly outdone Westons.

This is also a limited edition cider. I take it that this actually means that they are only running it through the Christmas period as opposed to it being a limited edition... pardon me for being slightly cynical at both Westons and Tesco - they aren't exactly known for saying things like they are (are they!) Anyway, it is a mulled cider... possibly following on the popularity of the very excellent Aspall version - and the sheer volume of smaller producers selling it at markets and festivals! Anyway, it is nice to find another one, so lets give this a go eh.

My first comments are about the instructions... it may be my own interpretation of a winter cider but this is NOT a mulled cider... there are no spices in it! The only difference between this and a normal Westons cider is that they have added molasses to it. OK, that is a slightly different kind of sugar than they normally use but... well... its a bit bloody lazy isn't it? Fair enough - my brain read 'mulled' when I saw the label, but lets be honest... its not a winter cider, it's just a cider. They even have the cheek to suggest that the drinker do the work by adding the spices!

A more serious point, and one worth bearing in mind is that, whilst it is OK to mull a cider at the point of sale (i.e. it is being adjusted for the punter at the time of drinking) none of the ingredients for mulling cider are included in the HMRC guidelines - so in fact a bottled mulled cider would attract about three times the duty of normal cider - ergo making it prohibitive to produce at a reasonable price. Saying that, I think Westons/Tesco never fail to skew something for their own ends eh. Cheeky buggers!

What is it like then? Having warmed it through (and refused to 'add my own spices') it smells, well, a lott like 1st Quality/Marcle Hill/The Guvnor. Oddly, it is slightly carbonated so fizzed a bit in the pan, but now it smells slightly bittersweet, sweet and quite juicy with a toasty/treacle aroma that must come from the molasses.

I should have tasted this cold, as the heating seems to make it rather watery.and cook out the more complex flavours. Don't get me wrong - it is pleasant, warming and sweet (I have been out in the wind and rain, so it is a welcome distraction). There is a bit of molasses coming through, but on the whole I am getting the sweetness of the cider and some tannins from the fruit. I think it would work well as a mulled cider, so perhaps my advice would be to buy the spices when you buy this... or, quite frankly, buy the spices and a bottle of the Henneys Vintage that is sat near to the Winter Cider and go with that. It is the same price and a damn good cider to start with. OK, lets be fair to Westons, the Westons Vintage would work well too.

There is a lingering aftertaste and it is mostly sweet with some apple too.

Let me be straight - this isn't such a bad cider. I think my sarcastic tone is probably because I feel it is advertised as something it isnt - or squarely fails to live up to. I have scored it as a cider as, well, that is what it is - and it scored 61/100... which is actually better than I had given it credit for.

I hope you are all having a fantastic festive period and, if you don't go in for that sort of thing I hope you are managing to avoid partaking (and still having a good time:-)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Morrisons Medium Dry Cider


I think I may have already tried the best of the Morrisons in it's Vintage cider - this one I suspect is much more their mainstream offering. It is packaged in what looks like either a Magners or a Bulmers bottle... so my thinking is that they made it for Morrisons. Wouldn't it be bonkers if it turned out to be the best of the lot?!

It is quite a plain label, and I am keen to get a drink this evening, so I am going straight for the cap! Well, it looks faintly golden, highly carbonated and polished within an inch of it's life. So far, so as expected. I think this is going to turn out to be another cider for the masses: nothing remotely challenging to the taste buds and sweet.

The cider remains quite foamy and this punches the aroma out,,, which has a lot in common with boiled sweets - to be honest it isn't even that appley either. I am not getting much in the way of any distinctive flavour out of the smell... better taste it then.

Oh. Its really quite watery - I don't think I am being too offish by saying that it is a little like apple flavoured water... not cider flavoured but apple flavoured. OK, it is fairly well balanced between sweetness and acid - I am getting a hint of tannin but nothing that really stands out from the rest. It has a short aftertaste which is mainly sweetness.

The redeeming feature of this cider is that it isn't that sweet. However, I must confess that it is a rather forgettable drink. The only redeeming feature of it is that it is quite cheap... which is what I suspect it is meant to be.

Apologies for the short review - there isn't exactly that much more to say. A score of 44/100.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

Morrisons Vintage Cider 2012


Now I move on to the second cider from Morrisons – see, I am trying to equalise my supermarket ciders, although I am not sure that many of them have received any kind of apple from me. This either says something about the big store attitudes to what they think cider ought to taste like or (more concerning) it is the attitude of the producers who make the stuff feel that supermarket cider ought to taste like. Hmm, there is a thought there – I guess if I were making cider for the supermarkets AND my own bottles were going to sit alongside them I would make sure that my cider came out as being better. Actually, no, I wouldn’t. Not that I would ever get the chance to do this, I would make sure that I not only made first rate cider for all but would make sure my name was on the bottle.

That being said, I am not going to prejudge this cider. After all, the ‘own brand’ ciders that tend to do best are the Vintage versions, so I am expecting this cider to be pretty good. It had better be – the only other Morrisons cider I have is their standard medium dry… which looks like it was made by either Magners or Bulmers!!

It is moderately sparkling – almost identically so to the last Morrisons cider. It looks quite light gold too, although the smell is much more bittersweet than before. There is still some juice up the nose though. Thinking some more, it is very similar in its composure (in a smelling kind of way). Guess I ought to try it then.

This is less watery than the organic. It is also drier too – a medium dry which has been gently back sweetened with juice. The tannins are quite pleasant, although I do wish they wouldn’t feel that it was so important to adjust the acidity to balance things out – it detracts from the experience of the fruit. Speaking of fruit, I am getting some… which again is more than the organic too. As a bit of a distraction, there is a fairly strong taste of So2 (sulphite) which does affect the tannic taste somewhat.
A moderate length aftertaste is also nice, and ends in a tannic coating of the tongue.

A score of 70/100 - true to form, it is the Vintage ciders that proove to be the best tasting ciders made by/for/whatever supermarkets.

I think I may be now qualified to advise cider fans that, if you must buy supermarket own brand ciders, then the ones that you ought to go for are those that are vintage. Of course, this isn’t straight forward – Morrisons have two that they call ‘Vintage’ – the organic has a vintage tag… but this merely means that it was made from a single years apples. Look for the cider called Vintage.

If I ever crack supermarkets for my own cider, it will be on the basis that it is very different from most of their line up. I can see that there are a few ‘smaller’ producers doing it… although the very nature of the beast is that many are producing something more ubiquitous to sell than they would if you visited them directly…


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Morrissons Organic Cider - Vintage 2012


Coming to the end of my current row of ciders on the shelf, I find that there is one other supermarket chain that I have not paid much attention too.

It is important to cover the best offerings from supermarkets - after all, it is the foremost place people will have access to cider unless they are keen enough to seek out specialist shops. I know, it is sad - we really get what we ask for sometimes (isn't the usual supermarket excuse for stuff that "it is what the public demand"). I am not going to get in to a supermarket bashing rant here... though there are a number of things that I have to say about them - not least of all the way they comodify alcohol.

Now, the first thing to say about this bottle of cider is that I like it. The label has a slightly old fashioned feel to it. It also looks quite familiar. Weston's clearly are singularly the largest producers of supermarket own brands in the UK... well, alongside Thatchers. I would have preferred to see this on the bottle though... surely a bit of provenance is in vogue these days eh!

This cider, as expected, pours out golden, brightly clear and moderately sparkling – a standard, recipe based cider or very well judged natural cider… well, I will leave that to your own judgement but would offer that this has been made by Westons…

It smells clean and appley. There is some small amount of bittersweet going up my nose too. I have to say that this fits with a standard, recipe based tailored cider and I would be very surprised to find it is anything other than a ubiquitous taste too.

OK – for once I don’t regret pre-judging something. This is quite watery and back sweetened with (what must be) apple juice. Given these things, the apple juice feels a bit on the heavy side. However, it is also well balanced (did you expect any different?) There is a little acid and a little, non drying tannin. This is put together in a balanced way to give me a juicy, slightly washed out shadow of a cider.

The aftertaste is pretty short – again not very surprising!

Now, I realise I have been a bit glib about this cider. In fact, it is not terrible… just not great at all. Supermarkets seem to specialise in these – if this is a recipe that they took to Westons then surely they should have been advised that it wasn’t that great! However, it has no rough edges – it is safe. It has no challenging or intense flavours to upset the mass of cider drinkers out there. Shame really.

A score of 64/100 is better than I expected but no apple I am afraid.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

The End of an Era? Frank Naish: A Tribute


Frank Naish


Photograph used with kind permission of Bill Bradshaw - http://iamcider.blogspot.co.uk)

Having not noticed much comment on the passing of Frank Naish - with the exception of the fine work done be Bill Bradshaw, I felt that it needed remembering...

Frank was the last in a chain of the Naish family to take the helm of 'Naish's Cider' - a well known, if a little hard to get of late, cider company based in the heart of Somerset. At 89, he was also well and truly the oldest working cider maker in the UK - commercially in any case. More than this, however, was tat Frank represented the last of the 'old guard' of producers who used trusted old equipment to press the farms varieties of apples - what he had been taught by his father at 10 years old.

It isn't that Frank was a farmer who made cider - although this is true. There are still plenty of farmers making cider today. But in our corporate world Frank stood out for me as someone who was the 'genuine article'. And I know of no one else left like that.

OK - I am not harking back to some kind of cider 'golden age', if ever there was such a thing. And there are real characters left at the craft end of the industry (though I confess to having seen a photo of Julian Temperley in a suit... (though I would struggle to make a case for him 'being' a cider industry 'suit').

I think the uniqueness of Frank is summed up superbly by this video. It is a little long, but well worth the viewing. This short film was made a year or two ago by Community Channel TV. I didn't ask permission, but am sure they won't mind



In 2011, Frank was awarded 'Lifetime Service to the Cider Industry' award at the annual Royal Bath and West Show. Reading about it since, I learned that he went along thinking that he was to be involved in judging of some sort... a nice story that says something of the man; and a well deserved recognition of his long career as a cider maker.

I confess that I only met Frank once - well, I wouldn't even call it that... saw him was probably more the correct phrase... and I fail to remember what was said between us. I doubt there would have been much other than cider in common though. So I am not the best person to give some eulogy or orbituary of him. However, I think I can speak for the cider community when I say that we have lost something in the passing of Frank... not all bad, but lost nevertheless.

I also have no idea what happens to Naish's Cider now... succession at the craft end of the cider industry is rather sketchy at best. But whatever happens, at least the company (and Frank) earned a rightful place in cider lore.  

So, whenever you are reading this, raise a glass to Mr Naish and, if it is of the commodity kind, just consider - all the effort that goes into making some of these larger companies look traditional and authentic... well, Frank was the real deal... no PR bull and no corporate marketing suits trying to fain respectability.

Cheers Frank!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Thistly Cross Whisky Cask Cider


On to my final Thistly Cross purchase. I have deliberately saved this one until last as it should be quite interesting. I have also had a bit of pre-feedback suggesting that this is pitched by some as being the best cider in the world. Well, it has a long way to go if the others are a judge of it - however in fairness to Thistly Cross and to everyone else I am going to put all that to one side and review it with an objective head on.

Now. I love a bit of whisky. I think it is also proven that I love a bit of cider too! Putting the two together is interesting... one of my favourite ciders of all time was a Rum barrel cider. However it is so easy to go wrong with this kind of combination. Not enough and, well, what is the point; too much and it ruins both cider and whisky. It is also a contentious issue with HMRC... their rules on what can and cannot go into a 'cider' are fairly strict and spirits is not on the list. They want to know if the spirit imparts strength and flavour to the cider... although so far I don't think that many have been caught on this technicality (that, my friends is the story of the cider industry!!!)

This is perhaps more fitting as I believe this is the cider that started all that concern...

Again, I like the labelling on the bottle. It is 6.9%, which is fair for a cider and it is maraked as medium dry. The lavel also says it is a "flavoursome cider made potent in the wood". Hmmm. Is that a taunt to HMRC? (or the reason perhaps that they looked at it in the first place:-) Anyway, it is a deeper colour than their other ciders and has a low-moderate sparkle in the glass.

This cider has a deeper smell too. Am getting the whisky, which is quite a strong smell... I am not sure how sweet it is though. I suspect it is sweeter... It is quite a pleasant smell, however.

The first thing I have to say... and I am hoping that Thistly Cross read this... is in what world is this a medium dry? Please humour me and get some juice to the same level of sweetness as this cider. Then tell me the gravity of it. using my amateur head on this I would say it is around 1.020, which is medium sweet in my books (actually, doing a little research on cider competitions and how they bracket sweetness... which is a fair guide to it I think). OK, to everyone else... this feels medium sweet to me and would benefit from being half the sweetness it is.

Having said that, this is not a bad cider at all. The whisky is there and quite pronounced in the drink. I am getting none of the wood, although being a deeper colour of gold is probably a result of this. The whisky also compensates a bit and acts against the sweetness and the sharpness. And that is how I would describe this cider, light and sharp but with whisky overtones that make it more complex and enhances the drink

There is a fairly long aftertaste, which is pretty much whisky and a bit of apple... but nice.

In summary I think I have to judge this cider far too sweet for its description but, taking that into account, is the best Thistly Cross cider I have tasted so far. The whisky is the overriding flavour to the cider, but that considered it works and actually enhances the cider.

Now, addressing the enquirer who suggested that someone had said this was the best cider in the world. No, it is not. I don't expect even Thistly Cross themselves accept that. However, it is definitively Scottish cider and should be supported. If they can sort out their sweetness it would be better!

A score of 67/100 is shy of an apple, but well above average.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Little Weeke Cider Company, Kestor Gold


The cider I have chosen for this evening is something a little special - a traditional method cider from Devon producer Little Weeke Cider Company. I got this from the Cider Museum in Hereford earlier this year and, at £9.95, have saved it for a decent evening preferably with company. Well, I nearly got there - it is not a bad evening, but I don't have the company so will have to drink it on my own.

Oh well, it is a tough job eh!

Traditional Method cider, alongside keeving, is regarded by many producers as the pinnacle of cider. Looking back in history, I guess we see this style of cider fetching the best prices and gracing the tables of the gentry (as opposed to the still cider - which was more of the farmers lot). Making it is also quite a lot of work... essentially you do all of the things that is done to create champagne... except for the raw materials! You see, bottle conditioning is half the job. However, there is yeast settlement and, for highly sparkling cider this will not do... opening the bottle stirs up the yeast and you lose the clarity. So, by disgorging the yeast (basically, getting rid of it) you get a highly sparkling, clear cider... the best have a mousse like fizz and are every bit as good as champagne... better if what you are after is taste!!:-)

OK - that drove a coach and horses through the process of producing traditional method cider. Note the name; in the UK we should really call it traditional method. You cannot call it Champagne method as the Champagne region is in France and is protected. You shouldn't really call it methode traditionelle (it is French... the cider is British) and Methode Champagnoise is right out! I even have a bit of a problem calling it 'Cider Bouche' as that is a mix of French and English.

I am not going to steal from others research, but if you read 'Ciderland' by James Crowden then you will discover research that demonstrates punted (heavy duty) bottles, and their use was recorded in England before Dom Perignon took the idea and went on to create the Champagne style. Now, I have to say he DID develop the riddling/disgorging of the drink... that isn't English... but I quite like that this style owes as much to the British as the French and is essentially a collaboration. And the fact that Dom Perignon was a monk just makes the whole thing very colourful!

Right, back to Kestor Gold... A nice clear label declares, "Ancient Dartmoor orchards around Clegford provide XXX"

Opening the bottle with a pop, it pours out golden and with a fine creamy mousse carbonation that is persistent... so far, exactly as it is supposed to be! The sell is delightful - a touch of farmyard about it with light sharp aroma's coming through. As the Devon 'tradition' is much more balanced tannin vs sharpness than either Herefordshire or Somerset I expect this to have a bit of a kick as well as a fruity tannin to it. Coming back to it again (child duties called... why won't children just go to be without a fuss:-) the smell is deeper with a rich aroma coming off it as well as the sharpness.

Nice!

The taste is lovely, although it does have a bit of apple sweets about it. On the whole it comes across as a well made west country cider with a lovely sparkle that enhances the sharpness and gives the somewhat mellow tannins room to develop in the mouth. There is also a bit of earthy gravelliness about this cider too. Lovely. However, I cannot get the image of boiled sweeets as an additional flavour in my mouth... perhaps it is a specific variety that I haven't come across before. Certainly there is a dominant variety in here, but the boiled sweets?!

It is a clean, fresh cider that has a deep fruitiness to it. I think I am making it sound more complex than it is, but I do like this cider. The aftertaste is long and fruity... just as well I have the bottle to myself! It is a bit of a shame that it cost a tenner to buy... though my experience of buying ciders from the Cider Museum is that you do pay a bit of a premium for them.

Apple sauce. That is what it is!!! I wonder if the juice was pasteurised for holding prior to fermenting...

Anyway, this cider scores a great 81/100 - earning itself a silver apple from me.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Asda 'Extra Special' Vintage Cider 2012


It's been a while since I tried a supermarkets own cider... and I also realise that, of the supermarkets, the one I know least about is Asda. No real reason why... just missed them out. Well, this review hopefully goes a little way to redress the balance.

Well, what are the first observations about the bottle... it looks familiar. In fact, it looks very much like the Tesco version of Vintage if I am not mistaken. And the shape of the bottle? Well, Weston's is the first thing that comes to mind. I shall not judge based on that. Lets see what it tastes like. On the label it claims to be 'Dry and Crisp with a subtle Spiciness'... we shall see.

It is lightly golden and pours out with a moderate fizz. It is bright, and at 7.3% it fits in with the designed percentage of other vintages made by the same company. The smell is moderately tannic and fruity - I am sure there is some acid in here too. Actually it is quite pleasant and balanced... I have suggested to several recently that, if all they can get is supermarket 'Vintages' then that is the best to go for in the supermarket. Sure, I have yet to find one that really lights me up (though the Sheppy's, Aspalls and Henney's Vintages are very good indeed), but if you want a cider that has more than the usual offerings then these are a safe bet.

First taste is actually rather sharp. It is a bit watery and sweet too. Towards the end of the mouthful the tannins do come through though - light, not drying but balancing the drink out. I would say this is less 'safe' than I was expecting... there are some vanilla flavours in here making it more interesting... however, it is quite thin and watery. It certainly isn't dry by any stretch, although if I am judging the claim on the label I am actually pleasantly surprised. It is quite crisp and there is a bit of spiciness too.

The aftertaste is moderate in length and the sweetness wins through the other flavours at the end.

I am not sure about this cider. It is different, although not all the differences are brilliant. Saying that, it is drinkable... I guess what I feel about this cider is summed up by the ingredients list, which is rather helpfully on the back label: Apple juice, Water, Glucose, Sugar, Carbon Dioxide, Lactic and Malic Acid... so sweet, slightly watery but interesting.

It scores 62/100 which is shy of an apple, but above average.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Old Grove Red Devil Cider


Time for another single varietal cider that has been sat on my shelf. If there is one thing I will say about Old Grove, it is that they are not afraid to try new things... it takes a brave cider maker to do something with Bramley, for example (and I believe they have won awards for it too... which offsets the fact that I wasn't that keen on it nicely!).

I found this in Herefordshire earlier this year, as it is perfectly clear and with no sediment still I suspect I can safely say it is filtered without having to open the bottle. To be fair (and looking back at my notes on the other ciders) this is common to the Old Grove ciders I have tried. Polished and bright - the lot of them. In fact, looking at the bottle before opening it, it has a blush about it. Old Grove describe it as a 'delicate and well balanced rose cider'. Well, it is definitely rose coloured!

Red Devil is a dessert apple. It's actually quite a new variety (1970's) and is a cross of Discovery and Kent. Now, I do know that some producers start the pressing season with a Discovery blend... light, early apple which is quite acidic without huge flavours. I use another dessert variety to start things off - but as with most early varieties wouldn't necessarily make an SV from it. Now, Red Devil is early to mid season harvesting (September-ish), which I suspect gives it slightly more character. However, the notes I have got on it suggest that it isn't a keeping apple (so has to be pressed fairly quickly).  One thing all sources say is that the juice is pink in colour. To keep this from juice through to the cider though is quite an achievement.

It opens with a low/moderate fizz to it, which settles down nicely. In the glass the rose is more of a tint than anything, I am not getting much of a smell of it, but what I am getting is a light smell, citrus with a touch of body about it.

The taste is a bit odd - it is very light and delicate. It is also very clean (which probably is as a result of the filtering). Hmmm, it is a bit syruppy to be honest - though this isn't really the sweetening. I would say it is a medium to taste. However, because it is such a delicate flavour the sweetening overpowers it somewhat.

How can I describe it? Ithas a rather weak cidery taste, light and a little sharp. There is some body to it (though there aren't any significant tannins). However, the sweetening - whilst not huge - does build up in the mouth and becomes the dominant taste after a while. The aftertaste is fairly short (although the sweetness lasts a while).

I do feel that it has been over filtered. This is something I have said before about Old Grove and I do feel (especially with such a light cider) that it detracts from the overall experience. The fruitiness of this drink must surely be much more pronounced than it is.

However, alongside some ciders I have tried recently, it is not a terrible cider and for those seeking to try different single varieties then this ought to be on the list. It isn't going to challenge the sense though.

A score of 61/100


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Thistly Cross Cider, Original Cider


Lets give a second bottle of Thistly Cross cider a look in. I have three in all, including their Whisky Cask Cider (which I am told has been declared by someone the nicest cider in the world). Having tried two previously that have been far too sweet, I am hoping that the 'Original' is, well, a little more 'original' and dry in nature. Mind you, having made the effort of bringing them all the way back from Scotland, I will drink it none the less!!

Unlike others (no - not going to bang on about cider reviewers again) I will draw a blank slate and open this bottle before judging it:-)

 At 7.2%, this cider is in the middle of what I would expect for a cider that describes itself as "small batch cider made with Scottish apples". Again, I like the presentation of the bottle, the saltire on the cap and the fact that it is actually made from apples. Again, as I am unaware of cider apples being grown en masse in Scotland I am expecting this drink to be on the lighter, sharper side of things.

Once it is in the glass (with a 330ml bottle you can get it all into a single glass) I can see that it is bright, very light gold and quite highly sparkling. It has a strong smell - light and sweet (again) and no tannin in the nose. There is some citrus in the smell too, which sort of already confirms that it is going to be a light, sharp cider.

The taste is different to the smell. It is sharp - very sharp I would say although this has been countered by being way too sweet. Why do some producers (newer ones - I can think of Tutts Clump, Mr Whiteheads and Three Cats as examples) think that good cider needs to taste so sweet... their market research must be wrong! There is also a bit of an odd taste to it too - almost whisky like actually (I hope this isn't the wrong cider in the bottle... or the wrong label for the cider).

As I have mentioned Tutts Clump already, I have to say that I do draw a comparison between them. Apart from the sweetness, there is a touch of sour to it as well... this (to me) indicates a high percentage of culinary fruit; usually of the Bramley kind; but I have to say that other apple varieties - if not fully ripened when pressed - will give a sourness to a cider. I think it mainly affects culinary varieties but unless the sugar has been left to fully develop then you get this underlying sourness which builds as you work your way through the cider.

The main job of the sweetness in this (however it got there) is to offset the sharpness of the cider, leaving me to think that it is there to attempt to balance things out a bit rather than add a huge amount. The aftertaste is long, sharp with a note of sweetness that lingers longer still.

I do think I prefer this cider to the 'Traditional' that I tried recently. It is a more honest cider in many ways, but is still entirely too sweet. And I cannot think why - the Scots don't necessarily have any sweeter teeth than the rest of the UK and whatever you may say about the mainstream producers the better ones don't sweeten this much!

A score of 63/100 is the best score for Thistly Cross yet.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cider101 - Its all about quality...

This is a topic that has haunted cider makers for as long as I can remember. From my personal experience of dodgy west country scrumpy to drinking stuff that has more in relation to battery acid or domestic cleaner than high quality cider, I can attest that this is still an issue that needs addressing. And that is why I attempt to at least raise the issue in this blog post... I don't pretend to have all the answers (although to be honest, a lot of it should be common sense!!!)

Speaking to people who work within the 'industrial cider' category, I must admit that the attitude towards full juice cider came as a bit of a surprise initially - summing it up, they see full juice cider as variable at best: some being fantastic (the best you can get) and most being poorly made, poorly kept and dodgy (the worst you can get). Allowing for regional variations in style and taste, I came around to this way of thinking - a bit. After all, commodity cider, produced to a recipe and unbiquitous is - for all its faults and blandness - constant. Perhaps that is why it is referred to by their marketeers as 'premium'. It will be the same today, tomorrow and next year.

Picking something out of that: my firm belief is that the best cider you can get is full juice cider (in other words, made with apples and as little else as possible). As interesting and satisfying as a complex wine or whisky, it is to be sought after. What is in these ciders that other ciders don't get? I also agree that some of the worst examples of cider are also full juice. Often using the same varieties and similar equipment to process... what goes wrong? And... how is this stuff finding its way out to customers?

This isn't intended to be a moan. It also isn't intended to defend the practices of the mass cider community; though I do suspect the issue of consistency is one of the reasons that the industrial cider industry took off in the first place. To be honest, I feel that the likes of Magners, Bulmers (et al) have thrown the soul of their cider out alongside the variability (and replaced it with chemicals).

So, how can the full juice cider community bring up the standards? Well, I have a few pointers - though again this is neither an exhaustive explanation or going to 'cure' dodgy practices:


1. Learn the art.

All too often, I hear new producers aiming for commercial production as an end. The end should be the drink itself, not making a buck out of it. That is not to say making a bob or two is wrong (or making a lot), but if you put this before the cider itself, the quality is a secondary goal. People may drink anything... once...

Use resources like the Cider Workshop to ask questions. Taste your apples. Drink your juice. Taste your cider... every tub! What are you trying to achieve... challenge yourselves. Dont let crap get out there... if I get it, and it is crap I will say so. And what good does that do the industry?

I made cider for a number of years before taking the step to sell any cider. I didn't just make it and throw it out... why would you peddle anything that you are not happy with?

2. Make it well.

Black, rotten apples rarely do anything for the quality of cider. Don't just mill it and press it. If it isn't worth pressing then throw it away - you will be doing the rest of your cider a favour. Cider making is a simple process in itself... but the devil is in the detail. Use clean equipment, containers and hoses. Clean the fruit properly (in water - not in bleach!).

It is true that a 6% cider is near enough sterile. However, if you introduce dirt and bugs at the start you should expect faults with the cider.

3. Keep it well.

I know people who don't keep full containers - well they say they do anyway. I also know people who store cider barrels outside. But why take the chance? Air is the enemy to cider - acetic tones in cider does nothing for it. The keywords here are cleanliness, airtight and each container full...

Acetic cider is a big problem with full juice ciders in the UK. Not all of this is under the control of the producer... badly kept polypins (CAMRA... take note) do nothing for good cider. However, poorly kept bag in boxes are not a good idea either. Why some retailers/publicans think that (whilst they go to extraordinary lengths to maintain good ale) cider can just be shoved in a hot corner...

However, cider producers should at least be delivering high quality cider.

4. Get a grip of sweetening.

After many years of cider making I can honestly say that I still have no idea what is the best way to sweeten a cider. I hear the arguments for/against sugar, juice, artificial sweeteners and each can work... and each have problems too. This isn't a judgement on what people do as a humble request to blooming taste it and get it right.


There are no official boundaries for what qualifies as medium dry or sweet. However, come on. Do the leg work. If dry is anything up to a gravity of 1.005 then try and work out what that tastes like! OK, I am not a huge fan of sweet ciders but I am far less a fan of ciders that claim to be medium dry and turn out to be sweet.

This is a big problem for full juice ciders in the UK and, although I don't support increased legislation I would like to see some kind of device or body that can advise producers when they have this wrong.

5. No bullshit please.

This has less to do with the cider itself but is a growing demon of the cider industry in the UK.

I don't think I am being unfair when I say that most people are sucked in by PR/marketing nonsense, and it is one of the features of the commodity guys - they seem to claim anything to convince punters that their cider is an
ything but what it really is. No, not all lies - but it is what isn't said that is important. If XXX cider is only 35% apple juice, then what they say on the bottle is only 35% truth... and they don't fess up to the remaining 65%.

Full juice cider does not need to do this. If the practices are there and the cider is of highest quality then why not let it speak for itself. I have checked back on bottles I have from Burrow Hill, Olivers Cider and Ross on Wye... they are simple, (sometimes) elegant and no bullshit in sight. What do I remember about them? What was in the bottle, of course!