Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hecks Perry

Back on to the perries then. This one is from Hecks; a producer of renown based in the heart of Somerset. I got this bottle direct (and no, I didn't have to use a boat to get there - though it was rather wet!). Coming in a 750ml bottle, it was enough to share. Just don't ask if I shared it!

I am very glad that I have a few Heck's to review now. One of the features of craft cider and perry is that it is unlikely to get a national availability... and I am, so far, lucky to get out to the West Country every now and again. Having a few to try, I am a little mystified as to why I started with the perry... not exactly my strong point! I am rather enjoying the learning curve though (so perhaps it isn't such a bad thing that it goes first!)

In the bottle, it is clear and golden - perhaps with a touch of sediment at the bottom - so if it has been filtered (and I think this is likely) it has been done so sensitively. Without wishing to pre-judge this perry - that word could describe all the really good cider makers: sensitive. Sensitive to the drink itself, its sweetness, the best way to present it...

In the glass there is no fizz whatsoever - lovely and still. It has a classic perry smell to it as well. I think I am getting some sweetness though - well, it is a medium sweet, so it is going to be right at the upper end of my sweetness scale. I am getting some mellow cidery smell as well - I think there are going to be tannins...

The taste is everything I have described - it is very sweet, but to be fair that is how it is described so it isn't too sweet. It is the medium sweet that is described. Beneath the sweetness, which I guess must be sugar as I am not getting juiciness or any aftertaste, I am getting some peach (pears don't taste of peaches, so I have some work to do to truly understand this). Back this up with a woody tone and even ice-cream notes this is rather a nice perry... even if it is too sweet for my own palate.

I am getting a mellow tannin undertone to this drink, although cannot detect much acid - that is not to say that there isn't enough going on already!!

The aftertaste is long and develops in the mouth (although the sweetness stays with you). I ought to reiterate - this perry is a medium sweet, so please don't expect it to be dry!

Hecks perry scores 78/100 for me, which is a bronze apple. I suspect that if you like sweeter perries you would score it more.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


NOTE - If you haven't already, please do take the time to respond to the question at the top left of this blog. It is very much of interest and I promise to publish (and try to use) the results!

I have spent some time reflecting on my attitudes towards cider and perry of late. Whether it is through Weston's dishing out Christmas pressies to MP's to remind them to leave cider tax alone, or SIBA falsly persuading beer drinkers that cider tax is too cheap. Whether it is those banging on about high juice vs low juice cider (my personal choice of drum to bang), the quality of ciders, adding fruit to ciders and misleading marketing (which I am sad to say is on the increase at the expense of honesty and integrity).

It almost feels that there is a cacophony of issues (isn't there always?). By the way, whilst all this is going on, what CAMRA APPLE are most concerned with is the evil of pasteurisation and 'hot filling' bag in boxes... nice priorities guys! Mind you, with some beery blog feigning shock and horror at the fact that CAMRA support cider and perry at all - and for them to have held some position within local branch level - suggests that CAMRA APPLE have got more work to do  focussing inwards than trying to proclaim what producers should do.

However, most recently, all of this has got me wondering about something that I feel potentially is the biggest danger to cider as a category. I guess it was while reading about the 'Cider Summit' - an event that will probably fuel the Morning Advertiser for a while longer and then disappear into obscurity. However, reading the phrases and language used to describe the category... isn't cider and perry in danger of being classed simply as an alcopop?

Let me explain. Cider is made from apples and perry (or even pear cider) from pears. No so - according to those PR guru's who know the industry better than we know ourselves! Innovation includes strawberries, blackcurrents or even beetroot. How about a cider with a twist of lime? Well, this is low juice cider (often) coupled with something else to make it interesting - or 'unique'. After all, it has to stand out on those supermarket shelves!

Supermarket shelves are a nice analogy to the problem. At my local Sainsbury's (pictured) you have the better ciders at one end, leading through the pear ciders into the fruit ciders. Then there are the ultra low cost ciders and, following, the alcopops. They are grouped together - in a separate aisle even from the beer.

I have heard commentators talk of fruit cider and some low juice ciders as the new hiding place for alcopops. I tend to agree - these things are gimmicks - sweet beverages designed for the young and frowned upon by the establishment; this is borne out by the higher taxation and anti alcohol lobby strategies that led to alcopops being without a home in the first place.

At the same time, you have bar managers at CAMRA festivals fighting to stock fruit ciders. The excuse I have heard before is that "these are good introductions to cider". No, I disagree.

And they are not the way forward for the cider 'category' either.

Aren't all these fruit and alcopop ciders just going to drag down high quality, decent cider with them?

What? I hear a few CAMRA people in Kent screaming something about fruit cider being traditional?! I have looked in to this (alongside other people) and the only traditional/historical use for fruits in cider is to cover faults and poor cider. Sorry, the only way it can be traditional is by doing some clever soft shoe shuffling.

I recall Hooch of old - sweet, lemony and fizzy with bright appealing labels.

Don't get me wrong. if there were a hint of those in authority starting to view cider as merely an alcopop - and to be taxed as such - then I would join in the chorus of producers and drinkers to cry 'get lost'... much as we all did when the Labourists decided to chuck 10% on cider duty. However, isn't this a topic worth discussing and dealing with - much as those who PR feel that they can decide how the cider industry must be 'innovative'. They didn't say a word about the down side of dilution... sorry... innovation (I suspect they didn't even think that there was!)

Okay, apologies if this comes across as negative. As mentioned, this is the silent assassin of the cider industry. When producers pimp themselves out to marketeers to lead the way for them an alarm goes off. Right now, I see quality (let me say that again, QUALITY) as being the most innovative thing that the industry can do for the better of cider/perry right now.

Not being someone that likes to sit and moan without offering a solution, I do see a sliver of light - an opportunity that high juice, quality (that word again) producers of cider and perry can take... though I suspect it involves some girding of loins and action.

Couldn't the craft end of the industry set a marker in the ground? Seek to differentiate itself - even distance itself - from the 'stuff' that excites cider PR people? My thinking is 'yes' it can be done. However, it would not be without a lot of thinking, planning and agreement. You see the low juice end of the industry, over the last 40 years or more, have entwined 'cider' and 'perry'. From orchards, to bottle manufacturing to campaigning - the big industry players have all the contracts, deals etc. It is more than a tiny bit true that many of the higher end producers hang on to the coat tails and get 'told' from on high when things change.

This is not all bad, but isn't it about time that cider and perry drinkers had some way of distinguishing the two? Sure, those who want to make the effort to seek high end cider. Also: yes, the 'Magners' advertising effect has been good for the industry in general (though perhaps it is often overstated). But - is that a reason to simply all ride together down the slippery slope?

I don't have all the answers, but I do have an idea... what about some kind of distinguishing or protected status for high juice cider? There are mechanisms available under the EU... the French use them - as do the Spanish and Austrians. The Welsh are seeking to use them too. It would possibly need to involve CAMRA as much as NACM etc. And it could be something that larger producers could opt to join in with. Often these things just watch out for ingredients and practices - but quality must also be built in; If only producers could agree on the terms and CAMRA could agree with the producers!

I know the argument - the public want sweet, fizzy ciders... and the public gets what the public want. I don't believe that this is strictly true: The public often are led to want what the public get - supermarkets and PRists have proven this true time and time again. What large companies have believed for decades is that the public want stuff that is easy to get hold of, recognisable and cheap. However, as with battery farmed chickens and eggs, I see the public do take notice of the little labels that declare provenance.

So. What do you think? Is the cider industry heading for a crunch at the hands of its new alcopop friends? Is it time for the high juice section of the industry to put a stake in the ground? And that, my friends, is why I am trying to take a poll...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lilleys Bee Sting Pear Cider

Temporary image - borrowed from Lilleys website

Now, to some extent the last drink on the list at the Cider Tap is really not my thing. A sweet pear cider. Look, I will try it and I will be objective about it... I do wish I knew how sweet a sweet was meant to be however... I guess its whatever though - whilst a Dry becomes a medium and then on to a sweet - there is no such thing as super sweet so sweet covers it all.

This pear cider is slightly different for the Tap as it comes out sparkling. It is pale yellow in colour and bright to look at. Not that you can look at it unless you have one. Sorry, once again the phone camera wouldn't work... well, the phone wouldn't work and I guess that just means that camera was knackered too. I do wonder if iPhones do well dipped in perry though!! No - I didn't. The thought just crossed my mind, that is all!

Now, to smell this pear cider is very odd. It smells of soap. Imperial Leather to be exact (and no. I hadn't just been to the toilet and washed my hands!) I guess there is some pear in all that sweet smell.

It is very sweet to taste - quite juicy too, so I guess it has been backsweetened with juice. It is also very light with very little tannin going on. My thinking is that this could be a perry made from Comace and/or Conference pears... these are the pears you get if you cannot get perry pears (or old fashioned varieties) - they are the most commonly available pears to buy in bulk. However, they neither contain any acid or any tannin. Well, next time you get a chance to eat one, let me know what the components of the flavour are!

Now, contrary to what I have just said above, there is plenty of acid... which is a bit odd. This is like lemon and lime with a bucket load of sugar on the top. The sweetness dominates all and, with a moderate aftertaste, I do find it a touch watery.

Once again, a pear cider that seems at odds with perry... but not as much as some (if it weren't so sweet!) I scored it 50/100... so right in the middle.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Westons Family Reserve Cider

Temporary image - thanks to the interweb...

My second cider of the evening came in the form of a Westons that I have yet to try. The Family Reserve is a 5% standard cider on draught. Bright, still and golden. Exactly what I have come to expect of Westons ciders on the whole.

I only take a half a pint at a time when reviewing, which usually leaves me with room for more and also capable of writing up notes without either falling asleep or not thinking. Sadly, however, this wasn't going to help my photography - the iPhone insisted that I had no battery life (until I got half way home and it remembered it actually had 50%...) So - if anyone is near the Cider Tap at Euston and can take a photograph of this for me - I would be grateful!

Okay, once again I am getting sulphites in the smell, although there isn't a whole lot else to comment on. This is (I have found) due to the temperature that cider is served in the Tap. Too cold. Perhaps there is the hint of apple... I am sure it would be stronger if it were sold a little less frosty!

Right. The taste. On the positive side is has a faint tannin and acidity to balance it out. There is a fairly washed out fruitiness too - although there is plenty of back sweetening to this medium cider - by that I mean juice (Westons sweetener of choice). This results in the cider having the complexion of apple squash. It is rather watery, to be honest, and I am a touch disappointed.

There is a very short aftertaste. It could be down to the temperature again, although I doubt this has a whole lot more at whatever temperature.

I am trying to think of a positive way of seeing this cider... I guess (once again) it is designed to speak to the masses, where challenging and bold flavours are frowned upon. It's a bit like taking the ubiquitous 1st Quality/Guvnor/Marcle Hill and diluting it a bit. There is traditional west country flavours, but they are very washed out.

Sorry Westons - there are some of your range that I do like... honestly! I just don't think this cider was tailored to someone like me. I have to be objective about this - and it is only my opinion at the end of the day... I just don't like it.

A score of 47/100 puts it just about where I feel.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Cider Pages - 3 years and counting...

This blog post was meant to be a review of a Weston's cider bought at the Euston Cider Tap. I felt it was a fitting way to mark three years of reviews. Sorry - you will have to wait until the next post to see that review... I started it and then got into pontificating over the last three years. Once again, sorry!

When I first started writing these reviews, there was a bit of a cider shaped hole in the blogging world. Sure, Nick Edwards had just started his excellent 'The Cider Blog' and was writing up just about every festival and event that he could get his hands on (love the blog, Nick!) However, where you could find plenty of beer and even more wine commentary there was not much to go for cider.

Some of the ciders and perries on the Cider Pages 'Cider Shelf' for 2014
And so I figured the best way to serve the industry would be to start writing up my notes on ciders, coupled with something of a rough scoring system (the apple awards were simply a flourish I had seen used for wine and whisky with good effect).

Because of other projects - not least of all being my growing cider business - I had to do this anonymously. To be fair, it isn't exactly that anonymous... I wanted to be as objective as possible about the reviews and that meant saying it as I see it. I didn't want to offend friends and industry colleagues, but I wanted to serve the drinker. My ultimate goal was to reach out to the millions of people drinking commodity cider - low juice and industrially made stuff. I figured that I could not only increase their view of real, quality cider products, but if it could lead just one or two people to develop their palate for quality cider then it is all worth it.

I am very happy to say that this blog has already achieved this with many more people than I expected - if comments and direct messages have been any indication. I am very proud about that (although let's face it, its the producers themselves who make the quality products that really should feel proud - I have just enjoyed the result of their endeavours!).

I have also had the chance to air a few views on the various processes that go in to making cider - and that go in to making commodity cider. These are much more personal to me and, although I have never taken a poll on whether others agree with me, it has been good to hear from other producers who share the same values - and interesting to hear from those who don't. Much of the problem that the cider industry faces is an identity crisis - what IS cider?. This is, in part, due to people not knowing how cider can be 'manufactured'. Many people just assume that all cider is made from apples and all pear cider is made from pears. I hope I have served to increase the visibility of some of that and even debunked some of the myths about brands and practices.

And so, I move on to exercise my bragging rights. With over 170,000 views of the reviews, and 24 people who follow the blog, Cider Pages has achieved far more than I could ever have expected. Over on Twitter, Cider Pages has over 1000 followers... not bad considering that I saw Twitter as just some device used by most for self promotion. OK, I still see it a bit like that (but you don't have to read everything that is written!!) All very respectable:-)

During the three years, there have been 365 cider and perry reviews. Of these, 16 have got 'Golden Apples' from me with a further 62 Silver Apples being doled out in the name of excellent cider. I reckon I could organise a pretty good cider festival with these!! However, it goes to demonstrate how many decent ciders are available!

Before I cease this bragging for another 3 years, here are a few interesting facts, taken from the stats and tags:

  • The highest scoring cider so far is still Ross on Wye's Headless Man (96). This is followed by Chateau du Briel Calvados (95) and joint Dunkerton's Premium Organic and Cider by Rosie (93)
  • The most viewed blog post is, oddly, Waitrose Heston's Mulled Cider. Second place goes to Carling British Cider (see, it is worth looking at all forms of 'cider') and third is Thatchers Gold.
  • Obviously, Cider Pages has most visitors from the UK. Second place (also fairly obviously) is the USA. However, there are also a fair number of visitors from Russia, China and even Argentina.
  • In terms of searches - some like this kind of thing - 'Green Goblin Cider' is the most searched term. However, much more fun than that are the queries; 'Do Badgers like Cider?', 'Is Oakleys cider any good' (hope they found my response to that!) and, most recently, 'Does Henry Westons pear cider contain any pears?'

And so, I wonder what the next 3 years holds in store for Cider Pages? I wonder if I will be able to find another 365 ciders/perries to review? I suspect I could. What will the industry look like in 3 years time?

It is pointless to speculate that far ahead, although I can tell you that 2014 is looking like a good cider year... the quality of apples during last season were better than the previous year and things haven't been so cold and miserable - well, cold anyway. I can also say that I may well be running a tutored tasting event or two during the year - at a festival in the next couple of months (possibly) and at a larger event too (possibly). I haven't yet decided how or whether I will advertise these on here, though it would be nice to in some way.

For now, I do have one favour to ask. On the edge of this page there is a poll question... it is related to an up coming 'Cider101' and I would be very grateful if you could take the small amount of time required to answer it. I know it isn't too detailed - it's not meant to be. However, it may ultimately be of much interest and use to another new project I am working on.

Thanks to everyone who has visited these pages, commented on stuff, written to me personally. Here's to the next few years!

Yer Tis!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Fatty's Farmhouse Scrumpy

This cider is going to take a bit of digging. A trip to Euston Cider Tap (and may I say that their board is starting to look a little too Thatchers, Lilleys and Sheppy's of late). I wanted to try three new drinks before jumping on to a train home - and low and behold there were only three things that I hadn't tried:-)

I guess I should fess up straight away... because my iPhone died pretty much straight after this photo was taken (without good cause I hasten to add) there is only one photo from my latest catch from the Tap. This has nothing to do with the quality of the cider/perry, but I am rather gutted that I failed to take photographs of the other two. I will put a call out for photographs once I get to those reviews!! Needless to say, I hate my iPhone and would like to throw it away (if only I could use my Blackberry again... but there are far too many hoops to leap through!)

Anyway, it is nice to find a producer that I have never heard of before. A search on the interweb thingy doesn't turn up much, although 'Fatty Edwards' is based in Somerset - somewhere between Taunton and Yeovil to the south, and Glastonbury and Bridgewater to the north. However, there isn't much web presence other than that. It's just how it is I am afraid... there are quite a few rural cidermakers who simply don't do the internet - and sometimes I really can't blame them (says a man who has, for the last three years, regularly blogged about cider amongst other web activities!)

Enough. Lets recount the cider and give it a score.

At 6.5%, Fatty's is just about right for a cider. It is a medium though, so on the sweeter end of the scale for me personally. It arrives golden and cloudy - and still (of course). The smell is quite thick and scrumpy like - there is a stack of bittersweet fruit up the nose. Nice.

Now, the taste - well, I guess I should best describe is as a bit of a shame, although quite nice... if you like juice sweetened cider. I confess I am coming to the conclusion that it alters the flavour and profile of a cider far too much. For this one, which I presume is back sweetened with juice and then pasteurised to stop refermentation, the scrumpiness of the cider is all but lost as a result. It is very appley and juicy. Whilst there are tannins in here (the dryness at the end of the drink is reasonable, so my guess is that there is a stack of bittersweet) it is masked by the juice. In fact, it is right at the end that I actually appreciate this cider the most.

As for whether it is too sweet. No, it is a good medium cider. It's just that there is a lot of juice (which is a shame). Did I mention it is juicy???:-)

The aftertaste is quite long and sweet. This is a bit like a 'doux' cidre - but with three times the alcohol content. I cannot find much acid going on - but then that could be lost as background too.

No a bad score of 62/100. It may have scored a bit better if it was a proper scrumpy, but then as a medium it is what it said it was - so that is OK (if you like that kind of thing).

Friday, 7 February 2014

Marks and Spencers Pear Cider

Here is the other perry that I wanted to try. It is easy to get hold of and, yup, its a Westons. If you sit it side by side with the other bottle it is identical (OK, the bottles are identical). It is actually 0.1% different ABV... but this really means nothing as trading standards allow a 0.5% leeway either way (this it is actually 1% out either way, but lets be honest - that would be really bad form eh!). So, essentially it is identical. Well, not quite.

The difference between these bottles is that one has an ingredients list on it. This allows me to analyse the processes that Weston's use to make the perry/pear cider... if only CAMRA would do it's own homework and work these things out for itself then perhaps their definition of cider and perry wouldn't need constant inspection and adjustment. Here are my notes:

  1. Pear juice. This is both juice 'content' and pear juice used to sweeten (which in itself counts towards the juice content even though it is added 'after the fact'). It is encouraging that this is still the main ingredient.
  2. Water. This is the second largest constituent and is what is used to cut a cider or perry from, say, 14% down to 7.4% or 7.3%.
  3. Glucose Syrup. This is very commonly used to chaptalise - which put simply means increase a gravity (alcohol) from 6% (average pear gravity) to, say, 14%. This is done prior to fermentation and the resulting beverage is stored until required, and then subject to 2.
  4. Acidity regulator, Malic Acid, Lactic Acid. Well, this is what happens when you bugger about with cider or perry!
  5. Preservative, sulphite. A normal addition
  6. Yeast. Clearly (mind you fermenting out to, for example, 14% you will need a yeast that can handle much higher strengths of alcohol than your average yeast.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I support food labelling requirements for alcoholic beverages. Bet you don't see that in the Weston's adverts!

So, let us get on with this perry. I am trying this a day after the Henry Weston's so I should be able to compare them fairly well. Why am I doing this? Well, Westons do have 'form' for releasing the same drink under a different name. Is it wrong? Well, that is not for me to say - I will leave it up to the readers to judge.

It is a medium dry cider, moderately sparkling and yellow in colour. It is also bright and sparkly. It smells of pear juice, although I note that I am not getting sulphite this time - so the pear smell is unhindered.

Sure enough, the taste is very juicy and it comes across as more a medium than medium dry. I do get a touch of tannin and some acid. It is very similar to the Henry Westons I tried last night.

Don't get me wrong - it isn't that it is a terrible drink. It is just uncomplicated, when I find really good quality perry IS complicated. This is attempting to do for perry a kind of cider like experience for the drinker - simple, pear like and pretty strong in alcohol. This is a shame - and even with my limited perry experience I do believe it is a mistake.

As for the two perries being identical. Well, it isn't the first time and, lets be honest, I don't know how the buyers for the supermarkets work. I can certainly forgive this more than, say, producing two (or three or four) ciders that are identical and selling them under your own monika.

Anyway, the scores are somewhat identical too. 56/100.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Henry Westons Vintage Perry (2012)

Moving on with perry - well, why not get the 'easy to get hold of perries' first. Here we have a couple of perries that I would like to try alongside each other. Well, I say that - one does call itself a pear cider, but both are made by Weston's.As a start, lets try the real deal - Weston's own Vintage Perry. The bottle is easy to recognise (whether it says Westons, Asda, M&S or whatever) - is the perry?

At 7.4%, this is not a perry to be taken too lightly. It is described as a medium dry (though in my experience of Weston's this probably makes it a medium). It pours out moderately sparkling, pale gold and brightly clear. It certainly looks the part.

Smelling it, there is a distinct pear aroma - a little unusual having smelled other perry that I know to be top class. As a note there is also quite a lot of sulphite too - checking briefly this is a bit of a common theme for Weston's cider, though I am not sure why. I know - why point out about the sulphite? Well, some people are allergic to is, and it is worth noting that, if you can smell it, then its quite heavy.

To taste, it is moderately medium in sweetness and it is all juicy. I am not getting a whole lot of pear on the tongue - or perry flavour to be honest. I cannot assume anything, but this seems to be tailored for those who don't know perry... there doesn't seem to be much else than pear going on. OK, I do get a small touch of tannin, but mostly it is pear.

The longer I drink this perry, the more I feel it is a solid medium. There is some acid here - and this couples with the sweetness to give a moderate length aftertaste.

I think that is enough said. A score of 56 is above average, but I really do feel that as a vintage perry, this should have been more complex - well, a bit anyway!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Dunkerton's Perry

Apologies for the minor absence, it was not intentional but... there you go. Hopefully I now have time and cider/perry enough to keep things going once again:-) I was intending to say that "this is the last of the perries on my shelf". But then I bought some more - so you have a few more reviews to look forward to.

However, this is the last of the perries that have sat around for a while waiting for me to pluck up enough courage to try them. I am glad I did - not because I won't look back in a few months and wish I had more experience before writing them but because this perry lark now fascinates me! For a drink that is made pretty much using the same practices as cider, using pretty much the same kind of raw materials, it is so much more nuanced and delicate than most of the ciders that I have tried. There are real wine comparisons that you can draw on - far more than with cider. It really is a different kettle of fish. And that has surprised me.

Dunkerton's are among my favourite cider producers, making honest cider and exploring tastes without compromising. I can see them tasting and testing their different blends or single variety ciders; some good and some rejected. Too many cidermakers simply launch wholesale into 'innovative' ideas and throw them out onto the market... Whitehead's 'Beetroot' cider is such an example. If I wanted to drink beetroot juice then I would press some beetroot - not chuck it into cider! And then there are those who believe the key to the treasure chest of cider making lies in a bottle of sweetener...

Okay, enough ranting for now. Lets go for this perry then.

It pours out foamy and clear into the glass. The smell is pungent - no need to stick my nose into this one! However, it is a deep smell: tannic, rich and bold. That makes this unusual for a perry - they are normally more nuanced than this. However, I like it.

The taste is much milder than the smell, oddly. It is very smooth - I am getting a pear/cidery flavour with a touch of farmyard too. There are peaches in the taste as well. This seems to be a theme with good perry... peaches. It is almost creamy, although this could be the fizz.

There is some tannin in here, but very little acid which kind of accentuates the tannin a touch. The aftertaste is long and nice too and lingers. Very good. I am satisfied!

A score of 85/100 puts this almost on par with the Olivers. A silver apple for Dunkertons.