Sunday, 28 September 2014

Custard and Co - Vintage Dry Apple Cider

Man oh man, Ian Rayner and his Custard Cider seem to be the rock stars of Aussie cider at present. The ciders are produced naturally at his fully sustainable cider works in Donnybrook, Western Australia. Being in such an isolated area of Australia has by no means been detrimental to their presence in the market. The range of ciders are here, there and everywhere, and it’s a true testament to the product and philosophies. Rayner seems to be producing traditional styled cider, yet still please all the discerning commercial cider drinker's tastes. Hard feat! His mix of traditionalism and modernism seems to be a winning mix. This is a cider brand making cider for the right reasons. I take my hat off to Ian, who quite funnily enough is from the cider crazy county of Somerset in England. Now let’s try the Custard Vintage Dry!
Loved the nice cloudy golden colour, and also loved the lightish carbonation. Nothing worse than an over carbonated cider. I don’t know if I was drunk, but the cider seemed to be thick and viscous in the glass. It almost seemed if it was sticking to the sides of the glass. Interesting indeed.

The nose showed exactly why wild ferments are the real way to make cider. There was some very inviting primary floral pineapple/tropical fruit notes here. But hints of funk and earthiness, along with a creamy/buttery angle added good complexing depth. There was some evidence of VA and just a touch of geranium too, but all in balance. Initially, it seriously smelt like a fresh crunch apple. Impressive.

The palate was a little bit of a mystery at first. I was expecting a full hit of Western Australian apple dryness, instead greeted with big upfront apple sweetness. The sweetness was moreish, with great weight and fattiness. The lower level of carbonation was perfect for the style. The acidity was on the lower side, yet flabbiness wasn’t an issue with the higher sugar. Texture was at a minimum, yet the crisp complexity was high. The flavour does die off a touch towards a washy finish, but holy hell this was one smashable cider. To be honest, it was like alcoholic apple juice but it all worked so well. I could see this being consumed in copious amounts. A respectable 5.5% alc, would also ensure this. 
What I loved about this cider is the example of wild ferment funkiness. This really highlighted the complexity you get out of indigenous yeasts. Real cider is made this way. This is real cider. Simple. I do question why ‘dry’ is on the label, considering it’s a more medium to medium sweet. But the Custard Vintage Dry is a seriously top drop. Well played!  

Producer: The Real River Company
Country: Australia (Donnybrook, Western Australia)
Alcohol: 5.5%

Rating: 17.5 out of 20

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Willie Smiths Organic Cider - Bone Dry

Oh Willie, Willie Willie, we meet again. No, that is not a euphemism either, so get your minds out of the gutter! The last time Willie Smiths graced All About Cider, they score the one and only top marks which I have awarded. The cider showed unbelievable quality and style for a dessert apple cider. I remember being blown away, and it showed good cider can be made from the humble dessert. How they could make it taste like a good quality Norman Cidre was beyond me. I was hooked! So now WSOC have released their lasted addition ‘Bone Dry’. When I say ‘latest addition’, that’s not to say it’s new. The cider has been out for quite some time, but I have only got my hands on some now! Hint hint Sam!
So it says on the cider label that this new release was inspired by Sam and Rowl’s trip to England and France. I guess they were drinking lots of Norman Brut! I have heard whispers Rowl has now moved on as Cider Maker which is a shame. The label also points out the cider was aged in oak for three months – now that’s what I like. I am confident that this Bone Dry is just Willie Smiths Organic Cider (white label), without any apple juice added back for sweetening. Essentially a base cider aged in oak for three months. Could be wrong, call it a hunch.
So the cider pours very low in carbonation which is a huge tick. Perfect for this style. The colour is a lovely golden straw too. Happy days. So what do you expect to see from a dry? Sugar adds body and weight to a cider, hence the sweet one's are fatter with more substance. Dry ciders don’t have this luxury. Building layers of flavour and texture are key in my mind. Definitely some oak age, LOTS of lees stirring etc.

The nose in true Willie Smiths fashion is dominated by oxidised red apple notes. Some lovely spiced apple characters also shine through. There is a touch of older oak, yet also a fungal/mouldy note too – not saying this is a bad thing. It’s quite earthy in stature, and quite complex. Tick.  

Unfortunately for me, the palate is a little of a letdown. It definitely shows a likeable softness with some green apple flavours. However, the flavour is a touch lacklustre and fades to a twangy sour finish. I do enjoy the powdery tannin which adds texture, and also the apple seed like bitterness. I would liken this more to an English Scrumpy when it comes to style, as I find it’s quite wild and untamed. The hot alcohol would also suggest this too. I guess what I would love to see here is some more apple punch, and some more added layers. The best way to describe the palate is it lacks a little personality. Still totally and utterly drinkable.  
All in all, a solid effort. I am not sure how the fanatical Willie Smiths fans would go with the Bone Dry against the original cider. Happy to be proven wrong. Again, the nose takes me to Normandy and I love that about Willie Smiths. I am still a huge fan of this producer and put them in my top 5 in Australia.

Producer: William Smiths and Son’s
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 6.8%

Rating: 14 out of 20


Friday, 19 September 2014

Sorry for the inactivity!

Hi cider lovers!

I must apologise for the lack of reviews/posting lately. I have been busy, busy, busy! I have judged at the inaugural Adelaide Cider Competition, and the Royal Sydney Beer and Cider Show. Two well run shows which were fun to judge at. I have composed a Tassie Cider section with reviews in the new Tasmania's Table book which will be published soon. I must say I had a lot of fun tasting through all the amazing Tassie ciders! I have also been tasting through some quality English cider, and a few popular Aussies too so will get the reviews up soon. My side project Adams Orchard Cider is doing very well, but taking up a lot of my time. The passion to make cider is so infectious, and I always say my talents lie in making the stuff, rather that writing about it. Check it out at if you're interested.

But the warmer weather is coming which means two things.

1. Cider season is coming! (Yay!)
2. More producers will come out to play which means more new ciders to try and review. 

Until then, keep supporting local producers who are making real, honest booze. What more could you ask for? Perfect!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Are you following the guidelines?

What has really thrilled me over the passed couple years is the opportunity to judge cider in a competition setting. I get to judge along side some real industry heavy weights, and find I am always learning something new. I have already been to two awards this year, and will be judging up at the Sydney Beer and Cider Show in September. Judging cider is not an easy task when completely new to the concept. You're looking for subtle differences in a cider which is part of a huge class that sometimes almost look identical to each other. It's easy to just try and compare cider to wine. But with cider, you're analysing malic acid, not tartaric and playing with sometimes ghastly amounts of sugar, be it real or fake. It's closely analysing textures, acidity, balance, carbonation, fruit intensity and most importantly style. I am a qualified Winemaker and have had sensory classes rammed down my throat at University. Without sounding too bigheaded, I am indeed trained in sensory evaluation, fault detections etc. This is perhaps why my reviews go so 'in-depth' by the fact I am picking up such tiny subtleties in a cider, which most punters would oversee or not care about. I have really honed in my skill on judging cider and am confident in my ability. So why am I saying this? There is a point I assure you. Let me explain:

As a producer, I believe you have every right to get your cider judged along side industry peers. It's great for the industry, and keeps the competitive juices flowing. It can give you a clear indication of where you are at in terms of style and quality, and can be a bit of fun when you win a medal. It can also help you with feedback to maybe tweak or sharpen up that next batch you're about to begin. What gets scrupulously worked on in the background to these shows is the determination of clear, set boundaries and rules which outline a class. What is a class? For example:

Class 1: Contemporary Dry
Class 2: Contemporary Medium
Class 3: Contemporary Sweet
Class 4: Traditional Dry
Class 5: Traditional Medium
Class 6: Traditional Sweet     

Within these classes, a sugar reading (gravity or residual sugar) is one of the determining factors to which category the cider goes into. This is the case for both apple and pear/perry cider. Pretty clear and concise if you think about it. Here's an example for cider used in shows across Australia:


Dry: SG up to 1005
Medium: SG between 1005 and 1012
Sweet: SG 1012 and above

Residual Sugar - g/L

Dry: less than 9 g/L
Medium: 9 g/L - 40g/L
Sweet: Above 40 g/L

So these parameters/methods do change between shows, but very minutely. It is up to the discretion of the producer to enter into the right class when there is a obvious overlap or closeness in sugar parameters for that show. One could argue there needs to be Australian standardised sugar levels and units to determine classes in shows. Yes perhaps, but there really is not a huge difference.

Along with sugar level, Australian cider also currently has two distinct and recognised styles which also determines class:

Contemporary and Traditional. Here are the guidelines taken from the Melbourne Fine Food Awards (composed by Max Allen).

Contemporary Cider or Perry: made in a style that is in line with the broad contemporary Australian market; more likely to be lighter, cleaner and crisper to taste, with primary fruit flavours; more likely to be made from dessert apple or pear varieties, but can be made from bittersweet/traditional varieties; can be either sparkling or still. 

Traditional Cider or Perry: made in a style that is more in line with the cider and perry traditions of Europe; likely to be fuller, more chewy or tannic to taste, with secondary fruit flavours and ferment/maturation-derived characters (e.g. obvious influence of oak and/or oxidative handling); more likely to be made from bittersweet/traditional apple or pear varieties, but can also be made from dessert varieties; can be either sparkling or still

Bottle-fermented Cider or Perry: made in a style that is likely to show bottle-fermentation or bottle-condition derived characters such as yeastiness and persistent carbonation from methode champenoise production or natural residual sugar and soft, moderate carbonation from keeving.

Again, pretty clear and concise and bang on the money. It's fairly obvious where a producers cider would sit in terms of style. So what's my point? My point is the amount of ciders entered into wrong classes through means of being overly sweet in a dry class, or contemporary in a traditional class for example, is worrying. I am worried there are producers who don't know their product well enough. Could it be cider being entered in on behalf of a marketing sector -  enter large corporate ciders here.....? Having a contemporary cider which is back sweetened with Chinese concentrate entered into a traditional class, shows a complete lack of maturity and understanding of cider. It's these clueless producers who are in it for the $$$$, not the so called passion. If you can't read a set of thorough guidelines, printed in black and white and devised by industry professionals, then don't enter. Plain and simple. A cider made with desserts can be both contemporary and traditional, yes. But it's your methods of production which ultimately determine style. Same goes with cider apples. You can have both contemporary and traditional. Just because your cider is jam packed full of cider apples, doesn't instantly make it traditional in an Australian sense. Also, do some producers seriously think a highly processed, conc sweetened and filtered dessert cider is traditional? ummmm........  

We are lucky that a large per cent do get it right. Thank you to all those wonderful and coherent producers! But there's always some complete anomalies/aberrations which make you think where they drunk when they entered? Tasting sweet ciders in a dry class just mystifies me - it's like entering a moscato into a dry Riesling class in wine judging. The dry and sweet classes are the biggest culprits, with almost laughable outliers in some cases. We do judge them accordingly, but do they deserve a second chance? The contemporary medium apple cider class is by far the most populated class in every show. It usually accounts for over 60 per cent of the judging, and seems to be the most competitive and fairly accurate class. Perry is a different kettle of fish. I do hold some leniency with perry/pear cider due to the unfermentable sorbitol. This can show differences in perceived sweetness against analytical sweetness, potentially causing confusion. But it always helps to get a second opinion.    

I know as a judge, show organisers are doing everything they can to make these shows worthy, meaningful and creditable. Guidelines are tight, and are in black and white. But it's up to the rogue producers to get their heads around what they are actually entering, and enter correctly. As mentioned above, it's not too hard to follow the rules. If that means testing your ciders sugar at a lab before entering or getting advice on your style, then I recommend you do. If you're ever in doubt, contact the show organisers and they can point you in the right direction. I thank each and every producer for entering into shows and for giving it a go - don't get me wrong! Without you, these shows wouldn't exist. I want these competitions to have credit and be worth something to a producer. Let's all get on the same page and do what's right. But from a judges point of view, I want to see these silly mistakes abolished and taken seriously.