Monday, 27 August 2012

Cider of the Month - August

This months edition of Cider of the Month goes to:
 Westons - Henry Westons Oak Aged Vintage Cider 2010
Weston’s, situated in Herefordshire England, has created a ballsy, unforgiving vintage cider using only the best fruit available of the year. It’s light on fizz, golden yellow and brilliantly clear. Unmistakable fresh green apples are complimented by earthy oak on the nose. Upfront medium dry sweetness is short lived by amazing sharpness which whacks you in the face for six. The great balancing act of bitterness, sharpness, and sweetness should not be taken lightly. This is a real man's cider at 8.2%, and she packs a punch. Best savoured on its own, no mess no fuss. Just like the cider itself.

Producer: H Weston & Sons Ltd
Region: Herefordshire (England)
Alcohol: 8.2%

* The 2011 Vintage has just been released in Australia.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Thatchers - Green Goblin Oak Aged Cider

Thatchers – Green Goblin Oak Aged Cider
To the unaware or unfamiliar, Thatchers are a large cider producing company hailing from the western edges of Somerset in the UK. They are famous for cider labels like Green Goblin, Thatchers Gold and Thatchers Katy. To get a grasp of their sheer size and production, in 2010 they planted over 100,000 apples trees and now own over 380 acres of orchards. They also have a fermentation capacity of 1 million litres!! Think of all that cider (start drooling now). But for a company which has been established since 1904, it’s just no happenstance that they have become what they are today.

Green Goblin falls under Thatchers ‘Premium’ range, and is made by using new and traditional cider making methods. The so called traditional methods are no doubt the ageing of the cider in 100 year old wooden vats post ferment. Thatchers use the ageing in oak or ‘wood’ as their main focal point for the marketing of this cider. But as a whole, the cider is made and styled towards a fuller, bittersweet and medium dry option with apples such as Dabinett and Somerset Red Streak (both bittersweet varieties), used in the blend.

To begin with, the colour gleams golden honey with nice soft carbonation. On inspection of the nose, fresh apple characters are shadowed by distinct notes of band aid’s, or in scientific language – Brettanomyces. In simple terms, Brettanomyces or Brett for short, is considered a spoilage yeast in most wines and is a direct consequence of poor hygiene on fruit and equipment. The band aid characters are very desirable in farmhouse cider styles in the UK and France, where old oak plays a major role. It’s also very desirable in many Belgium and American beers. But unfortunately Aussie cider makers are too scared of introducing Brett into their ciders to help gain complexity. We are seeing so many fresh, clean standardised ciders right now, so where’s the diversity? The nose finishes with old leather resembling tough old boots, mixed in with dirty woody oak characters. All these descriptors may sound horrific, but all intertwined they produce a complex nose with tonnes of personality.     
The palate lives up to its medium dry promise, having lovely upfront sweetness but finishing dry. The bittersweet apples offer up mouth sapping bitterness with powdery tannins, which get massively addictive. The carbonation foams up into a soft pillow, but is short lived as the steely, metallic Brett characters slice their way through. At 6% alcohol, there is a fair bit of back palate heat which persists and lingers for minutes after swallowing. The overall feel of the cider is fairly heavy and full, with some sharp attributes and a moderate acidity. Like many ciders, there are some residual sulphur characters, which may also explain the sharp, steely notes.

I must admit I have had better batches of this cider, but taken as a whole it was a pleasant drinking experience. It is a great example of a traditional English cider from Somerset, and is a perfect option for anyone wanting to try something new. What I mean by this is the consumer can get real exposure to what bitterness, astringency, oak and Brettanomyces can all do together for a cider. This is ‘real cider’ the way it’s meant to be, and I recommend anyone to head out a grab it. To put a cherry on the top, it’s very easy drinking and is easily found in Australia.
Producer: Thatchers Cider Company
Country: Somerset (England)
Alcohol: 6.0%

Rating:  8 out 10


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tilse's Apple Truck Cider - Winter Release

Tilse’s Apple Truck Cider – Winter Release
So this little beauty is made by a fellow named Luke Tilse, and hails from the foot of the Barrington Hills in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. The Hunter is most famous and well recognised for its winemaking credentials – especially in the aged Semillon stakes. So when I saw that a cider had been produced from this region, I had to get it. The fruit is sourced from the Tilse family orchards (Omidale Brooke Estate) which have been in the family since 1916! No wonder Luke was keen to make cider!! 

The thing I am really warming to is the fact Luke makes his ciders in their own unique batches. So the cider featuring in this review is the ‘winter release’ as apposed to his ‘original’. Luke is not scared of hiding this and happily embraces the fact that there is going to potentially be less consistency in his product as a whole. Red Delicious and Granny Smith’s are the apples predominately used, and in Luke’s words “we let the apples determine the flavour”. More beautiful words have never been spoken in my eyes, as this is as raw as cider making can get. It really makes you sit and wonder why the heck concentrate is used when pristine apples like this are readily available in Australia.

I haven’t been as excited to try an Aussie cider as I was with the Tilse’s Apple Truck. Firstly the presentation is fantastic, being well thought out and having bold shelf presence. The beautiful lime green and black label just draws you in like a kid in a candy store. I was thinking, if this cider tastes as good as the presentation looks, then I am in for a real treat. When poured into the glass, it almost resembled water being on the brink of colourless. But instead of seeing this as a negative, I couldn’t help but think it gave a sense of purity. There was a very low level of carbonation too, which faded fast. The nose showed real intense Granny Smith varietals with intense citrus, lemon/lime notes. There was a beautiful hint of musk too which gave the nose a feminine angle. It’s evident that this cider is uber clean, fresh and pure. There are some residual sulphur notes lurking around but that is to be expected, especially if the cider has just been bottled.

The palate was overall a pleasing experience too which offered up a perfect, cleansing dryness. Lovely hints of red apple were lifted by the musk characters which complimented each other seamlessly. The Granny Smith apples delivered mouth watering acidity leaving the palate crisp, sharp and focused. I was pleasantly surprised to see some phenolic presence on the palate, along with some back palate bitterness and heat from the alcohol. This added some textural feel which helped with the thinner mouth feel. All wrapped up into neat package, the palate is simple, straightforward but knows its place.

If you haven’t heard of Tilse’s Apple Truck Cider now, I’m sure you will in the near future. This cider is simple, but made very well whilst respecting the pure Hunter Valley fruit. The nose alone will blow you away with its amazing purity and sense of place. There’s always a feeling of quality too when you need a bottle opener to pop the top off the bottle – well to me it means quality. The cider is meant to be consumed young, and on a hot Australian summer day it would be perfect. A warning about this cider is that it will entice you from the word go, but with a hefty 5.8% alcohol, she will creep up on you. Overall, this is a great cider from a young guy trying to pay justice to quality regional produce. Great Work Luke!

Producer: Tilse’s Apples
Country: Australia (Hunter Valley, New South Wales)
Alcohol: 5.8%

Rating: 7.5 out of 10


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Flavoured Ciders - Is this the way forward?

If you have been living under a rock for the past couple years, you wouldn't have noticed that Australia is in a cider boom - both in production and consumption. It's thought the Australian cider industry is currently worth around the $300 million mark, which is a big achievement! The ABS reported that cider sales jumped up 30% in 2011-12, and this is really quite exciting for a cider lover like myself. Right now, stereotypical barriers regarding cider are being broken down. Where cider was only a woman's drink, is now vastly becoming the drink of choice by a large percent of Aussie blokes. If you look at it closely, cider is a session drink (yes this would upset the binge drinking advocates) by being clean, fresh, served with ice and not getting too heavy after a few pints. Also, with the Aussie consumer being 'spoilt for choice' with some fantastic ciders being produced, it's no wonder its popularity has increased significantly. But what I personally am seeing in Australia now is not a cider boom as such, but what i like to call 'The Aussie Rekorderling Boom'.

This boom is the direct result of everyday Australian's being bombarded with a Swedish cider producer named Rekorderling. They have single handily given cider a new face lift via means of fruit flavoured cider. For example, Rekorderling's Wild Berry, Strawberry and Lime, Apple and Blackcurrant and Apple Cinnamon and Vanilla cider's have all hit our shelves and have spawned a new phase in the Aussie cider market. Magners from Ireland too have jumped on the flavoured cider band wagon releasing flavours like Apple with Orange and Honey, Apple with Berry and Peach and Apple Ginger. Kopparberg (also from Sweden) too is a culprit - the list can go on. The traditional apple or pear cider is being pressured and pushed aside by these flavoured drinks which are mostly directed/marketed towards women. They have bright, fancy labels designed to pop out at you, and give an immediate sense of fun and excitement. Australian producers have now seen this popularity increase and already are capitalising on these fruit flavoured ciders. The question I want to know is it all for a buck, or for the passion?

I noticed recently a South Australian producer who ran a constant Twitter post asking followers to guess their new cider. Instead of seeing a new exciting addition like a barrel fermented/aged cider for example, I was not surprised to see it was a new Wild Berry flavour (to go with their Peach flavour). I even saw a very notable producer from Victoria also asking its loyal fans for suggestions on a new fruit flavoured cider, via Facebook. I am not just singling out these two respectable producers, as more and more Australian (and even NZ) producers are being tempted into to this new cider phenomenon. Their flavoured ciders are now dangerously sitting in the alcopop or RDT (ready to drink) category, and as we are all aware alcopop's equal alcopop tax. The Australian Government has already jumped all over this, and hopefully won't send traditional cider down the same path. Why the heck would you want your hand crafted cider considered the same as a Bourbon and Cola?

The idea of flavoured ciders sprouting up at a rapid rate is a worrying factor, as we haven't as yet really established ourselves as an industry. Let's be honest, it's almost the case of too big, too fast and it needs to be toned back. The basic principles of the apple and pear need to be worked out before anything. To make things worse, there really are loose laws when it comes to cider making in Australia, and maybe this all needs to change. I have read recently about several new producers having to go over to places like the UK and learn how to make cider properly. That's great because they can bring their knowledge back to Australia. But if the basics can't be done right first, why introduce new products/fruit flavours into the mix. How about focusing on new recipes, new varieties or new styles of cider/perry? There are so many stock standard Australian ciders out there, how about pushing the envelope? The question shouldn't be, "do I use strawberry or peach?" It needs to be "how can I pay justice to the fantastic apples and pears i am going to use?" Paying justice to the fruit definitely doesn't mean slap it full of concentrated flavourings, pop a cute little label on it and watch it fly out the door with a "Cha Ching" sound to follow. To fall into this trap would be a disaster for the industry, and its image. We are not Sweden, nor Ireland, we are Australia so let's do things our way and not follow trendy fads! I am only just getting over the radler phase of beers and thank god that's died down!!

Yes this may seem a little one sided, but I would hate to think what will happen to the industry if these fruit flavoured imposter's gain even more momentum. You could argue that consumer's palates dictate change and hence influence new products. But you know what? Cider has been around for over a thousand years, and it's never needed fake intruding fruit flavours to sustain itself. Through thick and thin, cider has always been apple or pear. So let's pay homage to the amazing produce we get from the Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Batlow etc. and really show case them for the world to see. There is a place for these 'so called' ciders for sure, but not every fruit, rhizome, spice or plant under the sun needs to be represented. It's called cider for a reason.........


*Pictures taken from and

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Lobo - The Crabby 2011

Lobo – The Crabby 2011
The Crabby is an initiative brought about by the good fellows at Lobo in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Visit for the past review on the Lobo Royale 2010). The cider is part of the new Lobo EXP range which is a group of small batched, experimental brews produced to push the boundaries. The Lobo EXP collection consists of The Crabby, a Perry and a dry kegged cider with all having different and/or unusual ways of production. You can’t help but be super interested and intrigued when they claim, “We like to try new things out and some things work better than others”. So immediately I was on the hunt to track The Crabby down and see what she had to offer.

As the name suggests, The Crabby is made using crab apples which are noted for their smaller size and extreme tartness. They also have a decent amount of textural tannin, which an eating apple lacks. Just like traditional cider apples, crab's are fairly inedible, however they do make great jelly. Basically what the humble eating apple lacks in terms of tannin structure and higher acidity, could potentially be made up by the crab apples.  

Crab Apples
The Crabby is a blend of crab apples, cider apples and eating apples which makes for an interesting drinking experience. The crab and cider apples are blended with Bonza, Jonathon and macerated Red Delicious eating apples. A more unknown variety called Winter Banana is also used and is know for its aromatics, and good acid crispness. There really are some hidden gems up in those Adelaide Hills!  Along with the differing apple varieties, this cider again follows the traditional Lobo style of being unfiltered, naturally carbonated, wildly fermented and unsulphured.

The cider itself has a nice yellow/orange tinge, and is beautifully cloudy in the glass. The tighter, more compact bubble of the natural carbonation foams up softly when poured. Nose wise, it gives off a real raw green character, almost to the point that you know it’s going to be tart. Up front volatile notes of ethyl acetate (nail polish remover) hit you with over ripe green apples following closely behind. This volatile note is mostly likely the result of the wild ferment which Lobo tend to favour, as more unpredictable results are achieved in the final cider (where naturally occurring yeasts are used as apposed to cultured yeast). If done correctly, the wild yeasts present on the fruit can produce more complex and interesting flavours and aromas, than the ones made by commercial strains. But on the flip side, there are dire consequences for the cider in terms of consistency if the corrects measures are not achieved. So it’s a balancing game, and the wild yeast characters are evident in this cider. The nose finishes off with subtle hints of sour sobs and green apple aldehyde. Overall, you know this cider is raw, green and a little bit different.

Acid alert!! As expected, there is a bucket load of lean tartness and sourness. It’s really quite offensive and sharp at first. Your palate really needs time to adjust to the tooth enamel destroying level of acidity. This may be a case of ‘gone too far’ with the crab apples, as the acid can become quite intolerable and give some serious heart burn! To the palates credit, there is just enough residual sugar to make it all bearable. There is evidence of the cider apples, with nice honeyed characters coming though. The palate did lack one fundamental component which was very disappointing and that was tannin. You would think the tannin profile would be fairly ‘in you face’ as such, but it was not as prominent as was first hoped. The back palate was also quite warm from the higher 6.7% alcohol. Basically, the palate was one huge acid bomb which is more focused towards consuming with food, than by itself.

Overall this cider did not live up to its expectations. The balance was all over the place, and quite confused. It’s a shame, as Lobo really push themselves in terms of innovation and making fantastic products. The idea is there - yes, and they ‘had fun’ doing it, but maybe this experiment should have stayed in house and more finely tuned? The cider could really be a great and somewhat unique drink if done right. It will not be to everyone’s tastes, and their standard cider and Royale are far better products, but at least Lobo is trying something new.  

Producer: Lobo Juice and Cider Pty Ltd
Country: Australia (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Alcohol: 6.7%

Rating: 6 out 10


* Picture taken from