Saturday, 29 September 2012

Cider of the Month - September

This month's edition of Cider of the Month goes to:

Small Acres Cyder - 2011 Somerset Still
James and Gail Kendell are serious about traditional cider (or cyder). Setting up base in Orange NSW, the Kendell’s have grown a successful cider brand using traditional methods and heritage cider apples. The Somerset Still is a shining beacon of light within the mass produced, sad and sorry examples of cider currently on the market. The cider is clean, clear and very vibrant in appearance. Being still (no bubbles), it’s a refreshing change from the many over carbonated ciders, and is very Reisling like. On the nose it packs a citrus punch, with lovely floral and green apple characters. The palate is crisp, appetisingly tart and pleasantly dry. It offers up beautiful apple/citrus notes too. Limited tannins, 7% alcohol and resembling apple wine, this cider would accompany seafood perfectly. A real Aussie beauty!
Producer: Small Acres Cyder
Region: Orange (NSW)
Alcohol: 7%

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Black Rat - Natural Dry Apple Cider

Black Rat – Natural Dry Apple Cider
Firstly I have to admit that this is the first canned English cider I’ve ever had. For someone who has tasted/consumed his fair share of ciders from across the world, I find it strange that this is the first. I guess what intrigued me the most was to see the differences between can and glass. I find with beer there is a distinct flavour profile difference, but cider is a totally different kettle of fish.

The cider is part of a range of locally brewed beers from the Moles Brewery who reside in Melksham, Wiltshire. Wilshire boarders Somerset to the west, and as all you cider tragic’s know, Somerset is cider country. To all you very observant readers, you’ll notice that the Black Rat cider is made in a family owned Somerset farmhouse – not in Wiltshire. Thatchers Cider Company (who produce the Green Goblin cider which I have reviewed), contract process and make the Black Rat range of ciders from their Somerset cidery. The use of local Somerset apples with bittersweet varieties like Dabinett, Tremletts Bitter, Yarlington Mill, Ashton Bitter, Somerset Red Streak and Brown’s Snout are all used in the Black Rat cider.

So after crackin’ the tinny open, pouring it into a glass seemed rather odd. Felt like I should have been sitting in my deck chair on top of the Mountain in Bathurst whilst watching 28 thunderous V8’s fly past me at 250 clicks. The cider poured bright clear and gave off a light yellowed colour. There was a constant stream of fizz, with the head fading fast. The thing I find a lot of in canned alcoholic beverages is the presence of reductive hydrogen sulfide. This compound gives off a rotten egg aroma and is the direct result of limited nutrient availability for yeast. Once in an anaerobic environment, the hydrogen sulfide is able to be produced and obviously captured in the can. This cider immediately gave off this rotten egg character, but did blow off after a few swirls of the glass. Once the eggy note disappeared, green under ripe apple characters dominated, with secondary characters like sour sobs following close behind. There was a really strong spice angle too which was complimented by some old woody offerings. The thing I really picked up on was the yeasty notes which contributed a buttery and creamy edge. This makes me think the cider was aged on less in oak before being canned. Interesting fact is the cider is not pasteurised, and the yeasty notes usually can be the result of the dead yeast cells. But overall the nose was pretty clean, fresh, and inviting.

The palate offers really good crisp and dry characters with late astringency complimenting the mouth feel. The bittersweet apples do give off some bitterness, but this is all balanced with a tiny bit of residual sweetness. Subtle apple characters and sour citrus notes offer some excitement. The yeasty characters seen on the nose don’t follow through on to the palate, and neither does the woodiness. In all honesty, the palate is pretty straight forward, and is typical of a draught style.

Really, the cider is not showy or pretentious; in fact it’s quite modest. It’s a simple style, with the drinkability being quite high suiting the Australian palates perfectly. With mass plantings of heritage cider apple varieties in Australia right now, in a few years time this style of cider will overtake the culinary/eating apple offerings which are flooding the market. This will be a step in the right direction for Aussie ciders. So in conclusion to the canned Black Rat, it’s simple, clean, fresh and a good alternative to the standard Aussie cider.

Producer: Moles Brewery
Country: Somerset/Wiltshire (England)
Alcohol: 4.7%
Website: or

Rating:  6.5 out 10

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Cidermaker Vs Winemaker

I recently perused my way through some old wine magazines I had laying around the house and came across a February 2010 edition of Wine 100. The magazine describes itself as ‘Australia’s leading independent wine guide’, and employs some highly regarded wine reviewers. I stumbled across a cider article written by the Editor, Penny Boothman titled ‘Cider with Rose’. I remember reading this article back in 2010, and simply thinking not much of it as the Australian cider revolution had not poked its head out of the mystical clouds yet. Down the track 2 years later, there was one sentence which really caught my eye and made me think. It basically described the current cider scene in Australia (in 2010) as the ‘big brewers’ producing the majority of the cider, with only a few wineries beginning to get in on the act. The few pioneering wineries mentioned were Napoleone, Bress and Kellybrook which all hail from Victoria. The number of wine producing companies making cider two years ago could have all been counted on one set of hands.
Winding the clock forward to 2012 into 2013, now sees a totally different, new, exciting and innovative picture with countless wineries jumping on the cider phenomenon. So what’s the fascination with Winemakers and wine companies with the humble cider? Just quickly, for all you smarties out there saying, “hey, but aren’t you a Winemaker?” Well yes I am, but cider is part of the reason I got my degree, and the relevance between wine and cider is very similar as I will discuss shortly.
Straight off the bat, Winemakers love to make booze. It’s in their DNA, it’s their life and their passion. I don’t know a Winemaker who is genuinely not interested in other forms of alcoholic beverages such as beer, cider or spirits. The curiosity is enough to attract any Winemaker into dabbling in a new, unexplored product. The article in question mentioned that cider is being added to cellar fridges in wineries to help quench parched individuals after tough 12 hour slogs during vintage. But cider is now well and truly filling up the whole winery cellar fridge. Beer is taking a step back, with cider hip and shouldering its grainy hopped cousin out of the fridge all over Australia and into the hearts of the consumers.
Ciders made from wineries I believe have huge distinct advantages marketing wise. The ciders are somewhat riding the coat tails of the parent wine company, which in turn gives the cider precious exposure. In the case of an average consumer trying to decide between two ciders in a bottle shop, the more recognised, trusted and consistent brand will always win out. Wine producers have these characteristics, hence giving their ciders a real free kick, in terms of market share and exposure irrespective of whether the cider is a dud. This is all thanks to the marketing and sales divisions of a wine company which get the product out and market it aggressively (especially with summer just around the corner).
The nitty gritty of cider making is somewhat a diverse and endless affair to say the least. Wineries have the equipment, technology and resources to make quality cider, but the difference I like to stress is that they can only make more. What I mean by this is cider making is in all correctness, a traditional product. Yes cider can and should evolve over time, and become accustom to its surroundings, but bastardising this modest beverage should be fraught with care. Traditionally it’s made with a hands off approach, requires little or almost no energy input and variable in its results. So the point I am trying to make is cider can be made just as good, or even better in a small shed in the middle of dingo woop woop, as apposed to a large, modernised winery. It’s just the scale, which is the defining and significant factor – just look at the small farmhouses in north west France. However in saying this, it is much harder for an entrepreneur or cider enthusiast to begin his or her own cider company; with tonnes of know how, equipment and money needed to sustain itself realistically. All which wine companies have!
Typical Basket Press in Winery
Wineries are well equipped with the facilities which aid in the processing of apples and pears. The production of cider is very similar in procedures to white wine. Milling is as simple as purchasing the right machine, which in a larger scaled winery is money which can be found in the back pocket. The pressing of the fruit is often carried out in larger basket presses which are used normally to press out the grape skins once fermented. Membrane presses which are found in wineries are also commonly used. Other essential factors like electricity, water, forklifts, manpower, pumps and pomace removal are all unlimited in a winery setting. Post pressing, stainless steel tanks with temperature control systems are often used for fermentation, which help produce a cool ferment to ensure fresh and aromatic cider. Wineries also have large amounts of oak, such as barriques (225L) or hogs heads (300L) which can be used as either a fermentation or storage vessel. Post ferment, filtration, carbonation and bottling can either be done on site, or trucked to the nearest bottling plant for quick and swift bottling. The cider made in a winery can have a turn around from raw fruit to bottled cider in around a month or so.
So what does a Winemaker have in his/her arsenal of tricks which can relate wine to cider?
· Sugar Levels? – Dry, Medium Dry, Off Sweet, Sweet, Very Sweet?
· Tank ferment or Barrel Ferment?
· Cultured yeast or Wild Yeast?
· Lees Contact or Fresh and Clean?
· Malo-Lactic Fermentation?
· Artificially Carbonated or Bottle Conditioned?
· Cloudy or Filtered? – Membrane Filtered or Pasteurised?
· Tartaric Vs Malic Vs Citric – Malic in Apple, Citric in Pear, Tartaric in Wine.
· Blending Options – Apples and/or Pears, Different Varieties, Tannin
· Fining – Bentonite, Gelatine, Egg White etc
· Real Fruit or Concentrate? - Alcohol Level?
· 750mL or 300mL Bottles? – Cork, Crown Seal? 
These are just some of the technical similarities between wine and cider, which a Winemaker can take advantage of. But hopefully what you can see is that these similarities are the catalyst for wine companies to produce cider. The current production line process of, juice, ferment, filter, carbonate and bottle is cheap, relatively easy and a very fast way to make cider. Happy days for all concerned right?! – Questionable. But wineries have the time, the resources and relative experience to experiment with differing styles. This is the case with a select few who are trying to create new and exciting products which are fighting the norm – to the acceptance of the new, inexperienced Aussie consumer? It remains to be seen. 
Is the ever growing number of new ciders coming out of wine producing companies a bad thing?  Definitely not! Would you rather a new mass produced cider made from concentrate from the big brewers? Hell no! It’s the attention to detail, the growing knowledge and the constant battle to itch the proverbial scratch of a Winemaker which helps make good and innovative examples of cider. I would also like to note the small boutique brewers of Australia also making quality ciders. All heroes in my eyes.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Cidrerie d'Anneville - Cidre Doux Binet Rouge

Cidrerie d’Anneville – Cidre Doux Binet Rouge
This cidre which comes to us from Normandy in France is somewhat a regular on Australian bottle shop shelves. You don’t have to look hard and you’ll find the Cidrerie d’Anneville products sitting there patiently waiting to be picked up and taken home. Both the single varietal and brut cidre’s from d’Anneville are great little offerings, which have all the goodies associated with a Norman cidre. I just love seeing “pur jus” and “prise de mousse naturelle”, which loosely translates to “pure juice” and “natural foam (carbonation) in the bottle”. You just know the cidre is authentic and unadulterated when you see these phrases, and that’s the way it should be.

The term ‘doux’, is a French word basically meaning sweet. The sugar level which falls in the doux range is roughly above 50g/L, which is nice and sweet! So to give you another French lesson, Cidre Doux is basically Sweet Cider. This falls hand in hand with the 2% alcohol as well, with high natural sweetness resulting in low yielding alcohol. Binet Rouge is also another big scary French word on the label. This is the apple variety used, and is a common addition to many Normandy cidre’s. It’s characterised by being bittersweet, and often being used in the production of Calvados. 
The cidre is ever so slightly cloudy with a beautiful golden orange tinge. The natural carbonation is nice and soft, and almost resembles foam in the glass. The cidre just pours and looks great in the glass without even touching it. The nose reminds me of a party where everyone is invited, but were also told to bring their rowdy mates along. Delicious fresh pineapple and fruity pear notes instantly hit you. It’s like sticking your honker into a fruit bowl on the kitchen table. Secondary characters of apple peel and oranges continued to excite my interest, which were then followed by tertiary notes of woody brett, and earthy mould. The best way I can describe this nose is by walking into a huge apple cold store, and being hit by fresh apple characters with trailing musty notes. It’s a nose which also reminds me of summer. Perfection in a nose!!

Palate wise, the initial upfront sweetness takes you by surprise even though you know it’s going to be sweet. The sweetness reminds me of exactly what the label says – pure juice. The thick sweet apple characters linger for eternity, and are then intruded by a tidal wave of bitterness on the back palate. Lovely honey, earth and malty characters tie in really well to the overall palate dynamic. Being bittersweet, the Binet Rouge variety offers little to no tannin structure, which is a strange absence in French cidre. The acid structure, which resembles a malic/citric combo, is very sherbety and balances out the sweetness. A real fascinating thing I found with this cidre is the sweetness is not at all sickly or cloying. It’s a sweetness which is addictive, super refreshing and never gets full on. Many sweeter ciders I have tried get too sickly, but this example is a completely different story. This is a really complex palate, which takes advantage of the stunning keeved juice.

To the more experienced cider drinker, this product may come across as lolly water being so sweet. If so, the brut (dry), blended alternative is a better option which is a decent drop too. The Binet Rouge is a really fascinating cidre, with a lot of complexity and individuality. It’s a perfect cidre to match with food and can be served as an aperitif. As mentioned, it’s readily available in Australia, and is quite cheap too. But I strongly urge anyone to grab it, and give it a red hot go. Really good gear.

Producer: Cidrerie d’Anneville
Country: France (Normandy)
Alcohol: 2%

Rating: 8 out 10