Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Small Players Cider, Sweet Cider and Perry

Small Players – Cider, Sweet Cider and Perry
This review is going to be a little different to the usual which I have been writing of late. This is because I was very lucky recently to have the good folk at Small Players send over their range of Apple Cider, Sweet Cider and Perry from Tasmania. I thought to myself, instead of reviewing them one by one over a period of time, why not review them all as a range? It was the perfect opportunity to taste through a producer’s product line and become swept up in the little nuances and the differing styles between them all. So the way this review will work is by going through each cider in a shorter and more concise manner, and getting to the point from the word go. Hope you enjoy!!

Small Players is the brainchild of Rebecca and Tim Duffy (and their two kids, a pig and a labrador) who are apart of Holm Oak Vineyards from Rowella in the Tamar Valley, Tasmania. Their cider was first released in March 2011, and is just one of the many lucky Tasmanian producers who get to work with the superior Tasmanian fruit. Just like Two Meter Tall’s Huon Farmhouse Dry Cider also from Tasmania, Small Players utilise the Sturmer Pippin apple (which I am still not totally convinced with yet). These ‘Small Players’ are now getting pretty serious with their cider, recently planting over 150 heritage cider apple trees, with 20 different varieties. All I can say is watch out for these guys in a few years time, especially as they plan to make a more traditional dry cider from these apples. But for now, their Dry Apple Cider, Sweet Apple Cider and Perry are holing the fort. So now let’s get to them!

Dry Apple Cider
This cider is made from the Sturmer Pippin apple, and is notorious in my mind for making overly acidic dry ciders which boarder on unpleasant. The cider pours nice and cloudy with a lovely golden straw colour. There is a very low level of natural carbonation, and with this natural carbonation comes a high 8% alcohol level. The Sturmer apples offer up good amounts of pineapple, kiwi fruit and tropical fruits. Fresh green apples are also very evident. What I love about this nose is the secondary characters which make it super complex. Really cool ginger bread/clove spice notes are combined with some funky yeast characters too. There is a decent hint of brettanomyces (like band aids), which would be a direct result from the oak ageing of this cider.

The palate is like I described, very very dry and makes the palate weight a little thin. There is a tonne of up front acidity, which can be quite confronting to some as well. There is however a nice level of phenolics, which gives texture and interest. I do like the yeasty, creamy mouth feel which is balanced out with a good smack of green fruit.

This cider is almost heading in Scrumpy territory, being pure and unadulterated with high alcohol and natural carbonation. A good example? Yeah I think it’s commendable, but just watch out for that high acidity and 8% alcohol! They’ll creep up on you.

Rating: 6.5/10
Sweet Cider
So this little number is more like the many commercial ciders we are seeing explode in the Australian cider market. Milled, pressed, fermented, filtered and carbonated. Rebecca Duffy states that it takes around 6 weeks from fruit to bottle (as apposed to the dry cider which is 6 months). This cider utilises the residual fruit sweetness of apples like Granny Smith and Pink Lady’s, and is artificially carbonated. The cider pours almost clear in colour and filtered to a brilliant finish. There is only just a light spritz, with no overly aggressive bubbling when in the glass. The nose I can only describe as “wow!!” Amazing floral, tropical fruit breakfast juice notes just leap out of the glass at a crazy intensity. It’s like pure pineapple and mango juice, absolutely surreal. Beautiful pear characters also hit you, but the freshness and purity will knock you for six. This is one of the most memorable noses I have come across and I would go as far to say that this is the best nose of any Australian cider I have tried – period. I would put a fifty dollar bill on the table and say that perhaps some muscat juice has been blended into the final product, just saying.

The palate offers lovely up front sweetness of pears and again tropical fruits. There is some lower acidity (and alcohol at 6.5%) which makes the palate a little flabby (meaning fat with little acid balance), but it is really hard to fault it. The light spritz gives enough to excite, and the finish is long and lingering. There’s no real phenolics to speak of, but the whole mouth feel is full, rich and rounded. This is a cider on steroids!

If you can get your hands on this cider, then I STRONGLY recommend it. Beauty in a 375mL bottle!

Rating: 9/10
This perry is made the more traditional way, with oak age and bottle conditioning. It is also made using differing pear varieties, and is punching around the 7% alcohol level. One thing to remember with perry made from eating pears is the juice is very neutral and delicate. It does not parade around rich juicy pear characters with bucket loads of tannin like a traditional West England or French perry. It’s much softer and elegant, with more structured acidity.

When poured, the Small Players perry is clear and again straw in colour with minimal natural carbonation. On the nose, copious amounts of leathery brettanomyces hit you from the oak ageing. Looking deeper down, subtle pear hints are evident which are in direct competition with some slight volatile notes. Once the perry warmed up a touch, the volatile notes got a little more evident along with some peppery characters.

The palate showed some nice medium dry sweetness, and delicate pear flavours. Unfortunately, the palate was quite flabby and lacked any form of exciting carbonation. There was no textural phenolics or bitterness either, leading to a palate which just lacked ‘oomph’. It just needed that something else to make it more interesting and alive.

This perry is a very simple example, and is a little shy in personality. For consumers who don’t like overly aromatic and sweet perry’s, then you may like to give this one a go. I would like to see some more fresh characters amongst the leather and volatile acidity, and also a higher level of carbonation. Maybe made more like the sweet cider, a more fresher and aromatic perry could be achieved?

Rating: 6/10

So there we have it! The Sweet Cider wins hands down without a doubt. This was an amazingly solid cider which was heavenly to drink and review. The Dry Cider was sound, but again the Sturmer variety just doesn’t strike a chord. But it had really great features, and a great deal of complexity. The Perry was just lacking that essential element which would make it a winner. An ok example, but I am sure it would go down well on those hot 40 degree days in the Australian summer. Great job all round!

Producer: The Tamar Valley Cider Company
Country: Australia (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: Cider 8%, Sweet Cider 6.5%, Perry 7%
Website: www.holmoakvineyards.com.au


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