Saturday, 23 March 2013

Apfelwein Tasting - Ciderhaus

I was super dooper lucky very recently to be contacted by the great people at the Ciderhaus in Melbourne asking if I wanted to sample some of their stock. Obviously my answer was a very excited “yes”, as the Ciderhaus are quite a unique operation in terms of cider in Australia. Why may you ask? Well under the watchful eyes of Coady, Justin and Elly Buckley, the Ciderhaus imports and wholesales premium apfelwein into Australia all the way from Germany. To all you peoples asking what the heck is apfelwein? Well in my perfect German it’s ‘apple wine’. Or in simple, easy to understand language, German cider! The Ciderhaus is based in Melbourne and is one of the only companies specialising in apfelwein in Australia. The company is also in a very strong position sourcing wise as it has a firm connection in Frankfurt-am-Main, Hessen (Southern Germany) the epicentre of apfelwein in Germany. It is this unprecedented access to such rare apfelwein’s usually not found outside their region which gives cider lovers here in Australia a chance to sample these great products. The director, Coady Buckley lives in Frankfurt and is responsible for the sourcing of specific apfelwein’s and bringing them to Australia. I was also luckily enough to have him ring me for a chat recently, and I was very impressed by his visions and expectations of apfelwein in Australia. The way I see it is we are lucky to have companies like the Ciderhaus who are trying to enrich the cider market in Australia with brilliant ciders from around the world. The absolute beautiful thing is the apfelwein’s imported by the Ciderhaus are readily available for purchase on their website through their online store ( In the end, the consumers are the big winners here, as more different ciders, styles etc are easy than ever now to purchase.

So the three apfelwein’s I sampled come from the producers: Weidmann and Grohl, Joachim Dohne and Freyeisen. The Freyeisen was only just launched in Australia. If you have been following All About Cider on social media lately, you would have found pictures splashed up all over the place of these apfelwein’s – I was just a wee bit excited about tasting them!!.
Some house keeping: The German term ‘trocken’ means dry in English. Exactly like ‘brut’ in French.

Weidmann and Groh – 2010 Bohnapfel Trocken
This company was born in 2008, and specialize in making apple brandies by distilling fermented apples. You could liken this to the cidre producers in Normandy whose main production is that of Calvados. This apfelwein is a single varietal, much like the Kingston Black’s or Dabinett’s of England. The Bohnapfel is an apple which has characteristics of being juicy and a little sour or tart from higher acidity. So perfect characteristics for apfelwein. I love how this apfelwein comes in a one litre bottle too, and I don’t know why?…and no I am not an alcoholic!!

The colour of this apfelwein was golden orange and had been filtered clear. There was no carbonation at all, so it can be classified as a still. I found it quite refreshing to see a still, as it had been a while since I'd had one – Henney’s 2011 Vintage Still was my last if my mind serves me correctly. The nose was a labyrinth of complexity and interest too. Lovely sweet cider apple characters, honey, floral, fresh citrus, orange blossoms and stone fruits all came together beautifully. A pleasing hint of oak also gave complexity along with some muskiness. The nose had a very traditional edge to it which I loved. I also loved how the nose was very fresh and crisp for a 2010. There was a little hint of sulphur dioxide but it was not of too much concern.
On consuming the apfelwein, an amazing up front dryness from the Bohnapfel’s tannins was addictive and well received. The tannin structure offered up a nice textural component which was overlapped with strong and crisp structural acidity. There was some back palate bitterness which I likened to an apple seed character, but all was in perfect balance. The flavours were full and rich and consisted of oranges, wood and freshly picked apples, but lingering back flavours of candy apple and honey were also noted. This palate was dry but was by no means thin with some warming alcohol adding weight.

This apfelwein was a great little single varietal number. I loved it and found I couldn’t stop tasting it. The awesome balance of acid, tannins and flavour was commendable and I likened it a little to an English vintage. It was fault free, nice and complex and had much more restrained acidity than Australian cider. A little beauty!
Producer: Weidmann and Groh GbR
Country: Germany (Freidberg-Ockstadt, Hessen)
Alcohol: 7%

Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Joachim Dohne – 2010 Apfel Schaumwein Trocken (sparkling apple wine)
Located in Schauenburn Northern Hessen, this fruit brandy and sparkling apfelwine producer uses nothing but hands on techniques to produces their offerings. Relatively unknown outside of Hessen Germany, the Apfel Schaumwein is produced by methode champenoise, flaschengarverfahren (cold fermentation), handgeruttelt (turned by hand) and is a whopping ten per cent in alcohol. The apfelwein’s of Joachim Dohne are aged on lees for up to three years to gain complexity and texture. The kalligraphie (artwork) on the label is outstanding and really stands out and is quite unique.

The Schaumwein poured a golden yellow in colour and was nice and clear from the hand disgorgement. In the glass there was a large mousse with a ferocious bead and bubble. Just a warning, the cork I had came out with an unexpected amount of force so be careful upon opening! The nose immediately smelt more sweeter than the previous apfelwein. It almost had an Australian desert apple methode champenoise cider character to it. An immediate hint of acetaldehyde was evident (this is quite common in methode champanoise ciders) along with other notes of fresh green apples, perfume, vanilla and citrus. A nice yeasty/creaminess added some complexity and definition. What I liked about the nose was the good balance of fresh primary characters with the yeasty complexing characters, they all tied in well. The higher ten per cent alcohol was also evident on the nose being quite powerful and hot. 

Watch out peoples! The palate is hot, hot, hot!! The ten per cent alcohol was very apparent on this little baby and is not to be taken lightly. The fruit flavours on the palate were soft and delicate with characters of green apple, citrus combined again with a creamy texture. The acidity was nice and balanced with a sweeter dosage liqueur which made the mouth feel rich and full. This small hit of sweetness helped balance some of the higher alcohol too.  An explosion of lovely creamy carbonation also added its own fulfilling dimension. To finish off, there was also a small touch of apple seed bitterness on the back palate along with some more acetaldehyde characters. Overall, a palate which tried to show delicacy and finesse of apple characters, but was just let down by the sky high alcohol levels.
This cider was a monster and definitely one which you would share with friends around a dinner table. Leaning more on the champagne side of life, this apfelwein had presence, zest and flamboyance. It’s to be savoured and enjoyed, not skulled and ignored. This is an apfelwein which will reward you pleasantly, if you treat it with respect and understanding.

Producer: Joachim Dohne
Country: Germany (Schauenburg, Hessen)
Alcohol: 10%

Rating: 7 out of 10
Freyeisen - Apfelwein
This apfelwein has only just started to be imported into Australia by the Ciderhaus and I can see it really kicking goals. Again, it comes from the Frankfurt-am-Main region of Southern German and is made using hergestellt nach traditioneller methode (traditional methods) and is gepresst aus regionalen apfeln (pressed from regional apples). The one thing I loved on the label is a quote from ‘Grandpa Freyeisen’ which says: “quality cider requires no ice!” Perfect words old man!! The company has a long and extensive history dating back to 1817 with two brothers wanting to make quality apfelwein. Today, the apfelwein which comes in 330ml bottles has reached the far corners of the globe, and has now made its way down under to Australia. Horary!

This cool little apfelwein was lighter yellow in colour and was nice and clear in appearance. The carbonation was nice and soft, and I was super happy to see this and so many over carbonated ciders are currently flooding our market. The nose was very fresh, crisp and full of fresh fruits. It was a very fruit forward nose, and other characters of honey, orange blossom, apple core and nuttiness combined well. Again, there was just a smidge of acetaldehyde but it contributed positively to the whole experience. This wasn’t the most complex nose, but very inviting and well rounded.
The palate offered up the most amazing tanginess and crisp acidity which was without doubt mouth watering. To my surprise, the mouth feel was beautifully rounded, with added sweetness adding weight. Addictive and refreshing apple and citrus flavours lingered on the back palate and were balanced well with some soft phenolics. There was just a tiny hint of bitterness which added another dimension and the alcohol was perfectly balanced.

This apfelwein is more commercial in style, but is definitely a quality product. It is so perfectly suited to the Australian consumer palate, that I can’t see it have any issues selling. This could be a very popular apfelwein indeed. It is beautifully made and shows a great mix of tradition and new wave - and I love it. It was fresh, clean, soft and full and very similar to an Australian desert apple cider. Lighter in alcohol, it’s a drink you can consume with your mates around a barbeque on a hot summers day. Sounds perfect to me!
Producer: Freyeisen Apfelwein GbR
Country: Germany(Frankfurt, Hessen-Rhine-Main)
Alcohol: 5.5%

Rating: 8 out of 10

Overall, three great examples of apfelwein that could easily be slotted into the shopping bags of Australian cider consumers. They were all inoffensive, very suited to Australia’s hot summers and made very well. They were not scary, or ‘in your face’ like some farmhouse French ciders can be, and they were not packed full of concentrate and artificial garbage. Please, if you are a cider lover go to the Ciderhaus website and check these apfelwein’s out. I thoroughly recommend giving them a try. If you want to read more up on apfelwein then check out this blog by Coady Buckley:

Ein Prosit! (Cheers!)          

Monday, 11 March 2013

Crabbie's - Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Crabbie’s - Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer
So it’s about that time again where I don the ginger beer reviewer’s hat, recalibrate my palate and become entrenched in a land of spice. It’s been bloody hot here in South Australia lately (currently 36 degrees at time of writing), so I needed a good honest refreshing beverage! And ginger beer is definitely the beverage capable of delivering fast thirst quenching refreshment. So the ginger beer in question today is Crabbie’s which is located in Scotland - Arrrrggghhhkkk! Crabbie’s which dates back to 1801, is one of the more well known alcoholic ginger beers, especially in the UK and it is readily available in Australia too.

My first mega concern even before I opened this ginger beer was the list of ingredients. Quite an elaborate and lengthy list of additives, preservatives and flavourings were boldly displayed on the back label. It went a little like this:
Ingredients:  carbonated water, ginger wine (water, glucose syrup, sugar water, grape concentrate, spirit alcohol, ginger extract and yeast), fortified glucose wine (water, glucose syrup, spirit alcohol, yeast), sugar, food acid (330), flavourings, colour (150d), preservatives (202) (223) and antioxidant (300)

Now to me, this seemed a little too ‘manufactured’ and full of nasties. It pretty much boarders on Rekorderlig or Kopparberg territory, and is something you probably don’t want to drink too much of. But the implications on the use of fresh raw materials like ginger in a mass produced product (considering it is very expensive), is understandable and not cost effective. But I’ll let the actual ginger beer’s flavour do the talking irrespective of its make up of ingredients.
The colour is a deep golden yellow, and is filtered completely clear. I’ll say it again, I love seeing real ginger pieces in ginger beer as it offers originality (but can you get originality in a product such as this?). There was a nice light carbonation in the glass, with a large bubble. The nose offered up immediate soft hints of ginger and vanilla. Other characters of clove, cardamom, orange peel, lemons, five spice and tiny hints of honey were also noticeable. The whole aroma did seem a little watery, with no in your face ginger punch. However in saying that, there was a nice balance of ginger to spice. As a whole, it was soft and mellow.

There was a nice up front, rounded sweetness on the palate which was balanced well with a pleasant creamy, malty texture. I did enjoy the lingering ginger flavours, which built up over several mouthful’s to a persistent and expected ginger heat. However, this was only very mild and I found that the whole palate lacked the important ginger spice kick. Again, there was a watery character which I believed diluted the delicate spice flavours. The 4 per cent alcohol also left the mid palate quite hollow and thin. I was just a touch disappointed with the palate, as I was expecting bigger things.
Overall, this ginger beer was a little on the commercial/industrial side for my liking. Where was the ginger kick?! It was very subtle and a little shy. Refreshing? Unfortunately it wasn’t, and I was left a little disappointed and still searching for a thirst quencher.

Producer: John Crabbie and Co
Region: Glasgow (Scotland, UK)
Alcohol: 4%


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Cider of the Month - February

This month’s edition of Cider of the Month goes to:
Loic Raison – Doux

I was a little unsure of this French cider hailing from Brittany when I first laid eyes on it. It was a cider I had not heard of, it had a label which screamed “commercial”, and it was stocked heavily in a certain large liquor outlet which ends in the word 'Murphy’s'. But the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ mentality rose from the ashes and so I went ahead and grabbed it. Well this was well over a four months ago, and it has been sitting in my study potentially waiting to be opened and drunk all this time. So I thought what the heck, and popped the top off this little Breton cider recently and well let’s just say I was blown away.  
Loic Raison’s history stems all the way back to 1923 - pumping out 200 tonnes of apples if you don’t mind!! But over time the cider brand has grown and is now consumed all throughout France and found all around the world. The cider also proudly displays the ‘Produit En Bretagne’ logo which translates to ‘Product of Brittany’. The whereabouts of the origin of the fruit (or region) is not displayed on the bottle. But I would have to say the Brittany apple regions of Cornouaille or Fouesnant would have to be likely culprits. The apples are Breton certified by the Indication Geographique Protegee or the Protected Geographical Indication too. So this little baby is one hundred per cent legit!

So why did I like it? Well firstly it shone a lovely golden honey colour, and poured with a large mouse which faded away into a persistent bead. The nose had big big aromas of sweet candy apple, apple blossoms, orange peel, honey with just a hint of woodiness. It was big, bold and super inviting. It smelt of a luscious and juicy sweet cider apple. Absolutely stunning.
The palate was big, thick and mega rich from what seemed to be bittersweet French cider apples. Yum! There was a beautiful balance of upfront sweetness and mouth sapping mid to late back palate tannin. Yes, there is a higher amount of natural apple sweetness (being doux), but it is in no way cloying or sickly. I always find French doux ciders never to be over powering with sugar, but always balanced and well rounded – unlike some manufactured sweet ciders. The floral and delicate apple flavours lingered long after the cider was swallowed. On the top label are the words ‘Fraicheur Et Fruite’, which in my perfect French translates to ‘Fresh and fruity’. This statement could not be anymore bang on! Other flavours of honey, sweet confectionery and orange were a real highlight. Textural nuances also consisted of a soapy mouth feel and a back palate tanginess and these tied in well with the whole palate.

This is a mouth watering Brittany cider which is simple, most probably keeved and perfectly balanced. It does come across as a more commercial style but the flavours and aromas will astound you. At two percent alcohol, it’s very light and not going to leave you feeling heavy and full. I reckon this cider would be perfect matched with a slow cooked pork belly dish. The real beauty about this cider is that it’s readily available in Australia.
Producer: Loic Raison
Region: Brittany (France)
Alcohol: 2%