Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hunter's - Pure Gold Cider

I find it’s never a good situation to be in when an imported cider really strikes a nerve. What was meant to be an innocent review on a cider from a country which I have limited experience with, has turned out to be more of a thought provoking exercise than anything. I have been left with the question of ‘why?’ Ok, yes brands like Strongbow, Magners, Bumlers et al are supposed ‘imported’ brands, but they are now so firmly entrenched in our social drinking fabric that they are deemed acceptable by consumers. And unfortunately no constant ‘real cider’ and ‘100 per cent real fruit’ campaigning will ever change this. Also large companies like Fosters and Suntory will make sure these brands keep up an ever growing presence on shelves for years to come. So what is my point to all this? Well let me explain.

Hunter’s have been making cider in South Africa since 1988, and from an outsider looking in, it seems to be quite popular there. I am 99.9 per cent confident that if I asked random Aussie punters if they knew that South Africa was a cider producing country, I would get a string of ‘really?’ answers. Don’t get me wrong; South Africa is world famous for being a new world wine producer - so the credentials are definitely there. But the cider/South Africa connection is somewhat of a weak link in Australia. This is by no means a disadvantage, as the ciders produced there could be of a world class standard. But due to the sheer lack of distribution into other countries, we may never know. This leads me to my next point. Hunter’s IS distributed into Australia by Africape Wines, and is ever so slowly being picked up by a select number of speciality retailers. My question is……you guessed it – why?!!
Firstly, let’s not forget this scarily enough is an actual cider review, so I’d better get on with it!

The cider pours a yellow gold and is full of large bubbles which fade fast. It’s evident from the get go that the cider is artificially made, as the nose stinks of a fake, sugary concentrate. I really liken it to sticking your honker into a vitamin C tablet bottle. Thick and pungent orange marmalade and stewed apple characters leap out at you, followed by musty and dank notes. It really smelt like a cheap orange and lime energy drink which had been concocted with artificial ingredients. There are no real fresh fruit characters and to be brutally honest, it’s majorly confused. I also couldn’t help pass the cooked note which was undoubtedly due to the pasteurisation process. Also a weird coconut character was overly evident which seemed odd and certainly out of place. Overall the nose seemed fake, put together and resembled more an energy drink than anything.

The palate was a complete wash out. It was watery, thin, lacked personality and almost bordered on a Vodka Cruiser. The medium sweetness tasted like artificial sweetener and instead of flavours like fresh apples, all I could get was cheap lime cordial. There was a tangy acidity which made the whole palate sickly, and a weird apricot after taste topped it all off. Refreshing? I think not. This is concentrate at its worst! Alcoholic lolly water.  
Why is it so bad? Concentrate is of course one huge reason. Use mediocre ingredients – make a mediocre product. But I love how it says on the bottle ‘naturally produced at the Hunter’s cidery’  and ‘finest quality’– hmm right. This cider obviously can’t handle pasteurisation. It’s a double edged sword here: Don’t pasteurise, lose shelf life – Do pasteurise, get a weird cooked note. Being imported from South Africa, the cider is also exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, which are not good for quality. Combine this with a clear bottle, and the potential for the cider to be light struck is another major issue. We all know people who say Corona is sooooo much better when you drink it in Mexico (is Corona ever good to drink???). This is largely due to the clear bottles allowing detrimental UV light to come in contact with the product and spoiling it. I will admit many English ciders reach Australia in great condition in clear bottles, and I put that down to them being real cider made with real fruit with no garbage added. So really, Hunter's cider is doomed in my eyes and once it hits our shores, it spends time in warehouses and on shop shelves adding more time for the cider to deteriorate. And yes, benefit of the doubt should be given, but it’s hard to give when the cider is of such poor quality. One solution would possibly be to try it over multiple bottles etc., but I can’t see that helping much.  
So……glad we got that out of the way. If your cider is not up to scratch, there’s no point lying about it. But it would be obtuse of me to say that this is a perfect representation of South African cider. I know for a fact there are much better artisan made cider companies making cider with real fruit and traditional techniques lurking in the shadows. It’s just a pity we cant get them here - unlike this mass produced aberration. So why has this put such a bee in my bonnet? Why, oh why do we need this type of mass produced, over commercialised and low quality cider entering our competitive Australian cider market? Do the powers above believe that the regular Aussie consumer is going to fall in love with this style? Or is it a case of treating the consumer with contempt? Who knows!? But I can guarantee that this cider would not be popular at all in Australia. The Australian cider market is crazy competitive with producers popping up left, right and centre. But heck, the majority of them are good to great examples! Craft cider is kicking long outside fifty metre bomb goals like Buddy Franklin, and consumers are jumping all over them like a fat kid on a smarty. Adding a cider to the mix which is not only not up to scratch, but from a country where cider is unfamiliar to the majority of consumers is just plain brainless. Come on, let’s get serious! There is cider out there which is so much better!!!!!

My tip is if you want to try a cider from a new country, please, please, please with a cherry on top choose established producing countries like France, England (and Wales) or Spain. These ciders are easily obtained in Australia now. Bloody hell; even go a cider from our unofficial brothers in the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand. But until South African cider of great quality is distributed into Australia, I say stay well clear of Hunter’s. That also goes for Savanna Cider also out of the Distell Group stables. It will tarnish your opinions of cider from this country which is unnecessary and unfair and to be down right honest it’s not what Australia needs (or wants). We’ve got enough ‘imported’ rubbish cider here to last us a life time, we don’t need more!! It all just doesn’t make sense to me.

Rant over!

Producer: Distell Group Limited
Country: South Africa (Stellenbosch)
Alcohol: 4.5%

Rating: 1 out of 10


  1. I'm not sure these products are imported to introduce Australian drinkers to them, but rather to appeal to the expat South African market in Australia. This seems to be the biggest customer base for the South African wines too.

  2. On top of all that, the Distell company came down heavy, with a load of corporate lawyers, on a tiny real ale producer in Devon, England called Hunter's & forced them to change the name of one of their beers from 'Gold' because of the similarity with the name of their product.

  3. As a Saffa, I was disappointed to discover the low standards required for our ciders. I have a Hunter's Dry in front of me, and I can say that it is far better than Hunter's Gold, though due to lax standards, I do not think it is a 'real' cider. Hunter's Gold is pretty awful in my opinion. Hunter's Gold over here is quite similar to the above description, though I am no purveyor of fine cider. The best cider I have tasted here has long been unavailable, Crossbow Cider, though I was under-age at the time I tasted it. Foundry is likely the best widely available cider, as in I live in a rural area and can still obtain it. There is a product which was once a cider, and is no longer marketed as such, Redd's, it has always tasted like perfume, and it now has a raw corn syrup alcohol taste to it (granted it is no longer sold as cider). The following video describes what I think is our incredibly lax cider requirements.

  4. Completely disagree with this review. Started stocking hunters gold recently and it is selling really well, tangerine and ginger notes makes the cider very approachable and session able. South african cider has impressed me recently, with the savanna dark 6% drinking well also. Different countries, different apples, different styles and we all have different palates. It is mass produced but also carries mass produced pricing, which has to be taken into account and it has a field day over strongbow or 5 seeds. Thats my opinion tho.