Monday, 24 June 2013

The great Australian concentrate debate

Do you remember those old ‘Your Mumma’s So’ jokes? You know the one’s like: Your Mumma’s so fat she has to iron her pants in the drive way, or Your Mumma’s so dumb, she got stabbed at a shoot out. Well the one I fancy quite a lot of recent is: Your Mumma’s so dumb, she couldn’t stop staring at the juice bottle because it said ‘concentrate’. For some weird reason, this particular joke continually sticks in my mind. I can’t help picture some goon staring at a cider bottle going “huh, I don’t get it – why do I need to concentrate?” for hours on end.
Drums of Apple Concentrate arriving from China
The word concentrate is getting thrown around pretty profusely as of late, and I’ll be first to admit I’m a culprit. Well what is it? For the masses who don’t know what it is, chances are you have consumed it in large proportions already. Major brands like Strongbow, 5 Seeds and Bulmers are made entirely of the thick, luscious and highly processed liquid. In very simple terms, apple concentrate is produced by removing large portions of water from freshly processed juice. What you are left with is a thick, luscious and very sweet substance, bordering on cordial. This form of apple juice is perfect for storage and can be rehydrated when and if required. A cider can be wholly made from concentrate, or can be back sweetened with it to a desired residual sugar for fuller mouth feel. Seems like a fairly innocuous process if you think about it, with no real damage done. What’s the harm in using concentrate which overall is cheaper, more convenient and able to produce larger volumes? Hell, I’ve added generous amounts of concentrate to wine over my time with no questions asked. So what’s the issue?
The first major issue with concentrate is its place of origin. Would you be upset if you purchased a cider then to realise it was adulterated with concentrate probably produced in a dodgy, flee infested factory in downtown China? I am sure you would be. But unfortunately many people don’t care – let alone even know concentrate is present. It kills me to say but I was driving along one day with a Swiss Italian who insisted we listen to commercial radio. Unfortunately a Backstreet Boys song came on, and believe me I bitched and moaned to switch the channel. But a particular song lyric caught my attention. Yes, I am about to compare drinking habits of Australian’s with the Backstreet Boys. But It went like this:
I don't care who you are
Where you're from
What you did
As long as you love me
I immediately had an ‘hmmmmm’ moment. It sounded very similar to the Australian consumer’s relationship with cider. There is method to my madness, trust me.
I don’t care who you are – People don’t care what producer’s cider they drink.
Where you’re from – Where the cider originated.
What you did – Who cares if it’s watered down, concentrated and made unmorally.
As long as you love me – If it tastes good, and doesn’t make you sick.
Although it’s evident a switch is occurring and consumers are beginning to wake up to the nasty hidden secrets of cider, I still believe this holds true. I recently read a tweet by a Tasmanian Cider Maker which stated 893,378,000 litres of Chinese apple concentrate makes its way to Australian shores each year! Here’s where things get a little hazy. If your proud 100 per cent apple cider, made by fresh Australian apples, picked on a slight dewy morning in the presence of grazing kangaroo’s, uses this Chinese concentrate to back sweeten, does your integrity go out the window? Tasting blind, a more inexperienced cider drinker would be clutching at straws to find the concentrate doppelganger. I’ll admit, I've tasted concentrate ciders which would put real shame on certain real apple ciders. My point is concentrate does not necessarily mean poor quality, but more importantly, poor integrity. Same goes for a 100 per cent real apple cider. Just because it’s the real deal, doesn’t mean the quality is any better.
Should we see this on Australian cider labels?
The cider laws in Australia are almost to the point of being laughable. You can do what you want, when you want and with what ever you want. This does not instil confidence for the future of cider in Australia in my eyes. Behind closed doors, Chinese concentrate is being added more regularly than I would want to hope and believe. So my question is where do we draw the line? How much is too much until the dreaded ‘Made from Local and Imported Ingredients’ needs to be splashed on a label? Obviously this declaration on a label could severely impact sales of a cider, but it's no one else’s problem besides the producer in my eyes. Deal with it and make a more authentic product. This is relevant to 100 per cent concentrate ciders too, with a declaration of ‘Made with Concentrate’ needing to be displayed. I would campaign all day and night to see this placed on 5 Seeds for example. Did you really think a little man crushes apples all day long in his gigantic Tooheys factory?! But I am a huge believer of a very strict LIP (Label Integrity Program) system for cider, to help reel in the free reign cider makers have. What this would do is make the producer liable for the nitty gritty of the cider making process. For example, what apples used, litres, additions, concentrate, and country of origin. This would really stamp out any unfair and misleading information. If you call yourself X Cider Company (making reference to a particular region or town) – then make sure your apples come from there because if not, you are then misleading consumers and breaching G.I. (Geographical Indicator) codes. All this information can be used for auditing by an industry body like Cider Australia to keep policies and procedures in check, as well as sneaky concentrate additions. To all the cider producers already doing something along these lines – keep it up, I do understand and appreciate the hard work which goes into maintaining this level of record keeping!  
So to hazy point number two. What happens if the concentrate is from Australia? Does that need to cop the same criticism and flack as its Chinese counterpart? Well to be completely honest – I have no idea. Is it morally correct, considering the fruit is genuinely 100 per cent Australian? The one and only idea I can think of is a ‘Made with Australian Concentrate’ declaration on the label. I still believe adding concentrate to a cider, with even the minutest addition, is still misleading if the cider claims to be made with fresh apples (or pears). Ok, as I said before I've added tonnes of the stuff to wine, but through shear experience I find cider increasingly more sensitive to this topic. But the real silver lining here is we have such a thriving craft cider scene in Australia, that even the concept of adding concentrate, be it Chinese or Australian, is beyond comprehension. 
Logo's for Asturias and Normandy with a concept for Australia
My final wish for cider in Australia is to be regulated by a badge of integrity. I have been asking the question on social media as of late, regarding the feasibility of producing an integrity logo which can be displayed on true and proven, real fruit ciders label. This would emulate the logo’s you see within cider regions like Normandy and Asturias. My idea seems to be quite favourable amongst consumers and industry, and something which potentially should be pursued. I think this would sort a few producers out quick smart in terms of quality and truthfulness, which needs to be achieved. My goal would be to have this logo seen as a badge of pride and honour in a producer’s eye, propelling them into a state of Australian cider excellence. Is that wishful thinking? I think not Max! It can be reality!
Cider Australia has a big job ahead of it – and I’m sure they already know this. They need to take the Industry by the scruff of the neck and assert its authority. Easier said than done, but it can be achieved. So let’s build this industry up with these essential initiatives and put Australian on the map for its beautiful, well made and honourable ciders.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Harcourt - Perry and Cider Makers - Apple Cider

You know when great Harcourt cider minds like Drew Henry (Henry of Harcourt), Adam Marks (Bress) and Simon Frost (The Little Red Apple) get together, something special is bound to be made. This collective of highly regarded cider makers banded together to create Harcourt – Perry and Cider Makers. Harcourt is apple growing central, located an hour and a half North West of Melbourne, Victoria. The new cider venture utilizes eating apples and pears from Harcourt and is purposely made towards a more commercial styled cider. With the region currently experiencing tough times, the new cider and perry is bringing in precious revenue for the fruit which may have not been sold at all. Both Drew and Adam make more traditional ciders with heritage apple fruit under their respective labels. So to make a mass produced, eating apple style cider would have to be something very new and different to them. I do say ‘mass produced’ as Drew Henry himself stated that the Harcourt label will produce between 200,000 to 250,000 litres of cider and perry this year. But the apple cider prides itself on being all natural and exclusively made from real fruit. The cider is also labelled as ‘traditional and farmhouse’, which in my eyes is a little surprising and arguably incorrect. I will explain later.
The cider poured a nice light straw and was filtered clear. There was a huge explosion of artificial carbonation, which died fast into a light bead. The nose showed lifted varietal Pink Lady aromas, along with pineapples, tropical fruits and rose petal. There was also some evident fresh pear notes, which may indicate some being added in the final blend. I really liked the fresh, crunchy apple flesh characters which were well balanced with some wild ferment funk (the cider was produced by wild fermentation in old oak and in stainless tanks). The freshness and cleanliness of the wild ferment character was pleasant to see, and did offer up a tiny - and I do mean tiny bit of complexity. I did pick up on a slight stewed, cooked note which I thought may have been Golden Delicious at first, but most likely was a result of pasteurization.

The palate seemed a little ‘put together’ for my liking. There was a nice amount of balanced medium sweetness, but it was evident that juice was used to back sweeten. It just tastes a little fake, especially with some interesting, but structural sherberty/wiz fizz Granny Smith acidity. There were some nice flavours of pineapple, pear, musk and citrus, along with a pleasant creamy mouth feel. But the palate as a whole was quite basic, with no outstanding textural components, very light in weight and with no back palate length. Just seemed a little wishy washy and one dimensional for my taste, but that was the style it was made towards.
So now I can get to my ‘traditional’ and ‘farmhouse’ issue. To quote, a farmhouse style is “for most people a rough, cloudy and unsophisticated cider”. Ok, it goes on to say “most often applied to young cider” which in this case it is, but I still am not convinced this is a traditional, farmhouse style. Firstly, it’s filtered and artificially carbonated - that’s two major industrial processes the cider needed to go through. Yes it’s wildly fermented, with a portion in oak, but the flavours are too fresh and too forward for me to also accept. Finally, I can guarantee this cider did not undergo months of maturation in oak before being shipped off to Mildura, back sweetened, filtered and artificially carbonated. It just seems a little far fetched and opportunistic for me. Remember this is MY opinion, and it may differ from yours, but that’s just how I see it....

So all in all, the cider was a half decent drop and definitely fits in well with all the other gazillion commercial ciders available in Australia. The pedigree behind it would blow your mind, but to be honest, although this cider is selling like hot cakes, I’d still be drinking their ‘real’ stuff before this (especially if you're after real traditional cider). 
Producer: Harcourt – Perry and Cider Makers
Country: Australia (Harcourt, Victoria)
Alcohol: 5.0%

Rating: 13 out of 20

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Hallets - Real Cider

It’s time again to review one to the delectable ciders I had sent over from Bristol in England. This review will focus on Hallets – Real Cider.

Firstly, what I really liked about this cider without even opening it was the label: ‘Traditionally Made – Real Cider’. Combined with ‘Beautifully Simple’ discreetly placed at the bottom of the bottle and I was hooked and captivated. For some crazy reason, these phrases instilled a huge amount of confidence in the product which I was about to taste. You could argue that I was judging the book by its cover, or that I was a Gullible Garry, but in all fairness it really made me excited.
The cider is made in Southern Wales by Andy and Annie Hallet under the Blaengawney Cider banner on their 25 acre property. The Real Cider is made with natural yeasts and a blend of vintage cider and fresh new season juice to really intensify the rich apple flavours. The cider is also keeved – an old French cider making technique used to naturally clear and sweeten cider. Keeving seems quite rare in the UK nowadays, with Pilton Cider and Hallets being the only two I can think of off the top of my head. The cider is said to be of medium sweetness and light in carbonation.

The colour pours a nice golden yellow which indicates possible oak vat age, and is clear in appearance. There is a nice, subtle level of carbonation with large, bold bubbles. The nose offers a stunning array of fresh primary apple aromas and fulfilling background complexity. Immediate sweet apple cider aromas are beautifully balanced with what seems to be old bourbon or rum vat notes. Lashings of bettanomyces give the whole nose an added element of barnyard, along with a rich blue cheese/mould angle.
The mouth feel offered up a beautiful, fresh medium sweetness with ever lasting waves of bitterness and gripping astringency. This is most certainly bittersweet fruit working its magic. High levels of sappy tannin and crisp penetrating acidity was perfectly balanced with the medium sweetness. Nice concentrated flavours of honey, apple peel and brettanomyces (bandaid) were rich and generous and added body. This was complexity central! But amongst all the tannin, brettanomyces and sweetness, the overall balance and structure was very impressive. On the back palate, it was smooth and rounded with nice warming alcohol.

This cider just got better and better with every sip. I was so disappointed when I took my final mouthful knowing I may never try this cider again. It was rich, layered and very intense. The tannins may be confronting to a traditional cider newbie, but I'd be confident to say that by the end of the bottle, they would be obsessed. This is a seductive and very classy cider!

Producer: Blaengawney Cider (Hallets)
Country: Wales (Crumlin, Caerphilly County Borough)
Alcohol: 6.0%


All About Cider in Beer and Brewer Magazine

Have you had a chance to see my articles featured in Beer and Brewer magazine? Here's just a little sneak peak!! 

Issue 23 - Summer 2012. Cider Styles - What's the difference? 

Issue 25 - Winter 2013. The Nordic Cider Craze

My next article on the 2013 apple and pear harvest in Australia will be available in the Spring Edition released in late July. Keep an eye out for it in Australian and New Zealand newsagents, home brew shops and bottle shops!
Visit for more info. To read editions online, download the Beer and Brewer app!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Lost Pippin - Sparkling

Now straight off the bat, this cider which comes to us from the beautiful Huon Valley has a great story behind it. Lost Pippin is currently part of a non profit organisation called Oak Tasmania. Oak Tasmania is a social enterprise which trains and employs over 150 Tasmanians living with disabilities. The absolute fantastic thing is the ciders themselves were made with the help of the Oak Tasmania participants. In a recent article, the Cider Maker and soon to be owner of Lost Pippin Mark Robertson stated that work such as pruning, packing and bottling was all carried out with the help of people living with a disability. I just think this story is sensational, and it’s a real credit to all involved.
Lost Pippin itself is located at the former Grove Demonstration and Research Centre in the Huon Valley. It is here where Australia’s largest collection of heritage apples and pears, and cider apples call home, with many of the varieties not commercially available anymore. The cider side of things for Lost Pippin is only on a smaller scale in their eyes (is 20,000L’s small scale?), but plans are already in place to establish a cidery and cellar door (like Spreyton Cider Co). I’ve also heard of whispers of a potential ‘cider trail’ in Tasmania which stretches from the North of the state to the South. Cooooool!! But I am convinced that the Huon Valley is fast becoming one of the several cider capitals in Australia. 

The ciders which make up the Lost Pippin portfolio consist of a still, a sparkling and perry. The ciders are also made from the fruit harvested off the heritage orchard. Today, I’ll be focusing on the sparkling which is made using the more modern apple varieties.
So on pouring, the cider was very light in colour and for a ‘sparkling’, I was quite perplexed. Where were the bubbles?? There was almost no carbonation, besides a tiny spritz in the glass. I know many producers are still trying to get their carbonation levels right, so maybe this is another one of those cases? Trial and error? Not sure, but I was quite surprised. The nose was quite pretty, sweet and very floral. Lovely fresh ripe apples notes, along with apple skin, musk, rich pineapples and rose burst out the glass. It was very crisp and tight, but very straight forward in primary aromas.

The palate offered up nice off dry sweetness, with steely acidity giving the mouthful a gob full of tartness. The acid structure was very tart, sour and very unforgiving – very malic acidish. Possibly too much maybe, as my teeth where crying out in protest. There were some nice fresh apple flavours and also a tiny bit of tannin grip to lift the texture. But the palate was just a little weak in flavour profile and intensity, and again I couldn’t help pass a watered down character on the back palate. Cider doesn’t like too much water added!! There was also just enough fizz on the palate to consider it a sparkling too. Overall it was quite a one dimensional palate, which possibly was out of balance with the tooth destroying acidity.
This cider was fresh, simple, very straight forward and very typical of the many ciders we see in Australia. Basically it’s as easy as cider gets. If acid is not an issue, the sessionability of this cider is through the roof. It's very clean and fresh, but also refreshing. Solid cider made in conjunction with a great cause.

Oak Tasmania:

Producer: Oak Tasmania (Lost Pippin)
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 4.9%

Rating: 12 out of 20 (check out the 'AAC Features' tab for the new scoring system)