Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gwatkin - Dry Farmhouse Kingston Black

There are things in life which can really get you excited. It gets the juices flowing, and consistently ‘boils your potato’. But to get overwhelmed, humbled and giggling like a school kid can often be rare. So when the opportunity to taste and review cider from Herefordshire producer Gwatkin arose, I definitely experienced one of ‘those’ moments. The thought of tasting the traditional farmhouse ciders of Gwatkin made me nervous. I couldn’t help thinking, what happens if I am disappointed? Would I get down on my knees, with my arms raised and fists clenched yelling “WHY!!!!!” towards the heavens? But at the risk of sounding like a true cider dork, I see the Gwatkin as real, custodian cider producers. 
My interest in Gwatkin begun some years ago, when I sat down and watched Oz Clarke and James May’s Big Wine Adventure. In one episode (which can be viewed on the Gwatkin website), the two men travelled to the Moorhampton Park farm in Abbey Dore. Denis Gwatkin kindly showed them around the farm, and discussed the art of cider making. After watching this, my infatuation for this cider brand prospered. As what I saw was cider making at its rawest and purist form – which is my philosophy in cider making. So to finally be able to hold a cider in my hand here in South Australia from this respected producer, really was a cider dream come true.   

If you’re unaware, Kingston Black is a very traditional cider apple variety, originating in Somerset many centuries ago. This variety is king - pure and simple. It falls in the bittersharp classification, and is perfectly suited to produce single varietal, vintage ciders. This classic variety is beginning to pop up in drips and drabs across Australia too, with a small number of producers using it in their ciders. But Kingston black is notorious for being a slow barer, so if you want to grow them, you better get the trees in pronto!
Now for the exciting bit, the review! I want to first begin by making special mention of the presentation of the cider. The label is beautifully configured, with a large picture of a very traditional horse drawn apple stone mill crushing up apples. It really gives you a sense of how cider making was carried out all those years ago – so primitive but so effective. Spectacular art!

The cider was filtered clear and shone a pleasant golden brown. On opening, the carbonation did foam out the bottle, but settled down fairly quickly without any real loss - thank god! But on pouring, the cider foamed up nicely, to a soft mousse. The nose offered up a beautiful mix of fresh apple aromas, and wild ferment funk characters. Very rich, sweet, toffee apples burst out of the glass with impressive clarity. Some layered farmyard notes, combined with old cellar/wooden barn dustiness and leather added stunning complexity. There was also less evident notes of volatile acidity, and yeastiness which lurked in the background. This nose was busy, with the Kingston Blacks really showing off their varietal power with gusto.
The palate was a beast, with many layers and added dimensions giving the mouth a sensory overload. The bittersharp fruit offered up a great balance of focused up-front dryness and acidity, combined with mouth puckering tannins. This led the cider to have a medium weighted palate and balanced structure, which was shrouded with rich apple flavours. The fruit definition was impressive, handling the seven per cent alcohol very well. Some beautiful farmhouse/wild fermented characters of earthiness and dustiness added life and interest. A beery/malty aftertaste was evident, along with a distinct metallic note on the back of the tongue. The Kingston Black’s definitely flexed their muscles on the palate, offering up beautifully balanced tannins and rich addictive fruit flavours.    

This Gwatkin Kingston Black really highlights why I love wild fermented ciders. The added depth you can achieve is so impressive and it eliminates the production of standardised and sterilised ciders with simple characters. Yes it can be a little funky, weird and confronting but that’s why it offers up so much. I liken it to a weird mate who’s just a little off centre, but that’s why you love them. The Kingston Black does handle this traditional method perfectly, hence the esteemed reputation as king of cider.
So was I disappointed? Oh heck no! It was everything I was hoping it would be. The great thing is I have the Gwatkin Medium Yarlington Mill still to try too! But I was really humbled to drink this cider, as it felt like I was drinking history. Something we lack a little in Australia. Overall, this Kingston Black was beautiful and stunning, and definitely a highlight of my cider tasting experience.   

Producer: Gwatkin Cider Company Ltd
Country: England (Abbey Dore, Herefordshire)
Alcohol: 7.0%


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Captain Blighs - Tasmanian Brut Cider

Ahoy, me hearties it’s time to put on our wooden legs, eye patches and raise the Jolly Roger! Another cider from the apple isle of Tasmania is in full view from the crows net. All hands ahoy buccaneers, as we prepare ourselves to review the mighty Captain Bligh’s cider. This cider aint no landlubber either. Now off with ye and go clean the poop deck!!
Captain Bligh cider, as mentioned in my overly imaginative intro, is produced in the apple isle of Tasmania by Matt, Nick and Mitch Osborne – A father/sons team. The cider is produced yearly in small batches at the old George Adams brewery in the heart of Hobart. The main apple varieties used in the blend consist of Sturmer Pippin, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Jonathon. The Sturmer and Cox’s are fast becoming synonymous with Tasmanian cider, with producers like Small Players, Two Meter Tall and Spreyton all successfully using them in their blends. I know I’ve been a little critical of Sturmer Pippin in the past, but I am starting to see its positive side – just.  The differing varieties are all fermented separately and aged for six months before bottling. This helps increase the depth of flavour in the cider and mellows out the palate. Captain Bligh’s is fundamentally made to the style of a dry, cloudy and bottle conditioned cider, with delicate tannins and natural flavours. So lets now review!  

The colour shone a lovely pale straw, underneath a distinct cloudy complexion. The cider was not disgorged, therefore just a tiny mass of dead yeast were evident in the bottle. The natural carbonation offered up a lovely large mousse on pouring, with vibrant and attractive bubbles.
Lovely and lean fresh red apple skin along with old woody notes leaped out of the glass with impressive vibrancy. Other primary notes of freshly cut grass, sour sobs and confectionary banana were also apparent. Secondary fermentation derived characters of yeastiness, beeriness and aldehyde complimented,and rounded out the primary notes well. These characters all beautifully combined to produce a tight and lean offering of great balance and poise. Very fresh and expressive.  

The palate was super dry, and to be completely honest, I found that to be so refreshing. Refreshing as a beverage, but also as a stylistic trait. In a sea of sugared up lolly water, it was so invigorating to go back to a nice dry cider. Subtle phenolics coated the mouth well, along with a touch of bitterness and focused acidity. I found all these critical parameters to be in perfect balance. Fresh apple flavours offered up attractive length, and a creamy/biscuity sensation added pleasing complexity. The draw back to this style of cider is the palate weight, more often than not, is always a touch thinner and perhaps not as intense. But the linear and focused back bone, definitely made up for this. The palate was impressively clean, crisp and super refreshing. Just watch that alcohol of 6.9 per cent, or you’ll be three sheets to the wind in no time!  
Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum! (or cider). This little cider was a real treat. I really enjoy going back to this style of cider, as they always offer such purity and character. You also know the cider hasn’t gone through any major industrial processes either – winning! The Captain Bligh’s really reminded me of the Napoleone and St Ronan's Methode Traditionelle ciders from the Yarra Valley in Victoria. But if you real want to splice the mainbrace, then give this cider a go! Beautifully Tasmanian…..again!

Producer: Captain Blighs
Country: Australia (Hobart, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 6.9%

Rating: 14.5 out of 20