Sunday, 28 September 2014

Custard and Co - Vintage Dry Apple Cider

Man oh man, Ian Rayner and his Custard Cider seem to be the rock stars of Aussie cider at present. The ciders are produced naturally at his fully sustainable cider works in Donnybrook, Western Australia. Being in such an isolated area of Australia has by no means been detrimental to their presence in the market. The range of ciders are here, there and everywhere, and it’s a true testament to the product and philosophies. Rayner seems to be producing traditional styled cider, yet still please all the discerning commercial cider drinker's tastes. Hard feat! His mix of traditionalism and modernism seems to be a winning mix. This is a cider brand making cider for the right reasons. I take my hat off to Ian, who quite funnily enough is from the cider crazy county of Somerset in England. Now let’s try the Custard Vintage Dry!
Loved the nice cloudy golden colour, and also loved the lightish carbonation. Nothing worse than an over carbonated cider. I don’t know if I was drunk, but the cider seemed to be thick and viscous in the glass. It almost seemed if it was sticking to the sides of the glass. Interesting indeed.

The nose showed exactly why wild ferments are the real way to make cider. There was some very inviting primary floral pineapple/tropical fruit notes here. But hints of funk and earthiness, along with a creamy/buttery angle added good complexing depth. There was some evidence of VA and just a touch of geranium too, but all in balance. Initially, it seriously smelt like a fresh crunch apple. Impressive.

The palate was a little bit of a mystery at first. I was expecting a full hit of Western Australian apple dryness, instead greeted with big upfront apple sweetness. The sweetness was moreish, with great weight and fattiness. The lower level of carbonation was perfect for the style. The acidity was on the lower side, yet flabbiness wasn’t an issue with the higher sugar. Texture was at a minimum, yet the crisp complexity was high. The flavour does die off a touch towards a washy finish, but holy hell this was one smashable cider. To be honest, it was like alcoholic apple juice but it all worked so well. I could see this being consumed in copious amounts. A respectable 5.5% alc, would also ensure this. 
What I loved about this cider is the example of wild ferment funkiness. This really highlighted the complexity you get out of indigenous yeasts. Real cider is made this way. This is real cider. Simple. I do question why ‘dry’ is on the label, considering it’s a more medium to medium sweet. But the Custard Vintage Dry is a seriously top drop. Well played!  

Producer: The Real River Company
Country: Australia (Donnybrook, Western Australia)
Alcohol: 5.5%

Rating: 17.5 out of 20

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Willie Smiths Organic Cider - Bone Dry

Oh Willie, Willie Willie, we meet again. No, that is not a euphemism either, so get your minds out of the gutter! The last time Willie Smiths graced All About Cider, they score the one and only top marks which I have awarded. The cider showed unbelievable quality and style for a dessert apple cider. I remember being blown away, and it showed good cider can be made from the humble dessert. How they could make it taste like a good quality Norman Cidre was beyond me. I was hooked! So now WSOC have released their lasted addition ‘Bone Dry’. When I say ‘latest addition’, that’s not to say it’s new. The cider has been out for quite some time, but I have only got my hands on some now! Hint hint Sam!
So it says on the cider label that this new release was inspired by Sam and Rowl’s trip to England and France. I guess they were drinking lots of Norman Brut! I have heard whispers Rowl has now moved on as Cider Maker which is a shame. The label also points out the cider was aged in oak for three months – now that’s what I like. I am confident that this Bone Dry is just Willie Smiths Organic Cider (white label), without any apple juice added back for sweetening. Essentially a base cider aged in oak for three months. Could be wrong, call it a hunch.
So the cider pours very low in carbonation which is a huge tick. Perfect for this style. The colour is a lovely golden straw too. Happy days. So what do you expect to see from a dry? Sugar adds body and weight to a cider, hence the sweet one's are fatter with more substance. Dry ciders don’t have this luxury. Building layers of flavour and texture are key in my mind. Definitely some oak age, LOTS of lees stirring etc.

The nose in true Willie Smiths fashion is dominated by oxidised red apple notes. Some lovely spiced apple characters also shine through. There is a touch of older oak, yet also a fungal/mouldy note too – not saying this is a bad thing. It’s quite earthy in stature, and quite complex. Tick.  

Unfortunately for me, the palate is a little of a letdown. It definitely shows a likeable softness with some green apple flavours. However, the flavour is a touch lacklustre and fades to a twangy sour finish. I do enjoy the powdery tannin which adds texture, and also the apple seed like bitterness. I would liken this more to an English Scrumpy when it comes to style, as I find it’s quite wild and untamed. The hot alcohol would also suggest this too. I guess what I would love to see here is some more apple punch, and some more added layers. The best way to describe the palate is it lacks a little personality. Still totally and utterly drinkable.  
All in all, a solid effort. I am not sure how the fanatical Willie Smiths fans would go with the Bone Dry against the original cider. Happy to be proven wrong. Again, the nose takes me to Normandy and I love that about Willie Smiths. I am still a huge fan of this producer and put them in my top 5 in Australia.

Producer: William Smiths and Son’s
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 6.8%

Rating: 14 out of 20


Friday, 19 September 2014

Sorry for the inactivity!

Hi cider lovers!

I must apologise for the lack of reviews/posting lately. I have been busy, busy, busy! I have judged at the inaugural Adelaide Cider Competition, and the Royal Sydney Beer and Cider Show. Two well run shows which were fun to judge at. I have composed a Tassie Cider section with reviews in the new Tasmania's Table book which will be published soon. I must say I had a lot of fun tasting through all the amazing Tassie ciders! I have also been tasting through some quality English cider, and a few popular Aussies too so will get the reviews up soon. My side project Adams Orchard Cider is doing very well, but taking up a lot of my time. The passion to make cider is so infectious, and I always say my talents lie in making the stuff, rather that writing about it. Check it out at if you're interested.

But the warmer weather is coming which means two things.

1. Cider season is coming! (Yay!)
2. More producers will come out to play which means more new ciders to try and review. 

Until then, keep supporting local producers who are making real, honest booze. What more could you ask for? Perfect!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Are you following the guidelines?

What has really thrilled me over the passed couple years is the opportunity to judge cider in a competition setting. I get to judge along side some real industry heavy weights, and find I am always learning something new. I have already been to two awards this year, and will be judging up at the Sydney Beer and Cider Show in September. Judging cider is not an easy task when completely new to the concept. You're looking for subtle differences in a cider which is part of a huge class that sometimes almost look identical to each other. It's easy to just try and compare cider to wine. But with cider, you're analysing malic acid, not tartaric and playing with sometimes ghastly amounts of sugar, be it real or fake. It's closely analysing textures, acidity, balance, carbonation, fruit intensity and most importantly style. I am a qualified Winemaker and have had sensory classes rammed down my throat at University. Without sounding too bigheaded, I am indeed trained in sensory evaluation, fault detections etc. This is perhaps why my reviews go so 'in-depth' by the fact I am picking up such tiny subtleties in a cider, which most punters would oversee or not care about. I have really honed in my skill on judging cider and am confident in my ability. So why am I saying this? There is a point I assure you. Let me explain:

As a producer, I believe you have every right to get your cider judged along side industry peers. It's great for the industry, and keeps the competitive juices flowing. It can give you a clear indication of where you are at in terms of style and quality, and can be a bit of fun when you win a medal. It can also help you with feedback to maybe tweak or sharpen up that next batch you're about to begin. What gets scrupulously worked on in the background to these shows is the determination of clear, set boundaries and rules which outline a class. What is a class? For example:

Class 1: Contemporary Dry
Class 2: Contemporary Medium
Class 3: Contemporary Sweet
Class 4: Traditional Dry
Class 5: Traditional Medium
Class 6: Traditional Sweet     

Within these classes, a sugar reading (gravity or residual sugar) is one of the determining factors to which category the cider goes into. This is the case for both apple and pear/perry cider. Pretty clear and concise if you think about it. Here's an example for cider used in shows across Australia:


Dry: SG up to 1005
Medium: SG between 1005 and 1012
Sweet: SG 1012 and above

Residual Sugar - g/L

Dry: less than 9 g/L
Medium: 9 g/L - 40g/L
Sweet: Above 40 g/L

So these parameters/methods do change between shows, but very minutely. It is up to the discretion of the producer to enter into the right class when there is a obvious overlap or closeness in sugar parameters for that show. One could argue there needs to be Australian standardised sugar levels and units to determine classes in shows. Yes perhaps, but there really is not a huge difference.

Along with sugar level, Australian cider also currently has two distinct and recognised styles which also determines class:

Contemporary and Traditional. Here are the guidelines taken from the Melbourne Fine Food Awards (composed by Max Allen).

Contemporary Cider or Perry: made in a style that is in line with the broad contemporary Australian market; more likely to be lighter, cleaner and crisper to taste, with primary fruit flavours; more likely to be made from dessert apple or pear varieties, but can be made from bittersweet/traditional varieties; can be either sparkling or still. 

Traditional Cider or Perry: made in a style that is more in line with the cider and perry traditions of Europe; likely to be fuller, more chewy or tannic to taste, with secondary fruit flavours and ferment/maturation-derived characters (e.g. obvious influence of oak and/or oxidative handling); more likely to be made from bittersweet/traditional apple or pear varieties, but can also be made from dessert varieties; can be either sparkling or still

Bottle-fermented Cider or Perry: made in a style that is likely to show bottle-fermentation or bottle-condition derived characters such as yeastiness and persistent carbonation from methode champenoise production or natural residual sugar and soft, moderate carbonation from keeving.

Again, pretty clear and concise and bang on the money. It's fairly obvious where a producers cider would sit in terms of style. So what's my point? My point is the amount of ciders entered into wrong classes through means of being overly sweet in a dry class, or contemporary in a traditional class for example, is worrying. I am worried there are producers who don't know their product well enough. Could it be cider being entered in on behalf of a marketing sector -  enter large corporate ciders here.....? Having a contemporary cider which is back sweetened with Chinese concentrate entered into a traditional class, shows a complete lack of maturity and understanding of cider. It's these clueless producers who are in it for the $$$$, not the so called passion. If you can't read a set of thorough guidelines, printed in black and white and devised by industry professionals, then don't enter. Plain and simple. A cider made with desserts can be both contemporary and traditional, yes. But it's your methods of production which ultimately determine style. Same goes with cider apples. You can have both contemporary and traditional. Just because your cider is jam packed full of cider apples, doesn't instantly make it traditional in an Australian sense. Also, do some producers seriously think a highly processed, conc sweetened and filtered dessert cider is traditional? ummmm........  

We are lucky that a large per cent do get it right. Thank you to all those wonderful and coherent producers! But there's always some complete anomalies/aberrations which make you think where they drunk when they entered? Tasting sweet ciders in a dry class just mystifies me - it's like entering a moscato into a dry Riesling class in wine judging. The dry and sweet classes are the biggest culprits, with almost laughable outliers in some cases. We do judge them accordingly, but do they deserve a second chance? The contemporary medium apple cider class is by far the most populated class in every show. It usually accounts for over 60 per cent of the judging, and seems to be the most competitive and fairly accurate class. Perry is a different kettle of fish. I do hold some leniency with perry/pear cider due to the unfermentable sorbitol. This can show differences in perceived sweetness against analytical sweetness, potentially causing confusion. But it always helps to get a second opinion.    

I know as a judge, show organisers are doing everything they can to make these shows worthy, meaningful and creditable. Guidelines are tight, and are in black and white. But it's up to the rogue producers to get their heads around what they are actually entering, and enter correctly. As mentioned above, it's not too hard to follow the rules. If that means testing your ciders sugar at a lab before entering or getting advice on your style, then I recommend you do. If you're ever in doubt, contact the show organisers and they can point you in the right direction. I thank each and every producer for entering into shows and for giving it a go - don't get me wrong! Without you, these shows wouldn't exist. I want these competitions to have credit and be worth something to a producer. Let's all get on the same page and do what's right. But from a judges point of view, I want to see these silly mistakes abolished and taken seriously.   


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Christian Drouin - Demi Sec

Nothing makes me happier in this big wide world of cider than a decent French cidre. The more murky, funky, sweaty and rustic the better in my eyes. The many Frenchies I’ve drank seem to encapsulate the orchard and fruit so effortlessly in the bottle that when you smell the cider, you feel like you’re actually there. The powerful aromas and epic flavours are so impressive and unmatched. It really makes you realise why you love this noble little drink so much. But it also makes you wonder why they are vanishing off Aussie bottle shop shelves like a fart in the wind? Explain that.   
When I got my hands on the Christian Drouin – demi sec, I was like a little kid on Christmas morning. The Christian Drouin brand which dates back to 1960, is based at their Coeur de Lion Estate, Coudray-Rabut in the Pays de Auge. Like many other producers scattered throughout Normandy, Christian Drouin make and specialise in the production of Calvados. Made from mostly bitter apples, the demi sec is the sweeter of their cidres with a lower alcohol of 3 per cent. Being labelled ‘not pasteurised’ and ‘not filtered’ suggests the cidre was keeved to give its natural sweetness and carbonation.

On opening, the cork blew off like a hand grenade. I was suspecting a possible refermentation here, as the carbonation in the glass was ferocious with a beer like heady foam. We have to remember this cidre has travelled half way across the world in hot conditions, probably stored in a hot warehouse and then sent to me. So I can see there may have been an issue. The bottle was super thick, heavy and chunky too, possibly as a safety precaution? Christian Drouin do state that their cidres are "an alive product”. The colour was a beautiful cloudy candied orange.

The nose was utterly rich and layered. Thick and fresh like the cidre was made the day before. The pure French apple nose was charmingly attractive and quite addictive with tonnes of orange blossom and apple skin leading the way. This was a nose on steroids, with huge amounts of persistence and clarity. The secondary characters where not so evident here, just pure primary fruit.
On tasting, the sweetness was somewhat overpowering to begin with. This was definitely a sugar bomb. After some adjusting, it was hard to go past the luscious, thick and moreish flavours. What I love about French cidre and which was seen in this cidre, are the powdery/grainy tannins which coat the mouth and add a beautiful bittery texture (and we all know I’m a texture lover in cider).The other thing which I did enjoy was the sweetness tasting real and not fake. It was a sweetness which didn’t make you feel sick. The length of this cidre felt endless, with lovely flavours of orange marmalade and bruised apple. The foam added a fluffy weight.

Although this cidre was on the sweet side, its charm and length won it for me. It was beautiful and everything I expected. Yes it was cloudy and a little lumpy from some residual yeasts, but that’s called FLAVOUR! This is the true definition of orchard to bottle. This type of cidre would work well with a spiced pear paste and cracker platter on a balmy summer’s afternoon. That’s my idea of food matching.
Producer: Christian Drouin
Country: France (Coudray-Rabut, Normandy)
Alcohol: 3.0%

Rating: 17 out of 20


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Apple case study: Somerset Redstreak

Somerset Redstreak apple
One apple which has fascinated me for quite some time is the bittersweet cider apple - Somerset Redstreak. The apple itself originated in the county of Somerset England, and is famously known to produce a quite mild cider with soft tannins, perfectly suited to medium sweetness. The apple ripens early in the grand scheme of apple growing and produces solid crops of attractive green-yellow coloured with red striped fruit. It's best known to be blended with sharper varieties to form far more complex ciders and is one of the main commercial varieties planted in the UK.   

Mostly found in the UK, Somerset Redstreak is slowly making its way to Australia with producers like Daylesford Cider, Lost Pippin and Lobo Cider already having exclusive access to it. Around two years ago, there was some debate whether the apple was actually 'true' here in Australia. Hence, I never planted them in my orchard. But I have been assured recently that the apple is in actual fact the real deal. So I think I will be ordering some bare rooted SR's this year!  

But to highlight this handy little cider apple, I have sourced two ciders - one from Herefordshire and one from Somerset. The idea being to taste through them to really get an understanding of how this cider apple operates. The cider from Somerset is a 100 per cent single varietal made by Perry's, and the second is a blend of Somerset Redstreak and Kingston Black from Herefordshire producer Once Upon A Tree. Off the top of my head, I don't think there are any 100 per cent Somerset Redstreak ciders made in Australia? Please correct me if I am wrong. But this was a tasting which I was very much looking forward to!  

Perry's Cider - Somerset Redstreak
Perry's has been producing 100 per cent apple juice ciders since 1920 in Dowlish Lake, Somerset. Today, their natural approach to making quality craft cider is the backbone which drives this company. The Somerset Redstreak cider is part of their 'single varietal' range with the fruit sourced from their Knowle St Giles Orchard. 

The colour mimics burnt caramel, filtered clear and with a light carbonation on pouring. The nose offers up hints of lifted Christmas cake spice, dusty old oak and floral apple. There is this sweet/sour combination which makes the nose seem very luscious and rich. However, the aromas ensure the cider maintains a freshness which is very inviting. Quite a clean nose, which is simple yet full of varietal character and complexity.

On tasting, what immediately impressed was the balance of grainy tannins and rounded medium sweetness. This is what I expected to see. On top of that, rich apple flavours added this addictive moreish and candied flavour. I described it as 'thick' in my notes. There was just a hint of back palate bitterness with good acidity adding structure. The flavour does die off towards the end, but really a nice example of a single varietal Somerset Redstreak. 

In the end, this cider was a simple, fresh and clean example. Perhaps lacked the punch which you would expect from a single varietal, but I enjoyed its soft characters, and sweet charm. All was in balance too. Very drinkable.

Producer: Perry's Cider
Country: England (Dowlish Wake, Somerset)
Alcohol: 6.0%

Once Upon A Tree - Kingston Redstreak
Once Upon A Tree was formed in 2008 in Herefordshire by Ann and Norman Stainer and Hannah and Simon Day. Simon Day is a Winemaker turned Cidermaker (sounds like someone else I know....) and produces all the ciders at their 22 acres Dragon Orchard situated in Putley near Marcle Ridge, Herefordshire. This is a cider I just had to get and taste! This blend is 85 per cent Kingston Black, and 15 per cent Somerset Redstreak.

The colour was a beautiful deep tawny which was filtered clear. This cider is made as a still, therefore no carbonation was seen. The nose offered up super rich and luscious floral apple, candy apple, and hints of spice with complimentary dusty oak and orange blossom characters. Can't believe how fresh this is, like it was made yesterday! Some secondary leathery, old barnyard notes added a beautiful depth. So crisp and clean for 2010. Sensational nose. 

The palate was full and packed with body and weight. There was a tonne of substance here. The still nature did not make this thin or lifeless. A medium sweetness added weight, with older oak and candy apple flavours. There was a tiny lick of tannin, but balanced well with the acidity and sweetness. What impressed was the looooooong lingering length. Beautifully moreish and so enjoyable. A tiny hint of VA just added some lift too. 

This was a very broad cider, with tonnes of flavour and depth. You can see this is a good blend of bittersharp KB's and bittersweet SR's. They compliment each other well. Beautiful cider, and really highlights the varietals in the blend well. Thoroughly enjoyable. 

Producer: Once Upon A Tree Ltd
Country: England (Putley, Herefordshire)
Alcohol: 7.5%

So there we go. Two examples of this apple from two great producers and both were a pleasure to drink. The Somerset Redstreak is a very handy apple to have adding softness with what I find a distinctive barnyardy apple note. I love this characters and it works very well in cider. It works well as a single, but I think it suited better to a blend. It just needs a helping hand to broaden its appeal with some bigger, bolder flavours of other varieties. I just cant wait to get a few trees in the ground! 


2014 Adelaide Cider Competition

It's that time of year again when cider competitions start up ramping up. It's a great excuse for cider producers to enter their precious produce and get it reviewed and judged against a set of stylistic guidelines. As the 2014 Melbourne Fine Food Awards has been run and won, it's now time to turn our attention to the inaugural 2014 Royal Adelaide Show Cider Competition. I am absolutely delighted to announce I will be judging at this event! I get to judge in my home state, so happy! So to all producers, please, please, please enter this event. You can even enter your kegged cider. It has been organised by some industry greats, and has a great format. Please see the media release issued by the RA&HS below. 


Cider producers from around Australia are being encouraged to enter the new Royal Adelaide Show Cider Competition. Held in conjunction with the popular Royal Adelaide Beer Awards, the competition is designed to recognise Australia’s burgeoning cider industry.  According to Roy Morgan Research, almost 1 in 10 adult Australians drank cider in an average four-week period in 2013, up from 1 in 50 in 2008.
The competition is open to producers of traditional and contemporary ciders in either dry, medium or sweet styles, with bottles, kegs and cans all accepted.  
Major awards will be granted to the Champion Cider, Champion Perry and Champion South Australian Exhibit. 

Entries close on Friday, June 6, at 5pm – visit the ‘Competitions’ tab on for details.

Judging will take place together with the Royal Adelaide Beer Awards from July 14 to 16.
An Awards Presentation, supported by Brand South Australia will be held at a cocktail function on July 18 at The Gallery on Waymouth, Waymouth Street, Adelaide.
For more information, contact Chalien Bayliss on 0419 185 306


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Severn - Medium Sparkling Perry

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of reviewing this last month. Unfortunately for two months of the year my 'real' job takes over and grapes become my primary focus. When you work 12 hours a day it's hard to sit down and really enjoy a good cider. But I've found some time and am really excited to bring you this new review on an absolute corker of a perry.

Seven Cider are a small boutique producer from Gloucestershire, England. The county middles both Herefordshire and Somerset also famously known for their cider production. The Severn Medium Sparkling Perry is produced using the Blakeney Red pear from orchards which are free of fertilizers and sprays. The Blakeney Red pear falls into the 'sharp' category and is known for its medium tannins levels and much lower levels of acidity. The trees are heavy croppers too, and have been used to produce larges amounts of perry for years.

I was so excited to try this perry as it had won many awards in the UK, and it seemed to be a very popular example. The colour poured a clear, golden yellow with just a light hint of carbonation.

The nose offered up lovely oaky notes from its maturation in old whisky casks, with just a hint of brettanomyces. Super juicy, floral and delicate pear notes jumped out of the glass like a jack-in-a-box. Secondary characters of orange blossom and honey just rounded out the complexity perfectly. What struck me was the perfect balance of oak and pure pear fruit, its just seemed so tight and generous. Perfect.

Ahhh the palate. The word addictive came to mind here. Juicy, moreish medium sweetness just seduced my taste buds over and over. Utterly beautiful. An earthy flavour dominated the flavour, with fresh pear adding tonnes of depth. Perfectly balanced tannins and acidity pulled the structure in tight, and lead into a looooong and lingering length. A candied flavour just lingered for eternity. All I was left thinking was the purity of pear flavour was outstanding. So beautiful, so weighted and packed full of flavour. The way a great perry should be!

Well, I am going to go on the record and say this is the best perry I have had. Period. Better then anything I have seen from Domfront in Normandy. How they could captured the purity and fruit was super impressive. The complexity, the freshness and the many layers made this a real joy to drink. Beautiful!!  

Producer: Severn Cider
Country: England (Newnham, Gloucestershire)
Alcohol: 6.2%


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sidra Escanciador - Natural Sidra Riera

Ahhhh, espaƱol sidra - we meet again! Just like a ranging bull or an unforgiving Rafa Nadal forehand, Spanish Sidra packs a whole lotta punch! Stylistically, Sidra is hugely different when compared to the gazillion commercial Australian ciders which we all currently enjoy. So much so, picture the picture Pluto - that's how far apart these two styles are/can get. We don't see too much Sidra in Australia, with drips and drabs floating around in speciality bottle shops. In all honestly, I have had my doubts as to whether Sidra could ever be popular here in Oz. We've got to remember that Sidra can be overly confronting with super rustic features like high volatile acidity, and throat wrenching dryness. Some literally taste like liquefied salt and vinegar chips! This may appeal to some, but let me tell you its an acquired taste. I suggest clicking on the 'Spanish Cider' tab on the home page, and read up a little more on the past two Sidra's I have reviewed.

Sidra Escanciador is located in Villaviciosa in the famous Sidra region of Asturias in Northern Spain. The brand is distributed across Australia by Broadway Liquor. The Natural Sidra Riera is produced very traditionally with acid apples (possibly crab apples)naturally fermented in wooden vats, with no final filtration. The company produces 500,000L's of Asturias Sidra each year, with its ES label being the most known and popular.

The Sidra poured a nice hazy yellow straw, with absolutely no carbonation in the glass. Remember folks, when there is no carbonation the cider is termed 'still', just like a white wine. The nose offered up copious amounts of beautiful rusticity and earthiness. There was a huge whack of deep and complex farmhouse richness almost emulating a fine Breton Cidre. Rich ripe apples combined in perfect harmony with old woody characters to add an element of Spanish traditionalism. A hint of sourness, VA and a tiny lick of brettanomyces was also evident. The complexing layers seemed endless, with broadening wild ferment funk and barnyard notes just lifting the nose to a whole new level. It's a nose which sounds scary and ugly, but it really is a work of art. Just magic. 

Although the palate wasn't at the same level of quality as the nose, its still impressed me. The palate weight was on the weaker/watery side, with uber bone dry characters and large tart acidity dominating the mouth feel. However, rustic apple flavours which seemed to linger for eternity added excitement and length. Some volatile notes which usually stick in the back of the throat were less intrusive in this Sidra, and did not offend. There were no tannins to speak of which did leave a hole in the mid to back palate. What I found was that after every mouthful, I was getting more and more addicted. I couldn't put my finger on it, but this Sidra (and its palate), just kept getting better - a real nice surprise. It was easy drinking, with tonnes of personality.

The Sidra Escanciador - Natural Sidra Riera would have to be the best Sidra's I have tried. I loved the rusticity and complexity of the nose - it was waaaay up my alley. The palate perhaps was a touch acidic and watery, but it had lovely flavours which just lingered forever. What I did love was the lower levels of VA as it made the Sidra more approachable. The drink would be perfectly match with blue cheese, or a Sidra glazed chorizo (Chorizo a la Sidra). Yumm!!

Producer: Sidra Escanciador
Country: Asturias (Spain)
Alcohol: 6.0%
Website: N/A

Rating: 14.5 out of 20


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Lobo - The Norman 2012

There is always something that continually draws me to cider made by Lobo. I don't know, maybe its that I am a proud and self confessed South Aussie and am just being biased and sheltered? Or is it that Warrick Billings - the Maker and Creator of Lobo Cider, has rare access to Adelaide Hills cider apples and uses them to great effect? Lobo ciders such as The Norman, The Crabby and Royale all contain bittersweet cider apples grown in the Adelaide Hills, and are blended together with Lobo's traditional Pink Lady base cider. This trademark gives the ciders more depth, complexity and texture which are elements I look for in cider.  

I got the opportunity to judge and spend some time with Warrick Billings late last year in Sydney. Many moons ago, Warrick used to make cider in south east Somerset specialising in Perry. What struck me was his high level of intelligence when it come to cider. His values for cider rated highly in my books, and its producers like him who we need to hang around in this time of highly commercialised, mass produced crap and be there at the end when these ciders die out. The techniques used in the making of Lobo push the boundaries of conventional cider making. Maceration, wild fermenting, bottle carbonation, cider apple/dessert apple blends and the use of crab apples are techniques used to help shape the cider house style. This may not be to everyone's cup of tea, but its intelligent cider making which is producing true cider - not boring same old, same old. 

The 2012 Norman is part of the Lobo Exp range which are a group of eclectic and more traditional styles of cider. The cider apples where macerated on pulp/skins before wild fermentation, with 5 per cent pear added towards dryness. A natural bottle carbonation ensured that the cider retained the traditional cloudy Lobo style. The colour gleamed a light yellow straw, with a slight haze. A large eruption of carbonation flooded the glass before settling down into a fine bead. 

Intense fresh green apples, floral cider apple, sour sobs and soapy characters initially burst out of the glass. Secondary notes of pear, musk, cut grass and straw also gave the nose some depth. The Pink Lady base tied the nose in well along with some wild ferment rusticity. Tiny wafts of aldehyde where also present . The nose was quite clean but very crisp and tight, as a whole. Quite pretty in a strange way.

The palate was bone dry, with good levels of tannins and zingy acidity. Flavours of crisp green apple, and lemon citrus where fresh and lean emulating a good quality Riesling. The palate structure was super tight, with a nice level of bitterness to add complexity. Being a tight and lighter weighted style, the flavours did fade out a touch towards the mid palate into a quite lean and dry finish. The alcohol was is in good balance being at 6.8 per cent. The palate may have lacked in bold apple flavours, but what was satisfying was the structure and texture which lifted the cider to a new level.    

What I enjoyed about The Norman was the honest and simple flavours. Its easy to see that the cider apples make all the difference in terms of complexity and texture. This is a cider which is very very drinkable, but also perfect with food too, such as cheeses or pork. Sounds beautiful! 

Check out my previous reviews on Lobo:

Producer: Lobo Juice and Cider Pty Ltd
Country: Australia (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Alcohol: 6.8%

Rating: 15.5 out of 20

Sunday, 5 January 2014

St Ronan's Methode Tradionelle Pear Cider

It’s not every day a cider makes you sit back in your chair, taking in the finer things in life and go wow. It’s always the little things which make you so appreciative. The new batch of St Ronan’s Pear Cider is exactly that. If there was such thing as a Miss World Cider Competition, the St Ronan’s would not only win the swimsuit segment, it would also win the personality test too. It’s one sexy, damn fine looking cider with the added brains to give it substance. This cider wouldn’t ask for “world peace”, it would stand up and say “I AM CIDER, HEAR ME ROAR!” It would represent Australia perfectly, and take it up to the rest of the world. It’s a pear cider which makes you feel proud about the Industry and about what producers are out to try and achieve. Just to give you some background and scope on this pear ciders history over the past two years, have a read of these accolades:
2012 Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards – Bronze Medal
2012 Australian Cider Awards – Gold Medal and winner of Best Australian Pear Cider/Perry
2013 Australian Cider Awards – Gold Medal, best in class (Methode Champenoise/Bottle Conditioned Perry) and finalist for Best Cider of Show.

The mounting accolades and respect this pear cider is receiving is a testament to the crew at St Ronan's Cider – Troy Jones and Eric Driessen. These guys are producing some of the best presented and made pear cider I have seen so far in Australia. It's steering away from the more mass produced commercial pear cider, and being made with real elbow grease and flair. It’s meant to be savoured and enjoyed, rather than heavily consumed and mistreated. It’s real Aussie cider at its best.

The colour offered up a nice yellow straw, with a slight cloudy haze which got cloudier as more of the bottle was consumed. On opening the bottle, there was good pressure behind the cork and the cider poured with an impressive natural fizz.

The nose could only be described as heavenly. I would even go as far as saying divine (in my very best posh accent). Amazing earthy pear varietals leaped out of the glass with impeccable clarity. Super soft, floral and very pretty/feminine. Other notes of lavender, bath salts, lychee's and strangely enough coconut added focus and dimension. This was a nose full of aromatics, focus and purity. Absolutely stunning, loved it.

The palates ability to offer up so much generosity was another reason why this pear cider was at the top of its game. Beautiful up-front pear varietals were soft and sweet, but also very delicate and floral. Fresh and pure flavours of juicy pear impressed. A good level of sherbety/citric acid zing added structure, along with just a hint of powdery phenolics. The mid palate offered up complex sensations of creaminess and earthiness, which lingered to the back palate. The 7 per cent alcohol was well balanced with no signs of alcoholic warmth. If you closed your eyes, you could be mistaken for drinking sparkling pear juice. Just so pristine, clean and delicious. It was a perfectly balanced pear cider, with a nice level of dosage sweetness to round it out.

It’s now very understandable as to why this cider is gathering so much momentum in terms of popularity and quality. It’s beautifully made and pays respects to the Australian grown pears. A perfect cider to match with food too. This pear cider captures the purity of the pear so well, but also ones imagination. Beautifully made Australian real cider – what more could you ask for???

Check out the review on St Ronan’s Methode Tradionelle Apple Cider:

Producer: St Ronan’s Cider
Country: Australia (Healesville, Yarra Valley)
Alcohol: 7%

Rating: 18.5 out of 20


Friday, 3 January 2014

2014 - Welcome to the year of Cider!

Well here we are again, at the start of a New Year and back into the swing of cider reviews, articles and of course commentary. I am tipping a big year for cider in 2014, with consumers continuing to wake up to the faux, sugar laden RTD’s, shunning them and converting to more ‘real’ cider (I am starting to sound like a broken record with this!). My hope/resolution is to see some of the ‘me too’ producers (the sprinters) who exploit the popularity of cider get weeded out, and the true cider makers (the marathon runners) become more prevalent. What’s ‘me too’? Well the ones who make cider for the real reasons understand the history and traditions behind cider, utilise real apples/pears and have a deep understanding of the production. These producers will continue to drive this Industry into the future. It’s the greedy ‘me too’ leaches who take short cuts, exploit the system, use artificial flavourings and concentrates etc. who will eventually drive the industry into the ground, sending the popularity of cider back to the dark ages….again. What would be the point of building an industry which is still earning respect and reputation, if it’s to eventually die in five years’ time due to poor management and exploitation? And how could we forget flavoured cider? It always makes me so disappointed when an established cider brand expands their portfolio to include fruit flavoured cider – be it natural fruit, artificial flavourings or concentrate. Clogging up the industry with ‘fruit salad’ cider is something which in my eyes is only opportunistic and very dangerous. Why divert attention away from what really matters – apple or pear?? If Australian cider is still so new and misunderstood, why add this rooster to the hen house? Ok, so you can argue that I am just a purist, a traditionalist and am being way too picky and over protective. Believe me, I firmly believe in diversification, but these Frankenciders are a whole new kettle of fruity fish. I also have a mountain of people who agree and back me up on this sentiment. How about some investing into real cider apple orchards? Or into other styles of cider? Graft, plant, barrel ferment, bottle condition etc etc? I take my hat off to the state of Tasmania. These guys are doing it right and have the perfect model to work around. I guess the argument is you need to maintain/sustain your competitive advantage – bollocks. Selling your soul to the devil with these ciders. Remember fruit ciders are a fad, and what goes up must come down. They are a pimple on the face of the Australian Cider Industry, and have about as much credibility as corrupt Politian.        

I want 2014 to be the year where I stop being asked questions like: “Have you tried that new Japanese cider?” “What’s Perry?” or “Have you tried that cider with elderberry in it?” I understand this will almost never stop, but the sorts of questions I want to begin to hear are things like “What varieties can you use for cider?” “What’s the difference between eating and cider apples?” “Can you explain the processes of making cider?” or “What foods can be match with cider?” Once people start to actually think about how their favourite cider is made, the better the understanding will be. I am a Winemaker by trade, and some of the most common questions I am asked is about the actual physical production of grapes to wine. Funnily enough, I never get asked this with cider. If I told a punter, a sommelier or a distributor that I made my wine with a concentrate imported from Chile, they would leave immediately and I would never hear from them ever again. So why does cider get away with this? The artificial flavourings and colours are enough to make you sick, let alone the higher sulphur too. There is nothing sexier or more exciting than tasting freshly pressed apple juice straight out of a rack and cloth or basket press. Just magic, and you can taste that freshness in the final product too. So why stoop on that?? (It must be real fun picking elderberries, or ginger, or what other bullshit additive, squishing or opening them up from a imported drum and flavouring your cider pfffftt!). Cider making is fun, it’s fascinating and its natural, so what’s not to love about it? Why cheat that? Something I will never understand, no matter how much someone tries to convince me.     
Don’t get me wrong, there a lot of producers in Australia who are kicking arse. Their ciders are complete top notch, top shelf stuff and doing the Industry proud. But there is always those bad seeds who ruin the fun and reputation for everyone else. Cider Australia is on the case and are working hard to get some law and order into the Industry. This is VERY encouraging and it's going to ruffle a few feathers, but it desperately needs to be done. Frauds will be exposed, or better yet leave the industry which would be a win/win for everyone. I am tipping 2014 to be make or break for these types of cider producers. Its survival of the fittest, and ciders made with no passion, no thought and no integrity are just fat slobs with no survival instincts whatsoever. So good riddance to them I say.

So please when you go to purchase your next cider this year, take time to read the label, or research where the cider came from. Fake or dishonest ciders can be hard to spot, but most are pretty transparent in the end. If you’re stuck for a new cider to try, swing by All About Cider from time to time and check out the latest reviews. I only ever review cider which has been made from the purist of intentions. Remember quality craft cider can be costly, but I think it’s well worth the price. It’s better for everyone, better for you, and better for the producers who slave away at their labour of love. Quality over quantity! Happy drinking!