Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tin Shed - Sweet Still and Sweet Sparkling

I make it no secret I love Aussie ciders which come off the beaten track. I love the ciders which are painstakingly made by hand, and are a true reflection of place and personality. Ciders which have blood, sweat and tears poured into them. To me that’s real honest cider making. It doesn’t matter if it’s culinary or cider apples, I don’t care, as long as the intentions are right. Through my experiences, I find these are the ciders which have the characters I am looking for in a decent cider. Characters being authenticity, sense of place and respect.
One such producer is Tin Shed out of Tolmie in the Victorian Highlands. Just for shits and giggles, I looked up Tolmie on Wikipedia. It read: “Tolmie once had a general store/petrol station that is currently closed”. WWWOOAAHHHH!!! Ease up tiger! Must have been one happening place to have a general store! #crazytalk However, I digress. Owner of Tin Shed, Anne Barnett, bought a 15.5 acre block of land 20km out of Mansfield back in 2007. The property had a dilapidated apple orchard consisting of 120 trees situated on it. She was able to find a local horticulturalist who took on the job of meticulously reworking parts of the orchard from the overgrown blueberries, and general neglect. After lots of homework, an agreement was struck between Anne and her Horticulturalist to make cider and sell it under the Tin Shed label. Anne set out a five year plan for the orchard to be back functioning properly and bearing again, with plans to expand the orchard with cider apples. Whilst all being achieved by following organic principles, and with no use of herbicides. A 100 year old shearing shed was converted to a production area, with a cellar door used for tastings and also for small functions.

The resident Tin Shed apple orchard doesn’t currently bare enough fruit for production, so the ciders are made using fruit bought in by Victorian growers. Up to fourteen different dessert varieties are used, with Granny Smith being their base cider of choice. From mere humble and experimental beginnings of using kitchen juicers and using 10 litres fermenters in the laundry, Tin Shed is now made in 2000 litre batches. All in stainless steel tanks in their purposely built cidery. The portfolio consists of a dry still, sparkling dry, sweet still and sweet sparkling. The still ciders are fermented then matured for nine months before bottling, and the sparkling’s made in more commercial fashion.

This review will feature the Tin Shed Sweet Sparkling and the Tin Shed Sweet Still.  

Tin Shed – Sweet Still
Another still to taste! Yay! The still is bottled with no filtration. On pouring, a slightly cloudy liquid poured into the glass with no hint of fizz. The nose was chocked full of five fruits tin fruit syrup, ripe bruised apples with a distinctive mango aroma. It smelt sweet and very estery. What I did see was hints of germanium fault. This fault comes about by the metabolism of potassium sorbate by lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Hygiene is critical in cider making. If a cider is to be matured for an extended period of time, the cider needs to be protected. SO2 needs to be maintained to inhibit the growth of LAB or any other nasties. I did see some acetic acid too, most likely produced again by LAB or acetobactor. Cider cannot be exposed to air, as these bacterium will take over. According to cider guru Andrew lea, the term 'L'air est l'ennemi mortel du cidre' or 'The air is the deadly enemy of cider' is a famous French Cidermaker saying. So some critical technical flaws here by the makers. I found the nose super rustic and rough around the edges. But funnily enough, I fell in love with it. It actually showed personality. Not bland and boring. There was so much to think about. It reminded me of a complex traditional scrumpy cider where there were no limits or boundaries. Just fermented apple juice left to its own devises – no more no less.

The palate had a viscous syrup feel to it. What I loved was the freshness and the structural Grannie acid zing. Some great flavour with lashings of juicy peaches and sweet mangoes. Very tropical indeed, with tonnes of off dry weight. There was a lick of VA on the back palate, and the geranium fault also followed onto the palate. A slight yeasty aftertaste rounded out proceedings. There was a nice balance here. Actually quite enjoyable.
I love my ciders feral and funky. Hence Brittany is my most prized region. This was like Farmhouse Brittany meets Herefordshire scrumpy with a Aussie twist. Yes there were faults (I am not condoning that), but they were balanced and not out of control. I turned a blind eye to this as I found it thoroughly interesting. There is definitely room for improvement in the production side of this. Techniques and procedures do need to be cleaned up. Mr Average Joe might think it’s a disaster, but I see the beauty. Nice drop.  

14 / 20

Tin Shed - Sparkling Still
This cider was made more to mimic a commercial cider, with artificial carbonation and a medium sweetness. A light straw colour, with a low level of carbonation was observed in the glass……… Unfortunately, this was the best part of this cider. I’ll paint a word picture for you. One fully loaded semi-trailer truck going 100km/hr one direction. Another fully loaded semi-trailer truck going 100km/hr going the other direction. One veers onto the other side of the road and smashes into the other creating a force the size of 10 nuke bombs! BOOOOOOMMM! I am sorry, but the cider is very much like what I described – a catastrophic disaster.  

Dear me, what went wrong? In my notes I couldn’t even write decent descriptors for the nose. The best I could come up with was poorly aged white wine. To me this cider seemed mould affected. Like bacteria took over the ferment. All I can put it down to was potentially mouldy fruit and extremely unhygienic cider making. I have never seen a cider like this before.  More to the story here I think.
The palate didn’t get any better. Harsh and metallic carbonation made tasting the cider very unpleasant. Don’t laugh, but it tasted like West Coast Cooler. Oh the 90’s! The acid was extremely disjointed, and the fruit was stewed to high heaven. Zero flavour too. I think something has majorly gone wrong with this cider.

Sadly that’s all I can write here. I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and not rate this cider. Unfortunately sub 10 would be the go here. I even contemplated not posting this review. I just hope it was a batch issue and not just sub-par cider making skills, as this was majorly flawed. Like it was made by a novice home brewer. There are some issue in the ciders which need to be addressed. I hope the correct QA and experience will get on top of this for Tin Shed. I love their story and want to see them succeed. There still cider showed so much promise. Let’s hope in future batches we see what they are really capable of.    

Producer: Tin Shed Cider
Style: Australian Modern / Cloudy Still
Country: Australia (Tolmie, Victoria)
Alcohol: 4.9% / 6.0%

*Pictured is the complete Tin Shed Cider range. I will review the two dry ciders soon!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Dock Apple Cider

In my recent review of the Brady's Lookout MT Ciders, I started off by saying "I always really enjoy seeing new Tasmanian ciders hit the market". In hindsight, maybe I should have rephrased that perhaps? A little more on the lines of "I always really enjoy seeing new, interesting and boundary pushing Tasmanian cider hit the market"??? Because I am in a situation where a new cider called Dock Cider has come across my desk and it's a tad worrying. Another one of these spin off batches made for a customer in the style of a sweet, carbonated and filtered apple drink. Gosh, am I being a touch too harsh here, and just judging a book by its cover? Well not exactly as I love the 'cover' or label, as I am a passionate Fremantle Dockers supporter. So anything with an anchor and I am sold. But I worry that the contents in the bottle is just another ho-hum cider with zero personality or originality. Just another cider which you can add to the ever growing medium sweet Australian dessert apple bracket.

So this cider I believe is made at Winemaking Tasmania exclusively for Mures Seafood based in Hobart. Mures are a family seafood industry heavyweight in Tasmania, with their ethos based around locality and freshness. Great attributes for a cider too. The company fish local waters, produce gourmet seafood products, and have a restaurant in Hobart. I can definitely see why they got into cider. Local Tassie fruit, fresh and perfect with seafood. However does Tasmania ever have a summer or is it always blindly cold down there? Because when I picture cider and seafood, I picture a balmy 35 degree summer day. Sorry shouldn't take cheap shots at Tassie, I am from South Australia so that's nothing to be overly proud of. But I think this is a clever strategy from Mures, so good on them.   

As I said previously, I love the packaging. Classy, bold yet retains a sense of simplicity. I love those dark O-I glass 330mL bottles too. I believe other producers like Red Brick Road, D Cider and Willie Smiths are also using them. Like them a lot. So enough of the outside, and more on the inside.

Super light in colour, with a smaller amount of carbonation in the glass. Big tick for me with the carbonation. Big, big, big hits of floral musk smack you in the face like an Muhammad Ali left hook to the face. Glorious. Rich ripe and super juicy apples follow on with persistent jabs to the rib cage. Aromatic to buggery. I can't get over the crunchiness too. Just like a new season red apple. Highly impressed here. Reductive style, perfectly capturing the apples in the bottle. Impressive.

Crunchy bright flavours hit you on the front palate, with more hints of musk and floral bite. Sadly to the ciders detriment, the palate then falls into a clumsy knee buckling wash of wateriness and flabbiness which throws out the mouth feel. Like a K.O. in the first round. No real acid structure for the large amount of medium sweetness. The flavour dissipates, and no real length is observed. Shame as the nose was such a killer. Just too out of balance and slightly awkward. No interesting features, just designed for long drinking sessions one would think. Not the worst I've seen by a long shot, but still a touch off the mark.     

In the grand scheme of things, this cider nails the brief. I am critiquing this cider to an inch of its life, but Mr Joe Bloggs at Mures restaurant tucking into a mega lobster tail doesn't. It's fresh, simple and as straight forward as cider can get. But it's perfectly light enough to drink without a care in the world. Exactly what is was designed to do. The nose is a ripper. Couldn't fault it. The palate was the issue, but I am sure this cider will be a popular addition.

Should I have been worried to begin with? Nope. Just me being a little too precious me thinks......

Producer: Mures Tasmania
Style: Australian Modern (Medium)
Country: Australia (Hobart, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 5.0 %

Rating: 12.5/20 (nudging 13)


321 Cider - 2013 Traditional Still

I was having lunch with a respected Sydney wine distributor the other day, and we got onto the topic of cider. He mentioned how much of a hard sell still cider is out in the market. He contained to explain that no one really wants it as it's not the style punters are looking for. I really found this interesting, as Australia is built on such a robust wine culture in the restaurant scene. A still done correctly can arguably match and mimic an Australian white wine in my eyes. But it's the scope of the cider industry which is built upon Aussie moderns which the punters are looking for. So the poor old still gets the shaft. God help me if I heard someone say "Where's the sugar and why is there no bubbles in this?". But I can think of several Australian brands who's stills are fantastic and so utterly enjoyable. It's always such a refreshing change to tackle a good quality still. as opposed to a artificially carbonated, sweet modern dessert cider. Wish other people thought like that..... 

Now this leads me to a new producer 321 Cider, out of Learmonth in central Victoria. Their home page on the website which reads like this:

"We are a family owned boutique cider company located in Learmonth, Victoria.
Our Cider Apples are grown on the family farm, then hand-picked to be lovingly crafted into a traditional style of cider. Our Cider is made from REAL apples of TRADITIONAL cider varieties, producing beautiful complex flavours in our cider. We hope you enjoy our cider as much as we enjoy making it! Cheers!"

Oh dear god! My language!! Just reading those words gets me excited. These are the producers I want on my website. Honest, real cider artisans using real fruit with respect. Boom!These are the types of producers which keep the cider fire inside burning. Cider has been made at 321 for sometime, with over 1000 cider fruit trees being organically grown and attended to on their Spring Vale Farm in Victoria. Over 20 different varieties are grown including Michelin, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black and Browns. They produce a Traditional Still bottled under screw cap in 375mL bottles. This cider has won awards at the Australian Cider Awards and Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards, so it has pedigree. Very traditional labels too which remind me of a cider out of the depths of Herefordshire. Love it. Now to the cider!     

It’s always an interesting feeling opening up a cider and hearing no “schhhhhhh” from the fizz being released. You’re immediate reaction is “is it flat?? Oh bugger!”  On opening the 321 Traditional Still, it weirdly felt like I was opening up a fine Riesling or something. Pouring into the glass, there was no volcanic eruption of CO2, just a gorgeous subdued bright yellow straw liquid. You know it’s going to be a handy cider when you can smell the aromatics immediately on pouring.

The nose shows delicate stone fruits, with musk and heavy hits of floral sweetness. Stone fruits you say?  Well you get the whole spectrum here. Honey dew, rock melon, nectarines and peaches. A plethora of rich vibrant characters. The cider fruit is really singing being so open and generous. As wanky as it sounds, the nose reminds me of spring time. You know the whole blossoms in an orchard kind of way….. Shows you carbonation is not needed to lift the fruit sometimes. Green tinges on the edges and you have one clean and crisp nose.

On tasting, this cider is very ‘wine like’ in structure. It almost reminds me of a young fresh Viognier. A clean and crisp linear backbone adds balances with just a cat’s whisker of fruit sweetness. Some confectionary and nectar flavours are soft and inviting along with some developed toasty characters. The flavour does wash out towards the end, leading into a phenolic and dry finish. Perhaps the carbonation would have helped here? But to be honest, the palate weight holds up well without the continual bombardment of bubbles and foam. In the end you have a focused and straightforward mouth feel here, but a damn decent still cider none the less

This 321 Traditional still confirms that’s there are some smashingly tidy still’s being made in Australia. Just the pure fact these producers are double crossing the norm of ultra-fizzy, sweet Aussie moderns is great. I think wine drinkers would really appreciate this too. In the end, a simple cider but flavoursome, refreshing and a killer with food. What more do you want? Go fetch me some oysters!!!
(I will be reviewing 321 Cider’s Methode Traditionelle in the coming week, so stay tuned for that!)

Producer: 321 Cider
Style: Still (Dry)
Country: Australia (Learmonth, Victoria)
Alcohol: 7.4%

Rating: 16/20


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Brady's Lookout Cider - 2014 Methode Traditionelle Premium and Wild

I always really enjoy seeing new Tasmanian ciders hit the market. In the past, I have made it pretty clear I have a soft spot for the apple isle. There’s some real innovation happening courtesy of some stellar cider minds - Karina Dambergs (Red Brick Road), Clive Crosssley (Red Sails), John Cole (Wilmot Hills), Mark Robertson (Lost Pippin) to name a few. Chris and Caroline Brown from Brady’s Lookout Cider are two names which could easily fit into this category of skilled cider custodians. Their resume is impressive. From studying cider making in England, to visiting cider regions in England, France and Germany. This is the sort of thing I like to see. A producer actively going out of their way to learn the skill of cider making. Why not learn from the best cider making countries?!
Brady’s Lookout is located in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominated region of the Tamar Valley, just outside of Launceston, Tasmania. Here Chris and Caroline have a functioning cider mill, with an apple orchard currently under development. This orchard will eventually consist of both culinary and cider apple varieties. They currently pick their own fruit in the Tamar Valley, and use it to produce their line-up of Methode Tradionelle ciders. The portfolio currently sits with two ciders, one being fermented with earlier season fruit and commercial yeast (Premium Cuvee), and a second with mid-season fruit and wild yeast (Wild Cuvee). All riddled and hand disgorged, the Browns produce in their words “light, dry effervescent ciders”. Traditional techniques are used in the production, with a twelve month maturation in bottle upon release. Now we’re talking!! Both ciders sit at a whopping 9.4 per cent alcohol and bottled in a 750mL. Great presentation too. Love it.   

Wild Cuvee
The cider pours into the glass with a nice foam mousse, with large bubbles and fine bead. The golden straw colour is impressive and the disgorging ensures a clean finish. The nose is brimming with strawberries and cream with a seamless floral edge. Could whiff this for hours. A hint of a soapy wash leads into a funky twang courtesy of the wild yeast. Complex and fresh are key here. Great all round first impression, and shows cultured yeasts are not always best.
The palate is just as impressive. Lean mid-season picked fruit gives backbone, which is balanced well with just a tiny dab of what could be tirage sweetness. Toffee apples and confectionary flavours appears to linger with small hints of apple seed bitterness. A monster alcohol hit towards the back palate gives weight closing with a refreshingly dry finish. A really nice alternative to Champagne in my eyes.
Great little tipple. Well made, and shows the complexities of a wild ferment. This gets the big thumbs up.


Premium Cuvee
This cider pours a shade darker than the wild, with a little less carbonation (or “Lighter in Fizz” in my tasting notes). However, a nice mousse is present and again nice and clear from the disgorging. The nose gives off a distracting cooked note, similar to burnt toffee. Hard to get past it. But dig deep and a small hit of spice, and under ripe floral apples are present. Lacks the complexity and finesse of the wild. Commercial yeast strains should give fresh primary apple aromas. Also no real yeasty notes from the twelve months bottle maturation pre disgorging. Bummer.

Super delicate apple flavours on the palate, with good structure and focus. Hints of back palate bitterness, and texture are shimmers of light in a palate which lacks the ‘flavour punch’ of the wild cuvee. This cider is so much more lean and fragile. Positively, it holds the high alcohol well.

Unfortunately this cider was a bit off the mark for me. It fell a touch short and was out classed by its wild sibling. However it was clean and fault free, and did show some good technique. I would just like to see it with more gusto, seeing as its labelled “Premium”. Great effort none the less.


Producer: Brady's Lookout
Style: Methode Traditionelle (Dry)
Country: Australia (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 9.4%


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Gwatkin - Medium Farmhouse Yarlington Mill

It’s not every day you can say you get to relive something off your cider bucket list. By this I mean I got the opportunity to taste another of the Gwatkin's wonder creations from Herefordshire, England. If you can remember, I recently reviewed their single varietal Kingston Black. The cider blew my socks off with its character and complexity. Here’s a snippet of the introduction.
“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 most 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 ciders as real, custodian cider”. 

The single varietal dry farmhouse Kingston Black cider set the bench mark really high for me. I got to taste the Gwatkin's philosophy first hand. Personally, this was unbelievably special as Australian cider lovers don’t have access to this type of real cider. Along with the Kingston Black, I also recently got the opportunity to taste their Medium Farmhouse Yarlington Mill cider. Yarlington Mill you say??.....well.
The bittersweet Yarlington Mill, characterised by its yellow colour, pinkish blush and red stripes, is one of the most commonly planted cider apple across the world. The apple variety was discovered in 1898 in the wall of a water mill in Yarlington, Somerset. Outside the UK, the variety has widespread popularity with large plantings in New England and the Pacific Northwest of America, Quebec in Canada, and Victoria and Tasmania in Australia. The success of Yarlington Mill can be linked to its ability to adapt to surrounding conditions, and be a reliable and productive bearer (although fireblight is its arch enemy!). It's later ripening in the UK, with picking tending to be around late October to early November. The popularity amongst Cidermakers is due to the strong rich flavours the apple exhibits in single varietal ciders. Lower in acid and tannins are also a common Yarlington Mill trait.

The carbonation is light, and the colour is a beautiful golden tawny. The nose hits you with bucket loads of sweet candied apple, spice, honey, raisins and cedar. Some oxidised earthy, dusty old barnyard notes add an element of layering complexity. A small waft of VA lifts the nose, along with what seems to be a whisky barrel character. All in all, superior nose. Big, broad and rich singing with wild fermented Yarlington Mill fruit. Big tick!
On tasting, you can’t help go past the thick and moreish natural sweetness. Where do I start? Toffee, spice and vanillin oak all come at you, it’s like Christmas in a bottle. These flavours funnily enough mimic a Pommeau de Normandie. There’s so much weight, with a long length of flavour and rounded structure. Acid is not so pronounced, however some fine tannins added texture. A slight metallic note is evident on the back palate, most likely brettanomyces derived. Wild ferment at its glorious best! How can so much be going on in a cider??!! Unbelievable and crazy addictive.

This is some quality cider here. Beautifully made at the Gwatkin's farm, and the Yarlington Mill fruit kicks butt. Yes the cider is a little lower in acid and tannin, but that’s the variety at play. Drinking this makes me want to pack my bags and head over to England again but this time for a cider vintage/harvest! It makes you want to get your hands dirty in apple pomace, sip away at freshly pressed juice and fill old barrels. Fantastic cider, made by true Cidermakers. Here’s cheers Gwatkin's!!     

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


Monday, 16 March 2015

Wilmot Hills Vineyards - 2014 Dry Cyder

When it comes to tasting new ciders, I love to go off the beaten track. I make it my mission to find ‘diamonds in the rough’, where quality boutique cider lurks in the shadows of the big mainstream spotlight. These artisan brands most often than not suffer from lower exposure, and certainly aren’t as well-known as popular commercial Australian ciders. But if you dig hard enough, what you’ll find is dedicated Cidermakers who have been producing cider back when cider was shunned and not taken seriously. We are talking the 80’s and 90’s in Australia, when the popularity dive post 70’s became apparent. However, in this time of hardship, cider apples where being planted and cider was still being produced. Fast forward to 2015, these cider producers are still perfecting their craft and now seeing the rewards. Rewards? Well people are now buying and enjoying cider! 

Wilmot Hills Orchard
One of these producers I talk about is John and Ruth Cole from Wilmot Hills Vineyards in Tasmania. They are situated in the scenic Wilmot Valley, which is just a short 40 minute drive from Cradle Mountain. Here, John and Ruth along with their cider produce wines, fruit wines and spirits including calvados (apple brandy). All the fruit is grown on their property, with over 20 years of experience. The Cole’s produce cider in their small cidery/distillery using fruit from their orchards. They hand mill the apples and press both in a rack and cloth ‘cheese’ press, and wine basket press. Although John describes the cheese method as “tedious and messy, though yielding more juice”. Their cider apples were planted in 1994, and the orchard now boasts varieties like Yarlington Mill, Somerset Red Streak, Bulmers Norman, Improved Foxwhelp, Sweet Alford and Sweet Coppin. In 1995, the Cole’s also planted other unique varieties like Claville Blanc de’Hiver, Duke of Clarence, Egleton Styre and trusty old Kingston Black. The Orchard also includes many more interesting varieties which go into their cider and calvados. John uses the neutral EC1118 yeast, most commonly known as a rigorous Champagne yeast to ferment his ciders. 

Milling in the cidery
So you can see why I was so intent on getting this cider in my possession. I was actually meant to get a bottle to review in the new Tasmania's Table book, but the cider wasn’t ready yet. Bummer! But once it was, John gladly sent me one - much to my delight. The reason I LOVE producers like this are that they are old school. They know cider. Experienced producers like John and Ruth are who I look for. People with a cider brain and a story. Who do it for the passion, and make it the right way. They are not caught up in fancy marketing, and gimmicky/quirky advertising. Just honest cider which has been made for many years.
The cider comes in a 750mL Riesling shaped bottle, with a stelvin cap closure. The presentation is beautiful, with a spectacular art work being the focal point. Now I usually review a cider, then you the reader gets the idea if I am digging it, or not. But today, I am coming straight out with it…….I LOVE THIS CIDER. 

Colour, colour, colour! What a sensational colour. A beautiful golden orange hue encases the glass, likely arising from oxidatively handled cider apples. The cider shows no activity being still. So now the fun bit. The nose is a concoction of freshness, complexity and fermented apple goodness. Lovely toasty notes and orange marmalade are intoxicating, along with fresh green apples and floral shine. Deeper down, lychees, bubble gum and hints of lemon balance well with a woody earthiness. How can a nose be so beautiful? My notes read “an absolute fruit bowl”. This is some serious gear, showing tonnes of personality and purity.
Apple pulp after pressing
On tasting, what hit me was the palate weight for a dry, still cider. Luscious and oh so generous. The mid palate juiciness was super impressive. There was not a huge amount of tannins which I was expecting, perhaps oxidised out. But the tannins and slight bitterness from the cider apples added the texture I yearn so much for in a good cider. Sweets, bittersweets and bittersharps signing together harmoniously. There was a nice lick of alcoholic heat (9%), with a rich nutty finish. I liken this to a quality apfelwein in structure and taste. Reminds me a lot of the Weidmann and Groh Trierer Weinapfel which I have reviewed on All About Cider. This is quality Australian cider! Arguably, this cider is creeping into apple wine territory with its wine like character and higher alcohol.

This is a rare gem of a cider in a sea of mainstream saturation and standardisation. The cider takes me on a cider journey (corny I know), as it tastes so traditional and you feel like you're walking through an orchard in Herefordshire. This is my type of cider. Honest, uncomplicated and unpretentious. Made for the right reasons, by real Cidermakers. Bliss.  

Producer: Wilmot Hills Vineyards
Country: Australia (Wilmot, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 8.4%

Rating: 19.5 out of 20


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Circle Cider

Well here’s a funny little story I must share. A normal, everyday guy named Nick Howard quits his day job and starts playing around with a bit of cider in Swindon, Wiltshire……...yes Wiltshire!! He begins sourcing surplus apples from run down, derelict orchards and trees from random Swindonite’s backyards. He fast gives the sad and sorry suburban trees a new lease of life, and gives the fruit purpose again. The cider which is made from this fruit then makes its way back to the orchards/trees owners – hence Circle Cider. From humble beginnings of a mere 40Ls in his first year, Nick and Circle Cider now produce up to 6000 litres of ethically made Swindon grown cider.


I absolutely love, adore, respect this concept. What a fantastic initiative which restores old fruit trees and gives them new life. Makes me wish I could do something like this here in South Australia. On the back of the Circle Cider labels is reads – “WE WANT YOUR APPLES, if you are near Swindon and have surplus apples, we would love to hear from you. Help us is our quest to make the best of what we already have”. Brilliant, absolutely bloody brilliant in my eyes. Circle Cider is currently in the process of securing distribution of their ciders throughout Australia, so let’s hope this is successful……we need more hand crafted English Cider to take it up to our Aussie interpretations!  
The Circle Cider range includes Cat’s Tongue (dry), Roundabout (Medium) and Butchers Boy (Sweet), all packaged in 500mL bottles. All hand made, and hand crafted by Nick himself in Swindon.

Cats Tongue – Dry (6.1%)

Nice amount of foamy fizzy on pouring into the glass, with a slightly cloudy orange hue. A real distinct soapy, almost French cider apple nose being floral with a lemony twang. It mirrors a Pays de Auge Brut with ease. Quite a complex nose, rich and generous and full of ripe cider apples. Beautifully rustic, right up my alley.
The palate is quite dry and somewhat sour, but the powdery tannins make it a real joy. This is what I love to see in a dry cider. There’s a decent amount of rustic apple flavour here, with an impressive heavier body. A little beery in the finish, with a nice long orange marmalade length. One of the better dry’s I’ve had in recent times.  

The Cat’s Tongue is a damn nice and refreshing dry. Stacked full of flavour and texture which I love. A modest 6.1 per cent makes this a wonderful session drink. Thoroughly enjoyed this.


Roundabouts – Medium (5.6%)
Quite a low level of carbonation here, with just the faintest bead in the glass. Filtered clear, yet still retains the orange hue. The nose is shrouded with wafts of reduction – she’s a bit pongy!! Grubby nose, with lighter hints of green apple. Perhaps made with old, gnarly low nitrogen trees/orchards?? There is some spiced apple aromas lurking in the background, which makes me think if the H2S wasn’t there, the nose would be sublime. (After 5 minutes swirling in the glass, the reduced notes blew off to reveal spiced cinnamon apple, clove and citrus – not too bad after all!)

A medium sweetness welcomes you on the first sip. Small hints of bitter tannins here, with a puckering, dry finish. Not as flavoursome as the dry, and the 5.8 per cent alcohol seems a touch low. A watered down and somewhat flabby finish, but easy drinking and perfect served draft. I could see this cider being popular with regular cider drinkers (minus the reductive nose).

Although not as impressive as the Cat’s Tongue, still a nicely sculpted cider. A couple little minor blemishes, but still a pretty solid cider. On a hot day, this would be in its element.

Butchers Boy – Sweet (7.0%)    

Almost still, with just the faintest bubble on pouring. Golden orange hue again. I may be wrong, but I am getting the feeling all three ciders are the same apples, but with differing amounts of residual and alcohol in them. A touch grubby again in the nose, but with the same spiced apple, rustic edge and lemony twang. This is a nice, bold and rich nose which reminds me of pure pressed out apple juice. Could sniff it for hours. Oddly enough, It also reminds me of the Le Pere Jules Pommeau de Normandie which I reviewed a year or so ago. Oaky, rich and almost raisin like in statue. Lovely.
A beautiful ripe apple sweetness dominates the flavoursome palate. Drying, powdery tannins take over the mid palate and continue on to the finish. A Splenda type mouthfeel stays with you once you have swallowed the cider. The small amount of carbonation adds that lick of excitement which lifts the palate. Nice and fresh with solids apple flavours. There is no sign of the 7 per cent alcohol, which makes me think this cider could slip down way too easily. Quite delicious really. The beauty is the sweetness never gets cloying. Funny how I find Aussie sweets get too sickly sweet, and traditional sweets don’t. Dessert vs. Cider apple perhaps??

A lovely interpretation of a sweet cider. Has everything I like to see, and has a high drinkability. The nose just needs to be cleaned up a touch, then this would be a killer cider (especially in the Australian climate).


Well there you have it. A great opportunity to go through the Circle Cider range. Really nice booze here, with a lot of potential. The bummer was the pongy noses, but these did blow off. Perhaps some CU++ needs to be used? I can really see this brand fitting into mainstream cider in Australia and competing well. They all have that drinkability which Australian’s look for. They are not typical, bland, boring contemporary Aussie moderns, but they are also not full on, confronting farmhouse traditional's. They are the perfect balance between the two and consumers will enjoy that.

Let’s hope we can see them in Australia soon! Thank you to Iva and Nathaniel (Australian Distributors) for giving me the opportunity to taste these ciders.

Producer: Circle Cider
Country: England (Swindon, Wiltshire)


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Three Farms Apple Cider

Over the past few months, I have been composing cider reviews for the soon to be released 2nd edition of Tasmania’s Table. I have luckily tasted and reviewed around fifteen or so ciders from all corners of the Apple Isle. I received an email from the editor asking if I could sneak in one final review for this newly released cider. The cider turned out to be Three Farms Cider, to which I had no knowledge of. Long story short, it was a collaboration between three farming families. The fruit for the cider was sourced from the Huon Valley, and made at Winemaking Tasmania. The cider was recently an added option at the Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed in Dunalley.  
On opening, the cider was super (and I mean SUPER) light in colour almost representing water…..not good in my eyes. However, the carbonation was light…….good in my eyes. Through my experience, the nose had that rich, ripe red floral fruit character which I find typical of many commercial Huon Valley ciders. It also displayed a green sour sob angle with a binding citrus twang. Overall, the nose was extremely representative of a basic/simple commercial dessert apple cider. Possibly too simple and one dimensional for my liking. But what would you expect from a cider made with cultured yeasts, reductive handling and sterile filtration? Plenty of this style out in the market at the moment. 
For me the real let down was the light palate structure. Somewhat confused, chalky and lacking in any sort of flavour. I remember as a kid we had a creek by our house, and in winter thousands of sour sobs would grow by the banks. I would pick a sour sob and chew on the stalk, and it would leave you with a green tart taste in my mouth. The Three Farms Cider reminded me of this. Acidity, green and lacking in flavour. Sadly, the flavour fell quite short, with no obvious back palate length. Yes, there was a touch of sweetness, but that diminished into the green malic acid. The carbonation was perfect though, and the 4.2 per cent alcohol made for easy drinking.   

To successfully compete in the ultra-competitive Aussie modern medium market, your cider better be chock-a-block full of flavour and class! Sadly, this cider was down the lower end of the scale, and I find is swamped in quality by its simple Winemaking Tasmania made cousins. Most importantly, the cider was clean and fault free and was drinkable. I don’t often comment on labels, as I know firsthand what it is like to design a brand, and proudly see in on a product you have invested so much time and money in. But with all due respect, the label is a big confusing, unfinished, Incredible Hulk mush up. Sorry guys, not a fan at all. However, you don’t judge a book by its cover! Personally I think this cider has a little ‘me too’ about it, and I firmly believe there are far better examples of Tassie cider. But I applaud them for using real Tasmania fruit, and giving it a go.

Producer: Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed (Three Farms Cider)
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 4.2%

Rating: 10 out of 20


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Rusty Bike - 2014 Apple Cider

Following on from the last review, we are sticking to my home state of South Australia for this next instalment. Around five months ago I received an email from Winemaker Michael Goulden from Rusty Bike Wines in the Adelaide Hills. Turns out Michael got bitten by the cider bug, and sourced some Adelaide Hills apple juice to produce 400L’s of 2014 apple cider. He kindly dropped off a few bottles to me, along with a few of his award winning wines too. Thank you Michael!!
The 2014 Rusty Bike Cider was made in quite a traditional and simplistic way. A nice cool ferment, with some time on lees then straight to bottle for secondary fermentation - no oak. I myself use this method for my Adams Orchard Cider side project. The secondary method produces dry, cloudy ciders with higher alcohols and fine bubble. The varieties used for the Rusty Bike cider are unknown, but Michael interestingly mentioned he will have access to cider fruit in the coming years, so I cannot wait to see what he does with them. The bottle was beautifully presented in a big, heavy 750mL Champagne bottle, with a charming little label.

When poured into a glass, a lovely mousse erupted then hastily died into a cloudy champagne style bead. It just looked so pristine and pure from the presentation in the glass. A slight waft of reduction blew off to reveal a crisp and focused nose of early picked green apples, citrus and nuttiness. It was likened to taking a fresh new season Granny Smith apple out the fridge and biting into it. A slight floral tinge added some depth. Although the nose was quite simple in stature, it was elegant and attentive.

As expected, the palate was bone dry yet full of life. It was super focused and very linear, with a nice soft apple flavour. The apple did fade somewhat into a sea of malic and tartaric acid, with slight bitterness and alcoholic heat on the back palate. No malo was carried out for this cider, so acidity was fairly high and tart. The carbonation excited the whole mouth feel and gave it a lively and effervescent personality. The palate was very Winemaker driven being crisp, focused and sharp in physique, almost youthful Semillon like.

What would be great is to see a sweeter Methode Traditionelle version of this style. But I applaud Michael’s first attempt at producing cider, he’s done a great job. Yes it is very Winemaker styled, but this would appeal heavily to the dryer styled cider lovers. It’s simple, clean, fresh and great served with a plate of hard cheeses.

Producer: Rusty Bike Wines
Country: Australia (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Alcohol: 6.7%

Rating: 15 out of 20

McLaren Vale Orchards - Apple Cider

Hello fellow cider geeks, lovers, nerds, enthusiasts! Happy 2015! After an extended break from All About Cider to pursue other cider related activities, I am back. Refreshed, more the wiser and keen to taste as much Cider, Cyder, Sider, Sidra, Sidro, Seidr and Apfelwein as possible. I am noticing more and more Australian cider brands pop up each month, so more for me to look at with a fine tooth coomb so to speak! Bring it on! So I am going to ease my way into it first up with a cheeky little cider made in my home state of South Australia, in the absolutely beautiful wine region of McLaren Vale. 
About a year or so ago, I received an email from a new craft cider producer in McLaren Vale, South Australia wanting me to take a look at their new product. They asked for any advice on improvements which could be applied to their first effort. I happily obliged and gave them some recommendations which I thought could bump up quality. I received an email months later asking if I wanted to try the new batch, with some of my recommendations supposedly put in place. Sadly on my part, the new batch arrived but was lost in my cider cellar (yes, I do have a cider cellar where I put surplus samples etc. from which I receive – more like museum stock). I recently came across it and had one of those “oh crap!” moments where I realised I had misplaced the sample. Well here I am today on a 40 degree day and tasting ciders, so thought it was a great opportunity to pen some notes.  

McLaren Vale Orchards are run by Mark and Lisa McCarthy, who grow an array of produce like avocados, cherries, stonefruit, grapes, apples and pears. From the information I received on the cider, it was made under guidance from Goodison Brewery and young McLaren Vale Winemaker Tom O’Donnell. The cider itself is made from 7 or so differing varieties including Royal Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Pink Lady, Lady Williams and Sundowner. Did someone day liquorice allsorts?? The apples are milled, and basket pressed with eight months time on lees – my kind of cider!! The finished cider is all wrapped up into a neatly presented, commercial styled cider filtered and forced carbed. It can be found at the Wayville, Willunga and Victor Harbor markets and well as their Orchards production house in McLaren Vale.
The colour gave off a nice deep straw colour with a light carbonation. Rich, ripe red apple flesh, and copious amounts of pineapple leaped out the glass. It seemed quite Huon Valley in stature and in intensity, so that was a big positive. Once the glass warmed up, more farmhouse notes of cheesy funk, fungus and earthiness crept through. Pure example of commercial meeting undertones of farmhouse.

The palate was very ‘time on lees’ dominant. Creamy textures rounded out the mouthfeel and made it quite soft. There was just a hint of sweetness, but essentially the cider finished dry with some mouth-watering acidity. The flavour did fall somewhat sort, leaving a gap in the mid palate. Kills me to say it, but perhaps a little more residual would have taken this cider to the next level. The higher 5.9 per cent alcohol was all in balance, and the lower carbonation was spot on.
So really a sound, simple little cider which shows small hints of complexity making it interesting and unique. It’s not a cider which is wall to wall apples and freshness, but the creaminess does add personality. I wish these guys well in their cider venture. By the way, the Barossa Valley makes better reds!!!  

Producer: McLaren Vale Orchards
Country: Australia (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Alcohol: 5.9%

Rating: 12.5 out of 20