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%