Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cider in Variation

For a large period of my teens cider was my choice of alcoholic beverage. It was cheap, palatable and most importantly, intoxicating. After I began to discover the wonders that lurked in the world of beer I gave up on cider, dismissing it as a simple quencher and intoxicator without any of the complexity that made beer so exciting. The cider I knew of course was New Zealand cider, fermented from eating apples stabilized and fermented with wine yeast, a process that creates a clean but uncomplicated drink. It wasn’t until several years ago when a couple of bottles of Weston’s cider appeared on the shelf next to the imported beers at Regional Wines that I was introduced to the complexity of traditional English cider. It was immediately evident traditional English cider was something I would enjoy. Unlike NZ cider the offerings from Somerset were made with tannic English Cider apple varieties, and were fermented with the natural yeast from the apples skins. These complex tannic funky ciders stood up to the beers of Belgium in terms of complexity and perilously, tended to be far more drinkable, they could be both refreshing in the summer and warming in the winter.

More recently New Zealand has started to produce some fantastic ciders. While Steve Nally from Invercargill Brewing Co has done much to spread the appeal of cider amongst the beer drinkers with his very good ‘kiwi’ style cider, Three Rivers in the Wairarapa and Martin Townshend in the Moutere Valley have both started producing some outstanding traditional ciders pressed from cider apple varieties. After a summer of drinking cider (SWMBO is a big fan of traditional cider as well) I decided I would do a few tastings to show just how diverse cider can be. I tasted across the board taking in simple NZ ciders and cheap canned English ciders that I normally wouldn’t touch through to some of the very complex long established English and French ciders and of course taking in the products of the new traditional NZ. producers. So here it is Cider in Variation:

First up I decided to hunt out an English cider that I was relatively sure would be Sh#t! After all I was looking to cover the range of variation in the cider world. No I won’t be reviewing Carling Black Label next week.

Symonds Scrumpy Jack 6%

Can, Pours a pale gold with a white head. Aroma features crisp apple with a hint of sulphur. On the palate there is a sweet start with a tart note an up the nose sulphur note a vinous character and an abrupt finish. Not very complex, cheap English cider..

Next I took a cider that pretty much represents the norm in New Zealand Cider, clean , white wine like and refreshing, just not very interesting.

Brightstone Classic 5%

Super pale, almost soda water coloured, with a wispy disappearing head. Aroma features a dominant white wine note, with crisp apple. On the palate there was loads of sweetness with a hint of apple fruit, a short finish. Decent quencher, classic NZ Style cider.

Steve Nally from Invercargill is a one man campaign for cider (as well a being an enthusiastic proponent of hugs). Steve has done probably more that anyone else in this country to spread the word for cider amongst the beer community, his cider is of the New Zealand style, a fine example it is, however he does play with oaking portions of the harvest in order to introduce some tannins.

Nally’s Cider 5%

Pours a light gold with a thin white head. Aroma features apple fruit, a minerally note, and a vinous character. On the palate there is medium sweet apple fruit, a mineral note and a clean quick finish. Decent NZ style cider.

And on to the decent English ciders all three are awesome, I wish I had a cask of each of them so I could put them on draft.

Westons Stowford Press Medium Dry 4.5%

Pours a clear mid gold with a wispy white head. Aroma features a musty character, hints of leather, and a sweet apple note. On the palate there is sweet apple, a hint of musty wood, and a dry finish.

Sheppys Dabinett 7.2%

Pours a mid gold with a disappearing lace. Aroma features applewood, a touch of tannic plastic, a warm character. On the palate there is rich sweet apple, warm alcohol, loads of woody tannin leading to a medium dry finish. The evident alcohol would make this a good winter warmer.

Sheppys Kingston Black 7.2%

Pours a mid gold with a disappearing head. Aroma features a complex blend of crisp apple, oaky tannin, and a touch of wild ferment. On the palate crisp apple , tannin and a wild astringent note lead to a solid sour finish. Fantastic cider, dangerously drinkable.

The French tend to halt their fermentations early leaving a full bodied sweet apple character and a lower abv. Like the English they use cider apples and often wild ferment. This particular cider is a revelation particularly with funky washed rind cheese.

Le Pere Jules Brut 5%

Pours a murky rustic gold with a raging carbonation driven head which abruptly collapses 1/2 way through drinking. Aroma features a complex blend of tannic wood, hint of plastic, wild ferment notes and a rich apple fruit character. On the palate there is sweet juicy red ripe apple fruit, loads of oaky tannin, a spicy wild note and a tart long finish. Awesome French cider.

Three Rivers cider from the Cider House in the Wairapapa produce some outstanding cider. I wish I could get a cask of the spritzed it really is fantastic.

Three Rivers Spritzed 7%abv

Pours a mid gold with a frothy white head. Aroma features spicy marzipan, red apple. caramel, and a hint of tannic woodyness. On the palate there is a full bodied medium sweet apple character followed a hint of tannin, apple fruit, and a smooth lasting finish. Fantastic cider.

Three Rivers Still 6.7%abv

Pours a mid gold with no head. Aroma features fresh apple, and a touch of tannin. The palate is dry and sour right from the start a hint of apple wood develops leading to a long sour finish. One for the acid heads!.

Last year I was in the Nelson region while judging at the NZIBA, after the work had finished we got out of town and visited some breweries around the place. The most interesting was the farmhouse operation called Townshends. Not only does Martin Townshend brew a range of real ales but he also makes a traditional wild ferment cider each year. I returned this year and brought back some beers and some cider, rest assured his brewery will be the subject of a piece I’m currently writing. This years vintage was not the ‘brett basket’ that last years was, and was still rather than the aggressive carbonation of last years. While it wasn’t as complex as last years it was a lot more drinkable, and stood head and shoulders above the Three River Still Cider.

Townshend Rosedale Cider 2008 7%abv

Pours a light hazy gold with no head. Aroma features caramel, cloves, a hint of cinnamon and bubblegum, curiously like a wheat beer. On the palate the spicy phenolic character continues with a hint of sweet red apple and a resounding short tart finish which begged another sip. Drinkable and complex.


Cabbage Tree Farm said...

Hi Kieran, thanks for your helpful info on the ciders. My name is Bridget and I also hail from England. I love living in NZ but do miss the real cider. Lived in Somerset and Devon for a while so enjoyed some great cider while I was there. Have been looking for where to buy good quality cider in NZ and your review helped me, I've now found a website where I can purchase some Sheppy's online (World Beers Direct). Bit pricey but at least they sell it! cheers

Anonymous said...

There is a real cider festival in a village around 10 miles from my house this post has made me look forward to it even more than I was already.

I'm a dedicated beer man but there is something quite special about sipping real cider in the sunshine.

Dean said...

Thanks for a great blog and potentially saving my life, I've been tearing my hair out trying to find some decent Zider here in NZ as I have a hoards of family members coming over in December for my wedding and as we hail from Somerset I think they would beat me to death for serving them with usual mainstream fizzy apple juice that is sold as "cider" here.
Looks like Townshend brewery will be getting a call from me very soon as they sell 20L barrels, outstanding!!!