In Cider Information
Other than bantering puns like “cider house rules!” or the other common play on Dicken’s Cider, it would be a lot of fun to track the spread of ideas/cultural influence in the world through the alcoholic beverage route.
It’s surprising that cider isn’t more popular in hot muggy Singapore. Kids (of legal age) should realise this is miles better than sugary, preservative and artificial flavouring and colour-laden alco-pops and you can plead anti-oxidants. Hopefully the good stuff reaches the mainstream before the hipsters claim it for themselves.
To celebrate the impending wedding of someone fond of cider, rounded up a fair sampling of available bottles on the island. Somehow, none of them tasted like the West Country scrumpy i was reminiscing about recently.*
In my probably West Country tradition-biased opinion, i reckon a good cider, like the wines I like, should be strong tasting stuff, have the right balance of sweetness and acidity, be full-bodied with good tannins, have an interesting range of flavours (character?), long finish. Neutral on cloudiness. Wouldn’t expect apple ciders to taste like apple juice anymore than i’d expect wine to taste like grape juice.
(Kept clear of white ciders, like Gaymer Cider Company’s Diamond White, White Star and Blackthorn, and didn’t think it necessary to try Strongbow Cider, Woodpecker Cider, or Savanna Dry again. We’ve all been there.)
Like wine, the taste of cider is determined by many factors including the raw material (apple cultivar, terroir, and vintage), how apple pulp is obtained, how apple juice is extracted, type of yeast used for fermentation, fermentation method, distillation process, carbonation method, filtration process, and maturation process and length. Ciders can be classified dry, medium dry, or sweet depending on how far along the brewer allows fermentation to go. Unfortunately, scraps of information about all these things are rather few and far between for many ciders.
First up, the non-flavoured English and Irish, represented mainly by Thatchers and Westons for the English, and Magners for the Irish. I don’t understand the official instructions to enjoy these over ice – they’re rather low on flavour so the ice merely makes for a refreshing drink of some vague sweetness and carbonation without character.
In 1904, William Thatcher started making cider for workers on his farm in Sandford, North Somerset. The company is still managed by the Thatcher family and is one of the largest independent producers of cider in England. The apples are grown on the family farm, milled, subject to slow cool fermentation process, then matured in 100-year old wooden vats made from English oak. The premium range, says Thatchers, is gluten and dairy free…
Thatchers Gold Somerset Cider (4.8%, 500ml, S$7.50 at TSA Wines, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines) was medium dry, fairly thin on the palate, though not as “subtle” as the Aussies. Slight apple taste. Altogether pleasant.
Thatchers Green Goblin Cider (6%, 500ml, S$7.50 at TSA Wines, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines). Produced by Thatchers but sold under Wychwood Brewery brand (nifty artwork). Medium dry. “Green Goblin is a full bittersweet style of cider, using all English cider apples, including Dabinett and Somerset Redstreak varieties.”
Thatchers Old Rascal Cider (4.5%, 500ml, S$8.00 at TSA Wines, unavailable at East of Avalon Wines when i visited, 6x500ml for S$51 at Winelah!, also at The Good Beer Company). Medium dry. “Old Rascal is a fine bittersweet cider, produced from some of Somerset’s best cider apples, Dabinett and Redstreak. Aged in our oak vats, Old Rascal is made from a traditional Thatchers recipe. Its popularity as a session cider is combined with all the hallmarks of a distinctive Thatchers product full of flavour and a West Country apple bite.”
Thatchers Katy Somerset Cider (7.4%, 500ml, S$8.50 at TSA Wines, was unavailable at East of Avalon Wines when i visited, S$107 for 12 at Winelah!, also at The Good Beer Company) – i hesitated picking this up because the artwork on the label was rather reminiscent of Desperate Housewives and possibly made to be appealing to women. A single variety cider – Katy apples fermented in oak. You won’t feel the 7.4% – fragrant, a light taste of apples, too restrained for me.
Henry Westons 2010 Vintage Oak Aged Herefordshire Cider (8.2%, 500ml, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines). Medium dry. “A very special Cider made from top quality cider apples of a single year’s crop. Matured in old oak vats and then selected by our Master Cider Maker as the very best of the year’s vintages. Full bodied and rich in flavour.” Rather sweeter, less layers than expected.
Henry Westons Extra Dry Oak Aged Herefordshire Cider (6.5%, 500ml, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines, S$8.30 from The Beer Club.com.sg). “A very dry, crisp tasting cider. Fermented and matured in old oak vats to develop its very special character and flavour.” Extra dry indeed with little hint of apple, though not particularly bitter. You can taste the oak in this one. Remarkably short finish.
Westons Premium Organic Cider (500ml, 6.5%, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines). Now known as “Wyld Wood Organic Classic Cider“. “This cider is produced using organic cider apples and matured in old oak vats which results in an easy to drink cider with a ripe apple aroma and a refreshing well balanced taste.” Light apple aroma follows through to palate, medium dry.
Another one from the Westons stable: “Stowford Press is an honest and down-to-earth every day cider. Medium dry and slowly matured to develop a light, bitter sweet cider with a fruity character. Lightly sparkling with a ripe, fresh aroma bursting with apples.” Pleasant enough, not very bitter or sweet or sparkling. Short finish. Inoffensive.
Merrydown Medium Cider (7%, a whooping 750ml (scaled down from 1000ml!), S$12-ish at Cold Storage Jelita) won the International Cider Challenge back in 2010. “Merrydown cider is crammed with two times more apples than conventional cider. Plus, unlike other ciders, we only use the juiciest eating apples. It all adds up to a big appley taste that sets it apart from other ciders. Brewed to a traditional Sussex recipe and fermented with yeast from the Champagne-Ardenne region, it’s perfect all-year round.”
The Orchard Pig Lightly Sparkling Medium Cider (6.5%, 500ml, screwcap, S$8.50 at Cut The Mustard (facebook), Greendale, Greenwood). Not a normal medium dry this – the tannins pucker the lips a bit, very full fermented aroma, light apple juice in the aftertaste. They make a very crisp apple juice too.
The confusingly named Perry’s Real Somerset Cider (an apple cider from some guy named Perry, not perry the pear cider’s cider)(6%, 500ml, S$9.50 at Cut The Mustard (facebook), Greendale, Greenwood). “Our vintage ciders are specially pressed from the best apples of the autumn harvest. Before being matured for at least 12 months in vintage port and sherry barrels to fully develop the ciders unique character and flavour. The resulting cider is blended with our Somerset Dabinett cider to produce a lightly sparkling full bodied and well balanced medium cider.”
Magners Original Irish Cider (4.5%, 330ml, S$8.95 at Cold Storage Jelita, 24 x 330ml for S$108 at 6 Drunk Men) has been brewed in Ireland’s County Tipperary since 1935. Made from 17 varieties of apples (no concentrates), it’s cold-fermented and matured in oak vats, producing a deep-orange colour and a rich fermented aroma. Thatchers apparently supplies some apple juice to Magners, but the result is rather acidic and not quite as flavourful. A bit more information about the mainly Bramley apple ingredients, yeast used etc here.
Magners is sold in Ireland as Bulmers Irish Cider, but as Magners Irish Cider in England where there is already a Bulmers Cider. The bottle we find in supermarkets in Singapore is Bulmers Original Cider (S$8.55 at Carrefour Plaza Singapura, S$9.35 at Cold Storage Harbourfront), made by HP Bulmer in England – you can read the story behind all this here.
Val de Rance Cidre Bouché Doux Cru Breton (S$5 a glass at Skinny Pizza), “made from 100% thick-skinned small apples”.
Various cidres also available in creperies all around Singapore.
All samples came a pale yellow, in 330ml bottles instead of 500ml ones.
Coldstream Apple Cider (“Crushed in the Yarra Valley, Cool Fermented and Cold Filtered”, 5%, 330ml, S$5.50 at East of Avalon Wines) yeasty on the nose in a good way. According to The Age’s interview with head brewer, Rod Williams, “the apples – a blend of dessert apples, including pink lady, gala, jonathan and granny smith, all grown in the Wonga Park and Coldstream areas – were to be crushed in a traditional “rack and cloth” cider press…[then] fermented with a champagne yeast and, afterwards, undergoes six to eight weeks of cold conditioning at close to zero degrees.”
Napoleon & Co Yarra Valley Apple Cider (“Cider by Winemakers”, 330ml, Huber’s Butchery, Tuck Lee) happened when the Napoleone family, owners of Victoria’s Punt Road Winery, decided to ferment the apples in their orchards. This dry cider was also fairly yeasty – evident even through triple cream cheese. “This unique apple blend has been hand-crafted using fruit from the Napoleone family’s Yarra Valley orchards, established in 1948. The combination of apple varieties delivers a unique flavour and the ideal balance of acidity, sweetness and tannins. The varieties include – Pink Lady, Fuji, Granny Smith and Sundowner apples. All fresh fruit with no juice concentrate! Fermented using a Rhone Valley white wine yeast…”
Somersby Apple Cider (4.7%, 4 x 330ml for S$16.80 at NTUC). Not quite apple cider as apple spritzer? 15% apple juice + 4.7% alcohol + glucose syrup + (natural apple) flavouring + preservatives + caramel colour. “Natural taste”. Yup, tastes like a mild sweet slightly carbonated apple juice so you don’t feel the alcohol.
Brothers Bittersweet Apple Cider (5.5%, 500ml, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines). “This cider has no pears but plenty of juice from the most bittersweet apples we could find. Full of flavour this is a refreshing and crisp medium dry cider.” Sweet, no dryness. Only very light apple taste. The girls liked this, what more can i say.
Not quite a fan of flavoured cider – a real pity if the cider was good to start with and a waste of calories if the flavour was added to hide a bad batch. But they are crazily popular with the girls, so i got a few. This is the manner of cider from Sweden (eg. Koppaberg) and of the Showering Brothers from the UK.
The Showering Brothers (progeny of the Babycham couple) of the UK are the only people i know doing flavoured ciders on a large enough scale to rival Koppaberg. Surprisingly, the flavours do actually work rather well without becoming cloying:
Brothers Toffee Apple Cider (4%, 500ml, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines). Well! It did rather taste like cream soda with toffee! And Brothers Ginger Cider (4%, 500ml, S$7.50 at East of Avalon Wines) – good heat!
*In first year at uni, we had a pub in halls just below my digs and spare evenings were spent there probably discussing impossible conundrums. (Otherwise, they were spent in other pubs after fencing with various clubs about town, in the smoke-filled cellars of yet other pubs at book clubs discussing Schopenhauer and the like, down at clubs (of the dancing variety), or in someone’s kitchen gaining a degree in mixology (or toxiology).)
**i do not in anyway benefit from this rave but East of Avalon Wines really does have a great selection of English ciders and craft beers at their stores. Fixed discount for bulk buys: