Whilst visiting friends in Rochester a little while back I decided to pop into a Co-Op and see if they had any local cider offerings for sale. To my surprise they had a dedicated couple of shelves at the end of an aisle where I managed to find seven ciders from four different Kent producers.
Kent is often described as the “Garden if England” and when you stray off the motorways you are quickly surrounded by lush beautifully green countryside. Home to many thousand acres of eating and dessert apple orchards, it also has a rich history in making acid led ciders. Some purists will argue that cider can only be made from specific cider apple varieties, which I have to say I completely disagree with. In the grand scheme of cider criteria that are worth arguing about, the type of apple is a waste of energy. We have reviewed many fantastic ciders on these pages from dessert and culinary fruit and I could wax lyrical about Kent and all it’s beauty, but I’ll leave that for another day and another writer on these pages, one who happens live there…
So today I’m just going to share my reviews of the several ciders I managed to randomly find during a short trip.
I had the pleasure of visiting Woolton Farm and meeting Sam Mount back in 2018. Four generations of his family have been growing apples on 650 acres. Growing only culinary and dessert fruit from the start, until Sam’s father started to make cider and now they’ve turned some of the land over to cider apple varieties.
I’ve had all three of these here before but not for quite some time so I’m intrigued to know what different vintages are tasting like.
High Diver (4.8%)
Made from a blend of Cox and Bramley and described as “medium dry, marrying fresh acidity with bright aromatic fruit”. Ingredients listed as “apples, water, sugar, malic/citric acid, yeast and sulphites”.
Colour: Pure gold
On the nose: fresh green apples, kiwi, lemon rind and vanilla yogurt, all fruit with cream. Elements of wooden barn and dried pomace are also there which is a bit odd given this hasn’t been in barrel I don’t think. There is a slight volatile acetic note coming through at the end as well.
In the mouth: sweet with a sharp zing of acidity. Upfront it’s the green apples, quickly followed by a flash of citrus like acidity before that almost creamy vanilla comes in for the finish. That wooden barn and savoury twang are part of the acetic acid I think which is becoming more apparent as my glass warms.
In a nutshell: crisp and fruity, but an acetic character creeping in that hasn’t been there in previous versions.
In contrast to the High Diver, this has dessert apples as some cider varieties and again described as “medium dry”. Ingredients listed are the same as for High Diver.
Colour: dark gold
On the nose: milled red apples and wet press racks, a hint of oranges and lemons and some apple brandy notes. Again there is a little hint of some acetic character in the background.
In the mouth: there are some similarities with the High Diver here but the acidity is dialled down a bit and bitterness from those tannins is creeping in. The green apples are less fresh and more chewy and oxidised, like squeezed pomace. It’s not as fruit forward either but the citrus like acidity lifts it and gives it a bit of a zing. The finish is a off dry with a that vanilla lactic character peeking through. That little acetic note from the nose is lurking in the background again as a little savoury twang.
In a nutshell: I wanted to love this, and the first time I tried it I did, but that oxidised base cider is ruining it for me this time.
Like the Skylark, this has a blend of dessert fruit and “heritage cider varieties” to create another…you guessed it…medium dry (feels like a bit of fence sitting to me).
Colour: goldy gold
On the nose: lots of green apple, lime and vanilla, a bit of a leafy herbal element, think sage and thyme and then a medicinal note. It’s more High Diver than Skylark. Very faint whisper of oxidation, but nothing like the other two.
In the mouth: that’s more like the Kentish Pip I remember. Nose follows through to mouth here, juicy green apples and a citrus like acidity up front, followed by creamy vanilla and finishing with a touch of bitterness from those tannins. They’re a little harsh which I quite like with the acidity, gives it bite if you know what I mean. As it warms, it becomes sweeter, not sure I’d say medium dry. No sign of that acetic acid in the taste.
In a nutshell: the Kentish Pip I remember, easy drinking, thirst quencher of a cider.
Turners – Medium-Dry (6.5%)
No info on apple varieties on the label other than “100% Kentish Apples” and “lightly sparkling”. The website, I’m sad to say has very little more to add, apart from “bright, crisp and fruity cider with a balance of acidity and sweetness. Lightly sparkling. Filtered.”
Their brief story mentions starting small with windfall garden fruit (some great varieties of apples) to make 75 litres to fuel summer parties. Then graduating to buying by the tonne and using stainless steel tanks. Same simple process just on a grander scale. I have a lot of time for the “true to our roots” mentality with cider, less is more.
On the nose: very floral this one, elderflowers and honeysuckle, with a background of apples and apple blossom. There is a hint of ethyl acetate trying to poke through, like a solvent/acetone note.
In the mouth: personally I’d say medium and drop the dry. It’s very fruity and juicy with apples, kiwi and melon which probably adds to the perception of sweetness. Elderflower cordial adds a floral note, but there isn’t much acidity to it and that ethyl acetate is definitely there and starts to over power the more you drink, too the point where I can’t finish it, which is a shame. Finish has a viscous sweetness to it, hence I’d say more towards medium.
In a nutshell: a promising start, but tainted by that acetone that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Dudda’s Tun – Greenhorn 2019 (5.2%)
Dudda’s Tun press their own apples from Pine Trees Farm, using wild yeasts to ferment the 100% freshly pressed juice. Named after an 11th Century person (Dudda) who set up a farmstead (Tun), which over several hundred years grew into the village of Doddington.
Five generations have worked on the family fruit farm, making the move to cider in 2009 as a way to bolster profitability. After a couple of years of farmers markets, the brand was born in 2011. They now have a core range of 12 ciders and can be found in many pubs across Kent as well as Co-Op stores…
Greenhorn is from their ‘Traditional Range’ which uses specially selected and blended varieties, which aren’t listed. It’s described on the bottle as “a lightly sparkling medium cider, with crisp and refreshing green apple undertones”.
Colour: very pale gold
On the nose: green apples, like Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious (not sure what actual varieties are in here), honey and apple blossom. A whiff of sweet shop bonbons and pear drops.
In the mouth: very lightly sparkling, all those green apples plus a bit of acidic bite that reminds me of Braeburn or Cox, although it feels short lived as the sweetness dominates it somewhat. The acidity has some lemon citrus notes to it but then there’s not much else. It’s very refreshing and tastes like sweet liquid Kentish apples so exactly what it says on the bottle. Perfect summer bbq session cider I’d say.
In a nutshell: to say it’s the only faultless bottle out of the seven does it a disservice, as it’s a really refreshing cider, albeit a little dominated by sweetness.
Charrington’s – Private Bin (5.5%) & Charrington’s – Cryals Classic (5.3%)
I’ve put these together as despite the different names, they both have the same colour and smell very similar as well as having the same description on each bottle, the sweetness level appears to be the only difference.
Described as “deliciously distinctive sparkling cider with superior wine like quality”. Made from handpicked Cox, Russet and Bramely apples, handpicked on the Charrington’s family farm. To be enjoyed “chilled from a champagne flute”.
Colour: watery straw
On the nose: very faint sweet shop confectionary, think boiled sweet and sugar cubes and then a whiff of a manure like note. I have to admit it’s not massively appealing at this point.
In the mouth: they taste exactly like it smell. Boiled sweets and some tropical fruit like mango and pineapple, but then an overwhelming manure like taste, not that I’ve ever tasted manure, but I’ve smelt it and I imagine it tastes like this. The ‘Private Bin’ does have a dry finish and the ‘Cryals Classic’ is a bit sweeter which makes the whole manure thing taste even worse. I make it a point to try and not review bad ciders, I prefer not to give them the word count, but I’d already taken the photos of this group so here we are…two of the worst ciders I’ve had this year.
In a nutshell: to quote Gabe Cook “nobody likes a pooey cider”
When Adam and I started Cider Review last year we both agreed that we wouldn’t deliberately review ciders that we considered to be faulty. The reason being that we wanted this website to be a place of positivity, where we celebrated the great and good that cider and perry has to offer. I have to admit I was tentative on the concept as I had been criticised in the past for calling myself “The Cider Critic” and not sharing the ciders I didn’t like. However as this site has evolved and in particular when I’ve been doing multiple reviews like this one, it has been difficult with photos before tasting and full transparency to completely uphold our initial aim. Hence where I am today with these seven from Kent, which have proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag, and I can’t help but feel disappointed.
With the exception of the last two from Charrington’s the rest aren’t out right faulty, and I appreciate that I am perhaps more sensitive to the off flavours given the amount of ciders I’ve tried, but I feel that craft cider can do better. These are some of the bigger craft producers after all, stainless steel tanks, thousands of litres made, all using sulphites, so for faults like acetic acid and ethyl acetate to be creeping in feels lackadaisical. Would most customers pick up on these off flavours? I’m not sure to be honest, perhaps not, but does that mean we can or should drop our standards?
At the end of the day I’m a single voice and view, in a sea of many and consumers will vote with their wallets. I do believe though, that as craft cider goes from strength to strength the gaps between great, mediocre and faulty cider will become more visible. Aiming for greatness is surely the best approach, both for maker, consumer and the entire craft cider movement.
If producers are getting onto supermarket shelves with faulty ciders, it’s high time they heard about it. Do keep it up.
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