Monday, 13 July 2009

Single Varieties - The Spice of Life?

The cupboard was bare. I hadn't racked any of our cider for a couple of weeks now, consequently the 'House Supply' of Rockingham Forest Cider had dried up.

When the urge for a 'proper' cider takes you, nothing else quite hits the spot. We could of course pop down to our local the Red Lion for a pint of home-made cider, but it's a matter of principal for us that when we deliver cider to the pub, it should stay there for the enjoyment of other customers and not return home with us one pint at a time! This frequently raises a wry smile with customers who find it strange we don't drink our own cider in the Red Lion. We prefer the excellent Wot's Occuring from Great Oakley Brewery. The cider is for other customers to enjoy, we've (usually) got plenty of our own to drink at home.

The cupboard, as I've already mentioned, was indeed bare, but in the dark and seldom visited recesses of the pantry there can often be found a few bottles of hidden treasure. Secret supplies of 'rainy-day' cider, stashed away at times of glut, and now called upon to relieve an unexpected cider-drought.

Hidden behind an assortment of fancy Sloe Gin bottles I discovered the attractive label of a bottle of Severn Cider single variety Dabinett. Quite a find. Severn Cider are a small-scale, craft cidermaker based in the mysterious Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Three generations of the Bull family have made cider and perry in the village of Awre, though only recently as a commercial concern. In a short time, Severn Cider have gained an enviable reputation for the quality of their ciders and perrys, and I've certainly enjoyed their produce whenever I've tried it at the Three Counties Show and the Ross-on-Wye Cider Festival. I love their branding too, which is quirky without resorting to any of the lame stereotypes and silliness associated with some West-Country ciders.

The Dabinett apple is one of the most widely planted varieties of Vintage Quality cider apple in the UK. We've got a few in our garden orchard, and I'm reasonably sure that a few Dabinett's made it into this year's Rockingham Forest Cider. It's a bittersweet variety, high in tannin, and low in acid. The tannin is soft but full-bodied, and Dabinett is widely considered a must-have variety when planting a new cider apple orchard. So what does it taste like as a Single Variety cider?

I'd have to say that this is one of the best single variety Dabinetts I've tasted, and I've tasted quite a few over the years. Rich, full-flavoured, and with a nice fruitiness to balance the spicy tannins, this cider really shows the quality of this cider apple variety to the full. So, a ringing endorsement of single variety ciders then! Well not quite. For all it's quality, there's one thing I find that's missing from this cider.

The very best ciders are a result of the cidermakers skills in blending different apples to give a well balanced, full flavoured cider. One crucial part of this delicate equation is acid, too much and the cider will be mouth-puckeringly sharp, not enough and the cider can be a little cloying, and lacking in the sharp 'bite' needed to balance the rich tannins. This Dabinett is really very good, and I'd definitely try it again given the chance, but a little dash of acid from a sharper variety of apple would take this cider from good to outstanding.

I'm certainly not criticising this cider in particular, more the whole concept of Single Variety Ciders, and the very idea that a Bittersweet cider apple might possess all the properties needed to make an excellent cider. There are very few cider apples capable of achieving this excellence on their own, perhaps some of the better quality bittersharp cider apples such as Kingston Black or Stoke Red come to mind, Dabinett is in my opinion not one of them.

Having said all that, I've met one or two people with a definite preference for pure bittersweet ciders, so perhaps the lack of acidity is not such a big issue. One thing I do know is that despite the temptation to experiment with SV's myself (apart from anything else, they're a very good commercial proposition), it's not something we're likely to be trying here at Rockingham Forest Cider.... probably!

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