Are You Tasting the Pith? - 1st August 04
The sticky summer weather that we've been having here lately has more than once driven me to do the unthinkable - buy a pint of lager in a pub. Not only is this one of the least appealing ways of slaking a thirst, it goes against everything that I believe in when it comes to drink (a brief summary being price, quality, provenance and pleasure derived).
Seeking other ways to get my kicks, I was handed a sample bottle of Thatchers new Oak Matured Rum Barrel-conditioned cider (5.2% abv), and one of their Gold (4.8% abv), a standard blended cider. What the heck - it's a sunny day, the cider is cold, I'm hot, what could possibly go wrong? Just for balance, I also brought an alternative to the tasting table; three ciders from Sheppy's - two single varietals (Dabinett and Kingston Black, both at 7.2% abv), and the blended Oakwood (6% abv).
So, with a large cushion thrown out in the sun, and the Sunday papers to hand, the Oak matured Thatchers was dispatched first. And? And? Well, it was pleasant enough, I suppose, the medium to sweet cider having a distinct whiff and taste of rum, and also a surprisingly complex sherryish hints of acetaldehydes. A pleasant enough beverage - worth drinking, but not worth going to drink, to paraphrase the great Dr. Johnson. The Thatchers Gold was less distinguished, being overly sweet for my tastes, and having a bit too much apple juice character to be quenching to the thirst.
I've always thought of Sheppy's as 'proper' cider, and this was confirmed with the first two of theirs that I tried. The Dabinett had a much drier note to it, despite being described as medium on the label. It also had a long-lasting bitter note that came to the fore in the finish, which while not completely pleasant, did lend the drink enough complexity to keep it interesting. The Kingston Black, describing itself as well-rounded and juicy, was exactly that. The bitter note in the finish was absent, but the pleasing astringency kept things moving across the palate. Last up was the multi-varietal Oakwood, much more balanced and refreshing, and at 6% abv (rather than 7.2% abv for the previous two) was a tad more easygoing.
So, conclusions. Sheppy's cider is definitely the 'proper' one in this comparison, although I found it a little too heavy to be a totally pleasurable experiencea, and drinking more than one in the sun is to avoided at all costs. For the record, I didn't drink whole bottles of each. Thatchers cider errs a little too much on the commercial side for me, being a bit sweet, but does have the advantage of (a) being less strong and (b) doing something interesting with a cask finish, which really should be applauded. If Innis & Gunn can pick up awards for a cask finished ale, then maybe Thatchers can do the same for their cider?
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