CIDER has been booming. This article from the trade press sums up what we had all guessed from the ads that fill every TV commercial break. Namely, that cider has been the fastest growing category of drink recently, that new ideas are being tried and that fortunes have been thrown at advertising.
Since I’ve always liked cider, this has all been no bad thing. The trouble comes with trying to review the stuff. Sure there are some differences between them. K from Gaymer was sweet and strong. Strongbow Super was strong and dry. And the multitude of strong, white ciders, also all from Gaymer were strong and bland. But they suffer the same problem as lagers. They’re made to almost exactly the same formula, with hardly anything to distinguish one from the other.
With ciders being such big business, the time seems right to revisit them. And hopefully to be proved wrong about them in the process. I’m going to be looking for the big names, the new and unusual and anything that isn’t dry. Dry isn’t as fun as sweet, so unless anyone out there wants to request a dry cider, you won’t find many turning up here.
Proving that advertising does work, I returned from Tesco today with a bottle of Bulmers Original. This one was priced £1.33.
It’s hard not to like the way it looks. It might look almost identical to certain other bottles of cider, but the look works for me. The gold foil around the top says “quality”. Have you ever seen an “economy” drink that has gold foil wrapped around the top? This one has the “Bulmers Original” name, the “B” apple logo. And the “Estd.” date of 1887. Nice to see that Bulmers have some experience when it comes to ciders.
The main front label is cheesy. Or should that be “apple-y”? That’s because everything is either inside, or floating around the Bulmers apple shaped logo.
Around the top, it reads “Select Vat Matured”. After initially puzzling over what Value Added Tax had to do with it, it clicked that they meant this had been made carefully and with patience. Around the bottom, the straightforward “Premium Quality Cider” is rather plainer. And as they don’t refer to it as “dry”, I should be safe with this one.
The middle of the apple logo has nothing of surprise. Everything is well laid out. The established date is there. And there’s a signature from “HP. Bulmer”. Uninteresting, but my mouth is nonetheless watering for the cider contained within.
Back labels on bottles and cans of cider are always let downs. This is no exception.
Unlike beer bottles, they simply don’t know what to write. So you always end up with the small-print taking an uneasy centre stage. To Bulmers credit, they have taken the time to come up with a short paragraph of actual writing. It might only be about the “finest apples”, vat maturing, “refreshing taste and smooth character”, but at least they gave it a go. The “refreshing” and “smooth” part even gives us something to judge it by. Bulmers and other cider producers, have a look at the labels on bottles of ale to see how it’s really done.
The most prominent part is the block about units of alcohol. This bottle has 2.6 UK units. But if you’re in any doubt about how much out nanny-ing Government recommends, there’s a tabling telling you about it.
Under that, we can see how to get in touch with HP Bulmer Ltd if we ever feel the need. Their Hereford postal address is there. As is the number for their “Consumer Careline” and an email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beneath that are the vital statistics. This, the most common size of bottle is an unusual 568 millilitres. Unusual, but welcome, because that makes this a full pint. The first I’ve seen since Wells. This fact deserves to be shouted about, not hidden away in the small-print. Even so, well done Bulmers for steering clear of the 500 millilitre Euro homogenisation.
The other vital statistic is the alcoholic volume. For Bulmers Original, 4.5% is the order of the day. Not high. Quite low for a cider, isn’t it? But that’s probably a good thing considering how this stuff is consumed.
The ingredients list is interesting too. I say list, but for this, as with every other cider I’ve looked at, the only thing they mention is “sulphites”. I’ve always had no idea what they are. But this one says “contains sulphites for freshness”. Some sort of preservative then?
They also suggest serving over ice. This seems to be the new trend driving cider. Of course that’s going to up the refreshment factor, but I’m not sure whether to try it on ice. To keep the playing field even with the other ciders I’ve tested, I’m tempted not to bother. On the other hand, I want to give each drink a fair chance. Which is why I’m going to make this my first review of a cider with some ice cubes.
I’m looking forward to this. More so than I expected to be at this point. Time now to see if Bulmers Original is any good.
Immediately, I’ve fallen into an obvious trap. With ice cubes in there, there is no way this pint glass is going to have room for the pint in the bottle as well. So either get a bigger glass or a smaller bottle if you’re going down the cider on ice route.
First impressions are that it’s orangey. Maybe artificially so. I kept being reminded of Robert Kilroy-Silk whenever I saw it. The smell? Of apples rather predictably.
The first few gulps were spent trying not to accidentally swallow an ice cube. First impressions of the taste are that it doesn’t taste as much of apples as I had expected. With most ciders, it’s as if you’re drinking concentrated crab apple. Not in this case. The apple-y flavour is surprisingly subdued.
A citrusy bitter and sour taste is the first thing you notice. The aftertaste is where you notice the hints of apple. Aren’t most ciders the other way around?
What I liked were that it was very refreshing. I’m not sure if the ice is adding anything apart from obstacles, but it is cool, crisp, clean and refreshing. Exactly what you want from a cider. It’s also very drinkable. With no strong flavours to contend with, it’s clear how this has become mainstream. It’s also smooth, exactly as promised on the label.
What I didn’t like was that there simply wasn’t enough taste and flavour. The flavours were so weak, it was almost like drinking apple flavoured water. Something not helped by the cubes of frozen water floating on the top.
Bulmers Original is a totally competent cider. But I don’t love it. Yes, it’s refreshing and drinkable. But it’s also light on flavour and weak. Some people will love these things about it. And on a hot day, at a party or a barbeque, I’d happily cool down with this cider. I just can’t find enough good reasons to want it over the alternatives.
Have you tried Bulmers Original?
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