Friels first press vintage cider review (8/10) ” Natural and complex balance, if a little weak and pricey”.

Good

” Clear USP of the varieties of Apple selected and labelled”.
” Noticeable level of Apple sweetness”.
” Natural flavour as promised”.
” Well-balanced “.
” Complexity of experience”.
” Some dryness”.
“Woody element”.
” Smooth aftertaste”.

Bad

” Weak aftertaste”.
” Lack of convincing carbonation, acidity, sweetness and dryness”.
” Brand message a little weak”.
” Traditional image on can, but no history of the drink”.
” Quite expensive and not 100% practical”.
” No mention of vintage year “.
” Feeble carbonation”.
” Not enough dryness”.
” Not great value for money”.

Packaging

Friel’s first press vintage cider will be the first I’ve tried from Friels. This appears to be named after Glen Friel who acts as director of Aston manor cider house ; A ciderhouse name I recognise from the production of Kingston press in Stour-port, Worcestershire, (previously reviewed). This cans’ address is Cheltenham, Gloucestershire though, meaning a gap between Apple sourcing from Herefordshire and Worcestershire and it’s site of production elsewhere. These extra miles seem a little less eco friendly than one would hope. Maybe that is why the orchards used, aren’t specified on the can.

With apples sourced from the heart of Worcestershire, I am familiar with some local varieties. Red falstaff used here as one of a few apples, seems new to me, but is perhaps sweet in taste due to it’s dessert descriptor on the website rhs.org.uk. In addition to these, Katy and Windsor apples have been selected, of which Thatchers Katy instantly springs to mind.

The can emphasises small batch production, suggesting greater attention to quality control. It looks petite, with a small capacity of just 330ml, and a traditionally greyscale portrait image, perhaps from the 50’s. This leads me to believe that the drink has been available since then, but it hasn’t !
In fact, after digging online, I found that the company was established in 2009, and the 330ml can version has only been out since 2016. No real tradition or history therefore can be specified on the can or website. Moreover the est. year cannot be seen anywhere on the can, perhaps through fear of embarrassment alongside 100+ year old companies like Aspall’s or Weston’s.

With 7.4% ABV, equating to 2.4 units per can, 2 cans tips you over the governments” “do not regularly exceed” limit by 0.8 units suggesting a treat may be required to enjoy guilt free. Not 100% practical but how about affordable ?
The drink sets you back £3 for this 4.8 unit treat from Sainsbury’s. This seems rather dear, since it is more than Black dragon cider from Wales and the recently reviewed “the hog-father” from orchard pig, which was £1.20 cheaper !!

As for taste, it claims medium dryness, and vintage on the blurb. Vintage means a single year has been used for Apple sourcing, which is no surprise considering the high ABV. More surprisingly though, there is no mention of the year of vintage on the can or website, suggesting the apples may be from 2016 or 17. With Katy, Windsor, and Falstaff all specified as apples used on both blurb and website, I’d suggest the apples chosen are essential for the USP of this drink. The mentioning of orchards in Worcestershire and Herefordshire is only on the website, not the can, suggesting it is the type of Apple, not location of Apple tree, which is important to the brand. Let’s hope then, that these apple varieties deliver a good medium-dry combination, which is “Refreshingly fruity” as suggested.
The assertion of “natural” , and “nothing artificial used”, left my mouth longing for some natural tasting apples, and no sickly synthetic sweetness.

Smell

The smell, while subtle, suggested of some wood element. It had similarity with Twisted tree in that respect. Very limited fizz was apparent, but didn’t last long. Bubbles were limited, and casually hinted of light carbonation. The smell whilst weak was smooth and fruity and encouraging for natural flavours to come.

Taste

The flavour was Appley from the world go, with a distinct lack of artificial sweetness. This flavour felt natural, and didn’t linger on the aftertaste. It did leave a smooth level of fruit though, to not disappoint. The mouthfeel wasn’t syrupy or watery, so achieved good balance. On swilling, it was impossible to encourage many bubbles to burst, suggesting that carbonation level was a tad feeble.

The medium dryness claimed, wasn’t readily noticeable, but was just about apparent. This was subtle, and not medium though.
Whilst there was some level of natural acidity, the tang was certainly not as memorable as it was in the hogfather. It wasn’t overly convincing, and didn’t mask some wateriness, that emerged after a few sips. The wood detected in the smell, could be tasted, and was again subtle. Much like the dryness, carbonation and acidity.

The aftertaste had hints of water, and didn’t fully convince me of a strongly pleasant flavour. It touched a little dryness, but wasn’t fully fledged in any way. Most of the components for a good cider were present then, but none convincing enough.
Summary

Good at being subtle at everything, yet not brilliant at anything. An all round well-balanced drink, with some character and elements that it promised. Not a letdown, but not a convincing win. A little bit middling.

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