Aspalls Imperial Vintage (7.5/10) ” Bitter-dryness, overshadowing some developing character”.

The Good

” Branding with curious backstory”.
” Oozing rich history”.
” Understated, yet celebratory bottle design”.
” Noticeable dryness”.
” Developing woodiness”.
” Developing natural tang”.

The Bad

” Harsh aftertaste”.
” Slightly thin mouthfeel”.
” Pricier than many other Aspall’s”.
” Quite practical”.
” Lack of balance”.
” Limited carbonation”.
” Overshadowed natural tang”.
” Limited sweetness”.
” Overpowering bitterness and dryness”.

Packaging

With the year 1728 ringing in my ears, Suffolk cider at it’s home in Aspall near Stowmarket, is one of the oldest cider businesses in England. With an incredible 289 years experience to draw upon in 2017, a vintage product was created. Quite a good one, judging by it’s Silver International cider award for the earlier 2015 version.
This product, known as Aspalls Imperial “Vintage”, uses only a single years harvest of apples for production.

The word “Imperial” in general refers to a system in countries of spreading power or influence to other areas. In this case though, it was included due to this drinks purpose…
To celebrate John Barrington Chevallier’s success, at the 1921 “Imperial fruit show”.
Born 1857, John played football professionally, won awards for cider and fruit, and bred award winning red-polled, (hornless) cattle. These are a large, red cattle breed introduced to Suffolk around Roman times (753 BC-476 AD). Perhaps most importantly of all though, he replaced the wooden screw of the original aspall’s fruit press, with a tougher metal one.

Why such a great, physically active, pioneer took 75 years after his death, to feature in an award winning Aspalls product, seems a little random. Rumours on unreliable internet sites though, shed some light. They suggest, it was created at this time, due to the successful modernisation of a 90-year old cider recipe.
At 8.2% ABV, for a 4.1 unit, 500ml bottle, I’d suspect John wouldn’t drink many of these before going out onto the professional footy field though. At £2.50 he may have needed his pay-packet also. That said whilst expensive and strong, at least this drink is practical, since only one would be necessary to achieve just over, suspected safe limits.
The ” Imperial” recipe, supposedly features bittersweet apples and muscovado sugar. With the lack of this fact mentioned on website or bottle, branding seems slightly let down. Company history and eye-catching bottle design, does help to compensate though.

Many food recipes traditionally use Muscovado sugar for cooking. This sugar contains considerable remains of the sugar cane plant, following sugar extraction; Remains are molasses.
This makes the sugar relatively unrefined and natural. Apple chutneys often use it, before combining with pork, suggesting the combination of apple with muscovado works well. Whether it’s more effective at creating superior taste than ciders made without added sugars, remains to be seen.

Truly “Dry” ciders, don’t contain sugar, and typically clock in at between 6 and 7% ABV. With some dry ciders that have considerable fruit-derived sweetness, such as Aspall’s Premier Cru, scoring (9.25/10), this suggests added sugar isn’t essential. Sweetness is nicest when provided by natural fruit in my opinion. Let’s hope then that the relatively natural “muscovado” sugar employed here, complements sweetness already in the apples used, and doesn’t lead to overpowering sickly sweetness.

As for expectations, natural sugar from (bittersweet, culinary, and dessert apples), complemented by natural muscovado sugar sweetness, should provide sufficient natural sweetness. The bottle suggests “2017” vintage, suggesting the apples used in this edition have been pinpointed. With a range of apple types used, I’d suggest a considerable depth of flavour. It was a shame the varieties weren’t named though. Depth can be lacking in certain mono-varietal ciders such as Thatchers Katy supporting this idea.

Aswell as full flavour, and typical accompanying full-bodiedness, a cider with natural fruity sweetness hopefully have strong tang to balance, as is present in most other aspall’s products, yet I wouldn’t expect much dryness. This is due to a lack of detailing on the bottle, and a regular absence in typical aspalls drinks. As for carbonation, and character from unique elements, I’ll let the drink do the talking…

Smell

The scent emerged as a natural, yet not overly strong aroma. It wasn’t especially distinctive, but appeared to suggest some level of tang. Due to the dark bottle frame, carbonation couldn’t be seen, but a limited accompanying fizz to opening suggested weak carbonation.

Taste

On first sip, some bitterness could be detected. This was accompanied by some distinctive element. Limited sweetness appeared, and carbonation was very light. Following the main body of the taste, a rather harsh dry afterfeel emerged, hitting the back of the throat. The bitterness was a little too strong towards the end of the taste, which I feel covered up the distinctive elements. I’d suggest some woodiness was present, if a little overshadowed.

After a time this woodiness developed to a pleasant level. Not too far off the intensity of Twisted tree. The sweetness, whilst natural, took a while to notice, and wasn’t sufficient to balance the bitterness. Acidity became stronger throughout the bottle, and accompanied some natural and fruity sweetness.

Many of the taste elements whilst present, were let down by a slightly thin medium mouthfeel, and dominating strong dryness.
The drink wasn’t totally balanced, due to overpowering bitterness, with dryness too strong in the aftertaste. It was good to see some woodiness and natural tang though. Both of these elements developed throughout consumption.

Summary

A drink with identity from character and bitterness, but let down by limited flavour strength and balance.

Sources

Aspalls.co.uk
http://www.thedairysite.com/breeds/beef/51/red-poll/
https://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Article/2011/08/01/Aspall-to-launch-8.2-abv-vintage-cyder
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/sugar
https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ancient-rome/romulus-and-remus/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/fallofrome_article_01.shtml
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imperialism

Product

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