Apple cider – Low alcohol – Medium-dry by Sainsbury’s review – ” Better than apple juice, but lacking the complexity and flavour depth, of good cider” (6.0/10).

The Good

“Competitive in price”.
“Practical”.
“Good label information”.
“Inoffensive smell”.
“Natural taste”.
“Lasting, natural aftertaste”.
“Better than apple juice”.
“Smooth and fruity taste”.

The Bad

“Watery mouthfeel”.
“No dryness, which was promised”.
“Weak carbonation, acidity and sweetness”.
“Nothing unique”.
“No backstory or history mentioned”.
“No product website”.
“Poor bottle design and colours”.

Packaging

Firstly, many of the ciders I’ve sampled recently, have been strong drinks with confident ABV readings. Those providing quick effects, some, with a quickly yet satisfying, sensory appeal. There are people out there who can’t drink “any” alcohol though, those who choose not to, and those which are trying to cut down.

Low alcohol ciders appear to have crept onto supermarket shelves relatively recently, as an aide for the latter. First launched in 1994, the flagship product of 0.5% Stowford press LA, is actually older than me. The explosion in popularity of keeping healthy, and trendy food and drinks, by ever more aware consumers, appears to explain the recent boom in demand for low alcohol products.
Perhaps this answers the question of:
“Why can low alcohol products now, be readily seen in supermarkets stores, when they ‘ve been seemingly invisible for the last 20 years ?”.
Whilst not all stores stock these products; Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons have taken the plunge with their own branded products. In response to this new demand, other “cider only” producers have also began to follow suit.

Sheppy’s cider for example, has created a 0.5% ABV drink this summer, using traditional cider making methods. Other companies are getting involved, which have already been part of more typical ABV markets. Drinkwisewales rates Sheppy’s, 5/5, implying success with low alcohol is possible in the cider industry. Apparently, some Koppaberg and Old mout ciders have gone the whole hog, and apparently created some drinks for the “alcohol free” sector, for those who can’t drink “any” alcohol. This seems a little dubious though, since every cider contains “trace” amounts naturally.

This week, I tackle the low alcohol range, with a drink containing “low” ABV, yet not low enough to be classed as “alcohol free”.

For me, this is the ideal review drink for the week, to balance out the alcohol-rich products I’ve recently had, with something different. Whilst I’ve left it a while, (mentally debating whether these drinks should be included in the cider category at all) , I now accept, that an apple cider product containing some alcohol, should be considered “cider”. Whether or not it’s any good though, still remains to be seen.

From the bottle, perhaps you wouldn’t guess that Weston’s provide Sainsbury’s with the product, for their “own brand”, low alcohol cider. Whilst not always the case for low alcohol supermarket ciders, Sainsbury’s Low alcohol cider, is apparently Stow-ford press in disguise, or is at least from the same producer. With the low alcohol Stow-ford press product, (the one not masquerading as Sainsbury’s own) , boasting a maximum score on Drinkwisewales, things seem hopeful here.

Sainsbury’s low alcohol is said to have been matured in oak vats, with added sugar to enhance flavour. I must say though, bottle appearance is much more underwhelming, than Stow-ford press.

Clearly, I shan’t be knocking off points for practicality here, since you are never going to get anywhere near safe limits, with “low alcohol” products. It would be good to look at the cost for 2 though, since this provides a pleasant level of fluid, to consume in the evening.

Bought from Sainsbury’s, this “own brand” product, only set me back £1.10. 2 ciders for £2.20 is competitive in price therefore. This is only a fraction more than one typical “Normal ABV” bottle, making it almost half price. Many Aspall’s products fall just below £2, whilst “Cornish Orchards Gold”, recently set me back £3.50 for 2. Whilst on offer… This shows, many standard ABV drinks are far more expensive. If you fancy 2 ciders rather than one for the evening, this does present reasonable value therefore.

Adding to expectations for some woodiness and sweetness, the bottle helped a little. On inspection, medium-dry was specified prominently on the front. The rear added notions of “ripe”, “fruity flavours”, and freshness. It also clarified ripe apples as the expected smell. The final thing I liked, was the mention of calorie count per volume of fluid. This should appeal to the health conscience consumer therefore, who’d be interested in a low alcohol drink. Whilst unspecified on the bottle, it appeared to have limited froth, which suggested light carbonation. As for tang and mouthfeel, I sampled without expectations.

After seeming quite helpful, the product did make a few errors though. The first was contradictory, it specified “Light” cider, and “Rounded body”. In my mind, this is conflicting, and adds no indication for mouthfeel expectation. The second idea of “zesty” freshness, didn’t marry up to the maturation in oak vats. Another issue was the lack of mention, (until virtually the last line of text in very small type), that it is produced by H. Weston and Sons. This implies it has something to hide and isn’t proud to be made by one of the finest cider producers in the U.K., or that company doesn’t wish to associate itself with this drink.

For branding, much like Stow-ford press low alcohol, the colour blue was included on the font palette, indicating low alcohol. This was clearly written, with a guarantee of no more than 1% ABV. The ABV suggested here is 0.9, for the 500ml bottle.

The colours of white, black, blue, and amber, collectively appeared too pale. To resolve this, some brightness from vibrant colour palettes, or contrasting darker fonts, would be favourable. I also feel some of the colours clash, and the design didn’t grab me. I bought it, not due to being eye-catching though, but due to it being one of the only “low alcohol” beverages, on offer. This slightly lacklustre vessel, can be partly forgiven, for underused brand potential, due to a distinct lack of stocked competition.

The logo was predictable, with an apple tree design. Not simple enough to jump out as a symbol that is easily memorable, yet was too busy, featuring 2 buckets filled with apples, and a ladder. Since only the outlines were revealed, I had to get in close to work out what the design was, which despite slight curiosity, wasn’t met with anything special.

Smell

The smell was a tangy, yet slightly thin aroma. One that faded quickly on each sniff, till nothing on subsequent inhalations could be sensed, after a brief period of time. This emerged from a very feeble row of bubbles, rather than head, and a single meagre puff of pressure release, on opening.

Taste

On first sip, a flavour of apples was immediately apparent. This was shrouded in a rather watery body, and carbonation couldn’t even be detected.
Acidity provided no real depth to the flavour, which remained fairly weak. As for dryness, none was there. It was just a letdown. Sweetness wasn’t really sufficient, so nothing “stand out”, occurred.

I must give some credit though, for the natural taste of fruit. This was held in a smooth mouth sensation, but didn’t really grow or develop.

The flavour wasn’t unpleasant, but was expected. I expected, a watery drink pretending to be cider, diluted with gallons of water. Unfortunately these fears were beginning to come true. As for aftertaste, a lasting impression of rather natural apple taste, was favourable to the sickly sweetness of non-alcoholic, apple juice products. This aftertaste was identical to the main body of the flavour though making it a bit too de ja vu. It was lasting and natural though.

Summary

Better than apple juice, but lacking the complexity, and flavour depth, of good cider.

Sources
https://www.thefreedictionary.com/alcohol-free
https://www.drinkwisewales.org.uk/booze-free-reviews/ciders/
https://www.talkingretail.com/products-news/alcohol/westons-cider-unveils-new-packaging-low-alcohol-offering-22-01-2018/

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