Today I was honoured to again be a judge in the cider classes of the Great Taste Awards. These excellent awards are run by the Guild of Fine Foods and provide a platform for smaller artisan producers to show both the quality of their products and their innovation.

This worthy aim did not seem to quite come to fruition in the Cider classes this year. There were six tables of judges each of whom judged 8 different ciders. The common feeling was that although there were some reasonable ciders there was very little that was outstanding. On the table I was on all the eight ciders were very drinkable. Two we didn’t really reckon tasted of anything at all except the sweetener and the others were rather run of the mill. Bland, too sweet and safe. It is irnonic that the best cider we tasted was one that included blackberry. It avoided the terrible pitfal of so many fruit ciders of having syrupy strong fruit concentrates overpowering everything else. I am sure a marketing man would describe it as ‘subtle hints of blackberry’ the only problem was that the hints were so subtle most of the judges could not taste them at all.

It would seem that the resurgence of cider over the past few years has lead to a dumbing down. Sweet and lacking in character fits most of the current crop of commercial industrial ciders and it is a shame that many of the smaller artisan producers appear to have followed suit. Oh for a hint of sharpness and some real character. It is a hot day and something to refresh would have been nice – surely that is what cider should be about.

There are signs that some of the public are becoming a bit more discerning and here in the West Country there is a growing demand for drier ciders. At recent shows and festivals I have noticed an increasing demand for dry and talking to fellow judge Nick Poole this morning he is finding this in his sales across Dorset. And even more interesting the traditional idea of Dry for men and sweet for women seems to have been blown out of the water. I was at the Yeovil Beer festival last week where cider was going down a storm and the number of women drinking pints of dry ciders surprised me.

Lets hope this coming summer sees a continuation of this trend – sweeteners are not the nicest of ingredients and cider naturally ferments down dry.