I met the guys from Cheeky Grog Co at the Australian Cider Festival a few weeks back. They were keen to show me the Crabby Johnny Cider. Now I get the chance to review it.

To tell the story of the Crabby Johnny I need to tell you the story of how an apple is born. Scattered around orchards are Manchurian crab apples.  These crab apples are not grown to be eaten. Instead these randy little trees are the pollinators of the orchard. Devoting all their energy into flowers rather than fruit or growing very tall. In early spring these trees resemble pompoms with their dense flower coverage. Bees are attracted to the flowers like magnets, picking up pollen and spreading it around to the other apple trees. Only when a flower has received pollen will it develop into an apple. And that, my friends, is the one half of the birds and bees chat.

Back to Manchurians. In a commercial orchard, to make it commercially viable, every resource has to be used. Manchurians do make a few little golf ball sized bitter bomb apples. The Cheeky Grog Co has used these normally forgotten fruits to add bitters and tannins into the Crabby Johnny Cider. These properties are hard to come by in the eaten apples which make up the bulk of Aussie and US ciders.

All these apples are grown at the Nathalia and Bunbartha orchards which are in the Goulburn/Murray Valleys of northern Victoria. Rich river flats with an abundance of water and sunshine gives high sugars in the fruit.

a bottle of Crabby Johnny cder by Cheeky Grog Co

The Nose

Bitter sharp scent, it’s just a festival of funk. It’s got so much going on from leather to garden clippings. Those crab apples don’t often get a chance to shine so they are shouting loudly and proudly.

The Taste

For a moment you get something smooth, and inviting. Then you get a massive kick in the ass by one Mr. Johnny. At first the bitterness may scare you off but wait for that second and third sip because that’s where the magic happens. Beneath a layer of big bottle conditioned fizz is a bitterness. I simply don’t have the vocabulary to explain what’s going on here. The closest I can say is it’s exactly the like that crab apple I picked of mum’s tree in the garden as a little fella. I remember thinking that was a bad idea as I rushed to wash my mouth out. The crab apples suck the moisture out of your checks, that’s the tannin’s effect. The bitterness is the other trick of those Manchurian crabs. It’s been tamed and restrained during fermentation you will not be rushing to wash your mouth out.

That thickness I mentioned is thanks to the cloudiness. The vast quantities of particulate matter give a full mouth feel.

Johnathan’s donate the acids and there is plenty of that. They also have plenty of sugars, none of it makes it to the bottle though. The Cheeky Grog Co has fermented it nearly dry, resulting in a full 8.1% cider.

Final Thoughts

Some big cider makers water down their juice to maximize profits. Cheeky Grog Co instead have used the orchards support character to bring a totally unique flavour to the Crabby Johnny Cider. This is probably going to appeal to craft beer fans.  Heavy on the bitters and buckets of texture, the Crabby Johnny has much in common with a well hopped beer. While I’m talking about hops, Cheeky Grog Co has proved that hops don’t need to be added to cider to create a bitter profile missing from many new world ciders. This may challenge many people’s taste buds, to others this shows how diverse and interesting ciders can be. I’m glad I’ve expanded my palate with the Crabby Johnny.

Product Crabby Johnny
Company Cheeky Grog Co
Sweetness Off Dry
Alc/Vol 8.1%
Website cheekygrogco.com
Country of Origin Australia
Region Victoria

Don’t forget to get your Real Cider Reviews merch