Craft cider is on a roll, and it should be on your list. Susanna Forbes, author of The Cider Insider, picks out 10 artisanal ciders and perries to get you started
Just like London buses, there are no cider books for years, then suddenly two come along at once. One is Ciderology by Imbibe’s inimitable 2018 Educator of the Year Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist. The other is my own, The Cider Insider, which spotlights 100 of the world’s craftiest ciders. It’s no coincidence. Craft cider is on the rise, reaching beer bars and restaurants, as well as traditional cider haunts. The country’s first cider sommeliers – or ‘pommeliers’ – were announced by the Beer & Cider Academy at the end of September as part of an effort to elevate the status of cider, putting the drink on a par with wine or quality beer. And so it should be.
As Pete Brown points out in his article ‘Malt in beer: The most important ingredient of all‘, cider is actually apple wine, so we should be taking it as seriously as we do wine made from grapes. Oh, and it’s not just for summer either. To write my book I travelled thousands of miles, visited over a dozen regions and chatted to well over 100 cider and perrymakers. I’ve picked out 10 of my favourites for you here. In this selection, you’ll find culture, complexity and, in the case of our Asturian friends, theatre. This is your four-page fast track ticket to real cider and perry. Wassail!
Oliver’s Fine Cider, Yarlington Mill Medium Season 2017
Story: Tom Oliver is known as the godfather of cider, and choosing just one of his creations was a challenge. Notable 2018 debuts include small batch collab La Saison des Poires, and All Made Equal, a tangy cider crafted with Hawkes. But we’ve gone for Yarlington Mill, one of the darlings of the bittersweet world. The fruit comes from an orchard with old traditional trees. Harvest gets left right up until the last moment, resulting in seriously ripe fruit. Made through wild yeast fermentation, the final blend includes about 25% keeved Yarlington Mill, plus a splash of Foxwhelp for piquancy.
Taste: A whiff of smoke from the small barrel component. Off-dry and elegant, with ripe apple and orchard fruit sweetness veering into Gala melon and ripe peaches. Gentle, enjoyable tannins act as an anchor.
Who for? Everyone. Diners and barflies, chefs and somms.
Pair with: Cheese boards.
Try also: Oliver’s Fine Cider, Gold Rush #6.
6.7%, £50.40/24x33cl, The Fine Cider Company, 07792 616 446
Perry’s, Barn Owl, Farm House Cider
Story: Fourth-generation producer George Perry and chief cidermaker Gavyn Luck are the duo behind Barn Owl, Perry’s core keg cider. With wild yeast, 100% juice and only cider apples, this is Somerset terroir. Dabinett and Michelin apples, either from Perry’s own orchards or local growers, appear alongside lesser-known varieties such as Porter’s Perfection and George Perry’s favourite Somerset Redstreak. Famed illustrator Tom Frost does the labels, winning the title of Supreme Design Champion in the 2017 International Beer Challenge.
Taste: Magic – apple snow on the nose, plus a pinch of tangerine zest. Well judged tannins balance apple sweetness. Medium-bodied with a sparkle. Unfiltered, thus a light haze.
Who for? Restaurateurs, pubs and Instagrammers.
Pair with: Hunter’s chicken, Margherita pizza, Thai prawn curry.
Try also: Perry’s Tremlett, Collector’s Card No 4, single-variety cider.
Pilton, Somerset Keeved Cider 2017
Story: Want your cider with a bit of natural sweetness? Look for the tricky process called keeving. While the French pioneered the practice, England’s specialist is Martin Berkeley, founder of Pilton. Berkeley draws on magical orchards located within sight of Glastonbury Tor, including one owned by the world’s oldest cheddar-cheese producers, Barber’s Farmhouse, where cows graze beneath traditional trees. Fermented wild, cool and slow, taking eight months to complete, this regular Great Taste winner is best served cool, rather than cold.
Taste: Light golden, with aromas of ripe, bruised apple and plenty of autumnal notes. Fine bubbles cause miniflavour explosions of rich apple mixed with mandarin zest and chestnut honey hints.
Who for? Restaurants, explorers.
Pair with: Asian cuisine.
Try also: Pilton Tamoshanta, barrel-fermented cider.
Nightingale Cider Company, Russet Cider 2016
Story: ‘We got the most incredible sugars,’ Sam Nightingale tells me, explaining how his 2016 Russet Cider hit 8.1% abv rather the normal 7.5% without even trying. He’s a former sound recordist, and his family has been growing fruit since just after the war. After a long, cool fermentation, he holds off bottling till the cider shows ‘a really earthy complexity – I’m waiting until it goes “hello”’.
Taste: East Coast in style with little tannin, there’s complexity in the flavour spectrum. Ripe apple notes, as if you were actually tasting the russet that coats the apple. A long finish fuelled by acid tang, with umami-rich nutty notes.
Who for? Wine lovers.
Pair with: Japanese cuisine and cheese boards.
Try also: Nightingale, Discovery 2016.
8.1%, £27/12x50cl, The Real Al Company, 07967 646 245
Blakstoc, Buddha’s Hand Lemon Cider
Where? Styria, Austria
Story: Austria has its own Dr Apple and it’s Karl Karigl, Blakstoc’s bearded co-founder. As well as being a hop heartland, Styria boasts three-quarters of Austria’s apples. Karigl decided to mix the two, et voilà Austria’s first hopped-cider range was born. Inspired by the exotic fruits at the Schönbrunn Palace Orangery, Buddha’s Hand Lemon Cider has kaffir lime, bergamot, Meyer lemon and Buddha’s hand citron, plus Hopsteiner Lemondrop hops – a truly sensorial experience.
Taste: Like being enveloped by a walled garden, there are herbal hints and a perfectly balanced sparkle, plus lemon sherbet zest and green apple notes. Who for? Cider explorers, craft beer lovers, pastry chefs, Gewürztraminer geeks.
Pair with: Californian salads – or by itself.
Try also: Blakstoc, Quincy Jo & Hops Edition.
4%, £42.92/20x33cl, Euroboozer, 01923 263 335
Ross on Wye Cider & Perry, Farmhouse Perry
Story: Great perry lives a world away from its commercial counterparts. There’s a grace to its gentle pear notes, alongside a green-tinged astringency. However, the trees are tricky to grow and things get even more problematic with its production, so why make it? Because the results are so sublime. Ross on Wye is a maestro at perry, a single-varietal specialist and a dab hand at blends too. This Farmhouse Perry includes the full-fl avoured Hendre Huff cap variety, as well as the fl oral Gin and the historic Thorn. Use this as your starter and build a bottle collection around it.
Taste: Off -dry with a citrus tang to balance out a rounded, mellow texture and smooth tannins.
Who for? Wine lovers, sommeliers, cider and perry fans.
Pair with: Fish and vegetarian dishes.
Try also: Ross on Wye Moorcroft & Bartestree Squash Perry.
6%, £40/20l bag-in-box, The Real Al Company, 07967 646 245
Trabanco, Sidra Natural 2017
Where? Asturias, Spain
Story: Make like a Spaniard and pour like an Asturian. It’s not pure theatre, the sidra arcing from the bottle held aloft into an angled glass takes skill, and the prowess it requires is celebrated. As the sidra natural hits the side of the glass, it breaks up, producing tiny bubbles and aerating the tangy cider. Trabanco produces one of the most popular sidra naturals, and its supplier, Mevalco, provides helpful training, as well as free pourers, with your first order. Handy for when you’re feeling less adventurous, the pourers direct the stream of cider into the glass. Trabanco is literally embedded on the hillsides of Lavendera, near Gijón. Samuel Trabanco is the fourth generation of his family to make cider. For him, the apple is everything. His favourite apple Raxao leads Trabanco’s sidra blend, which also contains a dozen other varieties. Visit the atmospheric Casa Trabanco bistro next door to see cider culture in action.
Taste: Spring flowers, zesty and green-appled, with high acidity and a typically Asturian tang factor.
Who for? Cider explorers and sour- beer lovers.
Pair with: Spanish cuisine.
What else? Poma Áurea 2015, brut nature.
6%, £35/12x70cl, Mevalco, 01179 826540
Gospel Green Cyder, Brut Vintage 2016
Story: One of the early champagne-style ciders, Gospel Green was launched back in 1980 by James and Cathy Lane. The news that the pair were retiring so shocked loyal fan Brock Bergius that he bought the business, determined to continue production in the spirit of the Lanes. Hailing from the Teacher’s whisky family, Bergius moved production to the Blackmoor Estate, where its fruit has been sourced from for the past 20 years. He invested in new equipment and added magnums to the range. The ciders are crafted from dessert apples, with varieties typically including Bramley and Cox’s Orange Pippin. Secondary bottle fermentation lasts at least 10 months.
Taste: Elegant and wine-like in body and texture. Citrus-infused throughout, persistent fine bubbles provide tiny little zesty explosions in the mouth. Perfect as an aperitif.
Who for? Champagne and sparkling wine lovers, sommeliers and celebrations. Pair with: Fish and Japanese cuisine.
Try also: Gospel Green Cyder, Ultra Brut Vintage 2016.
8.4%, £9.66/75cl; POA/1.5 litre, The Fine Cider Company, 07792 616 446
Distillerie du Gorvello, Tradition IGP
Where? Brittany, France
Story: ‘Please put in your book, “100% juice”.’ This is Nicolas Poirier, founder of Distillerie du Gorvello, decrying the low level of juice allowed in some nations’ ciders. Not for Poirier. Dynamic, strategic and organised, he mixes old traditions – 25 Shropshire sheep graze beneath his trees – with new – his pneumatic press is state-of-the-art. Poirier only works with Breton apples, and this blend of six or seven varietals is all farmed biodynamically. ‘I don’t want the cider just with crêpes,’ he says. ‘You can drink cider all the time.’
Taste: Ripe, warm peaches on a summer day, with a perfect balance of tang and dusky tannins backing up its rich autumnal fruit notes. Who for? Bistros, pubs and wine bars.
Pair with: Salad niçoise or roast lamb.
Try also: Distillerie du Gorvello, Coco d’Issé, Cidre Artisanal de Bretagne.
4.5%, £9.75/75cl, Harris Vintners, 07976 960 810
Graft Cidery, Lost Tropic, Hop Mimosa
Where: Hudson Valley, New York, US
Story: Siblings Kyle and Sara Sherrer cut their cider teeth with their father at Millstone Cellars, branching out on their own in 2016 to form Graft. Their style is unashamedly modern, but the apple remains the star. ‘Let’s not do flavour as a gimmick,’ says Kyle, who is inspired by sour beers and Spanish ciders. His ciders have a brightening freshness to them. The artwork also breaks new ground, with the cans featuring Graft’s own Indiana Jones-type character Nomad. ‘It can get people out of the [traditional cider image]mindset,’ he says.
Taste: An adventurous, multi-layered pairing of hops with tart green-apple notes and stone fruit. Medium-to-high acidity, with lively sparkle amplified by palate-tingling citrus notes.
Who for? Craft beer lovers, cocktail friends. 30-somethings, festival goers, fruit cider drinkers.
Pair with: Madeira cake, goats’ cheese salad, stuff ed courgettes.
Try also: Graft Farm Flor.
6.9%, POA/24x33cl, Hawkes, 020 3903 8387
Amp up your apples, auntie
Explore: Whether Somerset, the Three Counties, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall or emerging regions such as Kent and London – don’t limit yourself!
Plan: In May, there’s Blossomtime, The Big Apple in Herefordshire; Welsh Cider & Perry Festival; and Royal Bath & West Show in Shepton Mallet. In June, there’s the Cider Salon 2019 in Bristol. In July, there’s Imbibe Live in London; and in October you can visit Harvestime, The Big Apple in Herefordshire.
Go to school: The Beer & Cider Academy, London
London: Visit Hawkes on Bermondsey Beer Mile; The Cider Bar, Borough Market; Cider Vault, Parsons Green; and The Real Al Tap, Walthamstow.
Harvest: Join in to find out what this ‘craft’ is about.