Imbibe Live’s Cider Ambassador Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry suffered a surprise defeat following an epic battle with Aspall’s Henry Chevallier Guild in the Clash of the Cider Titans on the opening day of the show.
With Centre Stage turned into a Roman amphitheatre, Oliver, aka the Wizard from the West, took on Chevallier Guild, the Beast from the East, over four rounds. Recognising not just cider’s revival but also its versatility, the titans each fielded a cider carefully selected for four scenarios, with the audience picking the winners in a Ready Steady Cook-style: a red vote for Oliver and green for Chevallier Guild.
First, the ‘getting back from a hot day’s work at the coalface’, whether office, factory and field. Oliver went continental, selecting the Original cider from Ramborn, Luxembourg’s first commercial cidery. Despite the local apple blend including the Rambo apple (it’s true!), Chevallier Guild’s choice of Sideburns from the Cotswold Cider Co (‘nothing to do with the name, honest!’), with its rich medium flavours, won the audience vote, albeit on the second count. Round 1 to the greens.
Next up, heading out with a group of mates to the curry house. Both protagonists fielded something from their own portfolios. For Oliver, it was Gold Rush #6, his recently launched collaboration with Angry Orchard’s cidermaker, Ryan Burk, with its natural residual sweetness and full-bodied tannins. In the green corner, Chevallier Guild went back to the beginning, fielded the first ‘cyder’ he and brother Barry created when they joined the business, Premier Cru. Its deft blend of bittersweet, culinary and dessert apples was enough to split the audience right down the middle. Half a point either way.
Round 3 – time for celebratory sparkle. Chevallier Guild opted for Gospel Green’s first vintage in its new Hampshire home, crafted using the traditional method of secondary fermentation. While Oliver applauded the Gospel Green, he wanted to share another way of inducing a natural sparkle, and fielded the naturally cloudy, zesty Pét Nat from Starvecrow, the new Sussex-based cidery launched by ex-Gusbourne CEO Ben Walgate. ‘It’s a little more rustic, but I love what ‘sur lees’, yeast and the halting of the first fermentation does,’ said Oliver. ‘It gives you more character and a whole new ball game in terms of sparkle.’
‘Haze is the craze,’ said Chevallier-Guild, acknowledging how tricky it is to make ciders with a natural sparkle. With both ciders coming from dessert/culinary apples, ‘It just shows what is happening in the world of cider,’ Oliver said. ‘And where some of the new approaches and new styles are coming from.’ The audience verdict? The elegant wine-like finesse of Gospel Green. Another round to the greens.
So to the final round, ‘We’re down with the kids with this one,’ said Oliver. ‘If you look at the 17-strong Stable group, if you look at the statistics, there’s one cider that always comes near the top: Lilley’s Mango Cider. While this meets the ‘refreshing and light’ need, Oliver added: ‘This is for when your palate’s not ready for anything too complex or huge. When I started, I didn’t start with the dry ciders, it was Weston’s Medium Sweet, and it was nectar in my view. I’m 18 again. this wasn’t around then. It is now.’
‘Isabel was my great grandmother,’ said Chevallier Guild, introducing his contender, Aspall’s Isabel’s Berry. Having highlighted how the sourness of the raspberry and redcurrant balanced the cider’s natural sweetness, he planted the killer punch: ‘I haven’t found a cider that goes with chocolate, apart from this one.’ Talking Black Forest Gateau, ‘this is one for the kid inside’, Chevallier-Guild said. Whether it was chocolate love or not, the audience voted green, giving the competition win to the Beast from the East, Chevallier Guild.
‘Choosing from producers young and old and working with all manner of fruit from a variety of regions provided our rivals with a wonderful chance to explore and share the diversity of ciders,’ said beer & cider editor Susanna Forbes, who acted as MC. ‘An inspiring battle of the apple.’