Low-abv, cocktail-friendly and 100% natural, Sassy Cidre is quickly becoming popular among chefs and bartenders alike. Imbibe headed to Normandy to explore its home and meet the young entrepreneurs behind the concept
Dining at a table once used by the Germans to operate on their wounded soldiers when they occupied Chateau de Sassy, it’s hard to believe that a castle with such history is the home of Sassy Cidre. Indeed, just approaching the 18th-century castle, once home to France’s Chancellor Etienne-Denis Pasquier, leaves one imagining the only cider produced on its immaculate and grand grounds must be cloudy, potent and served in jugs. But the company, founded by Xavier d’Audiffret Pasquier and Pierre-Emmanuel Racine- Jourden, produces some of the most contemporary ciders on the UK market.
Sassy (taken from the French pop culture saying ‘sisi mi famile’, meaning ‘this is my crew’) is the result of a friendship that formed between Pasquier and Jourden over 20 years ago, when the young boys would sneak off with the cider made on the estate and drink it in secret. Two decades later, and with two business degrees between them, the friends have created a slick and distinctly modern product.
‘We want to be placed in premium bars and restaurants,’ Pasquier tells us as he drives us to the chateau, also explaining that the duo have turned down large, off-trade accounts in order to maintain their premium standing. Part of that premiumisation is to position themselves as alternatives to wine and as cocktail ingredients – just one look at the wine-shaped, 75cl, cork-stoppered bottles is an inkling that this is a far cry from a pint of scrumpy in the local.
The liquids themselves are characterful and distinct, not too sweet (acidity is paramount in the making process) and attractively vibrant in colour – a result of the all-natural ingredients used in all three as well as being made up of 100% apples and pears, with more than 20 varieties going into each of the range.
Sassy Cidre Brut (5.2% abv) encapsulates the characters of both traditional brut ciders and semi-dry variants, with pronounced apple followed by woodiness and any residual sweetness balanced by a pleasant bitterness. Sassy Cidre Rosé (3% abv) – made using pink genever apples to give it its striking deep pink colour – is slightly acidic and tart with some red-fruit body to it. Finally, Sassy Cidre Pear (2.5% abv) is the most delicate of the trio, partly down to its low abv and in part due to its delicate effervescence and light touch on the palate. It’s this imbiber’s favourite – no surprise, as pear cider is ‘Normandy’s champagne’, Pasquier tell us.
Most of the production is done in the grounds of the chateau, which are plentiful with apple orchards, the most recent of which was planted in 2017, close to the forest, to give the fruit more of that all-important acidity: ‘We’re playing with different terroirs to give a distinctive taste to the apples,’ explains Pasquier. Terroir is something that he and Jourden talk about with pride: ‘Champagne is proud of its terroir, so why shouldn’t we be proud of ours?’
Garnish Orange zest
Method Build vermouth and Campari in a glass over ice and top with cider. Stir and garnish.
30ml red vermouth
Sassy Cidre Rosé
But are British customers ready to see cider as an alternative in pairing menus, or in their cocktails? Having tried the signature Rosé Negroni (see recipe box), which I drank in the family sitting room (complete with photos of HRH Queen Elizabeth II who visited the chateau to see the horses trained by Pasquier’s grandfather) I’d say they will be. The cider’s addition gives the aperitif a welcome red fruit lift and a tartness that accentuates the Campari.
The team is also working closely with some of Europe's most celebrated chefs to incorporate the ciders into their menus. Alain Ducasse is perhaps the most notable (the duo have worked with him on producing food pairing menus) as well as Michelin-starred Anne-Sophie Pic and Jason Atherton. Bars are also using the ciders in some of their cocktails, from Sexy Fish's 'F'row' (Grey Goose, calvados, peach juice, lemon juice, two dashes Peychaud, three dashes rosemary syrup and Sassy Cidre Rosé) to Opium's 'Apples & Monks (Calvados VSOP, chartreuse, benedictine, rosemary syrup, lemon juice and Sassy Cidre Pear).
The products' low-abv is also something that may see them being chosen as an alternative to wine, offering the theatrics of drinking wine (from its elegant bottles) without the alcohol hit.
With low-abv, low-calorie and natural products being three of 2020's most predicted trends, perhaps Maison Sassy is the key to a cider revolution.