You need to have been living on a desert island for the last ten years not to notice the incredible renaissance that cider has undergone, both globally and here in the UK. Catalysed by the so-called Magner’s effect, cider (once derided as the
tipple du jour for the park bench regular) quickly became the ‘new’ alternative to beer and wine, and the fastest-growing alcoholic drink sector in the country.
However, in recent years, it’s the introduction of fruit to cider that has become increasingly popular. These varieties tend to be tooth-achingly sweet and highly aromatised, veering far too close to the alcopops of the 1990s or the pre-mixed products you can buy these days, and ever more removed from the indigenous traditions, heritage and culture of cider making. Thankfully, there are hundreds of artisan producers of apple cider (or as I like to call it, ‘cider’), producing a dazzling array of the stuff, many from old orchards that have been around for centuries. These producers, among them Oliver’s, Perry’s and Newton Court, make ciders that exude class and quality. These are complex, rich and textured liquids that explode on the palate.
The range of styles is enormous: still to sparkling, bone-dry to naturally sweet, minimal intervention to full methode traditionelle (like champagne) – it’s incredible. These guys have a deep knowledge of cider apple varieties (these apples are definitely not for eating). Containing high levels of tannin, these can have the same level of influence over a cider’s flavour as the choice of grape variety does over a wine.
Good producers harness the flavours of their apples to produce some truly incredible ciders. As well as playing with different yeast strains, varying the maturation time, using different types of maturation vessel such as steel tanks or casks, and controlling the sweetness, it’s a whole new level of technical expertise.
Cider, done properly, is unique and versatile, and should be celebrated with pride as our true indigenous drink. Here are five of my absolute favourites to help you on the way.
Know your apples
Henney’s Dry: Brisk though this cider may be, there’s a pleasingly gentle, spicy undertone that perfectly balances this clean dry tipple. Easily available in most supermarkets, this is a rock solid go-to cider.
Sheppy’s Goldfinch: Made from a blend of classic Somerset cider apples, this lightly sparkling cider is brilliant with food.It has a great, mouth-puckering dryness, so try it with strong cheese or game dishes.
Pilton Cider: Using apples from Glastonbury Festival’s Worthy Farm, Pilton cider is made by producing partially fermented cider, which is then finished in the bottle. The end result is rich, semi-sweet and naturally sparkling, packed with ripe apple flavours.
New Forest Traditional Farmhouse: This Dorset-based family firm run Borough Market’s only cider stall, which is testament to its quality. Medium-dry, it has gentle, earthy aromas, and makes you feel like you’re in a hay barn. Complex, but not challenging.
Once Upon a Tree, Kingston Red Streak: Kingston Black and Somerset Redstreak apple varieties have been combined to make a bold, elegant drink. Made by a winemaker-turned-cider maker, this still drink is packed with smoke and spice.