My Favourite Ciders of 2017

As January is ending, true to form, I have left my round up of 2017 blog to the last minute! New year, new me? PAH!

I think it’s been an interesting year for cider. ‘Craft’ has certainly been on the rise this year, as the biggest producers notice a slump in their overall sales. Increasingly we see the giants of the industry developing ‘craft’ cider brands, all promising, basically, to BE MORE LIKE ACTUAL CIDER. Lovely to see the smaller makers are making an impact in this way. Stickin’ it to the man! Probably the two biggest stories of the year being the so called ‘White Cider Tax’ and the sale of Aspall to Molson Coors. I won’t go in to detail about either right now, but in 2018 I certainly will be hoping that common sense will prevail regarding the tax issue…

It’s been an interesting year for me too! 2017 had many first-time experiences such as the Bath and West show, exploring Herefordshire and the Big Apple and even a trip to Luxembourg, who’da thought it! I have also met some lovely people and fantastic cider makers, pretty much all thanks to Twitter, what a brilliant network it is. Cider wise, I have been spoilt rotten. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess how much I consumed last year (probably verging on the side of “cause for concern”), but there have been some phenomenal drops, many of which were from producers that were new to me. For this blog, I have decided to pick my favourites from those which I featured on Twitter. With that in mind, some cracking ciders will not feature so honourable mentions go to Little Pomona, Gregg’s Pit and Minchew’s.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my favourite ciders from 2017:

  • Kent Cider Company: Yowler DSKld1IXcAAYTb9

Obviously this is a list of favourites, but this was a particularly favourity favourite! In the past I have found Kent Cider Companys offerings to be a bit hit and miss, but the Yowler is exceptional. A much bigger, bolder cider than typical for the region, really fruity with a smack of toffee apple. Their Russet cider is also one to look out for.

  • Springfield: Bludgeon C-CfPRaXgAQULu2

This is the first and only cider I have tried from Springfield but if its anything to go by, I need to taste the rest. Just look at the colour of it! Bludgeon is probably the best example of a spirit cask aged cider that I have tried to date. Usually I find Whisky far too overpowering for cider, but this had such balance and a real depth of flavour.

No website anymore…


  • Apple County: Dabinett

The Dabinett apple lends itself very well to a single variety cider and this vintage 2014 from Apple County must be one of the best. It was everything I love about Dabinett cider and more. A really accomplished medium cider from Monmouthshire. Must get hold of some more…

  • Whin Hill: Kingston BlackDJoMjVlW4AA8iY1

A cider of many firsts this one. This was my first taste of Whin Hill cider, in fact my first cider from Norfolk. Perhaps surprisingly though, this was the first Kingston Black cider I have enjoyed. The bittersharp apple, so famed for its single variety prowess, had never lived up to the hype for me. This was exceptional. A perfectly balanced medium cider well complimented by the oak ageing. Easily the best single variety I had in 2017.

  • Greenman: Vintage DryDLoJLYEXkAA2P2c

I really enjoyed this Vintage Dry from Greenman. Was it a super complex, smack around the mouth of a cider? Or a contemporary, refined drink? No. But it was an incredibly honest, perfectly fermented, easy drinking cider. I think its easy to over look things for being simple. In the case of this cider, it was perfect because of its simplicity, which is no mean feat. If this was on draught in a pub I would be a happy man. In fact, if the guys at Greenman are reading, Exeter needs this stuff…

  • Olivers: Fine Perry cof

In 2017, perry and I finally became friends. The Blakeney Red from Avenue Cottage was the first to excite me. But this Fine Perry from Oliver’s made me go “Ooooh” in ways only cider had before. This was also a Blakeney Red single variety perry, but a very classy, refined example. Full of interesting and complex flavours, but beautifully subtle. I look forward to exploring more that the pear has to offer in 2018.

  • Ramborn: Erbachhoffer DEt9NSqXcAElytU

Travelling to Luxembourg and learning about the cider scene there was a real highlight for me in 2017. Ramborn are the first commercial cider maker in the country. They have a great range of ciders but the one that stood out for me was the Erbachhoffer. A local apple variety, the cider has a very balanced profile with a lovely sharp apple tang, a bit like a blend of Eastern and Western English ciders. Right up my street.

  • Woodredding: Jack’s Tipple DPbSd8DW0AAKTQl

One of the smaller cider makers on this list, Woodredding from Herefordshire. Jack’s Tipple was an enviously good cider. As I drank it, I just sat there thinking; “Damn, I wish I could make cider as good as this.” Such a beautiful flavour, colour, aroma, it had all. Luckily, I still have a bottle of their Yarlington Mill to look forward to trying.

  • Chalkdown C60g-zhW0AIE98o

Chalkdown cider made quite a name for itself in 2017, even available in selected Waitrose stores now. This full Champagne style cider from Hampshire is really pushing the boundaries of how cider can be presented and served. I enjoyed this cider an awful lot more than any sparkling wine I have ever tried. I think it also demonstrates exceptionally well that cider made in this style is superior when made from dessert and culinary apples.

  • Polgoon SparklingDEuNDpNXsAAn0r5

Last but not least I have gone for Polgoon Sparkling cider from Cornwall. I had a great day visiting Polgoon last summer. They told us that they planted apple trees to provide an income during poor performing years for their vineyard. It turns out, wine makers fermenting cider from dessert apples is a beautiful thing. It was also fascinating to see how much this cider differed from it’s contemporaries in the East of England. Terroir don’t you know…

Well, there we have it, I hope you enjoyed my list. Many fantastic ciders didn’t make it, but perhaps that’s down to me to feature and promote more on Twitter this year! Let me know what you thought and which were your personal favourites of 2017!



P is for Perry

So what is perry? I guess that’s the place to start. Perry is a drink made from the fermented juice of the humble pear. In recent years this has been confused some what by the coining of the term ‘Pear cider’ by Brothers in the nineties. Whilst this new term introduced a whole new audience to pear based drinks, they paled in comparison to the real thing. Many of the industrially made pear ciders were more akin to an alcopop than to real perry. This rebranding had its initial success, but the pear sector of the booze trade has declined rapidly in recent years. Weston’s 2017 cider report claims that perry makes up only 3% of overall cider and perry sales. But as we see with ‘craft’ and traditional ciders becoming more popular, maybe now is the time for perry to leap from obscurity to the top shelf.

To make great perry requires the maker to really understand the fruit that is available to them and how to get the best out of it. It is certainly an art form and making perry seems to have its own unique challenges. But it is certainly worth the effort and experienced makers are producing perry that we in Britain should praise along with our ciders in the same tone as French wine and Belgian beer. I have four perries to taste in this blog, three from the home of perry in Herefordshire and for balance one from the non-traditional county of Kent.

Before we get into the tasting though, here is some quick fire perry trivia: (Everyone’s favourite pub quiz round!)

  • Perry pears are unusual beasts, smaller and often more spherical than eating pears with fabulous names such as Merry legs, Butt, Flakey Bark and Dead boy!

    green horse

    A ‘Green Horse’ perry pear.

  • Traditionally, Perry hails from the three counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire where the majority of these pear varieties originate.
  • Perry pears have a different chemical structure to that of cider apples. They contain varying levels of citric acid which produces citrus fruit aromas and flavours. Also the natural sugar levels also tend to be higher and include the unfermentable sugar sorbitol, which means perry will maintain a natural level of sweetness.
  • Whilst it may be frowned upon in traditional regions, perry can be made from dessert and culinary pears too, as you will see in the tasting!

Right, I’m thirsty, let’s get stuck in.

First upcof, Panting Partridge Perry from Newton Court. A lovely bright, golden liquid. The aroma is floral with a touch of citrus, almost sherbet. Unfortunately there is a fairly obvious aroma of vinegar, something which perry seems fairly susceptible to. Luckily it is not so strong in the flavour and actually brings balance to the drink. A light and fragrant flavour initially with the slightest of bubbles that dance in the mouth. Seems obvious to say, but the pear notes really shine through in the finish with that touch of citrus. A tasty start!


Next I have Fine Perry from Tom Oliver.cof This is a single variety perry made exclusively from Blakeney Red pears. Very different aroma from the first with inciting sweet yet zingy pears. On the palate this is medium dry and bursting with flavour. Some really interesting tropical fruit flavours and dare I say even a touch of blue raspberry (my childhood confectionary favourite). This is much more carbonated but it brings a lovely freshness and complements the drink. Very Fine Perry indeed.



The last of the Herefordshire offerings comes from Gregg’s Pit and is their bottle condtioned Blakeney Red, Butt and Oldfield. Cracking presentation, great to see a perry served like this. An impressive pop from the cork! But the aroma is…unfortunate. Musty and eggy, I can only assume this has occurred post bottling. After some time in the glass it clears, allowing the floral and citrus aromas through. This perry is much drier with a lot more going on in the flavour. Incredibly  complex with big fruity tannins. Again, really refreshing citrus notes, with the pear growing in the finish. Despite it being the driest of the three, there’s a slight sweetness that really balances the drink.


cofLast but not least, Nightingales Kentish Perry. There are many people who’d say this shouldn’t be called a perry as its made with dessert pears, namely Concorde, Comice and Conference pears. Not only that but it’s been blended with some Bramley apple to provide some acidity. The nose is distinctly pear. Very fruity and acidic. The flavour… wow, what a contrast. Really fresh and fruity with juicy pear flesh notes and subtly floral. There are no off notes at all and the addition of the Bramley has really lifted this drink, a bold move done well. I wanted to say it holds it’s own against the other three, but I think that’s condescending to a drink of this quality.

Well there we have it, four fabulous perries and all distinctly different. It’s a shame that the Gregg’s Pit was slightly off the mark, as they are renowned for their fine perry, but I think it just goes to show what a bugger making perry can be. As we all know, taste is subjective so I shan’t rank them for you, but interestingly when my girlfriend and I compared notes, our preferences were very different with the exception of one. Second place went to Nightingales Kentish Perry. I think it’s great to see perry being made in non traditional areas to a standard as good as that.

I hope you are feeling inspired to give perry a try. You will be amazed by what you find. See what is available locally to you and explore the incredible selection from the Three Counties. Other producers I would highly recommend trying are Hallets, Ross-on-Wye, Severn and Dunkertons.


The Perry Pear Rocks The Big Apple

Hello! It’s been a while…. Over two months in fact since my last post. In that time apple harvest has started, I reached the one thousand follower mark on Twitter and this blog had its first birthday. Perhaps this year I might achieve my incredibly strenuous goal of at least one blog post a month…

Let talk harvest! Up and down the country, cider makers from garden shed hobbyists (it’s called a cidery, thanks) to the industrial giants will be picking and pressing fruit like there’s no tomorrow. For some this started as early as September with many varieties dropping a good few weeks earlier than expected. For others, pressing will just have begun and will keep them busy into December. Only now do cider makers get to see what mother nature has provided and now it’s up to them to make the most of it for this year’s vintage. To celebrate this time of year, an event called The Big Apple takes place in Much Marcle, Herefordshire. I finally went to see what it was all about.

The last time I was in Herefordshire was just at the end of blossom time, so it was stunning to see the difference in the landscape during harvest. In my time living in the West, I’ve done a fair bit of rural driving through Devon and Somerset, but Herefordshire honestly feels like you are travelling through one massive orchard.

Big apple map

The Big Apple Map

We (I was kind enough to take the Mrs!) arrived at Hellens, a country house and one of the venues for the Big Apple. Interestingly, the whole event is held at separate venues across the village (9 to be exact), most within walking distance. Although, the lovely people at Westons provided a tractor and trailer taxi service! Each venue had different displays, demonstrations and talks regarding the apple harvest and related subjects like bee keeping. There was an incredibly relaxed and calming feeling about the day, lots of people standing in orchards drinking ciders and perrys, all gathered together for a joint appreciation for Britain’s most quintessential fruit.

What really stole the show for me though was the Perry. Prior to the Big Apple, I had been sat quite firmly on the proverbial fence. It just never wowed me before. Many I had tried before were just nice, or overly subtle and in some cases just plain awful. “One pint of vinegary acetone please barman!” But I am pleased to say I was wrong. Just as with cider, who makes it and how good they are at it is paramount. That afternoon, I was lucky enough to taste some exceptional examples.


Perry pear pressing at Avenue Cottage.

First was a tasting at Avenue Cottage. A family home where they demonstrated the pressing of perry pears from their own orchard. This was the first time I had encountered a perry pear, so I couldn’t resist biting into one… It was a regrettable experience. This was a Blakeney Red, revered for its single variety perry, but not for its eating. A tough skin and so too was the flesh initially but then mush, sweet brown mush, followed by tannin that dried my mouth like a wad of cotton wool. Tasty. Thankfully the perry was devine. In the orchard where the pears were picked, a tasting was led by Gabe Cook and judging by other people’s expressions I was not the only one blown away.


They don’t make ’em like they used to!

Afterwards we head almost directly across the valley to Gregg’s Pit, a highly respected cider and perry maker, for a particularly special tasting. As we arrive, we just catch the end of a pressing demonstration on their beautiful old press. The juice from the pears flowed out freely under their own weight which gathered in the impressive base, hand carved from Forest of Dean stone. It’s a real insight into the long-held tradition of cider and perry making in this region. We all stand under the trees in this long sloping orchard for what’s known as a ‘vertical tasting’. Having never heard of this, I was kind of hoping to witness a group of connoisseurs trying to drink whilst performing  head stands. Alas, a vertical tasting is where you try several vintages of the same variety or bottling from the same producer.

The tasting was again hosted by Gabe Cook (he gets around doesn’t he!) and accompanied by James Marsden, the owner of Gregg’s Pit. James looked slightly nervous at the start, and confessed that this isn’t something he’d really done before. We started with the most recent bottling of Thorn Single Variety Perry. The aroma is astonishing, James remarks “I have people genuinely ask me if I put grapefruit juice in this!”. The citrus note is powerful and present in the flavour. This was the first time I had tried a bottle fermented perry, staggeringly good it was too. The next bottle was a few years older, from 2013. This was not quite as fresh and zingy as the first, but it had much more body and maturity about it, a ‘grown up drink’ the group agreed. We finish the vertical tasting with a bottle from 2006. Again, remarkably different from the others, whilst maintaining Thorn characteristics, but boasting its age with real depth and complexity. It was a fascinating experience, like we were tasting history. A few surprise bottles were opened, one of which was from a local maker called Kevin Minchew who was also stood amongst the group. Vintage 2001, aged in whisky casks and weighing in at a whopping 10.2% alcohol, this, for me, was one of the most astonishing drinks I have ever tasted. Fun fact, I was ten years old when the pears were picked for this bottle. I hope I get to taste it again someday.


Damn fine Perry.

A great weekend, a stunning county and fabulous booze! I want to say a huge thank you to our hosts for the weekend, James and Susanna Forbes who put Terrie and I up, and kept us fed and well-watered with their delightful offerings from Little Pomona.  We look forward to hosting you in Devon sometime! I should also thank my long suffering girlfriend Terrie for joining me and encouraging my cidery pursuits.

The Big Apple returns in spring 2018 for their Blossom time event and hosts their renowned cider and perry trials! If that takes your fancy, be sure to check their website and keep the May Day bank holiday free. I may even see you there!


Too small. Too big. Just right.

Hello, it’s been a while! Although not due to lack of trying, this is blog idea number three for August… the others, well, maybe they’ll emerge one day.

The subject of this blog is volume; why do we drink cider by the pint? There certainly are those unquenchable thirsts we seem to develop on Friday evenings. Pint one and two barely touch the sides. By pint four we should be slowing down but somebody bought peanuts, typical. Another round? Been there, done that, broken my phone and woken up on the sofa. With traditional cider, pint three or four is probably enough for most mortals. Whilst your standard draught ciders sit at a low 4 to 5% alcohol, with a drop of scrump you’re looking at a much higher 6 to 8.5%. So why is it typically only available by the half or a pint? It’s worth pointing out that up until 2011, beer and cider could only be served by the pint or half, but this law was relaxed. Halves are for designated drivers and people who have eaten too much, but trying to session pints of strong cider can quickly shorten your evening. Enter 2/3rds of a pint, 379ml, a schooner… Or as they call it down-under, a Sheila pint, would you believe! (My girlfriend was not impressed by this!)

Cider Flutes

18th Century Cider Flutes at Hereford Cider Museum.

Historically, cider has been served in some very different and interesting vessels. During the 17th century and into the 18th century, cider’s popularity in Britain peaked. Due to a combination of factors including favourably low tax for cider and a scarcity of wine in England (we fell out with the French, again) meant that cider briefly became more in vogue with the upper classes. This led to cider being served in beautifully cut crystal flutes. They have many examples you can see on display at the Hereford Cider Museum. In fact, it was also during this period that English cider makers pioneered a technique more commonly known today as méthode champenoise”.

For centuries, cider has also been served in porcelain and earthenware tankards. These tankards would often have two or three handles for passing round and wishing good health in communal ceremonies such as Wassailing. These mugs typically hold a pint, if not more and are still in use today. You can take a step back in time by visiting the Cider Bar in Newton Abbot where cider mugs hang from the ceiling, with their owner’s name written on the base. Many a collection exists and enthusiasts like myself own and drink from them. So, there’s nothing new about cider being served by the pint, but perhaps it’s time for cider to be served in something more contemporary.


Is the 2/3rds chalice the way forward?

Cider still struggles with being compared to beer and wine rather than being respected for what it is. I think serving it in its own way would help it’s image. It would also help to encourage more people to give traditional ciders a go. So many times, I’ve heard cider being described “too strong”, even if it’s only one percent stronger than their usual tipple. It’s something which also extends to publicans who choose their drinks based on what they think will sell and what wont. During a few months of madness, I obsessed over opening my own micro pub. In my research, I visited several in Kent, including the original one. Cider was not on offer there and I endured a hostile lunch time being criticised for my choice of drink by the owner: “Why would I stock 8% cider when my punters would be on their arse after 2 pints?!”. I suspect that he is not alone in this belief. But serving by 2/3rds offers a more sensible volume for a strong drink and makes a pub session more realistic. Add to that the reduction in price by a third, trying something different becomes that bit more enticing. Craft beer bars and contemporary tap houses have been offering schooners for a while as craft beer regularly exceeds 8% alcohol. It may also help with the serving of cider in restaurants as an alternative to wine; a classier glass and well suited to 750ml bottles. I can’t really see a negative.

It may not suit every occasion, but it would be great to have the option more available. There’s nothing wrong with drinking cider by the pint, the vast majority of what is sold in Britain is made to be so. But it would make traditional cider more accessible and appealing. All it needs is a better name than schooner… Suggestions on Twitter and in the comments!

What do you think?


Cider Sleuth on Tour: Luxembourg

Cider is made in Luxembourg, who knew? Not me, well not before being sent some cider to try in October 2016 and very good it was too! It’s not a place I had really considered visiting before, but I wouldn’t be much of a sleuth if I only investigated cider from its cultural home land, would I?


The view from my window.

After an amazing offer from the guys at Ramborn cider, we set a date for my flight. I feel out of place on the plane, sat amongst men in suits on their commute to work. The view from the window was inspiring. Huge patches of pine forest and farm land separate quaint villages. Already, I’m thinking there’s a huge potential for planting a lot of apple trees here (I know, I’m cool). I am greeted at the airport by Carlo Hein, the founder of Ramborn Cider. We chat about how our passion for cider began on the walk to his car: “Mine started at age 5, with little sips of ‘Viez’ straight from the barrel” Carlo laughs. On the drive to Born he tells me more about cider’s history in Luxembourg. ‘Viez’ is the traditional name for cider in the region which has Roman origins. “First, they would press the grapes for making wine and second, they press the apples and pears, viez comes from the Latin ‘Viez Vinum’ meaning second wine.” We’ve not made it to the village yet and I already have learnt that people have been using apples wisely in this region for as long as we have in Britain!

Soon we reach the banks of the Sauer river and for as far as the eye can see the hills are coated with vineyards. Luxembourg has a thriving wine industry which is steadily picking up more awards and respect internationally. With the production of wine and cider being quite similar, there’s a wealth of experience to be shared and learnt. Carlo tells me that it is like a shared economy, gaining knowledge and resources from one another. It’s great to hear. We arrive at the Ramborn Cider Haff where Carlo is keen to show me an apple tree held dear to the company. It’s a Rambo apple, a dual-purpose variety that is very traditional in Luxembourg and one which they love to use in cider making here. The company’s name is a portmanteau of this variety and the village of Born where they are based.


Ramborn Cider shop entrance

We head into the recently renovated farmhouse and my word, what a job they have done. It’s a beautiful building where this traditional farm house enjoys a sleek and contemporary face-lift.  I get to meet more of the staff at Ramborn before Carlo takes us on a tour of the site. The building which historically was a distillery is now a media room, a cidery cinema if you will. We watch a short film they have put together which aims to teach the locals about cider history and culture in Luxembourg as well as about their brand. Plain speaking and concise, it’s full of fascinating historical titbits and draws similarities to the loss of orchards in Britain. In 1912, Luxembourg was home to 1.2 million apple trees (a 5:1 tree to civilian ratio!), but by the end of the 20th century, 90% were lost… As our conversations go on, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t just about them, this is a passion project, they want to get the locals excited about cider and revive an almost lost cider culture here.

Next, we’re off to the orchards with Chantal Hellers, Ramborn’s orchard manager. Glorious old apple trees stand side by side with the recently planted. Some are as over 80 years old, but still cropping well. Carlo has a fascination with full size, standard apple trees. In fact, they do not plant anything else. He believes these trees to produce superior apples, but more than that, it’s what they provide for the environment in the biodiversity they encourage. It’s quite a statement from a young company as standard trees can take up to 10 years to begin cropping heavily. This orchard sits on a steep slope, down into the valley with the river glistening in the distance. It must be hard work picking fruit here, but what a sight on a well-earned lunch break. The forecast rain makes an inconsiderate appearance so we hop in the car and continue the tour.


Newly planted Star Apple tree

Further round, in a large clearing, they have started planting a very special orchard. Two trees per variety of traditional Luxembourgish apples and pears. One of which the Star apple, or Sternapi, is believed to genetically date back to Roman times. So far, they have planted 34 trees with 150 being the goal. Essentially, this is a gene bank, where these varieties will be known and preserved. It reminds me of the work that’s being done at Brogdale Farm in Faversham. This is truly important work for the genetic diversity of apples in Luxembourg. There’s a real sense of satisfaction amongst the group as they look out at these trees which will be here for several generations to come.



City orchards should be a thing.

In the evening, we head into Luxembourg city. If you like architecture, you must visit. The Downtown area is visually dominated by an ancient wall, built into the stone cliff face. I can only imagine what a daunting sight this must have been for an ancient warrior. The wall alongside the Germanic homes, cobbled streets and lively night life was all beautifully distracting. We meet with Adie Kaye, head of marketing at Ramborn, for a tour of its streets and a particularly special orchard. At the foot of the city wall, on the bank of the river, a community orchard is planted over two tiers. “I can’t think of any of major European city with an orchard like this in the centre” says Adie. They have also managed to get access to use these apples for making cider. It is an impressive sight and just goes to show the significance of apples to this region. We stop at Updown Bar for refreshment. The bottled cider selection is lined up on the bar with several from Ramborn and a few typical British imports. With so many Britons working here midweek, cider has become a more common sight in local bars. In turn, this has created a greater demand for cider in Luxembourg which is to Ramborn’s advantage. They are very keen to get the Luxembourgish to try real cider, made from fresh local apples, something that seems to be going well in this pub!

The next morning, its back to the Cider Haff for coffee where I get to meet Caroline Riplinger; Ramborn’s head of production. She’s surprisingly young for a person in her position but she has a wealth of knowledge as cider was the topic of her master’s degree. She has a very technical knowledge of fermentation and takes it very seriously, it’s not something that’s just left to chance. Interestingly, Caroline uses a technique she refers to as the clarification stage, where the freshly pressed juice is left to settle for 24 hours before fermentation. After 24 hours, the now clearer juice is pumped away from the sediment at the bottom of the tank and put into their fermentation vessels. Caroline also believes this process allows the microflora in the juice to relax and develop. This meticulous process is evident in the flavour of the cider. There are zero off notes. All their ciders are refined, crisp and really bursting full of appley character. More so than you might find in some traditional English ciders. There’s certainly no questioning the quality and variety of fruit in Luxembourg.

Cask aged cider. Whisky, Bourbon and Rum!

Recently filled Whisky, Rum and Bourbon casks. The aroma was incredible!

So, I’m not sure who will get more out of this blog, Visit Luxembourg or Ramborn Cider! It was a fascinating trip, I have learnt a lot. What a beautiful country, such friendly people, and top-quality cider, I need to go back. I want to say a massive thank you to Carlo and Adie for making this trip possible and for their hospitality during my stay. Thanks also to the rest of the guys at Ramborn for their time and their knowledge. Finally thanks to you my readers, without your interest in my impassioned ramblings I would not have had this opportunity!

Cider looks set for a renaissance in Luxembourg, I am sure it will be successful with the passionate guys at Ramborn behind the wheel! For concise reviews of their cider check out Real Cider Reviews. I shall also be featuring a selection on Twitter soon!


 West Country Sleuthing

So I’ve been living in cider country for the last 10 months (bloody hell… really?!) but it’s only really been in the last couple months that I’ve been making the most of that cider sleuthing wise. March saw me finally go to meet some local cider makers in Ventons and Green Valley. I also joined Orchard Link, a Devon based, orchard obsessed group, where I made a start on learning how to tame apple trees. In April I went to Bristol with a partner in inebriation and discovered some of it’s most renowned cider bars and pubs. What a city! I was pretty jealous of the pubs there (and the sheer amount of) compared to here in Exeter. So far though, May has been the highlight!


Maybe a bit much for the flat?

After a heads up from Susanna Forbes about an event at the Hereford Beer House, I finally made a trip into Herefordshire! What a beautiful county it is too, the drive in through acres of orchards in peak blossom time was breath taking. The first stop though was the Cider Museum. It would be rude not to, right? I didn’t really know what to expect from the museum, but I was really impressed. It’s laid out well and has something for everyone, even children. If I was allowed, my flat would probably be filled with all the kinds of cider memorabilia they have on display. One thing I thought was particularly fascinating was the history of the Bulmers Family. Incredible to see their progression from a small family business to being the largest cider producer in the world. The museum also has a really well stocked cider shop. Next time your in Hereford cider-heads, I highly recommend paying a visit.

On to the Beer House! The event in question: Angry Orchard Tasting and Oliver’s Vintage Blend Release. After getting lost trying to navigate Hereford with my phone we found the Beer house tucked just off the high-street. Walking in it was nice to get a warm welcome from the familiar face of Gabe Cook who wasted no time in pointing out an open bottle of perry. What a cracking place! It’s a specialist bottle shop and tap house, focusing on beer from all over the world. The decor is simple and the size is perfect, just cosy enough to force conversation but still able to stock an impressive selection (and a walk-in chiller!).

Line up

Impressive line up! (Terrible photo)

I was standing awkwardly at the bar, when Ryan Burke, head cider maker at Angry Orchard, started opening some bottles of beautifully presented cider. I had no idea what to expect. My previous experience of Angry Orchard had been unpleasant, but these were a far cry from what you’d find in ‘spoons. All the ciders Ryan showcased were small batch, wild yeast fermented, cask aged beauties. Some were sparkling wine-like and others full bodied, smack you round the face, complex ciders. All sublime. He spent the whole evening working the room, making as many people try them as he could with an infectious enthusiasm.

I bump into and finally meet Susanna. It’s always great meeting like minded people and talking about what you love. She asks if I’ve met Tom Oliver yet and quickly gets his attention. In stark contrast to Ryan, Tom is a calm, collected character. Another warm welcome then we get straight into tasting. It’s an interesting experience listening to him describe what he’s tasting, like its an adventure in the glass. This particular cider, Oliver’s Fine Vintage 2015, was blended by a collaboration of brewers and cider makers, including Susanna and Jonny Bright, the owner of the Beer House. It was truly exceptional, I can’t recommend it enough. I also had the chance to try Little Pomona, a cider made by Susanna and her Husband James. I was really impressed, not only with its classy and refined flavours but they have done a fantastic job on the branding. What a triumph! The tasting flowed on through the evening. It was great to see everyone really enjoying themselves, some of whom, devout beer drinkers who decided to give it a go that evening. Hurrah, converts!


Effective signage.

On my last day in Hereford, I thought I’d swing by Westons and see how the big boys do it. Driving over there I thought I’d punched in the wrong address as we seemed to get deeper into the countryside. Amazingly, it’s location is because it’s on the same site as when the company started in 1880. Not only that but it’s still owned and run by the same family. The tour starts by showing Henry Weston’s old farm house and leads on into what is essentially their own cider museum. Wandering around the factory was a real eye opener though. The figures are mind boggling: Over 36,000 tonnes of fruit pressed, 120 x 200,000 litre fermentation tanks and oak vats that hold as much as 42,107 gallons! Getting up close and personal to those oak vats was a real sight to behold, but also impressive to see them being used in cider production on this scale. Whether you love or hate their cider, what they have achieved is remarkable. You should definitely check it out.

All that was just one weekend! I think I’ve run out of your patience to write about The Royal Bath and West Show as well! I’ve got some really exciting things happening at the end of June and into July so watch out for those blogs in the future.





A Celebration of the Egremont Russet



Egremont Russet in blossom.

A few weeks before starting this blog, a packet of Russet apples caught my attention on the weekly food shop. Ironic really, as their ‘russeted’ skin is the not the most appealing along side the glistening greens and reds. I was pleased to see them because in the last year or so I’ve developed a fondness for their cider. However, I’ve discovered something quite frustrating; I have an intolerance to eating raw apples. Seems odd to finally realise this in my mid-twenties, but as someone who prefers to eat fruit seasonally (but not instead of chocolate…) it was only after a more severe reaction that it clicked. I had once or twice suffered at the hands of cherries and plums which led to my throat tightening. A quick consultation with Dr. Google later and it appears I suffer from Oral Allergy Syndrome. Which in a nutshell means I am allergic to the pollen of orchard fruit. Something which I was oddly amused to discover I share with Beer journalist and fellow cider lover Pete Brown, which he colourfully describes in his excellent book ‘The Apple Orchard’.


Despite my intolerance, I bought a packet and later that week I gave into temptation. Whilst the rough and slightly thicker skin may put certain people off, the flavour certainly makes up for it. It’s very sweet, with a more complex flavour than the other popular varieties. There’s a slight nuttiness, one of its hallmarks, and a very fruity after… Ah. There it is. I hoped I might get away with it. My mouth starts to feel like there’s a party going on inside it. A heavy bass-line pulses through my gums. My tongue and the roof of my mouth begin to buzz. I must have spent a fair portion of my teens thinking this was normal and just the sense of adventure one got from eating an apple. Luckily it’s quite a tame reaction. I bravely finish it.

But really what I’m interested in is its fermented juice!

As a full sweet dessert apple, common knowledge suggests it will not make a cider of good quality on its own. But it does. It’s high sugar content and complicated flavour translate into a classy cider with a unique character. In this blog I shall taste three of the best I have come across and use them to support the use of a favourite word of French wine makers, ‘Terroir’…



Starting with Turner’s Russet, from Marden in Kent. The aroma from the glass is very interesting. Not immediately recognisable as a cider, its acidic, floral, more like a dry white wine. The first mouthful subdued initially, but followed by bursts of flavour. It’s earthy and nutty and very dry. With each mouthful I am getting something different, and at the same time clean and refined, it is glorious. I think this is a great cider to take your time over and would certainly work as a white wine alternative.



Next up, Kent Cider Company from Faversham. Before I start tasting, how good is this presentation! Superb label design and the 750ml bottle is very apt. Amazingly different aroma to this one. Much sweeter, hints of apple flesh and honey, oh so tempting. Normally that would mean a sweet tasting cider, but no! Initial sweetness is followed by a really dry and crisp finish. It’s fruity and the after taste leaves me feeling like I’ve just eaten an apple. A more distinct character than the Turners, but they both have that unique, russet flavour. This would be a great bottle to take to a dinner party!


IMG_20170425_205607  Last but not least, Gibbet Oak from Tenterden, Kent. A cider that I am well acquainted with. Lovely aroma; really crisp acidic apple notes with a typical russet earthiness.  First thing that grabs me about this one is the mouthfeel, it really coats the palate! The flavour is very well balanced. Sweet fruity notes lead into a dry crisp appley finish. A very refreshing, clean tasting cider. It also has the lowest alcohol volume of the three at 7.5%… Dangerously drinkable.


Three beautiful ciders, all made from the same apple variety, which is obvious when you taste them, yet they are so different. Why is this? It could be due to any additional processes they may have been through, or anything else being added to them. But as far as I am aware, these are full juice, fully fermented ciders. Enter ‘Terrior’: “The characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.” Or in this case, cider. It is made in a much similar process to wine and is a vintage product. Full juice ciders made from the same apple variety or from blends will taste different year to year due to a number of factors. The micro climate of the orchard; the rainfall, sunlight and temperature will all play a part in the development of the fruit. Add to this the rootstock of the trees grown, from vigorous to dwarfing and if the trees are fertilised will also impact the flavour of the fruit. Oh and the soil type… there are so many things that make every harvest unique. But a major factor is the natural yeast culture that impregnates the environment and equipment that makes every cidery special. Cider making is as much an art form as it is a science and it’s the mixture of mystery and craftsmanship that makes it so special and so engrossing.

Map 3

Close proximity!

Three glorious drinks, three different adventures of flavour, all made in the same county. Terroir is not a swear word and it’s not only applicable for wine makers!







The East-West Divide: A Taste Off

Militant Kentish man in Devon checking in again!

Cider, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important. It’s a simple drink, made from fermented apple juice. A luxury product, cherished by people where ever apples are grown. It’s not concerned about immigration, It does not cut spending for the NHS, it doesn’t even have an opinion on Donald Trump! But bugger me it can be political!

I wish it wasn’t…

From juice content to sweeteners, filtration to pasteurisation, it is the subject of heated debates. But one point of contention I wish we could resign to the history books is the idea that dessert and culinary apples are inadequate. “Cider is made from cider apples.” How many times have I heard that one. I recently saw a comment online telling an American cider maker he was at a “disadvantage” without bittersweet apples. Furthermore, the word “thin” has a different meaning in the cider community; almost always used to describe Eastern ciders as “lacking in body and complexity.” These are just a few examples of attitudes that some hold against Eastern Style cider. I want to champion Eastern style and see if I can change this deep-set opinion.

However, I realise I’m never going to convert everyone. Cider makers are exceptionally proud of their product and its provenance. I cannot think of a cider maker that doesn’t scream about their County, orchards, and local apple varieties. It provides a great sense of identity and is something that is justly defended. Of course, people are allowed their preferences. But what I want to encourage is to celebrate and enjoy ciders for what makes them different. I’ve chosen two award winners from my respective homes of Kent and Devon to taste side by side.

Ventons DryRepresenting Devon and the West of England is Skippy’s Scrumpy from Venton’s Cyder. I had my first taste of Venton’s last summer and I have been hooked ever since. This dry cider is made with over 100 cider apple varieties including local Devon cultivars such as White Alphington, Sweet Alford and Killerton Sharp. Ventons believe that using such a wide range of apples creates a well-balanced and complex cider. Couple this with their beautifully simple productions methods, and desire for consistent quality and it’s easy to see why it won Champion Dry Farmhouse Cider of Great Britain 2016.

Pouring into the glass it’s a beautifully golden and hazy cider with an ever so slight sparkle. The aroma is very typical of a West Country cider. It’s difficult to describe the bittersweet character; it’s complex and interesting, certainly makes you want to taste what’s going on! Which of course I do, it’s very dry and there’s a lot going on here. Full bodied with soft and mouth drying tannin. The fizz just dances on the tongue and brings a freshness. With every sip, you get something new, bursting with fruit right into the finish. Its rustic charm embodies everything that I associate with Western cider. The best of its class.

Turners Dry JPEG From Kent and representing the Eastern heathens is Turners Cider from Marden. I don’t think I could have picked two ciders more different in their taste, but interestingly how they are produced is starkly different also. Turner’s press all their apple varieties separately, ferment and blend afterwards to create the flavours they desire. The Dry is made from a blend of Egremont Russet, Worcester, Gala, and Cox apples. Sometimes others are added to meet the quality they are after. This achieved the ‘Very Highly Commended Dry Cider’ award at the Royal Bath and West Show in 2015, which is very significant at a Western cider dominated show.

The first thing I notice about this cider how remarkably clear it is considering it has not been filtered. Especially in my glass of choice you could easily be mistaken in thinking it’s a fine white wine. You can tell from the nose that this is an acidic cider. The aroma is much more pronounced than you may expect but with delicate floral and citrus notes. The acidity hits you in the taste; its beautifully crisp and refreshing. Being Eastern style, you get a much more ‘appley’ flavour, with big, fresh green apple character. It’s got bite, but very well balanced and clean tasting. I would love to see a cider like this in a 750ml bottle, straight from the ice bucket, served as an alternative to white wine.

Everything about these ciders is different. From the climate and soil conditions, the apple varieties, the production methods and ultimately the flavour. But what they share is the amount of passion, skill and dedication that went into making them. They are ciders of outstanding quality. Enjoy them for their unique character and don’t compare them, its pointless! Find them, try them, I promise you will be impressed.





Don’t like Cider? Try these! My Supermarket Top Picks.

Time for a list, everyone loves a list… right?

The amount of people I have met who say they don’t like cider is frankly mind-boggling. Whats worse is that most seem to have suffered the same bad experiences:

“Well… I went to a party in my teens armed with a bottle of *BLANK* and ended up being very sick and haven’t touched it since.” (Its like everyone went to this bloody party!)

“Cider? No thanks, I can’t stand *BIG BRAND NAME*.”

Well, I want to help you realise what you are missing out on!

Cider has gone through a huge revival in the last decade, as you have probably noticed. Supermarkets now stock a huge range of bottled and canned products of varying styles and flavours. So much so that it’s difficult to know where to start: that’s where I come in. With the help of some friends, we have tasted our way through the best on offer in supermarkets to create this list. I feel confident that it will help you to banish those demons and discover what cider has to offer.

A quick note. I have ordered the list from the tasty easy drinkers to more the adventurous and complex. I have specifically chosen ciders which I think won’t be too challenging, even for a cider virgin, due to this, some great ciders haven’t made it. But if this lot hooks you in; you have those to find for yourself!

1. Thatcher’s Old Rascal thatchers

Morissons £2
5.4% ABV
Thatchers are one of the big boys of the cider industry with Gold now available in most pubs. Old Rascal packs a tastier punch. A lovely sweetness is balanced with a dry cider apple character. A great place to start. Our resident Thatchers Gold drinker was suitably impressed.

Also try from this producer: Thatcher’s Vintage, Katy.



2. M&S Devon Farmhouse Cider sandford-orchards

M&S £2.50
4.5% ABV
Made for M&S by the award winning Sandford Orchards from Devon. This medium dry cider has nice soft tannin, a true bittersweet apple flavour and refreshing finish.
At 4.5% it’s an excellent session-able drink. This received actual OMG reviews from the group!

Also try from this producer: Shaky Bridge, Devon Mist.



3. Cornish Orchards Goldcornish-orchards-gold

Waitrose £2.09
5% ABV
Gold is a very well balanced and fruity cider. Made from a blend of cider and dessert varieties, it has a clean, fresh taste which is accentuated by its moussey bubbles. A firm favourite from our tasting. This was the first cider we tried and it stunned our Swedish alcopop drinker!

Also try from this producer: Vintage 2014.




4. Aspall Premier Cruaspall

Tesco £1.99
7% ABV
Aspall, from Suffolk, make cider in the more eastern county style using predominantly culinary and dessert apples. This makes for a more acidic and refreshing cider. Its quite likely that you’ll have seen Aspall on draught but the Premier Cru is a more refined drink. Much drier and acidic, a real thirst quencher at a more traditional alcohol strength.

Also try from this producer: Aspall Organic.



5. Caple Rd. Blend No. 3caple-rd

Tesco £2.99
5.2% ABV
Another crowd-pleaser from the tasting, Caple Rd. Blend No.3 from Westons. With a higher juice content than their standard range and oak matured, this is a full flavoured and rewarding cider, bursting with fruity notes and a fresh apple tang. In it’s attractive 330ml cans its great to fill the fridge for a party.

Also try from this producer: Caple Rd Blend No.5 Dry and Mortimers Orchards which is a draught cider also from Westons.


6. Sheppy’s Vintage Reserve 2016sheppys

Sainsbury’s £2.00
7.4% ABV
Sheppy’s Vintage is made from the apples of a single year’s harvest. It is a more traditional west country cider and so is both drier and more tannic than the above. This cider will grow on you – “The more I drink, the more I like!” – and delight you with its delicate floral aroma and complex character.

Also try from this producer: Old Conky.


7. Dunkertons Black Foxdunkertons

Waitrose £2.29
7% ABV
Dunkertons from Herefordshire are a cider maker high up on many a best of list. Black Fox is a remarkable cider, medium dry and full of true cider apple qualities. Very well balanced but robust, it’s a sensory experience. This is one to work up to but it won’t disappoint when you get there. I managed to convert a fence sitting mate with this one!

Also try from this producer: Premium Organic, Vintage.


So that’s my list, let me know how you get on with it! I am sure there will be at least one that will change your mind. Maybe it’ll even set you on the road to discover all the glorious styles of cider that are out there!



What I Think REAL-ly Matters

Time to get something off my chest…

The real aim behind my blogging and tweeting is to promote cider and get more people to discover what a fantastic drink it is. This can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. Many people I know and meet were traumatised in their teens by a two-litre bottle of something horrible, or only know of (and dislike) the common place draught ciders. Couple this with the many different flavours being added to cider these days and its easy to get confused.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have those who demand cider to be 100% pure juice and have little time for anything (and sometimes anyone) else and who often use a tone which I find detrimental to the good cause. With this blog, I shall try to explain the difference between ciders and give my opinion on what really matters.


Traditional straw pressing in Devon.

So, what is ‘Real cider’. Well, there is no universally agreed definition, but in a nutshell, it is cider made from fermenting fresh pressed apple juice with little if anything else added or taken away. In contrast, the government states that cider can be made from as little as 35% apple juice, which is often from concentrate, hence the need for the distinction.  To make great tasting real cider is a true craft and duly deserves its credit. It’s what the connoisseur or indeed the purist desires, and the most exquisite ciders I have tasted fall into this category. But it is also home to the worst cider that I have ever tried….

Outside of the full juice bracket, cider makers tend to use additional techniques and


An example of a more authentic, great tasting cider.

processes to make a more commercially successful drink, but the fundamentals often remain the same. Fresh pressed juice, long fermentation and maturation, then blended to make a satisfying, session able drink that’s more appealing to the average consumer. The use of fresh juice makes these ciders really stand out in flavour from their more industrial counterparts. Such brands are more likely to use apple juice concentrate, flavouring and sweeteners to make a cheaper and more easily replicated cider. It is easy to poke fun at these huge makers, I’ve been guilty on many occasions. But at the end of the day, cider makers, pubs and retailers are not charities, they are businesses. Making cider this way employs hundreds of people, supports local agriculture, and has helped artisan cider makers start up and flourish through this time of growth.

For me, flavour is king. If it doesn’t taste great, I don’t care for its story, its purity, or its heritage. It must be a delight to the senses and help to show that cider has moved on from its rat in the vat image of yesteryear. I must be clear though, poorly made real ciders like these are now rare and there certainly are some commercial cider makers who aren’t doing good things.

The problem I find with the real cider community sometimes is that ciders which do not prescribe to their arbitrary definition are often tarred with the same brush. Many ciders of more authentic make up and flavour are shunned as inferior, even if they taste great. To me this is daft. In my experience, passing a glass of truly real cider to a friend has not been the most successful tactic in converting them to its charms. It tends to be a culture shock. It can be too dry, too complicated and generally unexpected. Whilst rarely rejected, they also don’t tend to be in a rush to buy a pint. I have found more success in letting them try a more authentic commercial cider, one made from fresh apple juice and that is delicious but not too challenging.

I don’t want to sound too negative, I just want to encourage more open-mindedness. I genuinely think there’s huge potential for ciders in this middle ground to entice new drinkers. It can banish those teenage demons and change the minds of those who think they don’t like cider, when really, they don’t like one brand. Ultimately that’s what anyone like me wants, to encourage drinking great cider, from whatever county or country. The greater the demand for cider, the more cider makers, and better quality we get. I just think it’s wrong to tell people what they should drink, much better to ease them in the right direction and find out for themselves. This is essentially how I came to being a cider enthusiast.

I will do a follow up to this blog featuring ciders available in supermarkets which I recommend to those looking to give cider another go and for those looking for something different from their usual draught tipple.