Since moving to Devon it’s been great to meet new people and cider lovers but there’s a recurring theme to a lot of these conversations. When they find out I’m from Kent: “Oh, the cider isn’t very good there, is it?”. It’s time this perception changed!
So why does this view seem so ingrained? Well It all comes down to the apples. For centuries, cider makers in the West have been using apples grown specifically for making cider. These apple varieties contain high amounts of tannin; the compounds responsible for the bitterness and mouthfeel synonymous with West country cider. In Eastern counties such as Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, cider is made almost exclusively from eating and cooking apples. This results in a cider which is quite often described as being sharp or ‘thin’ due to is more delicate character and lack of tannin.
Now I’ll be honest, as a strong Devonshire cider was what got me hooked in the first place, I had always considered Western cider superior. The complex flavours, the mouth drying sensation, the wonderful aroma… it seemed like the Holy Grail of cider. It was also quite some time later until I tried my first Eastern cider. When I bought my first bottle of Kentish cider I was excited and hoped it would live up to what is made in the West. But it didn’t. It was sharp, bland and a bit, well, boring. My next experience was a similar story too and so, like I suspect many others have, I wrote it off.
Looking back, I was being an idiot. Two poorly made ciders should not condemn a whole style. Indeed, I have tasted Western ciders that were very close to being better served with chips, but luckily these are scarce.
Since creating the Cider Sleuth twitter account in January, I have discovered some exquisite Eastern ciders and met some of the very passionate and proud makers. When made well, it’s a beautiful drink. With very fresh, clean appley notes and a crisp refreshing tang, it’s a glorious style of cider.
From the classic Cox and Bramley blends to ciders made from a fusion of culinary and cider apples, it’s a wholly different experience. Including some interesting single varieties, such as the fragrant and nutty Russet and the surprisingly tasty Bramley from BEARDspoon (I still think this is witchcraft!). In Kent alone, there are now some thirty different makers enjoying its growth of popularity with many other fantastic producers emerging in East and West Sussex.
Wine connoisseurs enjoy the contrast between red, white, rosé and sparkling wines and select them for different occasions. I feel we as cider consumers should do the same. So if you have previously been underwhelmed by Eastern cider, I urge you to try it again with an open mind. If you want something a bit lighter, a bit more refined or know someone who can’t stand tannic ciders, give East a go. To me, nothing quite beats the refreshment of a cold Kentish cider after a hard day’s work.