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.
Representing 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.
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.