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!
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.
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!