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Cider Salon – 24 hours in Bristol!

Where do you start on a visit to the cider capital of the UK?

The answer is Bristol Cider shop of course, which was one of several venues across the city offering events as part of the Cider Salon weekend. ‘Perry Perfection’ was the free event on offer with a promise of tasting some award-winning perry and finding out more about the art of its production.

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Albert (2nd from left) from Ross On Wye Cider and Perry talking us through their creations

Well, I was not disappointed, firstly and unexpectedly Albert from Ross On Wye Cider and Perry was there showcasing some of his wonderful creations, followed by Paul Ross from Downside Perry. Secondly, I finally got to meet both Pete (Owner) and Sebastian (Manager), two exceptionally knowledgeable and down to earth guys. 

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 As you can see from the picture we worked our way through quite a few bottles. I won’t go through each one, but the three standouts for me which I hadn’t tried before were; Ross On Wye’s Broome Blend, Apple County Cider Co’s Blakeney Red and Downside’s 2017 Special Reserve. I won’t go into detail as I will be reviewing some of those in the coming weeks.  

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What was really interesting about the couple of hours was hearing the different tastes in the group. There were other cider bloggers, people who had never tried perry before, people from other countries whose experience of perry was very different, as well as Albert and Paul’s perspectives, which were (he says with a smile) a tad biased. The opportunity to drink and compare notes with fellow bloggers, producers and retailers was a fantastic experience.

The Cider Salon 

From the cider shop it was a short trek across the city up to the Old Market Assembly for the main event, the Cider Salon itself. Pulled together by Tom Oliver (Oliver’s Cider and Perry) and Martin Berkley (Pilton Cider), with support from Felix Nash (Fine Cider), Bill Bradshaw was official photographer and Gabe Cook, the Ciderologist was MC for the afternoon.

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Me (left), Martin Berkley from Pilton Cider (centre) and Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry (right)

Before I go on, I just want to say that I’m not going to give in-depth reviews of everything I sampled for a number of reasons. Firstly I came away with some bottles to properly review later so I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Secondly, as time started to run out, my note taking seemed to drop down the priority list, below more tasting…

It was a bit like Christmas Eve for me the night before, I was very excited to attend and see the twenty producers over two floors showcasing sixty ciders and perrys. With only a couple of hours and a big crowd, I didn’t manage to get around everyone, although I made a pretty good attempt and got plenty of photos with cider and perry rock stars. So I’m going to focus on a few highlights.

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The Cider Salon - believe it or not, this was a quiet moment at the beginning.

Upon entry, everyone was given a small but well-shaped tasting glass. You could immediately tell that this was going to be an event where some of the finest ciders and perrys were going to be on show. This wasn’t a half pint glass to try and down as many samples as you could, it was a glass for savouring sips of the sublime.

So who stood out for me (in no particular order)?

Firstly Sandford Orchards, where Barney was showcasing his ‘On leaf fermented’ Yarlington Mill. They add several bags of cider apple tree leaves to the fermentation and he made us have a sniff of the bag of leaves first which was quite intense but it adds a botanical layer to the taste, it’s like you can taste the orchard in the glass.


Secondly; Angry Orchard, where I met Ryan Burke who talked me through his “Understood in Motion” collaboration with Tom Oliver. We then had an interesting conversation about the differences between the UK and USA and how over here we have this massive market but it’s really difficult to get interest, whereas in the USA the market is smaller but they’re holding Cider Salons all the time.

We also talked about pricing and how over there his ciders sell for $20-30 whereas over here the price is much lower and this is stifling the growth of artisan producers. I had a similar conversation with Tom Oliver on my ’36 hour cider adventure’ a few weeks ago. Then as we tasted his Spanish method Edu, who should join us but Martin Burkely from Pilton Cider.

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Martin Berkley of Pilton Cider (left) and Ryan Burke of Angry Orchard (Right)

Thirdly I met Roberto from Hawkes, who was there showcasing the new release of their collaboration with Tom Oliver (is there a theme here?); ‘All Made Equal’. Roberto explained how it is the perfect balance between Tom’s deep tannic cider apples and Hawkes lighter acidic dessert varieties. A quick sample confirmed the description...but more to come on this one.

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The fourth was a shortstop with Jannihanso from Estonia, who blew my mind with a Champagne method Brut cider that had been in the bottle two and half years. It was exceptional. They also had a hopped cider, which had a pleasant and not overpowering citrus zing to it.

The fifth was Eden Speciality Ciders from Vermont, USA. Where Eleanor and Albert introduced me to their outstanding Heirloom Blend Ice Cider, which was sweet, smooth and full of juicy apple taste. Eleanor also had a small bottle of their Cellar Series: #2 The Falstaff 2008, which had been aged for 7 years in French oak. It had a much darker colour to the Heirloom blend and the flavour had developed into rich caramel and dried fruit. It was transcendent and sadly sold out.

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The Cider Salon

Then everything became a bit of a blur as I had a few short fleeting stops at several others. I managed to get a pouring demo and a sample of Trabanco’s Prosecco method which was crisp, light and refreshing. Certainly a fitting replacement for the very popular fizz.

 

I had a quick taste of Worley’s Special Reserve Keeved before heading up to Oliver’s Cider & Perry where I got to sample Tom’s brand new limited edition (500 bottles) The Mayflower, a 9.3% magnificent creation which is back-sweetened with ice cider. After that it was a quick chat with Ceri and Brock from Gospel Green Cyder and a sample of their Brut Traditional Method, a delightful alternative to the popular prosecco but much more delicate on the palate. I did try to stop at Pilton Cider, but they were very popular and after a small sample of their Max Lux Keeved I made way for others lining up for a sample.

In the final few minutes, I managed to finally meet James and Susanna from Little Pomona, whose ciders are as fantastic as their names. As my last pours, I managed to get a drop of each: the 2016 Unicorn, 2015 Art of Darkness and the 2016 Cest Si Bon-Bonne.

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Me (left) James (centre) & Susanna (right) from Little Pomona

It was then a very definite stop to the proceedings as Gabe announced that all the producers had to be packed up and out of the way for tables to be set for the evening’s event.

Cider Salon 2018 Summary

If I was asked for any feedback, my only comments would be: firstly to stagger the times a bit, there were a lot of pre-Salon events across the city all happening at noon and it would have been great to go to more than one. Secondly, give more time to the Salon itself, two hours wasn’t enough and if you really want to increase awareness and interest, perhaps there could be an early admission or separate session for the press and retailers.

The two and half hours absolutely flew by, but the opportunity to be in a large room with so many different producers and their outstanding creations was unprecedented. It really was a showcase of how exceptional cider and perry can be and hopefully achieved its intended outcome of increasing awareness and interest, and I really do hope they make it an annual event.

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My spoils from the Cider Salon!

James Finch @thecidercritic

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