I’ve been writing about cider and perry for several years now and what’s most fascinating about it as an alcoholic drink category is that it’s probably one of the broadest and most diverse there is. It means many things to many people, but there is something for all tastes and requirements:
- Acid led, aromatic and vibrant offerings
- Tannic led, bold and robust versions
- Low alcohol, lighter and more accessible drinks
- Fruity concoctions and co-ferments which is broad enough just in itself
- Quaffable, pint filling, session thirst quenchers
- Stronger, smaller portion, sipping beverages
- Finer crafted limited releases utilising traditional and revered methods
- Sweet focused iced creations
- Sumptuous liquors and aperitifs
- Fortified blends of alcohol and juice
- Distilled warming spirits
You’ll notice I’ve done that without even using the usual descriptive suspects of: still or sparkling, sweet, medium or dry. There really is so much to explore with cider and perry.
It’s been a little while since I wrote on here, so it was a welcome invite from Crafty Nectar to contribute to their blog. Luckily they were willing to indulge me a bit with something I’ve been trying to decide on for quite a while, a hypothetical conundrum if you’ll humour me as well.
What if you had one of those desert island questions… you’re heading to an island and can only take the wares of one cider and perry producer, who would you pick?
For me it would have to be a producer that covers as many of those styles and types I’ve outlined above, not just a large number of different ciders. After all variety is the spice of life and if I was heading off to a desert island I’d like to keep my taste buds tickled with as much variety as possible. So for me it would have to be Burrow Hill Cider and The Somerset Cider Brandy Company (who are one and the same – so it’s not cheating…promise).
Burrow Hill Cider have been making the fermented apple nectar for over 200 years and have been distilling since 1989 after being granted the first UK cider distilling licence. I’ve been to visit a number of times over the years, walked the orchard, sampled all their wares and ventured up to the top of Burrow Hill to admire the views across Somerset. Their cider barn is a place of wondrous smells where ancient oak and fermenting juice mingle to create an intoxicating atmosphere that you wish you could breathe in forever. Rustic is too twee a term to use these days but it’s like a mini trip back in time thanks to the preservation of their heritage. If that doesn’t get you itching for a trip to Somerset or a browse of their web shop, then let me share some of their creations with you…
Out of the bottle it’s crystal clear and bright gold with a healthy fizz that dissipates quickly. The nose is bursting with ripe pressed apples and woody herbal tones, think tobacco, leather, TCP and wooden barn. In the mouth it’s initially led by acidity, a sharpness that zings down the tongue, which is followed by really fruity dried apple and the bitterness from those tannins. The finish is a clash of sweetness plus some savoury earthy notes.
Pouring a bright straw gold, the nose is full of brandy, eau de vie, crushed pears and barrel room. In the mouth it’s juicy, with pear tart, vanilla and rose syrup. There’s a perception of sweetness as there often is with perry thanks to those un-fermentable sugars (sorbitol), but also some gentle acidity and a hint of bitterness, very well balanced.
Tonnes of fizz from this one into the glass and brilliant orange gold/pale amber colour. On the nose are notes of crushed apple, dried apple skin, brandy barrel, leather and spices of clove and cinnamon. To taste it is very well balanced for a single variety, with a wonderfully velvety mouth feel. It’s juicy with a red apple like acidity followed by some bitter astringency that tastes of dried spiced apple. The finish is clean, brisk and bone dry.
Somerset Ice cider (11.5%)
In the glass the colour is deep and rich, a hazy rusty orange. The nose is full of apple orchard, candied fruit, raisin, Christmas cake and apricot brandy; it’s fabulous. The taste is of beautifully intense apple and buttery tarte tatin. It’s viscous and silky sweet. There’s a smidge of concentrated acidity which parts into intense bitterness that flutters the cheeks and lasts for milliseconds, leaving a velvety sweetness that goes on and on and on. This is an evening sipper that puts a smile on your face after even the hardest of days. The best £21 you’ll spend this year.
Somerset Cider Brandy (42%)
If you do manage to visit them in less challenging times you might have the opportunity to taste through some of the range. What fascinated me from the start is how the spirit evolves and changes through the years, starting fairly fiery and raw, but as they age in the barrel, different notes become more pronounced only to then withdraw after further time. So the 3 & 5 year old are all about the apple, which is then replaced by the oak into the 10 and 15 year olds. Lucky enough to try the 20 year old and the apple is back but in harmony with the oak. A perfect example of how time can evolve a drink.
In addition to the above there is a Kingston Black bottle conditioned single variety, eau de vie, several aperitifs plus some very good liquors, the Morello Cherry being a particular favourite of mine. As well as bag in box cider and apple juice. So check out their website and the Christmas special packs. If you’re quick enough you might be able to get an order for delivery before Christmas.