This week I’m reviewing the flagship cider from PressHead, their Ital Drop, a keeved medium sweet cider. You may have known PressHead in their previous incarnation as Handmade cider prior to their re-branding early last year. And what a cracking re-brand it is…I mean just look at that label.
Press Head Ital Drop Available in our Cider Gift Boxes
Denis France had his first dabble in cider-making over 30 years ago after which he went on to try his hand at pretty much all kinds of alcoholic beverage…and I mean everything, he even had a go at making his own still. A chance approach to a farmer in the West Country in 1993 to ask for the apples from an orchard led to him getting back into cider-making. Mainly because it was cheaper than trying to make apple wine, but if you try his cider, I think you’ll agree he made a good call that day. Speaking to Denis you get an instant appreciation for his passion for his craft as well as his purist nature when it comes to how and what he makes.
This week’s cider has been made using a traditional process called keeving, which was once in common use both in England and France, but nowadays is much rarer in England. Traditionally it involves starving the yeast by allowing a day or so to pass between pulping/crushing and then pressing. During this time the pectin in the apple leaches into the juice and it is this pectin that once pressed starts to bind nutrients to it and then create a ‘brown cap’ which floats to the surface during the early stages of fermentation. This is removed and the remaining juice is allowed to ferment slowly. Due to the reduced nutrient levels the yeast dies off sooner leaving some residual natural sugar, which creates a more natural sweetness. Due to the slow and limited fermentation, natural carbonation is also easier. As Denis says it’s a “bang on method for making cider”.
Denis has some tweaks on the method, pressing the apples late to ensure that the soluble pectin is already in the juice which binds to the nitrogen and strips it out of the juice. To make sure the keeving process is successful, Denis adds pectic enzyme and calcium carbonate. He then keeps the juice cool and lets the enzyme action lift the bound nutrients to the surface, while he syphons the clarified juice from below and racks into another container for the very slow fermentation to do its thing.
In the Ital Drop, Denis has made a cider that is “everything I (he) want(s) it to be”, pure juice, with a naturally sweet flavour and a product that can appeal to the modern sweeter palate. I asked Denis what apples he uses, but he wouldn’t reveal the ‘secret recipe’, which I totally get. If I could make a cider this good I’d keep that recipe under lock and key.
A flick of the bottle opener reveals a sweet, ripe juice smell. There are caramel notes and it reminds me of how ice cider smells. It has a really nice level of carbonation which dissipates quickly in the glass and gives off a fragrance of vanilla. The initial taste is one of fizz and acidity, but that quickly breaks into juicy caramelised apple. The finish is one of slight dryness, where you can begin to feel a drying of the mouth, but this is immediately counteracted by a juicy sweetness that keeps the saliva flowing. It leaves a short-lived slight tingling fizz on your tongue and the residual smell in the glass is reminiscent of calvados/apple brandy.
Every so often I find a cider that I fall in love with. I mean really love, as in this will be added to my top x and drunk as regularly as I can get hold of it. This is one of those ciders for me. Love everything about it, the amount of bubbles, the feel in the mouth, the taste, the smell….yep...gotta get me some more of this. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on one of the Ciderologist’s boxes last month and you’ve tried this, then you know what I mean. If you didn’t, then have a word and get signed up, you’re missing out.
James Finch @thecidercritic