The questions of what cider is and what it can be are maybe the most important questions that currently confront the producers, drinkers and thinkers of the cider industry. As the craft drinks industries are becoming more popular it seems like only a matter of time before cider has its day in the sun - what would we as an industry like to showcase to the world when the time comes? There are many possible answers and I for one have been a proponent of a more wine-like appreciation of cider: focused on the varietals of apple or pear, their geographic origins, and the methodologies employed by the maker. But cider is also diverse and Crafty Nectar gave me the opportunity to explore that diversity with four very different ciders that reflect some of the trends we are starting to see in the industry.
Crafty Nectar No. 7 - Medium Sparkling 5.1%
No. 7 pours coppery-gold. The aroma is full of the funky, heady (and welcome) mixture of bittersweet cider fruit that form the backbone of this cider - Dabinett, Harry Master’s Jersey, Yarlington Mill and Somerset Redstreak. The aroma is really lovely: big and bold and enveloping with notes of orange peel, winter spice and red, ripe apples. My palate skews dry so this medium was a little on the sweet side for me - I’d love to try the bone dry version of this cider - but the bittersweets more than stand up to the sweetness. That cinnamon-y spice and orange peel rear again on the tongue but paired this time with juicy, moreish red apple-flavoured sweets. The gentle sparkle and mild tannins act as a counterpoint to the full body and help keep this cider drinkable.
Co-fermented ciders can be contentious with those that believe cider should be made exclusively from apple juice. But co-ferments can be exciting avenues for innovation and learning, for both the producers and the drinkers. Take the legendary Serpent, a collaboration between Garret Oliver’s Brooklyn Brewery, Thornbridge and Tom Oliver - a Belgian golden ale wort fermented on Tom’s cider lees to create a wonderful, funky, boozy hybrid which transcends categorisation. Once Upon A Tree’s Simon Day has arguably been one of the industry leaders in the production of co-fermented ciders in the UK, often utilising wine skins or yeasts to complement the apple fruit. Simon features on our next cider: No. 9.
Crafty Nectar x Once Upon A Tree No. 9 - S.V. Dabinett with Blackberry and Hibiscus 4%
No. 9 pours a dark gold, almost amber with a tinge of plummy blackberry juice. The aroma is floral and bright with notes of blackberries and vanilla into sharper hibiscus notes. The blackberries smell wild and tart, reminiscent of those wild-fermented, fruited sour beers that are very popular in craft beer at the moment. The flavour is syrupy sweet with tart, funky blackberries and the barest hint of cranberries and acid from the hibiscus on the finish. Again this cider has a big, juicy body but the acid from the berries and hibiscus helps to balance.
Crafty Nectar No. 8 - Rhubarb Cider 4%
No. 8 is a pale, delicate gold. The aroma is bright, acidic rhubarb and soft floral notes followed by sweetness and a little lactic acid that brings a yogurty, almost custardy notes. Simply put this cider tastes like rhubarb and custard sweets, like sitting in the back of your grandparents’ car on the way home from the seaside eating rhubarb and custard sweets from a paper bag - perhaps not your first choice but you devour them nevertheless.
Keeving is perhaps one of the more popular alternative fermentation methods at the moment; producing ciders which are often lower in ABV than traditional ciders, medium-dry to medium-sweet with apple sugar-derived sweetness, and sparkling. Many producers and writers see these ciders as the way to engage the regular cider drinker, who enjoys an appley, medium, sparkling cider like Thatchers or Bulmers, with craft cider. There are some fantastic keeved cider producers out there, namely Pilton, Oliver’s, Find & Foster and, if you can get your hands on it, Bartestree. I also had Barleywood Orchard’s Uprising this year and it was probably one of my favourite ciders of the year.
Crafty Nectar x Stones Cider - Serendipity Keeved Cider 4.5%
Serendipity pours a bright gold with a fine, persistent, off-white mousse. This cider needed about ten minutes in the glass to open up but once it did the aroma was soft, fuzzy peaches; juicy, tangy tangerines; and wildflowers. Complex but not challenging. The residual apple sugars lend a velvety mouthfeel and a rounded sweetness which helps to accentuate the softness of the apple and peach notes. This cider would pair exceptionally well with a ripe blue cheese or salty, dried charcuterie.
The Low-Down From Ben...
If cider is to continue to grow and, fingers crossed, begin to conquer the palates of the world it must learn to embrace all of itself. Whether tannic, full-bodied ciders made from West Country bittersweet fruit or more delicate dessert fruit ciders. Whether creative co-ferments or utilising keeving, méthode tradationelle, or pétillant naturel. Certainly, my favourite among these ciders was the No. 7 Medium Sparkling with it’s heady funk and bold, bittersweet character but I was pleased to see the diversity of flavour available. Within cider there is a place for everyone and the most important thing we can all do right now is make sure when our day in the sun comes we’re welcoming and open-minded to what newcomers may bring to this great industry.
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Author: Ben Thompson
Title Photo: Bethan Miller
Images: Cider George
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If you want to learn more about the world of cider please check out brand new podcast Cider Voice. It's co-run with talented cider-maker Albert Johnson of Ross Cider 'giving voice to the best Cidermakers in the UK and beyond'.
Ben is also involved in Burum Collective a virtual networking space and community blog for anyone working in the beer, wine and cider industries. Well worth checking out if you're in the industry.
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Finally if you're interested in comparing notes with Ben then you can buy our tasting box below: