Five Of The Finest Ciders Chosen By An Insider
Photograph by Mr Felix Nash
The finest apples to drink this summer.
Over the past 10 or 15 years, exciting things have been happening in cider, particularly up in Herefordshire, where small-batch cider making is really starting to excel. Sadly, all too few people know how good some ciders can be; this is because in the case of most ciders, the manufacturing process has become incredibly industrialised, losing quality over quantity. But at its top end, the restaurant industry is opening up to better ciders.
There are a lot of ciders on the market that are nowhere as good as cider can be. To call something cider in Britain it only needs to be made from 35 per cent apple juice concentrate and it doesn’t even have to be made from cider apples. Everything I sell is very naturally made, usually with wild yeasts. All of the finest ciders are made with close to 100 per cent cider apple juice and take around nine months or more to make.
We work with a lot of makers who produce extremely small batches of very high-quality cider. In the UK, you can legally make up to 7,000 litres of cider completely duty-free, which is something that dates back to when farm labourers would be paid in cider. Cider was at its best in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was drunk by the aristocracy from cider flutes, and known as “England’s native wine”. For a long time, fine ciders and cider cocktails were the drink of choice in London’s gentlemen’s clubs.
Mr Felix Nash
Everyone knows how regionality affects wine, but the same is true for cider. For example, the counties of Somerset and Herefordshire are close by, but the fruit they grow and the ciders they make differ; Somerset cider is less tannic and more mellow. There are many varieties of cider apple. You have the likes of the dabinett, foxwhelp, chisel Jersey, redstreak... Interestingly, all apples stem from one place – DNA testing has tracked their earliest ancestor to the forest of the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan.
Cider pairs wonderfully with a lot of different foods. It has an acidity which cuts through fat, hence the classic combination of pork and cider, but cheese, whitefish, shellfish, charcuterie and game can also make for brilliant pairings. Below, I have selected five of my favourite ciders from the 2015 season and suggested pairings for each. You shouldn’t drink the finest ciders too cold as you will lose flavour, and never with ice as this will water them down. Treat them like a summer wine: put them in a stemmed glass so that they open up and you get the full nose.
Oliver’s Vintage 2015
Mr Tom Oliver is widely regarded as the best cider maker on the planet. The US is going mad for cider at the moment, and he was recently flown over there for a convention called CiderCon, where more than 1,000 people turned up to his talk. This cider is matured in oak barrels for 18 months and is a fine-tuned, complex blend. It’s fully dry and completely still. It’s not a typical cider. It feels more wine-like in its depth. It’s not the most accessible, but I’m completely addicted to it. It shows the joys of Herefordshire cider at its greatest depths. You should drink this at room temperature to get the best flavour.
PAIR WITH: game
Gregg’s Pit Dabinett & Yarlington Mill 2015
This is made by Mr James Marsden – the maker at Gregg’s Pit cider in Herefordshire, who has some trees that are more than 100 years old. The cider is a beautiful blend of two apple varieties – the dabinett and the yarlington mill. The dabinett has a nice, late-stage bitterness to it and the yarlington mill is rich and smoky. The Clove Club in London stocks this, and Fera at Claridge’s does, too. It’s naturally sparkling and made with a process called keeving, where you naturally retain some of the sweetness of the juice.
PAIR WITH: pork
Little Pomona – Feat of Clay 2015
This is made by one of the newer makers on the scene, but one who is creating some really exciting things. The people behind Little Pomona come from a wine background, and for this blend have used a good helping of dabinett and foxwhelp apple varieties, giving a beautiful acidity. The makers often describe the foxwhelp apple as the sauvignon blanc of cider. The name of the cider is a reference to the clay soils in which the apple trees grow in Herefordshire. This is also very dry, and there’s an awful lot of flavour to it.
PAIR WITH: charcuterie (lomo in particular)
Find & Foster Methode Traditionelle
This is from a wonderful maker in Devon called Ms Polly Hilton. She’s not been going long, but she’s been talking to the best makers and making all the right choices, and her first vintage was incredible. Since WWII, Devon has lost more than 90 per cent of its orchards. Ms Hilton has been finding and fostering those that are left and located 25 in a five-mile radius of her house. This bottle truly is like a sparkling wine. It is naturally sparkling and has been disgorged.
PAIR WITH: mussels
Oliver’s Fine Perry
Mr Napoleon Bonaparte once called perry (sometimes known as pear cider) “the English champagne”. It’s even harder to make than the finest cider, because you can only really do it well in small batches. When it’s good, it can be incredible, with flavours of elderflower and grapefruit. Perry tends to go well with shellfish and white fish. Mr Tom Oliver is brilliant at making perry, and has even rediscovered a pear variety, the Coppy Perry Pear.
PAIR WITH: crab