Cider, cyder, seidr
Rather like today's rain, my past couple of weeks have been overflowing with British cider: cloudy, clear, Kentish and Cornish, I’ve tasted it all.
First stop was this year’s CAMRA Great British Beer Festival, held in London at the beginning of August, and more recently I joined the very first International Craft Cider Festival in the valleys of rural South East Wales.
The result? I can report back that there’s more than enough cider and perry diversity – British and otherwise – out there to pique the interest of every palate.
A wall of cider
There were two cider bars at this year’s GBBF festival at Earls Court, and a grand total of 77 ciders to sample. I made a fairly small dent considering the choice but these were my findings. First stop, The Crick Bar, where I had the very good fortune to run into Chris Rouse, a CAMRA regional cider coordinator for East Anglia, and king of all cider goings on at the festival.
Under his guidance I started with Rathay’s Judge Amphlett Perry; the proud owner of a new CAMRA Gold award, it's a medium sweet offering with a tangy, almost ripe Cheddar cheese nose. The only other Gold medal winner, Virtual Orchard cider, was my next taster - it was all about the finish with this one, which was full of complex fluffy apples after a sharp nose and palate to match.
I dabbled in the spirit-barrelled stuff next, of which there was plenty. The ones that stood out the most were Rosie’s Wicket Wasp Whisky Cask, a dry cider with bags of spirit on the nose and Bramley undertones, and Pookhill Rum Reserve, an altogether more pungent beast full of wood character, honeyed apples and apple jam.
At the second bar, The Medawar, my first choice of cider was Gloucestershire's Hartland, owing to its recently acquired CAMRA bronze award... Unfortunately, thanks to the award, it had run out, so I went with the Rouse’s suggestion of Biddenden’s Bushels, a medium sweet offering that had apparently been selling very well.
Finally Rouse, clearly a lover of East Anglia style ciders, led me to his festival favourite, Carters. Based in Essex, Carters are primarily winemakers and this is their only cider. Made with Spartan apples it's straw-coloured, medium-dry, light in style and has a strong ethanol nose.
The world view
A visit to the very first International Craft cider festival in Wales the following weekend meant that I was showered in even more of the apply stuff. Again, two tents* to split my findings into – a Welsh and an English.
Some favourites: Oliver's Rock Perry had a distinct aroma of sharp juicy pears upfront, followed by a sweet palate and tannins that packed a punch. Ross-on-Wye's Headless Man, a medium dry cider fermented in a rum cask, was sweet upfront with very understated wood and vanilla notes to follow and fresh apple flavours all round.
The medium cider from Pips (they also had a dry) had a lovely pungent rustic nose – think wood and earth. Soft cooked apples with light tannins followed on the palate.
West of the border...
The ever popular Gwynt y Ddraig Black Dragon was being sold by the flagon. Matured in oak barrels, it's full-bodied, fruity, and has the most intriguingly moorish sherbetty tang that keeps you coming back for more.
A similarly crowd-pleasing cider was Rosie's Black Bart, a sweeter cider thanks to it's maturation in rum barrels from Barbados.
Finally, Seidr Dai's Knotted Kernal was certainly the most interesting cider I tasted, something that accounted for it also being a crowd divider. Luckily I fell firmly into the 'love it' catagory and have a four-pint container in my fridge to prove it. It was sweet, perfumed and intriguingly peaty.
All in all, a tongue-tingling few weeks.
Henrietta Clancy, cider editor
*There was a third tent for all things international - with some delectable Normandy style ciders from France, cider wines from Germany and some crazy Asturian cider makers from Spain – but I’m afraid that they don’t fit into the DrinkBritain.com remit, so enough about them… although I will allow you a video of an Asturian pouring his cider in accordance with traditional methods, and an image of me following suit.