So that was cider season 2019

The Cider Press

Time passes so quickly – it feels like we’ve only just declared October to be our month of cider and yet here we are at the end.

Did we do quite as much cidery stuff as we’d hoped we might? Not real­ly, but we did:

Here’s a run­down of what we drank, where, and some of the (lim­it­ed) con­clu­sions we reached.

We kicked every­thing off with a vis­it to the Cider Press on Glouces­ter Road – an easy one because we pass it on the way home from work.

We ordered two dry ciders from (we think) Rich’s and Heck­’s. So dry were they judged to be, in fact, that we were made to taste them before order­ing by a bar­man obvi­ous­ly used to hav­ing to deal with put out cus­tomers.

Cider at the Cider Press.

After all the fuss, we found them not exact­ly sweet, but not what we’d think of as dry either.

This might be because, inso­far as we know cider at all, our taste­buds have been cal­i­brat­ed by Mr Wilkin­s’s dry, which can tend to feel like putting cot­ton wool on the tongue.

But we also sus­pect that The Orchard, the splen­did back­street cider­house on Spike Island, would be sell­ing these as medi­um, or medi­um-dry, or at least not mak­ing a fuss about it.

So first les­son: dry is con­tex­tu­al and to some degree in the eye of the ven­dor. (See also: hop­py.)

The fol­low­ing day we refreshed our­selves mid-ram­ble with a pint of a cider we didn’t expect to like but felt oblig­ed to try. Thatcher’s Haze must be one of the top sell­ing ciders in Bris­tol and cer­tain­ly seems to be the go-to for our respec­tive work col­leagues. And you know what? We didn’t hate it.

If you think of it as a kind of soft, sweet fizzy pop, then it’s no trou­ble at all to drink.

The Dark Horse

The main des­ti­na­tion of our walk that day was The Dark Horse in St George’s. It’s a fair­ly nor­mal pub cater­ing to a blend of locals (stu­dents, hip­sters, hip­pies, hard­ened booz­ers) which we’d noticed on a pre­vi­ous vis­it has a wall of boxed cider, as well as a few on draught.

Here we hit upon the first ciders that we can actu­al­ly say we real­ly enjoyed. One was from Iford and described as medi­um-dry; the oth­er was a dry cider from Tricky. The Iford in par­tic­u­lar was like a deli­cious fresh­ly-pressed apple juice with just a hint of funk and acid.

Head­ing back into town, we stopped off at the new­ly gen­tri­fied Swan with Two Necks (more on this lat­er) where there was anoth­er Iford, Som­er­set Sahara – a joke about its sup­posed extreme dry­ness. Again, it was excel­lent, so we felt as if we’d achieved one of our aims for the month: find­ing a pro­duc­er we could rely on and look out for on oth­er­wise over­whelm­ing cider lists.

After we Tweet­ed some­thing along these lines„ Oliv­er Holt­away rec­om­mend­ed Honey’s Mid­ford. We hap­pened to see a bot­tle of the Medi­um Dry in one of our local bot­tle shops a few days lat­er and took ‘ee on.

Up to this point in our exper­i­ment, we hadn’t real­ly seen any point of sale blurb about the ciders we were drink­ing (and indeed often strug­gled to work out the name or man­u­fac­tur­er of spe­cif­ic ciders from the avail­able infor­ma­tion) but this came with some detailed lin­er notes.

It was described as ‘unfil­tered craft cider’, our first encounter with the C‑word in the world of cider. It was ever so slight­ly fizzy. We real­ly liked this, enjoy­ing the full and com­plex apple fore­taste, bal­anced with enough farm­yard grit to make it feel like scrumpy. Will say­ing we appre­ci­at­ed the car­bon­a­tion get us thrown out of cider club? Well, we did.

We had to fit in a vis­it to The Orchard where we had cooked up this daft plan and sched­uled a prop­er Sun­day sesh.

Jess began with Janet’s Jun­gle Juice, which is an award-win­ning medi­um-dry cider made round the cor­ner from Ray’s par­ents. It’s been her default choice at The Orchard for a while so it was inter­est­ing to taste it prop­er­ly with a lit­tle more con­tex­tu­al infor­ma­tion. It real­ly is a jour­ney in the glass: it smells, and at first tastes, like a tof­fee apple, morphs into easy-drink­ing juice, then swings in with an acid kick at the end. The trick is to sip it as a gulp seems inevitably to pro­duce a cough­ing fit. The Dou­ble IPA of the cider world?

Iford’s Wind­fall – great name – was described as medi­um but still tast­ed sweet to us, and… Look, that’s all we’ve got. It was per­haps a bit bland, or maybe sub­tle, and, evi­dent­ly, our cider palates still need work.

We also drank a dry cider, Porter’s Per­fec­tion, that was indeed com­plete­ly with­out resid­ual sweet­ness but at the same time com­plete­ly lack­ing sour­ness.

This trig­gered a real­i­sa­tion: we had been mak­ing the short­cut asso­ci­a­tion of dry­ness with sour­ness which of course isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the case. Just as in beer, you can have a sour cider that is also sug­ary, and a dry cider that is super clean.

Ashridge was a dis­ap­point­ment. We think we’ve enjoyed this in the past but on this occa­sion it man­aged to be the worst of all cider worlds, lack­ing apple char­ac­ter while also being petrol-fume harsh. It remind­ed us, unfor­tu­nate­ly, of home­made fruit wine with too much white cane sug­ar in the mix.

We fin­ished on a cou­ple of very dan­ger­ous options.

Rocky Road was described as medi­um but, again, tast­ed pret­ty sweet to us, with no harsh­ness what­so­ev­er – just like drink­ing apple juice, with the lethal punch­line of a bare­ly evi­dent 6% ABV.

Red Hen, mean­while, was a sub­tle medi­um-dry affair which made us under­stand cider as apple wine – it had the crisp fin­ish of a Ries­ling.

The ses­sion taught us some­thing else which is that it is very dif­fi­cult to objec­tive­ly taste cider as part of a ses­sion as the pre­vi­ous cider real­ly does impact on how you per­ceive the next one. The same applies to beer, of course, but it felt espe­cial­ly pro­nounced here, per­haps because there are rel­a­tive­ly few vari­ables – no hop vari­eties to con­tend with, for exam­ple.

After our enlight­en­ing vis­it to the Cori­Tap, we made a pit­stop at a near­by bar where we tried Orchard Pig – the Cam­den Hells of cider? You wouldn’t know from the brand­ing that it’s owned by the same peo­ple who pro­duce Mag­n­ers and, to be fair, it is a very dif­fer­ent, more enjoy­able drink – fizzy, sweet, with an acces­si­ble ABV, but def­i­nite­ly still a touch funky.

The Apple

Final­ly, last night, we made it to The Apple, a cider bar on a boat that we’ve vis­it­ed sev­er­al times before between us.

It seemed right to cir­cle back to the cider­mak­ers we start­ed with: Rich’s (medi­um) and Kingston Black from Heck’s (medi­um-dry). Rich’s, the stan­dard cider of fam­i­ly gath­er­ings in Ray’s child­hood, tast­ed quite sug­ary and fair­ly straight­for­ward, with almost a touch of Tiz­er about it. The Heck’s seemed too sweet for the des­ig­na­tion and had some­thing dusty and cork-like about it.

The very last cider of cider sea­son was Taunton Dry (‘clear-dry’ as the menu had it) which was Cham­pagne-pale, rel­a­tive­ly weak at 4% ABV. This one real­ly con­fused us: def­i­nite­ly sweet but also, some­how, dry. Let’s try this again: it tast­ed sweet but felt dry. Or start­ed sweet and fin­ished dry. Or… Ah, who knows. It also seemed a bit watery as in lit­er­al­ly watered down. Still, a wisp of coun­try­side char­ac­ter gave it a bit of added appeal.

So, all in all we achieved what we set out to do – we revis­it­ed Bris­tol pubs known for their cider offer iden­ti­fied some mak­ers that we like and would look out for in future, Iford in par­tic­u­lar being a name that crops up all over the place.

We’ve learned that the tra­di­tion­al dry-medi­um-sweet descrip­tors aren’t real­ly that help­ful indi­ca­tors for us in decid­ing whether we’re going to like a cider or not. What we want to know is how intense the apple flavour might be and how much acid to expect.

Has this month turned us into cider drinkers? Prob­a­bly not. While we have much more appre­ci­a­tion for the vari­ety that is out there, and will def­i­nite­ly con­tin­ue to have the occa­sion­al cider ses­sion, it’s dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of us choos­ing cider when beer is avail­able. We find it hard to ses­sion on and hard work rather than refresh­ing.

Shame we didn’t get round to vis­it­ing The Long Bar or hav­ing those cans of Natch, though.

4 thoughts on “So that was cider season 2019”

  1. Glad you enjoyed the Hon­ey’s! Look for it on tap too, it’s slight­ly dif­fer­ent. Both ver­sions great.

    And *don’t* go to the Long Bar 🙂

  2. One of my local pubs offers up to 60 bag-in-a-box ciders, which seems crazy; how long do they stay fresh? And who is drink­ing them?

    1. Pret­ty much until they are drank! I bought a few bag in box ciders for a wed­ding, the ones we opened on the day had to be used with­in 3 months, the ones that we did­n’t open could last up to 12 months. Hav­ing opened an unopened one at a Christ­mas a full 6 months lat­er, it tast­ed the same as the ones we’d opened in the sum­mer.

    2. Varies – 4 weeks after open­ing is usu­al­ly quot­ed, some sup­pli­ers say longer but I sus­pect that’s only through the heavy use of preser­v­a­tives etc.

      Peo­ple do drink them – in par­tic­u­lar the fruit ones, which are an easy sale to peo­ple who’ve grown up on Rekorderlig/Kopparberg etc, which are the mil­lenial alcopops.

      I’d sug­gest one obvi­ous omis­sion in a cider month is any east­ern coun­ties cider – I get that Briz­zle will tend to favour the local brews, but the ciders made with dessert apples deserve a lookin – some­thing like the Dud­da’s Tun Orig­i­nal and Dis­co (sin­gle-vari­ety Dis­cov­ery) are good rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the style. And if you want pure bone dry, then find sin­gle-vari­ety Rus­sets, like the Turn­er’s one.

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