It’s taken us a while to get to the Cider Box, despite walking past it most days.
That’s partly because it’s only open on Friday evenings and Saturdays and partly, if we’re honest, because cider tends to be very much a second choice for us.
But it’s probably our closest active licenced premises and can look quite inviting on a warm evening.
It’s in a railway arch on Silverthorne Lane, next to a mechanic, opposite one of a number of abandoned Victorian industrial buildings.
It’s a short distance from a number of East Bristol tap rooms but in the wrong direction.
The area is going to be the focus of a new industrial heritage conservation area so no doubt in five to ten years, these arches will be full of similar businesses. At the moment, though, it’s pretty quiet, with grey stone walls overlooking a no-through road that’s unfortunately popular with fly tippers.
Most people are on tables outside whenever we’ve been past and on the night of our visit it was no different. Inside, it feels cosier than the average tap room, possibly because of the posters, memorabilia and bubbling bartop carboys that proclaim a real love of cider.
In general, the place feels more Bristolian and a little funkier than most of the local craft beer taprooms which, let’s face it, could often be in any other UK or world city.
The music was a mix of Hip Hop Don’t Stop and Abba (this was the day the new album came out) and people with a range of accents, from West Country to Welsh, burst into occasional song.
Beer is available – Lost and Grounded Keller Pils – but this place is really about cider in all its forms.
Some come from the tap, brisk and bright, very much designed to chug without too much reflection. Some are of the bag-in-a-box variety. There is even a ‘Cider Royale’ section of the menu, featuring 750ml sharing bottles.
We kicked off with some kind of own-brand option (from a tap, rather than a bag in the box) which got us firmly in the zone – sweet and faintly rural, not dry enough for our taste, but a good warm up for the taste buds.
Our next two came from Totterdown producers Ganley & Naish. One was advertised as a single variety cider but we’re not sure which variety; it was dry and oaky (and added a great extra note to the own-brand leftovers that Jess was nursing).
Mourning Drop is described on their website as a ‘single orchard’ cider, which seems to mean a bunch of apple varieties. This one was weird – woody, almost fungal.
With just three rounds, we were delivered a reminder of the variety of cider out there to enjoy. Or, at least, to experience.
Every now and then, a bat sliced through the air above our heads, and at one point what looked like a thousand seagulls, illuminated from below by streetlights, scattered across the sky indigo sky. Everyone stared upward and pointed in cider-addled delight.
To finish, we chose a bottle from the fancy bottle section and, boy, did that blow our minds. Pilton One Juice is the result of a project in which five separate makers produce their own cider from the same juice. It was utterly, smile-inducingly delightful. Simultaneously sweet, full-bodied and dry, every mouthful highlighted some new, intense, wonderful flavour.
Perhaps we do love cider after all.
We swayed off home under the railway bridges as Chiquitita echoed off the walls of the old timber yard, chatting excitedly about apples, and very much looking forward to our next visit.