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.
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 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.
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.