It’s all about cider this summer
At the core of every good cider is naturally fermented, freshly pressed juice. Sounds simple enough, but the devil is in the detail.
The best of British drinks, cider is part of our heritage and with authentic, traditional ciders getting the attention they deserve right now, as we engage with artisan drinks and something new to talk about, our ancient apple orchards are enjoying a revival – and bearing fruit.
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“As people seek more natural flavours and simple ingredients, it’s no surprise cider comes to the fore. Crisp, gently complex and 10 out of 10 for refreshment, cider satisfies a broader range of drinker than any other beverage,” says Barny Butterfield, managing director at Sandford Orchards in Devon.
“From entry-level, first-time drinkers to sophisticated wine and whisky lovers, there’s a cider waiting for everyone.”
The new Sandford Orchards Vintage Collection is full of character and features three oak-aged ciders, so sublime they’ll appeal to cider connoisseurs and newbies alike.
There’s Apple & Oak 2020 (6.7% abv), deliciously dry with lovely bittersweet apples topped with vanilla and toasty oak; Sandford Reserve 2019 (7.4% abv), which displays peachy, appley notes and gentle sherry influence, and The General 2019 (8.4% abv), a broad shouldered cider with fantastic depth of flavour marked by plums and baked apple, and sweeter, stronger in style. From £30 for 12 x 50cl bottles, Sandfordorchards.co.uk.
Butterfield says there’s a burgeoning of small cider makers, bringing much needed energy and diversity to the scene: “And many of these makers are talking more about the ingredients and process than we may have heard before.
“Don’t think craft beer – not the same at all – we’re from the orchards, devoted to fruit and process and based in the orcharding counties of the UK,” he adds.
Indeed, a crop of slowly ripening apples in a walled orchard is very similar to a verdant vineyard with clusters of grapes, the different varieties, ripeness of fruit, tending to the trees, and getting the blend right – just like wine.
Expressing his take on the similarities between the two, Fergus Fitzgerald, head brewer at Adnams in Southwold, cites cider as much more of a winemaking process than brewing, and collaborated with his master of wine to craft Adnams Wild Wave English Cider (5% abv), £19.99 for 12 x 33cl cans.
It’s a blend of bittersweet and dessert apples, including one of his favourite varieties: “The reason I like Yarlington Mill is that variety on its own has almost everything I like to find in a cider. It has a nice acidity, a juicy fresh apple sweetness, a light earthiness and most importantly for a brewer, it has a perfect level of bitter tannin content to bring balance to the cider,” says Fitzgerald.
Launched in 2019, he says sales of Wild Wave grew by 37% last year, as customers sought it out [when they couldn’t enjoy it in pubs], and they’re adding a five-litre mini keg to the mix for summer.
One of our best loved cultivated fruits, some producers might use at least 70 varieties of cider apple, and centre around 20 to coax the broadest range of flavours. While some have similar characteristics, climate and topography have an influence too. So apples used to make, say, a light, fruity, zesty cider in warm Devon orchards, may be different to another orcharding county.
“My favourite varieties for adding character to vintage ciders are lots of the Devon varieties, such as Tremlett’s Bitter, Sweet Alford, Yarlington Mill and Brown’s,” says Butterfield. “But the method is just as significant as the ingredient. The decisions you make during fermentation, the skill in the cellar, how you pick the maturation pathway, choice of barrel, how long it spends in oak contact. You make cider, you brew beer.”
Thirsty to taste more of this precious crop? These three vintage ciders pressed our taste buds…
Sainsbury’s TTD English Vintage Cider 2020 (6.8% abv), 50cl, £1.75, Sainsbury’s
Hot on the Herefordshire cider trail, another vintage cider to tantalise your taste buds. Fifth generation H Weston & Sons craft this medium bodied cider with traditional bittersweet apples from a single year’s harvest. Its appealing, fruity sweet character is laden with rich apple flavours, with a proper, celebratory cider complexity and crisp, fruity finish to keep you coming back for more.
There’s also a growing market for fruit cider and Ben Kaye, Sainsbury’s cider buyer, says their Taste the Difference range is increasing threefold this summer, with new flavours launching May 23.
“Whilst traditionally, many fruit flavoured ciders tend to be sweet, we wanted our new additions to stand out for being both refreshing and flavoursome,” says Kaye. “Taking inspiration from the crisp, summery feel that rosé wine offers, this summer, pink hues are big on our agenda, so you’ll see English Blush (pink apple cider), Raspberry and Lemon, and Cloudy Lemon flavours hitting the shelves shortly.” Priced £2.00 each (5.5% abv, 50cl).
Waitrose Leckford Cox’s Apple Vintage Cider 2019 (6% abv), 50cl, £2.25, Waitrose
Easy drinking with straight up refreshing deliciousness, this medium dry cider is made with Cox’s apples grown in the Waitrose & Partners farm at Leckford, Hampshire, and made for them by Suffolk-based Aspall. Unoaked, light, crisp and bang on the money.
M&S Somerset Vintage Cider 2019, £2.25 (7.4% abv), 50cl, Ocado
A golden nugget, sixth-generation Sheppy’s in Taunton are behind this medium dry cider, which clocks in at 7.4% abv, but you’d never guess from its moreish, appley, fantastic fruity freshness. It cries out for Cornish Cruncher extra mature cheddar cheese, wedged between thick, crusty bread. Cheers!