Harvest time for one of the nation’s traditional tipples may be under way but for many, cider means little more than Scrumpy — and a raging headache in the morning.
But new producers are helping cider to shed its country bumpkin image and it can now be found on some of the nation’s smartest wine lists, thanks to its quality and food-friendly credentials. Cider, in fact, just got chic.
So what is behind this revolution? According to Susanna Forbes, founder of Herefordshire’s award-winning craft cider Little Pomona, it’s a question of taste. ‘Consumers are giving cider another go and finding authentic flavours,’ she says, ‘with cider’s innate balance of acid, fruit and texture making it a winner with food.’
Drinks expert Helen McGinn has taken a look at which cider is best of the current crop and provided a rating for those looking to be adventurous and try something new
About half the apples grown in the UK are used to make cider. And just as wine is made using particular grape varieties, so cider-making is best suited to certain apple varieties.
More than 250 are used to make cider, some with plenty of natural acidity, others with more tannin or fruit flavours. Like wine, cider is fermented rather than brewed and there is talk of ‘terroir’ among producers — a word used in wine circles to mean the location, soil and climate of different orchards.
Cider appreciation has had a makeover, too, with enthusiasts no longer found mostly in wind-blown tents at country fairs. Members-only cider clubs such as The Fine Cider Company’s Pommelier Club are booming. And in Herefordshire, one of the top cider counties, orchard cycle trails encourage visitors to stop and sip with cider-makers en route.
So which ones are worth going out of your way for? Our drinks expert Helen McGinn picks the best of the current crop...
FINE AS WINE
The Newt Fine Cyder, 75cl, £9, thenewtinsomerset.com
The Newt Fine Cyder is the is the top-of-the-range beverage the trendy hotel produces from its 3,500 apple trees and cidery
When the owners of the jaw-droppingly trendy hotel The Newt in Somerset decided to go into cider (or cyder, as they call it), they didn’t do things by halves.
The gardens are planted with 3,500 trees and the cidery (like a winery but for cider) is state-of-the-art, all stainless steel tanks and smart oak barrels.
Just released, this is their top-of- the-range Fine Cyder. Made like wine, it is still, with subtle green apple flavours, a touch of tannin, lots of freshness and just over 8 per cent alcohol. I’d take this over a boring house wine anytime.
Little Pomona Table Cider No.1, 75cl, £8, littlepomona.com
This rustic Little Pomona Table Cider No.1 is slowly fermented and is made from yellow apple at an orchard in Herefordshire
Founders James and Susanna Forbes made the move from marketing wine to making cider when they fell in love with an orchard in Herefordshire five years ago.
This seasonal blend is released in parcels throughout the year following harvest, and is made using five apple varieties.
It is slowly fermented until it’s bone dry and there is a bit of sediment left in the bottle.
Rustic in a good way, with aromas of hay and yellow apple and the sort of tannic grip you might find in wine.
And at just 7.3 per cent abv, you can stay at the table a little longer.
TASTE OF GRAPE
Gospel Green Rosé 75cl, £14.95, gospelgreen.co.uk
Made in the same way as champagne, Gospel Green Rosé is a bubbly cider and the perfect blend of cooking and dessert apples
From Hampshire, this is a traditional bottle-fermented cider made in the same way as champagne, with a second fermentation in the bottle creating the bubbles.
It’s a blend of cooking and dessert apples and gets its colour from an added dash of Pinot Noir.
It feels more like tasting wine than cider, with its elegant bubbles, soft red fruit flavours and a touch of hedgerow aroma.
Starvecrow Natural Cyder 750ml, £28 for 3, thefinecider.company
This lively Starvecrow Natural Cyder, produced in Sussex by one of England's most adventurous wine producers and a neighbouring farmer, is the perfect blend of apple and citrus
Ben Walgate, one of England’s most adventurous wine producers, has teamed up with neighbouring farmer Steve Reeve to make some interesting ciders in Sussex, too.
This one is made from a blend of hand-picked apples, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in old whiskey barrels. Unfiltered and funky, it is citrussy with plenty of grip and flavour.
Have a tea towel to hand when you open the bottle, though (it’s a little lively).
FRESH AND ORGANIC
Newton Court Gasping Goose 330ml, £2, newtoncourtcider.com
Newton Court Gasping Goose is made from organic apples and is produced by Paul Stephens who has been working in the industry for 20 years
Paul Stephens has been making cider in Herefordshire for 20 years and believes craft cider means people covered in mud and apple peel, not big machines and people in suits.
His Gasping Goose (named after geese that tucked into some fermenting cider while Paul’s grandfather had a long lunch years ago) is made from certified organic apples.
Medium-bodied, it’s a honking good tipple with gorgeous toffee-apple characters but still stays fresh on the palate.
Pilton Somerset Keeved Cider 75cl, £8.49, piltoncider.com
To create the delicious Pilton Somerset Keeved Cider is Martin and Angela Berkeley's flagship brew, filled with bittersweet apple flavours
Husband and wife Martin and Angela Berkeley use an old technique called ‘keeving’ to partially ferment their Somerset cider, leaving it with a touch of natural sweetness.
This one is their flagship and is all bittersweet apple flavours wrapped in soft bubbles. The natural sweetness makes it a joy to drink.
No Brainer Sparkling 500ml, £2.25, cotswoldciderco.com
A different take on the tickle cider, No Brainer Sparkling has real zing and is produced from apples grown in a garden in the Cotswolds
Rory Souter set up his business after trying to make cider from apples in his garden when he moved to an old watermill in the Cotswolds.
Realising it wasn’t as easy as he thought, he spent time honing his craft before setting out to create something to challenge the common perception of cider.
The result is deliciously crisp and dry, with real zing.
Hogan’s Libertine Cider, 500ml, £2.35, Waitrose
Perfect for autumn, Hogan’s Libertine Cider has a range of 'Willy Wonka-like' ciders all produced at the Warwickshire cidery
Warwickshire-based Allen Hogan is one of the most creative producers around with a Willy Wonka-like range of ciders.
But for something on the sweeter side, this Libertine blend has deliciously seductive autumn flavours.
TOUCH OF HONEY
Oliver’s Fine Cider Yarlington Mill 2019, 750ml, £6.90, oliversciderandperry.co.uk
While minimalist in design, this Oliver’s Fine Cider Yarlington Mill 2019 is not minimalist in taste
Producer Tom Oliver likes to leave the apples to do as much of the work as possible. His packaging is also minimal, but what’s inside does the talking.
This one is made from a variety called Yarlington Mill (there’s a touch of _Foxwhelp in there, too. The names of the varieties are so good).
Medium-bodied with a light sparkle, lovely fleshy aromas and a touch of honey at the end.
Westons Vintage Cider 500ml, £2.19, Tesco
Made from bittersweet apples and produced in Herefordshire since 1880, Westons Vintage Cider is medium dry
This Herefordshire producer has been around since 1880, making slowly matured cider aged in traditional oak casks.
This one is made from bittersweet apples grown in a single year (2019 in this case) and is medium dry in style. Lightly sparkling with lovely fruit flavours at its core.