By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 15 January 2022
As drinks judge for this year’s Andre Simon Food & Drink Book Awards, I was sent a selection of books to review which included three devoted to cider, something that would have been unheard of a decade ago.
This proliferation of cider books is a clear sign that a renaissance is under way. Cider’s status, as the jewel in the English food and drink crown enjoyed by royalty and nobility in C17 and C18, is set to be revived.
With topics as diverse as cider’s ancient origins, modern-day British ciders to a Swedish self-help guide – the books highlight cider’s importance in our history and culture - and the revival of its fortunes thanks to a new artisan cider brigade worldwide focusing on ‘full juice’ cider once again.
My favourite book is Cider Country (£18.99 William Collins), a must read for cider enthusiasts. Author James Crowden is a brilliant witty writer and researcher with an eye for a good story. His wonderful romp through cider history and its key characters begins with cider’s origins in the wild apple forests of Almaty in south-east Kazakhstan.
Crowden introduces us to Russian scientists, swashbuckling seadog cider-fanatics like Sir Francis Drake and writer Daniel Defoe, to Lord Scudamore and his cider flutes and the early days of sparkling cider of mid C17, which predates sparkling wine, when cider-making was a gentlemanly art.
By late C20, Crowden reveals that “cider has become little more than an alcopop”. It diverged into two radically different products: mass-marketed diluted low-strength beverages versus a small number of farmhouse real-juice wine-strength brews – but both called ‘cider’.
Lowering of fruit content, adding glucose syrup, diluting flavours with juice concentrate from China, making it all year round to compete with lager – moving away from characterful tannic cider apples was a travesty. “There are laptop cidermakers who have never pressed an apple in their lives”, says Crowden - but in C21 there is a light at the end of the tunnel with a new band of cidermakers reviving our orchards.
Gabe Cook’s Modern British Cider (£15.99 Camra) picks up the story post-WW2 explaining what went wrong when breweries took over cidermakers restricting routes to market and styles. Cook also makes pragmatic suggestions for new legislation to protect quality cider – from raising juice content to ingredient labelling.
His practical guide gives a lexicon of styles and highlights influential British farmhouse cider makers. “Cider has a personality, culture, process and identity like no other drink…we need to respect cidermakers as much as winemakers are revered today”, says Cook.
Cider Revolution (£16.99 Pavilion) by Swedes Karl Sjostrom and Mikael Nypelius of Fruktstereo is a practical DIY guide for amateur cider and Pet-Nat homebrewers – with lively illustrations, recipes and helpful step-by-step photographic guide to making delicious fermented fruit drinks at home.
Sweden is just one country with a burgeoning brigade of cidermakers. Interestingly Swedish icecider proved most popular in our tasting (see below), which highlights a selection of the excellent ciders now available from Ukraine to UK.
Closer to home in Scotland there is an exciting cider revival. I will dedicate a separate column to reviewing new Scottish ciders emerging from Fife and Grampian orchards - there is even a Scottish community orchard enterprise planning to make cider commercially. Watch this space.
'FULL-JUICE' CIDER & PERRY TASTE TEST:
Still Dry Cider: Herefordshire, UK: LITTLE POMONA TABLE CIDER (7.3%) ***STAR BUY***
£9.50 Aeble Cider Shop; St Andrews Wine; Little Pomona
Approachable fresh aromatic style. Susanna & James Forbes release this refreshing juicy blend of cider and dessert apples seasonally in small parcels. Burnished gold colour, zippy zesty palate, slightly tart, light tannins.
Still Dry Cider: Vermont, USA: EDEN CELLAR SERIES ‘CINDERELLA’S SLIPPER (7.5%)
£17 Cider is Wine
Refreshing aromatic style made from twenty late-harvested varieties. Amber, light citric, initially bittersweet apple notes soften to smooth rounded palate with earthy finish.
Still Dry Cider: Herefordshire, UK: LITTLE POMONA ART OF DARKNESS (7.2%)
£14 Cornelius Wine; Cork & Cask; Good Spirits Co; Little Pomona
Cider meets whisky. Interesting barrel-influenced cider from Ellis Bitter and Aston Bitter apple-cider matured in ex-spirits casks for 14 months. Deep gold, enticing apricot, toffee and vanilla nose, rich spicy earthy, deep tannic structure - try with Stichelton cheese.
Sparkling Perry: Normandy, France: TEMPLAR’S CHOICE PERRY (5.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£8.50 Cider is Wine
Popular with tasters for its pure fruit quality; from 80 year old pear trees, this Normandy ‘method traditionelle’ unsweetened sparkling has crunchy pearskin flavours, medium dry, light tannin; fine pure perry from Les Noyers cidery run by an English couple from Gloucestershire.
Sparkling Dry Cider: Asturias, Spain: GUZMAN RIESTRA NATURAL ESPUMOSA BRUT NATURE (8%)
£10.99 Cider is Wine
Fresh tart bruised-apple nose, nutty dry, slightly metallic, rich fruits with dry tannins best enjoyed with local salchichon and mild chorizo. Made by the 4th generation at this family cidery, brothers Ruben and Raul Riestra near Gijon on Spain’s north coast.
Sparkling Dry Cider: Ukraine: BERRYLAND CABERNET FRANC APPLE CIDER (7.5%)
£13 Cider is Wine
Vitalii Krvayha sources fruit from Kiev and Bukovina to make this quirky Pet-Nat; a co-fermentation of cider apples and Cabernet Franc grapes; raspberry curranty notes, blackcurrant sweet fruit with wine flavours to the fore: fun, zesty and frothy.
Still Sweet Cider: Sweden: BRANNLAND ISCIDER 2018 (9%) ***STAR BUY***
£20 hf bt Cider is Wine
Outstanding favourite from Andreas Sundgren, who uses naturally cold winter temperatures (Quebec style), rather than artificial chilling. Syrupy viscous, honey, melon notes, rich intense juicy flavours. Initially sweet, finishing dry. 2018 was a superb vintage.
Join Rose’s virtual tastings - and in-person wine tastings from February 2022 in Edinburgh, Glasgow & St Andrews www.rosemurraybrown.com