10 best British ciders
Summer sun calls for only one drink, so grab a glass of the finest apple nectar these isles have to offer
Though we duly acknowledge that cider is not just a summer tipple, there’s nothing like the mercury rising to get us in the mood for some of the apple nectar.
Picnics in parks, music festivals and long lazy days by the beach all have us reaching for a cold cider in the summer. But with all the ciders available – different styles, flavour infusions, apple varieties, strengths – the question is which?
There are, indeed, some superb ciders that quite rightly are only available on tap. This list highlights the best take-home options – and with some wild and wonderful flavours out there, we’re all about straight apple ciders.
Gabe Cook, cider consultant, broadcaster and educator, or if you prefer, the “Ciderologist” says the bevvy is “effectively our indigenous wine – sugar-rich juice is squeezed from fruit and is then fermented into alcohol.” She adds: “And exactly like wines, the choice of varietal is crucial to the resultant cider. Foxwhelp and brown snout cider apple varieties, for example, are as chalk and cheese as sauvignon blanc and malbec.”
So with that in mind what are we looking for? A balance of flavours is key, whether still, sparkling, dry or sweet. We’re also looking for ciders with a high juice content, giving them a fuller flavour, from complex tannins to bold bursts of bittersweet fruit. Or as Cook puts it: “Ciders of different apple blends will taste quite different to one another. Some more acid forward, some bold, rich and tannic, and others full and fruity. It is the interplay between acidity, tannin and sweetness that makes the great ciders stand out from the also-rans; the supreme from the scrump.”
So dig out the deckchair, throw down that picnic basket, and pray for sunshine. Here is our round-up of the best British ciders.
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1. Apple County Cider Co, Vilberie Medium Dry, 6%: £44 for 12 x 500ml, Apple County Cider Co
If you’ve always thought of cider as a lowly summer sipper, let Apple County cider change your mind. Made in Monmouthshire in Wales with 100 per cent apple juice, each of its ciders is made from a single apple variety, all grown locally. The company says it approaches cider-making in the same way and with the same reverence for the fruit as a wine-maker. In fact, it adds winemakers’ yeast to fresh juice stored in its barn, and then lets it slowly ferment. Because each cider is a showcase for the flavour of each particular apple variety, which is best will largely depend on individual taste.
Our verdict is that while the Dabinett Medium is bold and fruity, we especially love the Vilberie for its distinctive subtleness. Lively, and initially pretty pungent (almost cheesy in fact), this cider is actually incredibly delicate with – as the fizz starts to dissipate – a really beautiful creaminess and rounded mouth-feel. In a word, it’s yummy. Grown-up and with fairly low acidity, if you poured this into a champagne glass, and served it with dinner you’d be on to a winner. Equally, just crack it open while tending that BBQ. Such is the beauty of a good cider.
2. Hallets Real Cider, 6%: £30 for 12 x 500ml, Hallets
Another Welsh cider, produced with 100 per cent apple juice, this time from the Dabinett apple. Vintage cider is slowly fermented and blended with the current year’s to create a lively and fruity cider, but again with a beautiful softness and creaminess on the finish. In fact, there’s something cream soda-esque here. But that’s not to say this cider doesn’t have a kick to it. There’s lot of fresh, bright notes, almost green notes but the delicate carbonation delivers them in a gradual way. If you’re looking for a food match, you can’t go wrong with some oily cheese.
3. Oliver’s Stoke Red Fine Cider Still, Season 2015, 5.5%: £3.85 for 375ml, Hop Burns & Black
Another artisan producer, Oliver’s crafts its cider and perry by fermenting the juice with wild yeasts in small batches. Using handpicked and unsprayed fruit, the focus is on minimal intervention. Though Oliver’s tips its hat to cider-making traditions, it’s not afraid to experiment. The range includes At The Hop #5, which is infused with Kazbek hops from the Czech Republic and Chinook hops from Slovenia. And though excellent, it’s a more traditional variety that’s made our list.
For those that like their cider still, without any carbonation, the Oliver’s Stoke Red fine cider, which uses 100 per cent juice, is a characterful, wonderfully smooth choice that feels somewhat grown-up. It’s sweet, but in a non-cloying way, with a hint of acidity cutting through and keeping it balanced. Though lovely to sip as is, it’s especially lovely when chilled down and served as a dessert wine.
4. Fowey Valley Castledore, Medium Dry Cider, 6.5%: £22 for 12 x 330ml, Ellis Wharton Wines
Fowey Valley is known for its excellent champagne-esque sparkling vintage cider which uses a high proportion of dessert apples. But it’s the newest cider, the beautifully hued Castledore, that has got us excited. The company uses a blend of sharp and sweet styles to create the liquid, which boasts a natural blush colour. Sour but balanced, there’s some almost savoury biscuit notes here. Lightly carbonated, it’s an easy-drinking style, but there’s still plenty here for those who want a little complexity.
5. Westons Wyld Wood Organic, 6%: £7.35 for 3L, Tesco
If you’re after a full-on hit of apple, then this is the cider for you. Westons matures this cider – made using fruit from organic orchards in Herefordshire – in oak vats. While the taste is fresh, and ripe the time in the wood gives this cider a full-bodied substantiality, which is interesting but unchallenging. Sweet, but gently oaked and with slight carbonation, it’s satisfyingly apply. A crowd-pleaser.
6. Oldfields Worcestershire Cider Medium Dry, 4.8%: £23.50 for 12 x 500ml, Hobsons Brewery
Produced by the sister company to Hobsons Brewery in Worcestershire, though this cider has been produced for the past 50 years, it’s only been available to the public since 2014. The company uses a blend of Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill apples to make its ciders, which are available in medium sweet, medium dry and original. We’ve gone for the medium dry which has that musty astringency on the nose which, when find in a cider, means you know you’re in for a good time. You want your ciders to pack a flavour punch sometimes. A previous Great Taste Award-winner, Medium Dry doesn’t disappoint. The fruit-forward style means that it’s refreshing, but the gentle tannins from the skins and pips means there’s just enough sourness to satisfy a scrumpy drinker too. Lip-smacking. Serve with spicy food.
7. Kent Cider Company Blend 23, 6%: £45 for 12 x 500ml, Kent Cider Company
Based in Faversham – a place more commonly associated with its hops and beer production – the Kent Cider Company sources rare and hard-to-find apple varieties from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm. Home to varieties such as “Slack Me Girdle”, it’s surely worth a visit in its own right. But we digress. Kent says its focus is on the “rustic yet refined”, and a single varietal nut can go mad with its range which includes russet, granny smith, and gala. But it’s the blend that has caught our attention. Though it doesn’t name exactly which apples go into this, it claims they are unique to its ciders. There’s something almost sweetie-like to the powerful apple taste of this cider, but the lack of any fizz and the thinness of the liquid means a 500ml bottle is not overpowering. This may sound radical, but we fancy this mixed in a cocktail with a splash of vodka, a squeeze of lime and a bit of cloudy apple juice and soda.
8. Thatcher’s Vintage Cider, 7.4%: £2 for 500ml, Tesco
Hold on to your hats with this bittersweet strong cider from this family-owned Somerset cider-maker. Though again aged in oak vats, this has a mainstream flavour profile, just upgraded. Lively but not aggressive carbonation, rounded and soft fruit notes but with a trace of dryness and a long finish make this an accessible but mature cider for beginning to venture away from sweeter styles.
9. Jack Ratt Scrumpy Cider, 6%: £11.49 for 3L, Lyme Bay Winery
This cider from English wines producer Lyme Bay may divide opinion. As mentioned, a good scrumpy should have your teeth receding into your gums and clock in above 7%. Sourness and strength are key. But we’re going to include Lyme Bay’s Scrumpy with the recommendation that this is one for those who have moved on from on-the-rocks ciders, and want something with more character that is still something refreshing. Made from local apples, including Tramlett’s Bitter, Foxwhelp and Tom Putt, there’s a pleasing sour note here, but it’s subtle. There’s a round apple flavour and a slight earthiness, but it’s not going to blow your socks off. And the bag-in-box format means it’s festival-proof.
10. Severn Cider, Sweet Sparkling, 5.8%: £14 for 6 x 500ml, Severn Cider
Severn likes to keep those dry, farmyard notes in its ciders. In other words, they’re ciders you can chew. Made from 100 per cent apple juice, and grown in orchards that have been neither sprayed or fertilised, its products are colour and artificial-sweetener free. Though its range – made from local orchards – includes a dry and a medium style, it’s the sweet cider that we’re into. Sweet it may be but it still manages to be fresh and sharp. If you’re feeling fancy, serve in a champagne flute and throw a mint of cucumber garnish in there. Who’s to say that cider doesn’t deserve to be served with the flourishes afforded to other drinks? If that’s too much we’re down with “appreciating” it straight from the bottle too.
The Verdict: Ciders
There’s a huge variety of cider out there, whether you’re into delicate bubbles worthy of a champagne flute, or you want a boisterous cider that slaps you around the face with its sour notes. But our pick is something that keeps those intense apple notes and combines it with something a little more refined. Yes, Apple County Cider Co’s Vilberie medium dry is pricier than most. But with all that time and care taken to produce it, you really do get what you pay for. If cider really is the “wine” of the UK, then this is the champagne.
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