How d'ya like them apples?

2019 will be the year that cider once again has its moment – according to Matthew Curtis anyway

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You may already know your Simcoe from your Amarillo, but do you know your Dabinett from your Foxwhelp? Your bittersweet from your bittersharp? In case I’ve lost you already, I’m talking about apples – specifically varietals used in the production of cider.

As modern beer culture has matured, we’ve seen an increase in the number of brewers producing wild and sour beers. These are often matured in oak barrels in the presence of yeasts like Brettanomyces and bacteria such as Lactobacillus. The resulting beers are deeply complex, exerting layers of funk and acidity.

Breweries such as Burning Sky and The Wild Beer Company have pioneered these styles within the UK, while the growing prominence of a new wave of sour producers including Mills and The Little Earth Project demonstrates our appetite for these styles of beer.


The curious genre of beers these producers create shares a great deal in common with cider. I’m not talking about the kind of fizzy, sweet cider you’ll find on tap in most pubs either. Nor am I talking about the kind of electric scrumpy that causes you to wake up in a field in Hampshire missing an important part of your brain (not that, in context, there is anything wrong with this type of cider).

I’m talking about low-intervention, or natural cider, so-called because this type of cider is produced by fermenting apples using the yeast that occurs naturally on their skin without the aid of sulphites or other process aids, which can affect flavour. This is something cider shares with natural wine, a product it has far more in common with than beer.

As with producers of wild or mixed fermentation beer, so too is there a growing number of cider makers investing in the production of low-intervention cider. You may not have heard of Little Pomona or Find and Foster just yet, but you might have heard of the man responsible for much of the inspiration behind this revival, Tom Oliver.

“Cider is now coming out of its bubble,” Oliver tells me down the phone in his typically articulate and to-the-point manner – a trait he has in common with his cider. “This ripple now needs to spread. We need more people out there talking about cider and we need more cider makers to give people more to talk about.”

Tom’s attitude is somewhat different to brewers in this respect. While many brewers would happily tell you there are too many people making beer in the UK, Oliver is practically demanding people give him more competition, because he knows that this will benefit cider as a whole. This has proven true in beer, where the variety available to us now is arguably what has built the modern beer culture we’re all so excited to be a part of.

Oliver has been producing cider in his little corner of Herefordshire since 1999, and over the past two decades it’s been a case of if you know – you know. But after observing the huge growth in the interest of craft beer, cider makers also want a bite of the cherry (or apple), and Oliver has arguably been the main spearhead of this movement, as much as say, Sierra Nevada or BrewDog were in terms of craft beer.

And it’s happening, with a new wave of cider makers emerging, creating products as innovative and delicious as any wild or sour beer. If you find yourself drawn to the Geuze from the likes of Tilquin or 3 Fonteinen, or you’re hoarding a collection of bottles from say, Burning Sky or Mills, then it’s likely that you’re only a sip away from becoming a cider convert yourself.

“Cider has been swept under the rug somewhat,” Oliver says. “But it will have its day again. It has everything you want; depth and flavour – oh and it matches perfectly with food.”

Five brilliant ciders for beer lovers:

Oliver’s Cider and Perry

Yarlington Mill Medium Dry

Tom Oliver was the producer that, like many others, turned me onto the wonders of cider. And this is the cider that convinced me that the apple was capable of producing more than something sweet and fizzy, or rocket fuel scrumpy. The Yarlington Mill variety has the perfect balance of fruit, acidity and tannins, presenting something both delicious and accessible. Whether you like IPAs, wild and sour beers or Saisons, it’s likely that this is a cider that will convert you too.

Nightingale’s

Discovery

For those still unsure about cider, the aptly named Discovery (named for the apple variety it is produced from) from Kentish cider maker Nightingale’s might be the perfect gateway. Kentish ciders tend to be somewhat lighter and crisper than their west of England counterparts, making this light bodied and medium finish easy drinking, while still maintaining the kind of complexity you’d expect from a low-intervention cider.

Little Pomona

Hazy Ways Part One

Inspired by Ryan Burke of New York state’s Angry Orchard (which makes some stunning small batch ciders despite its core offering being of the sweet and fizzy variety) this Herefordshire cider blurs the line between cider and sparkling wine. Bottled Péttilant Naturel or Pet Nat for short (and simply meaning naturally sparkling, as it is carbonated in-bottle by residual sugars and yeast) this cider cranks up the juice levels to a volume that even the most ardent NEIPA fan will enjoy.

Find and Foster

Méthode Traditionelle 2016

Devon’s Find and Foster have to be one of the most exciting cider makers to have emerged in recent years. Much of its production techniques are inspired by winemaking, and as a result its ciders share the same elegance and complexity of flavour. Perhaps none more so than it’s Méthode Traditionelle range, which are bottle refermented in a similar way to Champagne (from where the name Méthode Traditionelle originates.) The result is a soft yet lively carbonation, which enhances notes of delicate acidity and layered tannins. This is the kind of cider you should save for a special occasion, but likely won’t be able to resist opening before one comes around.

Duckchicken

Gigglejuice

While most cider makers make their home in the countryside, there is a growing wave of urban producers, such as London’s best kept secret, Duckchicken. While they may not be as noisy as some of London’s other producers, that does not mean they are any less deserving of your attention. Duckchicken is a tiny operation, making intensely juicy modern cider. Gigglejuice is perhaps the easiest of theirs to find, and often appears at legendary London pub The Harp. Try a couple of pints and you’ll soon see how it got its name.

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