There has been a clamouring for a follow-up to my last post on bargain reds at the Wine Society. Well, perhaps not a clamouring, but at least two people have asked for some whites. Sadly, the Society has stopped trading while it works out how to deal with this virus thing that everyone is talking about. But there are some merchants still in business including my employer Master of Malt, for all your spirits needs, and Felix Nash from the Fine Cider Company.
Nash is a bit of a hero of mine for championing uncompromisingly good, mainly English, cider. He’s also written a brilliant book to try to change people’s preconceptions about his favourite drink. “Cider is perhaps the most industrialised of all alcohols. People see it as sweet sparkling thing or something rustic,” he told me. For most people cider falls into two categories:
To be legally called cider you only need to have 35% apple content, the rest can be sugar, water and flavourings. And that 35% can be concentrate made from apples grown anywhere. You’ll be very lucky if your cider contains any English fruit.
At the other extreme are farmhouse ciders made in the West Country from bittersweet native apples. Much prized by aficionados, some are made with little regard to hygiene or fruit quality. In fact it’s standard practise to let the fruit rot a little before pressing. They can be raspingly tannic and heady with bacterial infections: all very authentic but hard for the uninitiated to appreciate.
Nash’s cider producers are very different. Taking their inspiration from wine, they are working with perfect fruit and to a much higher standard of cleanliness than previous artisan makers, but they are also reviving traditional techniques and working with the classic English varieties. “People tell me they I don’t like cider but I do like that,” he told me.
He started the Fine Cider Company six years ago as a hobby but it quickly became a full time job. He now supplies some seriously fancy restaurants such as L’Enclume, St. John and the Clove Club.
Here are five ciders of his that I particularly like, in descending order of dryness:
Made in the heart of Herefordshire cider country. This is aged in old whisky casks. Deep, dry and complex with quite noticeable tannins, this is world away from what most people will think of as cider. Treat it like a wine and serve it with some farmhouse cheddar and it will amaze you.
Tom Oliver is the godfather of modern English cider. Working in Herefordshire, he keeps some cider in inert containers to preserve fresh fruit flavours whereas others are aged in wooden barrels where they develop complex aromas. Tom then blends them together. Felix Nash describes the result as a “controlled funk”, yes Tom is the James Brown of cider making. Bone dry and another one that should be served with food.
Classic English off-dry sparkling wine made from two of the West Country’s best cider varieties. Deliciously fruity with complex flavours that comes from bottle fermentation (like with champagne though the technique was pioneered by English cider makers in the 17th century).
Another bottled-fermented one, this time by husband and wife team who work with threatened orchards and rare apple varieties in Devon. This uses a technique called keeving to preserve sugar giving this an off-dry tarte tatin sort of flavour. Absolutely gorgeous and only 5% ABV.
An ice cider (made from frozen apples which concentrates the sugar) from Sweden aged in oak casks, this is incredible stuff. Very fruity and very very sweet but with the most amazing tang of acidity so it never gets cloying and rich butterscotch notes from ageing. Try this with Roquefort.
Nash will ship anywhere in the country, as few as three bottles. With small bottles from as little as £3, and big bottles from £7, including delivery! He told me: “If you’re in East or North London, we are giving you £10 off all orders, getting rid of the shipping charge. We can’t cover all postcodes East and North, but there’s a list on our website.”
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time you realised that you are the cider drinker.