When I was a youngster, cider was always the drink of choice. Cheap, accessible and you could always put Ribena in it if you couldn’t afford some of the premium stuff. However, as my friends grew out of their “cider phase” as they called it, and went on to venture into the world of Lager, my friend Ed and I remained dedicated to the apple.
However, we no longer wanted to be restricted to the fizzy yellow stuff we were used to. We wanted to go deeper.
We decided to try a little place in Firle called Middle Farm, where we found the National Collection of Cider and Perry. After grabbing about ten different ciders, from all over the country, we sat at the kitchen table and tried them all, sharing each bottle and marvelling at how different each of them were.
Some were heavy, almost thick, and dense with tannins. Others were light, fresh and perfumed with ripe apples. Thus, our love of fermented apples, and my foray into the Real Cider world began. I recommend anyone visit this place to sample their massive array of ciders.
There are two distinct styles of cider you can easily find.
The Eastern Counties style, made with a blend of cooking and eating apples, and the West Country style, made with specifically grown cider apples.
In the case of Eastern cider, the flavour profile is adjusted by using apples based on their sugar and acid levels. For example, Bramley has a low sugar, but high acid content, whilst Russet has a very high sugar, but low acid content. Utilising and balancing this blend will produce a strong, fruity, slightly acidic cider with a light body. These will be fermented dry and then can be adjusted in sweetness by using sugar, artificial sweeteners, or fresh apple juice, the latter is what we use to give a natural sweetness, fuller mouthfeel and a more natural tasting product!
West Country style is very different, with the apples grown being carefully manipulated for hundreds of years to create four main types of apples, Bittersweet, Bittersharp, Sweet and Sharp. Those with “Bitter” in the name are called so due to their tannin content. Sweet and sharp, have high sugar and acid content respectively. These apples will be blended according to the cider makers desired levels and can produce a wide and varied range of flavours. Those with more tannin will yield a fuller feeling cider, with red-wine like notes throughout.
You can also find a vast range that have been aged in different barrels, dry hopped, infused with fruits and spices, left in champagne bottles to become sparkling and even been distilled into spirit. The cider landscape is far greater than the same old cider available in your local.
I urge everyone to venture out to try different ciders. There really is one out there for everyone.