With the increasing popularity of all things cider, drinkers are beginning to realise that apples produce as many styles of fermented juice as grapes produce wines, with flavours influenced by apple type and region of production. From our West Country base we’re very familiar with brews produced using blends of traditional cider apples – the high levels of tannins and sugars making the fruit revolting to eat but perfect at producing complex, full bodied, bitter drinks when fermented.
To get a more educated taste of ciders – and perrys – produced using different ingredients we teamed up with Lee Ocean, cider expert and proprietor of the excellent shop The Cider Orchard.
First we tuck into a pair of ciders from Wales. Ty Gwyn is one of several popular Welsh cidermakers, growing traditional apples from their Monmouthshire farm. ‘Dabinett’ (6.5%) shows what a single variety of apple can do with it’s star, the Somerset dabinett, being one of the UK’s most popular bittersweet cider apples. This medium cider certainly possesses the familiar juicy taste of cider apples and, as Lee describes, ‘is an easy drinking cider with a lasting smoothness’.
Ty Gwyn’s ‘Medium Dry Cider‘ (6%) switches to the Vilberie apple. Common throughout Herefordshire orchards, via Brittany, it’s high in both bittersweet juice and tannins making it slightly sweet and appley at first but giving way to a cheek-sucking, earthy dryness familiar to cider drinkers from the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
Next Lee takes us to Berkshire, by way of Ciderniks ‘Dab Hand’ (6.5%). A blend of Dabinett and the sweet French Michelin apple, this cloudy drink has less of the bitterness of the previous offerings. Lee talks of ‘an arid dry, yeasty flavour – perfect to accompany a juicy steak.”
Cornish tipple Polgoon Cider (5%) is a beverage more familiar to those from Southern apple growing regions – a gentler flavour with a crispness more like wine. This is the sweetest drink thus far and possesses a light sparkle. It has a crisp finish and, according to Lee, “should be enjoyed chilled, while sat in the glorious sunshine”.
From here we enter into fruit cider territory, staying with Polgoon and their Heli-berry Cider (4%). Blended with red berries it shows how adaptable cider is when creating new and interesting drinks. Sold to raise funds for the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust Funds it packs the fruity sweetness of a summer berry pudding from its appley roots.
Finally we sample a Perry. Unlike pear ciders – which are apple-based drinks flavoured with pears – a proper perry is produced using exclusively pear juice, most commonly from perry orchards in the three counties area. Dragon Orchards ‘Commander’s Perry’ (7.5%) is an excellent example of the perry makers craft which Lee describes as “a full bodied perry, best enjoyed chilled with spicy food to get the most from this dry delight”.
With Lee’s help we’re certainly more aware of how using different fruit can significantly alter the characteristics of a cider – useful knowledge to further enhance our appreciation of this often misunderstood drink.
To try these ciders for yourself and compare tasting notes, visit www.theciderorchard.co.uk