M&S Breton Cider: The Sweet Taste Of France

Bottle and glass of marks and spencer Breton cider

Ooh la la!  Everyone likes a bit of French fizz in their life, but this is fizz of the apple variety; a light sparkling Breton cider courtesy of British stalwarts,  Marks and Spencer.

It’s not a typical cider – it clocks in at a mere 2%, so only very lightly fermented giving a sweet, gentle taste with a delicate sparkle.  It has a lovely honey colour and the taste is of a slightly alcoholic fruit juice, so it goes down very easily indeed (but with minimal hangover the next day!).

As an introduction to French cider, there are better examples out there (and it wouldn’t win over any fans in the beardy, scrumpy loving fraternity), but it’s no alchopop either, and sure to please anyone at a gathering that wants to take it easy on the booze.

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M&S Somerset Oak Matured Cider: A Proper English Vintage

Two bottles of marks and spencer cider

M&S know how to make cider look classy don’t they?  I can almost see these bottles being drooled over in one of their adverts (this is not just cider…).  Anyway, I heartily approve of the innards as well as the exterior, as the clever chaps / chapesses at Marks’ have outsourced these own brand ciders to the quality Somerset cider makers Sheppy’s.  Sheppy’s are a real deal cider maker, who have actual orchards, know their stuff and have a presence at many a cider festival.

It’s a medium dry cider, and it strikes a nice balance of a bit of dryness and depth without drying your mouth out.  I hadn’t come across an oak matured cider before (I thought that kind of thing was for wines and whiskies), but it’s not just a gimmick.  There’s an oakiness in the smell and although it’s still full of juicy apple flavour, it gives it an interesting bit of complexity.  Definitely one to savour and not gulp.

As usual with the interesting stuff, it clocks it at the higher end, alcohol wise (7.4%), so I wouldn’t recommend a session on it, but worth seeking out to support a fine British cider maker.

Union Jack bottle tops on cider

p.s. lost my tasting notes for the Dabinett apple cider, so will have to buy that one again at some point to give my verdict…

 

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Moss Cider: Pony Up For Manchester’s Finest!

Moss Cider Bottle label

Cider from Manchester you say? Manchester, New Hampshire?  Nope – Manchester as in the other side of the Pennines.

This particular cider came to me courtesy of Liz – the girl’s always good with a gift.  And was sourced in her (adopted) home town.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a cider made on one of the most notorious estates in Manchester.  Hard apples?   Apples that have taken a bruising?  Apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree? It does have a little chequered flat cap that indicate it’s northern upbringing, but beyond that I think it stands its ground admirably against southern softie ciders.

Top of Moss Cider bottle with herringbone patterned cap

The Moss Cider project takes donated apples and turns them into small batch ciders, and has plans to develop its own orchard in which to nurture home grown fruit.

Thirsty Pony describes itself as ‘tangy’ and it’s not kidding.  It’s definitely on the sour side, and I found this pale, cloudy cider to be too tart for my tastes to drink on it’s own, but when paired with food it really came into its own.  We had it with a steak and blue cheese salad and it worked perfectly to balance out the rich, creamy cheese, almost like a bitter rather than a cider (but not as heavy).

Moss Cider is only currently available in selective stockists around Manchester, but if you see it it’s definitely worth picking up and supporting Dan Hasler and his vision to turn an old Stagecoach bus depot into a thriving cider hub.

 

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Aspall’s Tribute To A Cider Maker

Glass of Harry Sparrow cider and bottle

With the recent wintery weather here in Blighty it’s difficult to find the motivation to drag yourself out of a cosy, warm house, but a nice pub is one of the few things that can usually lure me out.  Recently we took a snowy walk up the road to Coopers in Guiseley, north Leeds, where I was rewarded with the prospect of a new Aspall’s variety I hadn’t seen before: Harry Sparrow.

Harry’s not the brother of Johnny Depp’s rambling pirate, this cider is named after the man who was Aspall’s head cider maker for 50 years.  Harry, we’re told, was interested in the French mehods of cider making, so this is fittingly a light (4.6%), clear cider with a subtle carbonation.

It’s described on the bottle as full bodied, but I found it to be a gentle flavour – sweeter than the other Aspall’s varieties.  You get a lovely floral apple-y mouthful,  although it doesn’t have much of an after taste.  It’s easy drinking, bright and lively, but the level of sweetness suggests it’s aimed at the mainstream market than the cider fan, and interestingly the bottle you see above has since been rebranded to a more contemporary look:

Harry Sparrow Cider with New Branding

Aspall’s have a long standing cider heritage, and I would certainly nudge any forest fruit ‘cider’ fans in this direction for an introduction  to something made with real apples and not just chemicals.  It would also make a very pleasant ‘session’ cider, but being a bit of a cider snob, I still prefer their Premier Cru cider.

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Argentinians Do Cider In Style

 

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently – Liz was nobly holding down the fort while I was gallivanting around South America last month, soaking up as much sunshine as possible before resigning myself to the dark days of winter in this part of the hemisphere.

I spent a good chunk of time in Argentina, which is obviously famous for its red wine and Quilmes beer, but I was pleasently surprised to find a few bars stocking local cider.

One of my favourites was in the San Telmo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires – a historic bar called La Poesia that had been once frequented by the great and the good of Argentinian bohemian and literary society (the tables have little brass plaques noting the famous patrons that wrote there) .  The ‘sidra’ on the menu was about £4 for a bottle, which I thought was fairly reasonable.  It wasn’t until an ice bucket arrived on the table that I realised I’d ordered a full 750ml wine size bottle!  Not only that but the waitress wrapped it in in a cotton napkin and proceded to pour it champagne-style.

It was a sweet, light, easy drinking cider – a little too on the sweet side for my preference, but that was probably for the best as I had to rope my other half (a non-cider drinker)  into helping me tackle it.  Although it wasn’t the best cider I’ve ever had, I was chuffed to see cider getting the star treatment from the Argentinians.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so glamorous drinking cider – UK bars should take note!

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Dunkerton’s Black Fox Cider: Style and Substance

Bottlf of black fox cider

Black Fox by Dunkertons is one of my all time favourite labels.  And by that I actually mean the label itself: the quality of the cream label, the contrast against the dark bottle, the brand name’s red typeface, the little fox illustration* – catnip for a design loving cider fan (either that or I’ve gone a bit American Psycho).

What’s inside the bottle isn’t to be sniffed at either.  Though you may think from the stylish label and availability at a major supermarket that it could be a ‘dumbed down’ cider brand, it’s really not.  This cider is all about the apples.  It’s bittersweet with a strong and distinct cider apple taste.  It’s not overly acidic and it pours a beautiful amber colour.   It’s a deceptively light cider – you wouldn’t guess it weighs in at 7%, and it strikes the right balance between having enough fizz to be pleasant, but not so much you feel like you’re drinking a can of pop.

It’s organic, so no pesticides were used on the apples before Mr Dunkerton crushed them into oblivion, which is always a good thing. What’s more, it’s fairly accessible – you can pick it up through Ocado or at Waitrose, so if you usually opt for the Magners or Bulmers and want to try something a bit more ambitious, then Black Fox isn’t a bad place to start.  It would be especially nice to have a with something substantial and autumnal like this sausage, pumpkin and sage casserole.

* NB: I’m less convinced about the folk story on the bottle about the black fox that can’t be caught or seen – perhaps they’re suggesting you can only see it once you’ve drunk a few bottles?
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Hallets Cider: Tall, Dark, Handsome & Welsh

Hallets Cider

When I was over visiting Liz in Manchester a few weeks ago, she introduced me to a Northern Quarter bar called Kosmonaut.  It’s a cool, understated little spot, but more importantly it does an interesting range of brews and drinks.

When I asked what ciders they had in, the barman initially tried to steer me in the direction of the pink, berry flavoured, alcopop style conconctions that try to pass themsleves off as cider.  I was then more specific about wanting actual cider, that comes from actual apples (I think my passionate insistance on this scared him slightly), at which point he brought forth Hallets cider.   I was pretty impressed –  it’s one I haven’t tried before, and it’s made in South Wales which also spiked my curiousity.

It comes in a tall, dark, elegant bottle, which is simply designed and I like their classic monochrome label, although the downside of the tinted bottle is that doesn’t allow you to see the colour of the cider.  I prefer to drink cider from the bottle as it stays chilled longer (and adding ice is a philistine act), but for the purposes of reviewing, I poured a small amount out to have a look at.   It is quite a bright, golden yellow (Liz’s other half described it as ‘lager coloured’), and it’s super bubbly, especially when you first open it.  I found it to be tart, crisp, and at the dry end of the medium-dry scale.  It’s quite a rich flavour, which combined with the bubbliness is quite striking, but curiously it trails off into a bit of a nothingness aftertaste.   Rather like the Sterephonics after their first two albums (sorry, had to try to wrangle a Welsh comparison in there somewhere).

I’d definitely try it again (perhaps with a burger next time), and if you’re ever in Kosmonaut, make sure you steer the barman towards this and not the sugary faux ‘fruit’ stuff.

 

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Pure North: God’s Own Cider

Picture of the cider cafe menu

You may have spotted the deliberate omission in my recent review of the Pure North cider press and café: I never actually mentioned the cider.

It wasn’t because it wasn’t memorable or worthy of praise.  Quite the opposite – I didn’t want to just crowbar it into the review of the cafe, or reference it as a afterthought.  Cider like this deserves its very own post so I can nerd-flail about how lovely it is.

At Pure North you can buy glasses of the draught cider with your meal, but there’s also a shop selling their range of bottled ciders, as well as the option to take some of the still draught cider home with you in a plastic container (it lasts a couple of weeks if you can resist it for that long).

I picked up a bottle of the Pure North Original Cider (as it would be rude not to try their classic offering), and was also intrigued by the limited edition ‘Velo’ cider which had been produced to celebrate the Yorkshire Grand Départ.

Two bottles of pure north cider

So what was the verdict then?  Well, Pure North Original packs punch.  You can tell it’s made from pure apple juice- no sweeteners or watering down going on here.  It’s rich and has depth and body, which is quite unusual for a lightly sparkling cider.  The colour is a beautiful amber honey hue which fits the full bodied flavour…..  It actually has more of a still cider taste, but it’s on the medium side of medium-dry so it doesn’t dry your mouth out, and I found that it went really well with meats and cheeses.

The Velo variety was equally delicious but very different in style.  It had a fresh, green, clean taste, with a touch of acidity -almost in white wine territory.  It was a delicate pale yellow colour and would probably go nicely with seafood.

I was also very taken by the lovely, subtle elderflower infused flavour of the ‘Maggie In Bloom’ cider.  I was initially sceptial of the word ‘infusion’ – I feared it may veer into my hated alco-cider-pop category, but I ordered a glass after our meal and loved it’s unusual taste.  It’s one of the handful of specialist ciders that are made in small quanities by Rob the resident cider maker.   It’s a still, medium sweet cider but unlike some which are very treacly, this has a beautiful light floral flavour.   Not being sold in bottles was no object to me – I secured a hearty sized jug and got them to fill ‘er up to the top (to take to a house warming that is – not soley for my own consumption).

Artisan cider at its finest on all accounts – get yer’sen down there Yorkshire folk!

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Revelling It Up With Orchard Pig Cider

Bottle of Orchard Pig Reveller ciderI’d seen Orchard Pig in supermarkets and had been meaning to try it for a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the medium variety (Reveller) in A Nation of Shopkeepers bar in Leeds. Kudos to the NoS folk – always pleased to see bars backing real independent ciders and not just the big brands.

The bottle is quite stylised, and probably aimed at the hipper end of the cider-drinking crowd, although I was drinking it before going to watch The Eagles at the Leeds Arena, so what do I know?  Somerset-based Orchard Pig has more to it than its marketing image suggests though, and has been going for a few years having started out as homebrew and then as a small batch pure apple cider.

With the lighter, sweeter Reveller cider it’s obviously moving into more mainstream waters, but that’s not to say it’s dumbed down its offering  – the medium ‘Reveller’ is only 4.5% so it’s obviously a lighter ‘session’ cider (if you can have such a thing), and though it’s on the sweeter end of the spectrum, it’s still full of fruit and has a real fruity aroma.  It’s a filtered cider, and has a clear, golden colour with a nice even fizz (not overpowering like some), and enough body to give it a decently long aftertaste not a ‘fizz and gone’ experience like some of the trendy bottled ciders.

I’d definitely order it again on an evening out, and would recommend it to non-cider drinking friends as a sidestep into the world of cider, but I’m also very interested to try the more complex Truffler (dry sparkling) cider, as I expect it might have even more to offer cider fans.

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Ecusson Cidre Rosé: Who Needs Champagne?

Bottle of Ecusson Cider

This cider is a bit special, as it’s the cider used at my wedding for the toasting of the speeches. As with all things wedding, I was keen not to have to shell out lots of cash unnecessarily. And though I’m partial to a nice glass of prosecco/champagne, I don’t have a particular passion for it, so as soon as I found out that our venue were easy-going about us sourcing our own fizz, I had the idea of using a French cider as an alternative (which also had the added bonus of being significantly cheaper).

Liz , the dedicated bridesmaid that she was (along with my other brave bridesmaid Ruth) reluctantly accepted the taxing job of helping me sample various bottles of French cider to narrow it down to a winner.

Whilst watching Dolly, Lily and Jane working 9 to 5 (highly recommended viewing for cider tasting), we scored the various ‘cidre’ and the Ecusson won on two accounts:

1. The beautiful and unusual blush colour, which is created by crushing some of the red apple skins into the mix. May sound obvious, but this made it taste like a glass full of red delicious which is really unusual

2. The lovely balance of sweetness with a little tartness (so not too sickly) and a delicate fizz

It proved to be a winner with the guests too – lots of people commented on how much they enjoyed it (and didn’t realise they hadn’t been drinking pink fizz), and we certainly didn’t struggle to get through the extra bottles that were left after the toasting….

It’s not the easiest cider to source. I found it and managed to order it via Spirited Wines in Manchester, however it”s also available to order online through Nicolas (though currently out of stock) and Dvine Cellars.

(p.s. if you like this you might also like Thatcher’s Katy)

 

 

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