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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George Dickel – The Other Tennessee Whisky

Bottle of George Dickel Whiskey

I first discovered Dickel’s on the Nashville stint of our road-tripping honeymoon.   We’d taken a day trip out to visit the famous site of Mr Daniel’s whiskey in Lynchburg, and on the winding country roads that took us back into Nashville, we clocked a small sign for George Dickel’s distillery which pointed down a narrow track into some woods .  It piqued our curiosity but it was too late in the day to explore, and we had plans to visit Nashville’s famous Whiskey Kitchen that evening (plus it did cross our mind that it could be a horror film-style plot to lure unsuspecting tourists to their death).

Later that evening we were inhaling copious amounts of bourbon glazed wings and other delights in the Whiskey Kitchen and decided to explore their ‘flights’ of bourbon and whisky.  Lo and behold, we were poured a taster of George Dickel’s black label (no.8).  It was far and away our favourite whisky of the night, beating off competition from much higher priced offerings, including some small batch and single barrel whiskies.  Dickel’s is smooth, sweet and mellow, with a hint of smokiness and makes for a beautiful sipping whisky.  Make sure you have it at room temperature, and with a small drop of water to take the alcohol edge off so you can actually taste the whisky.

You can source George Dickel in the UK from The Whiskey Exchange – our favourites are the No. 8 and the No.12 (pictured above), but they also stock the rye, sour mash and the barrel select varieties.

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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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Thatchers Katy – A Story of 3 Kats and a Liz

Bottle of Thatcher's Katy cider

At our recent Glasto weekend shindig in Somerset, it seemed only proper to drink a Somerset cider (when in Rome, etc.).  In our group we had a Kath, a Katy and a Katie (plus a Liz), so Thatchers Katy was the obviously appropriate choice.  Plus I reckoned that if I got Liz to drink enough of it she’d probably answer to Kath/Katy too…

Katy is perhaps percieved as a bit girly to win fans among  the hardcore beardy cider afficinados, but it’s a great choice for non-regular cider drinkers.  It’s easy, light and approachable (deceptive, given it weighs in at 7.4% – eep!), with a delicate fizz and a sweet fragrant apple taste.  However, unlike the ‘fruit’ so called ciders that try to appeal to non-cider fans, it has a real authenticity and character that comes from being a single variety cider, and from cider makers with their own orchards that have been making cider in Somerset for over 100 years (so they know their stuff).

In fact, on our way back from our Glasto weekend house, we made a detour to the Thatchers farm shop, and then stopped off for a brief wander through the orchards (via the evocatively titled Strawberry Line footpath) where we came across the very Katy apple trees from which I’d been enjoying the bounty of all weekend.  I thanked them for their efforts, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for many a fine crop to come.


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Strano: Madcap Italian Pop Up In North Leeds

‘Strano’ is the Italian word for ‘strange’, and this pop up restaurant has certainly earned its moniker. Having now attended three different Strano events, I can attest that they’ve been increasingly weird (and wonderful) visual and culinary experiences.

For our first foray into Strano we came a bit late to the party, booking in for its second incarnation which was held above the ’Jam’ hair studio in Headingley, Leeds. The vestiges of a former bike shop and vintage brick-a-brac store had been transformed into a funky little vintage styled bar with leather armchairs and a suitcase full of vinyl records to take for a spin. Upstairs in the eaves of the building the space had been kitted out with a full kitchen (installed only the day before) and a simple and cosy restuarant area for the lucky 50 or so patrons with mismatched vintage chairs, exposed brick and some carefully positioned copper studio style lighting.  Our hosts were Italian by heritage but Yorkshire in accent and they were enthusiastic champions for unique and high quality food and drink with a flair for the theatrical.

When the first course came out on a giant ceramic hand, featuring salad in a shot glass and crostini with chicken skin as a base instead of bread (amongst other delicious bites), we knew we were in for a wild ride. The exquisite cooking didn’t let up over all seven courses. We had black pizza, crab spaghetti served with a teapot of broth and a tiramisu inspired desert which you compiled yourself.


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Have Cider Will Travel: Stowford Press in a Can

Can of Stowford Press Cider

The holy grail; a decent cider that comes in a can! Many a Glastonbury have I mourned the fact that none of my favourite brands offer their cidery goodness in can format (as glass isn’t allowed into the festival site), but in 2013 Westons came through like a champion and transitioned their ‘Stowford Press’ variety into can form.

Previously I’d tended to experience Stowford Press on draught in pubs, and occasionally in bottled format, until I stumbled across a 4-pack in a supermarket.  It’s canned variety doesn’t quite match the freshness as the draught, but it is still vastly superior to the other canned ciders out there (and I recommend decanting to minimise any ‘tinny’ taste).

It has a true, crisp appley flavour  and it’s a touch dry and with more of an edge than some of the sweeter and simpler big name ciders.   In the festival spirit I shared some cans with my fellow campers (Katie and Katy) and, though they are somewhat fairweather cider drinkers, they did give a big thumbs up and commented on the superiority of Stowford Press to the other well known brand we had brought.

Sadly this year we are ticketless for Glastonbury having not succeeded in the annual scrum, but we shall be pilgrimmaging down to Somerset anyway and watching the coverage from an amazing house we’ve rented for the weekend (soon to be featured).  Though there’ll be no restrictions on cider packaging, I’ll still be taking a four pack of Stowford to invoke the true festival spirit!  Cheers!

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Best Kids Birthday Cakes (for novice bakers)

Owl Cake

I’m an average baker, with a great enthusiasm for the eating of cakes, moderate skill in the baking of them, and a lot more time for the former than the latter.

As such, I tend to value substance over style, so when I was asked to make a cake for my nephew’s first birthday last December, I initially had horrifying visions of having to get to grips with royal icing and create some masterly feat of artistry.

Luckily good old BBC Good Food came to the rescue and I found myself a medium I could comfortably work with; chocolate.  More specifically kids chocolate treats. The owl above is my faithful recreation of this recipe, which does wondrous things with Flakes, Buttons, Chocolate Fingers and marzipan that even someone with limited artistic skill can reproduce with a bit of patience.  More importantly it tasted delicious, and was well received by my nephew, who seems to be inheriting our genetic predisposition for all things sweet.

As a chronic hoarder of recipes, I have started to keep an eye out for kids’ birthday cakes which look the part but don’t take years of honed cake craft skills (or expensive equipment) to recreate. Here are my clippings for future nephews’ birthdays..

1. BBC Good Food Hedgehog cake  – a bit like the Owl cake, this cake deploys creative uses of chocolate treats to create this cute little spiky fella

2. Sprinkle Bakes for Betty Crocker: Despicable Me 2 minion cake – deceptively impressive and very endearing – I’d be thrilled if someone made this for my birthday.

3. Kit Kat Cake -easiest ever cake decoration – no visible icing involved! Just Kit Kats and M&Ms.

4. Butterfly Cake – this looks like it takes fancy cake moulds or cake shaping skills, but this butterfly results form a very simple clever trick with a single round cake

5. Nigella Bee cake – this is from Nigella’s gorgeous book ‘Feast’ and is also available on her website. It’s a simple chocolate honey cake with gloriously decadent sticky honey chocolate icing (not one for toddlers!). On top you fashion little bees from marzipan to buzz around the cake (and in my effort for my friend Ruth’s 30th above, I also added a 3-0 in the middle made of crushed-up crunchie bars). One for big kids and little kids alike.

chocolate cake

6. Overloaded Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake - probably one for the slightly older child who appreciates substance over form – this is basically the cake equivalent of a mash up of Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice-cream with their cookie dough ice-cream. Sugary heaven.

7. Caterpillar cake design 1 (need basic vanilla sponge recipe) and caterpillar cake design 2  – apparently M&S’s Colin the Caterpillar cake is all the rage at the moment, but if you fancy a home made attempt at a caterpillar, these recipes is nice and easy and uses cupcakes which can be less danuting than a full cake (and quicker to bake!)

8. And finally if a packet mix is as daring as you get in the kitchen, take inspiration from Jenny over at the Dinner a Love Story blog, who whipped up some chocolate brownies from a packed and topped them with some icing to make Birthday Brownies which she then used as the basis for ‘make it yourself’ Birthday Ice cream sundaes – genius!

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The Laundrette: Cocktails and Carbs

Laundrette Chorlton Exterior

Beech Road in Chorlton, Manchester is renowned for it’s parade of independent bars, restaurants, deli’s and boutique shops – it’s a mecca for young professionals. The Laundrette bar and eaterie, opened in Summer 2013, is a relatively new addition to the street but its welcoming atmosphere and promise of ‘cocktails and carbs’  have made it an instant hit.

The name ‘Laundrette’ pays homage to the buildings previous occupation (known then as ‘Soap Opera’. Genius). I do miss the old place, possibly because I’ve had to find a new spot to wash my sheets but mainly because I loved the smell of freshly tumbled laundry when walking past. The new occupants soon won me over though, and they’ve continued the Laundrette theme throughout – with starters referred to as ‘Prewash’, sides as ‘Extra Spin’ and all the pricing in halves and quarters (reminiscent of the old token system. Pretty confusing after a few of their cocktails though).

They’ve done a good job on the interior too. Exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood, bare lamp pendants and steel shelving at the bar give the place an industrial twist. And as I’m only 5.2″ the ‘spin to adjust the height’ stools that they have dotted around are a particular highlight. Practical and beautiful – you can find similar from Cox&Cox.

Laundrette Chorlton interior

Laundrette Chorlton interior2

In true Chorlton style produce is sourced locally. The menu is simple, with a focus on pizzas – i’ve sampled a few now and have never been disappointed. There is one reason I keep returning though and that is their rum passion cocktail. Funnily enough precisely what’s involved escapes me, but the ingredient that makes it so memorable is the fresh chilli.  It’s the steepest drink on the menu (£8.50) but worth every penny.

Rum passion

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