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The Great British Cider Guide

May 18, 2020 by Jonathan Paxley

While most of us have enjoyed a pint of cider on a summer’s afternoon, even the most avid cider-drinkers are often unaware of the tipple’s interesting history and production process.

From an overview of what cider actually is, to specific cideries’ production processes,

The Cocktail Service’s Great British Cider Guide reveals everything you need to know before you purchase your next pint.

A Brief History of Cider

While nowadays cider is known as an alcoholic beverage found in almost any British pub, cider hasn’t always been consumed in this manner.

When the Romans invaded England in 55 BC, they found the locals were already enjoying the apple-based beverage, and in the 13th century, an English farmworkers’ daily wage included four pints of the stuff.

One century on and cider (which was more sanitary than water) was being used as a means of baptism, while, if we fast-forward to the 19th century, cider was advertised as a cure for gout and other illnesses.

What Actually is Cider?

Ok, so most of us (and our ancestors) have tried cider in one way or another, but very few of us know what cider actually is.

Cider is derived from fermented apples that have high tannin and low sugar content. These apples have been dubbed ‘spitters’, as their unbearably sharp taste makes them difficult to swallow.

The Cider-Making Process

When making cider, cideries need to follow three key steps. Firstly, ensuring the ingredients are up to scratch, secondly, implementing a well-managed production process and thirdly, balancing the flavours.

Balancing the Flavours

To understand balancing flavours, we need to classify apples into four categories:

1. Bittersharp apples, which are acidic and tannic.
2. Bittersweet apples, which are tannic and sweet.
3. Sharp apples, which are acidic.
4. And finally, sweet apples.

To get the perfect balance of flavours, cider producers will combine apple blends to create the perfect mixture of sweet, tannic and acidic.

Our Favourite British Ciders

While some of the biggest names in the British cider scene include Magners, Strongbow and Aspall, if you’re looking to try something a little different, we’d recommend:

Westons Wyld Wood Organic 6%

Produced in Herefordshire, this organic cider is matured in oak vats, giving it a full-on apple and gentle oak flavour. We love that the absence of pesticides at the organic orchards makes them a safe haven for wildlife too.

Oldfields Worcestershire Cider Medium Dry 4.8%

Hobsons Brewery in Worcestershire has been producing this cider for the last 50 years, although it has only been available to the public since 2014. Ciders are available in medium sweet, medium dry and original, but our personal favourite is the medium dry for its fruity and refreshing taste.

Hallets Perry 4.5%

Wales-based brewery, Hallets, are lauded for their apple cider, but lightly sparkly, perfectly-balanced perry, with its subtle floral sweetness, should not go amiss.

The Rise of ‘Fruity Ciders’

We’re also seeing rising popularity in cider produced from fruit other than apples and pears. ‘Fruity ciders’ are the perfect refreshing tipple for rewinding on a summer evening. While dubbed ‘far too sweet’ by many traditional cider-drinkers, these fruity drinks are becoming common-place at many traditional bars and pubs.

Popular fruit cider flavours include Rekorderlig’s Mango and Raspberry, Kopparberg’s Elderflower and Lime and Rosie’s Pig’s Rhubarb.

Britain’s Largest Cider-Production Areas

To find out more about where one of the nation’s favourite beverages comes from, we caught up with three of our favourite cideries from some of Britain’s largest cider-production areas: Somerset, Wales and Herefordshire.

Somerset Cider

Somerset cider is renowned for its bold, fruity flavours and rich tannins. We caught up with Matt from Tricky Cider at Higher Willand Farm, Taunton, who gathers his apples from disused orchards.

“I get my apples from across the Somerset Levels,” Matt explained. “Mainly from disused orchards which are not profitable for larger cider producers. In return for their apples, I supply the landowners with cider and tree maintenance in the winter. I also introduce the landowners to bee-keepers and, with the help of local sheep farmers, manage the grass in the summer.

“The access to a number of varied and often old orchards means I can make a wide range of ciders, experimenting with different apples and blends. I use an apple which comes from a set of six very large old trees less than a mile from the Glastonbury Festival site that has been identified as the variety Crimson King.

“I use this apple to make a very pleasant single variety cider with a high abv. This cider is undoubtedly the most popular dry cider and one I am very proud of.”

We love Tricky Cider’s use of disused orchards. Read our full guide to sustainable cocktails and find out how you can make the most of your ingredients.

Welsh Cider

We’ve chosen to cover Wales’ cider scene by looking into the popular cider brand, Hallets and their unique cider making techniques.

We caught up with Annie, one-third of the husband, wife and son team behind the brand. “When Hallets Cider was launched, our dream was to develop a brand that was different from the rest,” Annie explained. “My husband Andy borrowed techniques from the winemaking industry, and has been one of the first in the UK to do this, Hallets now has a strong foothold in the craft cider market.

“We’ve also recently launched a new and unique product called Deviation which is causing a bit of a stir because it’s made using the Charmat (Prosecco) method. We’re pretty sure that no one else in the UK is using this method to make cider!”

With a large variety of ciders to choose from, we asked Annie which ones are most popular. “Sparkling cider is probably still the most popular,” Annie explained. “Our sparkling bottles of Hallets Real Cider are the most popular options at pubs and shops. Our still draught ciders are more popular at festivals, with our Blindfold and Heartbreaker being our best-sellers.”

Herefordshire Cider

One of our favourite cider makers in Herefordshire, Gwatkin Cider, use spontaneous fermentation methods which sets their products apart. Arfur from the much-adorned cider brand tells us more.

“After crushing the apples, the juice is allowed to ferment naturally, just using the wild yeasts in the fruit and atmosphere. This spontaneous fermentation sets us apart from other cider makers who use sulfites and wine yeast to make their cider.

“We use a mixture of wooden, stainless steel and fibreglass vessels to ferment our cider and perry over the winter months. After fermentation, the cider is racked off the dead yeast cells and then processed into either Bag in Box for draught sales or bottles.”

Top Cider Bars Around the UK

After all this cider-talk, it’s quite likely you fancy a pint. Here are our top cidery recommendations from across the UK.

The Cider House, (also known as ‘The Monkey House’), Worcestershire.

Entering the small black and white thatched cider house is like going back in time. Ciders and perry are served by the landlady from the building that has been in her family for the last 150 years. Enjoy a cider of your choice from a pottery mug, tapped straight from the barrel.
The minimalist establishment serves no drinks other than cider, and no food at all. But with a bring-your-own-food policy, pack a ploughman’s to complement your cider.

Hawkes Taproom and Cidery, London

Fancy trying your hand at making your own cider? You’re in luck! Hawkes offers a cider masterclass, including a tour of their cidery, a lesson in the artistry of balancing the blend of apples and the opportunity to make your very own cider.

Or, if you just fancy a pint, head over to the Hawkes taproom for a stonebaked oven pizza and a choice of their craft ciders. From apple to berry to rosé cider, you’ll be sure to find something you love.

Vegans, this one’s for you too as most Hawkes ciders are vegan-friendly. For more vegan beverages, check out this vegan drinks guide.

The Cider Barn, Cheddar

Expect an often very busy pub with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere of your local. Outdoor seating lines the front and back of the barn, making it the ideal destination for a bite to eat and a pint of cider during the warmer months.

If you loved this Great British cider guide, stick with the British theme and check out our top 50 British spirits.


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