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In this season of mellow fruitfulness our wine expert Martin Higginson turns his attention to cider
The UK cider market is in a pretty healthy state, thanks largely to its popularity with younger drinkers. So here we take a look at what’s on offer,
and don’t worry, there’s no brain- addling Scrumpy, or Snakebite-fuel!
Cider has been almost as much a part of our drinking culture as our traditional dark ales. But while the last decade or so saw the emergence of ‘craft beer’, and its acceptance as the drink ‘du jour’ of stereotypical, sculptured-beard wearing, trousers-too-short hipsters, it took a little while longer for the new breed of cider makers to become popular and their clean, dry and fresh ciders to become the drink to be seen with.
While micro-cider makers are spearheading this boom, and there are even some around Suffolk that we’ll come back to later, the big players are still the larger companies, with the established brands Strongbow and Bulmers disappointingly (in our opinion) heading the field.
The first big modern days boom in cider was around 2006 when Magners promoted Irish cider-over-ice to the strains of 60’s hit Time of the Season by The Zombies. Suddenly cider became hip, at a stroke leaving its ‘old men, farmers, and 13-year olds at the bus stop’ reputation behind as a new generation, even including a young Prince William, became interested.
The unlikely source of Sweden was the next cider trend with Kopparberg taking advantage of the so-called ‘Magners Effect’ with their mix of fruits such as strawberry and blackcurrant being particularly popular with younger people
who liked the sweeter taste. But rather than ciders spiritual homeland of the West Country, it was Suffolk-based Aspalls, with their orchards around Debenham, that became the first serious ‘craft-style’ cider, or ‘cyder’ as they insist on it, to be noticed. Aspalls, however, are no Johnny-come-latelys, far from it in fact, as they have been producing it for almost 300 years, but if you’re looking for quality cider (okay then, cyder), then we suggest you start there.
Top of the range in our opinion is Aspall Premier Cru. It’s name, of course, mimicking the title given to special quality wines. Dry, floral with a ‘watch out, it can creep up on you’ 6.8% alcohol, it’s a lovely drink and perfectly at home at a restaurant table as well as a pub or at home. A richer, baked and dry fruit alternative is Aspall Imperial Cyder (8.2% - woah!) or if you like things a little more off-dry then try their Harry Sparrow Cyder, or even one of the Pip & Wild fruit range. They are widely available.
The term ‘craft cider’ doesn’t just mean cider produced by a very small cidery, it’s really about the love and care that goes into making it, using only freshly-pressed apple juice as the only source of sugar, with the only other ingredient being yeast, and that’s sometimes left to wild yeasts already in, or on the apples to carry out the fermentation process.
True craft connoisseurs also look for traditional methods of production, often in small batches which reflect a
sense of ‘localness’ to the drink, in the same way that wine lovers talk about ‘terroir’. There’s even a term ‘Pommeliers’ for those who look for ciders made using specific apple varieties. So which of these new wave ciders do we recommend that you might want to try that are available, or even produced, locally?
As with many of our wine recommendations, a reasonable place to start is Waitrose who have joined forces with a couple of established cider- makers to produce their own-branded cider; Leckford Cox’s Apple Vintage (£2.25/500ml), grown in Hampshire, produced in Suffolk by Aspalls is pleasant enough, although a bit light for our taste. Also Westons English Vintage Cider ((£2.25/500ml) which has a riper, richer taste having been matured in old oak vats.
A mention must also go to Westons English Vintage Perry (£2.25/500ml) which, of course, isn’t a cider at all as its made with pears not apples, but with it’s spicier taste (not to mention the 8.0% alcohol), it gets our vote. For a better range of true craft ciders, however, we recommend a trip to our favourite beer store in Bury, Beautiful Beers in St John’s Street. Crone’s organic ciders have been made in Norfolk using traditional methods for 25 years so they are hardly a newcomer to the ‘craft’ ethos. Crone Special Reserve Organic Dry Cider (£3.75/500ml and 7.4% abv) is a great example of what real cider is all about in our opinion, but we also like their specialist options which are matured in rum cask cider for a fuller, richer and smokier taste (Old Norfolk rum cask Organic Cider £5.25).
Norfolk Ranger are a husband and

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